All About Herding Dogs

Tips and advice on how to choose the perfect herding dogs for your farm, family and livestock out of the long list of herding breeds that exist within American agriculture.

  • A Border Collie herds a small flock of sheep in a pasture.
    Photo By iStockphoto/hayhillphoto
  • A herd dog rounds a few stray cattle from the pasture to a pen.
    Photo By iStockphoto/davidf
  • A herding dog keeps a close eye on a flock of geese so they don't escape.
    Photo By iStockphoto/mrseassider
  • A Great Pyrenees guardian dog watches over his herd of sheep.
    Photo By iStockphoto/RbbrDckyBK

Following the Roman invasion of Celtic Britain in 55 B.C., the Romans introduced livestock-tending dogs to the British Isles. In subsequent years, Celtic clans bred their own varieties of these dogs, later known as breeds such as Highland and Scotch Collies and Welsh Sheepdogs.

As time progressed, these breeds morphed into many of the modern sheepdogs known today, including the Border Collie and Collie — breeds popularized by movies such as Babe and Lassie. Herding dogs have played a prominent role in American agriculture since at least Colonial times; the Marquis de Lafayette sent Thomas Jefferson two Briards — a French sheepdog breed — to assist with his flocks at Monticello. Decades later, herding dogs provided an invaluable resource aiding pioneers in moving livestock westward, sometimes during 2,000-mile journeys.

Today, herding dogs assist farmers and ranchers in performing a diverse array of tasks. Many of the more than four dozen breeds in existence have been selectively bred for hundreds of years to work a specific type of livestock in a certain way. For example, the Australian Cattle Dog was bred to drive cattle over long distances, and the German Shepherd was bred to act as a fence, keeping sheep away from valuable crops and in appropriate grazing areas.

Herding dogs assist human handlers in moving many types of livestock, including cattle, sheep, goats, ducks, geese and chickens, as well as performing tasks such as shedding, or separating out animals from the rest of the herd or flock; keeping livestock away from the human handler while he or she is placing feed in a trough; and moving livestock from one pen or pasture to another at the handler’s request.

While some farmers are concerned a herding dog may worry stock, a well-trained herding dog will not cause additional stress for livestock and is an extension of the human handler. The trained herding dog responds to a series of verbal commands issued by the human handler, or, in some cases, understands a job more generally, as is the case of ‘boundary’ herding dogs, responsible for keeping livestock within a certain grazing area.

Regardless of your needs, you may discover that a herding dog might just be right for you.

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