by Kay King ( www.my-dogs-rule.com )
In 1983, the dog group known as "Herding" was acknowledged by the American Kennel Club. Prior to that, herd dogs were considered as working
dogs but their unique type of work and abilities earned them a subgroup of their own.
The instinct that makes a good herding dog is a modified version of predatory behavior. The herd dog accepts
responsibility for the herd because he considers them as belonging to him. (continued below)
A herding dog is not the same as a dog used for guarding sheep through they are often thought of as the same behavior.
The dog that herds is responsible only for keeping the herd together and for moving it as a unit when necessary. In most cases, it will
defend against a predator's attack but will not initiate an attack.
The method used to herd flocks differs from one breed of dog to another. The Border Collie may head off the heard by
staring them down and achieving dominance. The Australian cattle dog is most known for pushing the herd by nipping at the heels of the
animals – and has earned the name "heeler" from this behavior. Another type of herding dog may literally jump on the backs of animals in
the herd to force movement.
These are three quite different herding methods and are referred to as "head", "heel" and "back".
Size of the herding dog is uniquely related to the size of its charges. The smaller herd dogs, such as Welsh Corgis were
bred to be short so as to avoid being kicked by cattle in the herd. Larger dogs might watch a grazing herd of sheep and be able to defend
its charges in case a predator attacked.
Border Collies, Blue Heelers (a common name for some Australian Cattle Dogs) and Shetland Sheepdogs are fast and agile to
allow quick movement around a herd to get stragglers moving in the right direction. Cattle and sheep are the most often herded animals
though there are reports of poultry herding on large production farms. In some parts of the world, reindeer are controlled with herding
Physical characteristics of herding dogs are meant to adapt them to their specific purpose. For example, dogs in areas
where wolf or coyote attacks are common would have thick coats and would be large, strong canines. Extremes in weather are also
Herding dogs are among the most intelligent canines in existence. Collies and Border Collies are able to work
large herds of livestock. They quickly respond to obedience commands and can often anticipate herd movement or movements of individual
animals in the herd. These same dogs do exceptionally well in obedience competition and in agility trials.
The patience and intelligence of herding dogs, not to mention their beauty, make them ideal family pets. The
herding instinct can often be recognized as these dogs go from room to room checking on each family member or is happiest when the children of
the family are together in one place. Some will attempt to herd other pets in the home, too, and if you have cats that can be interesting
As family pets, herding dogs will often rush to check on any unusual noises or the cry of a child or hiss of a
cat. They instinctively take on the responsibility of keeping the family "herd" calm and organized. They are such gentle dogs
that this is an endearing quality in them.
Exercise requirements vary by breed but the intelligence level of these dogs requires that you interact with them. They
need to use their quick minds and are very fast to learn obedience training and tricks, too. The faster breeds excel in dog agility and are
happiest when given something to do.