Shepherds have been using sheep herding dogs and guard dogs to move, manage and protect their flocks for thousands of years. Whether you raise your own flock of sheep or have simply caught a few minutes of a sheep dog trial at your local fair, there’s something beautiful about the ancient and storied relationship between man, sheep and dog.
You may have wondered what breeds of dog are used to herd sheep. To answer your questions and tell you a bit more about the most popular breeds of sheep dogs we’ve assembled this list of sheep herding dogs.
We hope you enjoy it and the videos of sheep herding dogs in action as well!
Two Common Types of Sheep Herding Dogs
It may surprise you to learn that there is more than one style of herding employed by sheep dogs. In either style a well-trained herding dog exercises control – allowing sheep to move calmly rather than chasing your flock and causing them to run scared.
Drovers are sheep herding dog breeds which drive sheep away from their handler – either through movement, an intimidating gaze or (most often) through loud and aggressive barking.
Another popular style of herding sheep dog keeps the flock between itself and its master: calmly moving your sheep toward you. These dogs typically work silently, using their strong, penetrating gaze and subtle movements to control the flock’s movements.
Both styles of sheep herding are effective, they just serve different roles on the farm. Sometimes shepherds use several types of dogs together on large flocks.
Border Collie: The Most Popular Breed of Sheep Herding Dog
By far the most popular and recognizable of all sheep herding dogs is the Border Collie.
This intelligent, hard-working breed of sheep dog was developed in the border country between England and Scotland. Unlike some other breeds, the Border Collie has consistently been bred on the basis of its performance.
Conformation and appearance are secondary for the Border Collie. Each dog’s ability to work and control sheep is the most important thing in terms of the dog’s quality.
Training a border collie can be a challenge for an inexperienced handler. And they may not make good pets if you have a short patience. They are high-energy and always need a job to do. But when it comes to a natural instinct and ability to work a flock of sheep, you cannot do better than a Border Collie. Most people consider the Border Collie the ultimate sheep herding dog.
Additional Herding Dog Breeds Used to Handle Sheep
Often referred to simply as an “Aussie,” the Australian shepherd breed actually originated in the Western U.S.
Valued for its versatility and intelligence, this medium-sized dog is popular on sheep and cattle farms.
The “Kelpie” is a rugged sheep herding dog which has a strong natural instinct for moving sheep where they need to go as a drover. Kelpies drive sheep, cattle and goats away from their handler with its voice and its stare. The Australian Kelpie can come in a variety of colors.
New Zealand Huntaway
A large, muscular and rugged breed of sheep herding dog, the New Zealand Huntaway uses its deep, powerful bark to drive sheep away from its master. This is a very different approach from the controlled eye of a Border Collie (a breed which typically works with the sheep between it and its handler).
Australian Cattle Dog
The sturdy, durable Australian Cattle Dog is another drover. This breed drives sheep or cattle from behind through barking and aggressive movements. This breed originated in Australia where it moved cattle long distances over rough terrain. They are tough, high-energy dogs which need to have plenty of room to run.
The “Sheltie” or Shetland Sheepdog is sometimes called a miniature Collie. But this highly intelligent breed is athletic and full of energy. With training Shelties can function as a talented member of your farm, herding your sheep.
It may surprise you to learn that the small Corgi – originally developed in Wales – is a talented dog when it comes to herding sheep. Often underestimated due to their short stature, the Corgi is quite athletic and extremely intelligent. Even the modern Corgi can learn to move a flock of sheep where his or her shepherd wants them to go. There are two common kinds of Corgi: Pembroke Welsh Corgi and Cardigan Welsh Corgi.
Do You Need a Sheep Dog for Your Farm?
Depending upon the size of your sheep operation you may or may not need a sheep herding dog to manage your flock.
But even for the small hobby farmer, owning a dog breed known for its ability to herd sheep can be fun.
There’s nothing quite like watching a skilled sheep dog maneuver a flock and put your sheep where you want them to go.
It certainly beats trying to chase or lure them with a bucket full of grain.
Sheep Herding Dog Videos
While reading about sheep herding dogs can be interesting, there’s nothing quite like watching a well-trained sheep dog in action. Here are a few of our favorite videos of dogs herding sheep.
Image credit for New Zealand Huntaway: “Huntaway” by Cgoodwin – Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Imaged credit for Australian Cattle Dog: “ACD-blue-spud” by Zingpix – Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons