The Best Dog Breeds for Herding Sports

The Best Dog Breeds for Herding Sports

Herding dogs are quite different from livestock guard dogs, and the two should not be confused.  Herding dogs are organized and obedient, while livestock guard dogs are less organized but still possess the ability to protect their flocks. Herding is a more desirable trait than guarding in most herding breeds, so breeders have selected this trait accordingly over time.


Herding dogs are beloved by many who maintain flocks of animals, while stockmen often value them for their working ability. They tend to work silently when rounding up the animals they preside over.  Also, they are adept at gauging the temperament of various livestock and responding appropriately. Often, they do not require any sort of training or formal discipline to successfully complete their job as the task has been bred into them and has become a natural instinct. However, they will benefit from training for competitive herding sports. 


What is Herding Behavior?

Herding is a natural behavior exhibited by all breeds that work with livestock, which makes it the foundation of their instinct to protect. Herding dogs are particularly good at herding because it's what they're bred for. They are generally considered closer to the ancestral dog type than other breeds because most were not selected for looks. To maintain the herding trait, breeders select dogs that display herding ability and train these dogs to compete in performance events such as stock dog trials and working tests.


What are the Physical Characteristics of Herding Breeds?

Herding breeds have been bred to be very hardy as they needed protection from the elements and other hazards when out in the field working. Their ability to do their job is more important than looks, so they often have very functional and utilitarian conformation rather than a specific look.


Additional characteristics include:

  • High intelligence.
  • Alert, active, agile, and quick.
  • High endurance and stamina.
  • Thick paw pads for protection from thorns and prickly brush.
  • Strong claws and teeth.
  • Medium to long muzzle.
  • Tight, medium-sized lips.
  • Long neck and withers for increased stride length.
  • Wedge or slightly angled head with a wide skull.
  • Pigment around the eyes and nose areas of the face is preferred for protection from sun glare, injury, and infection.
  • Slightly below the average slope of the croup.
  • A very bushy tail that can be curled over the dog's back when in motion or when alert.
  • Tightly woven coat for protection from weather and brush.
  • Generally, herding breeds are not prone to certain hereditary conditions found in other types of dogs. However, many tend to inherit
  • The herding breeds are known for their ability to take direction from people.  This aspect of the herding dog means that they are more trainable than other types.
  • They should never be aggressive or hostile toward other animals in the flock but are instead protective over them.


What are Herding Sports?

Herding sports include dog activities such as herding ducks, hens, and other animals on a farm, herding livestock such as sheep and cattle, and participating in competitive dog sports. Herding dogs are natural leaders that take charge of other animals while performing their duties.


Some of the more popular types of herding sports for dogs include:


  • Herding -  Herding dogs gather and move livestock from one location to another, such as sheep to a new paddock. 
  • Driving - Herding dogs move livestock by controlled and directed barking. 
  • Penning - Herding dogs work in confined areas with stubborn animals, such as cows in a loading pen or sheep in a pen at the sale barn
  • Sheepdog trial -  Herding dogs move sheep or other livestock through a course that simulates the actual work of herding.
  • Treibball -  Herding dogs move a herd of ball-shaped objects into a goal by barking at and bumping the balls. 


The Best Breeds for Herding Sports

Herding is a dog sport usually reserved for the most high-energy dogs with a digging drive. But what kind of breed is best suited for this activity? Let's find out!

The Border Collie

You probably already know that the Border Collie was bred specifically for herding. In fact, they are known world-over as the best herd dog. The Border Collie's high energy and intelligence make them a perfect match for this sport.


The English Shepherd

Did you know that the English Shepherd is an American breed? It was developed in the Appalachian Mountains from dogs brought over from England by emigrants fleeing the persecution of their Catholic faith. These dogs were then bred with mountain dogs to produce a natural herding dog that was capable of surviving in harsh conditions.


The German Shepherd

Did you know that the German Shepherd is related to both the Border Collie and English Shepherd? These working breeds are all directly related, with the German Shepherd being more closely related to the English Shepherd. This breed is also extremely intelligent and high energy, making them a perfect fit for this sport.


The Belgian Malinois

The Belgian Malinois was developed in the French-speaking part of Belgium as a herding dog - Belgian shepherds are meant to herd! They are more closely related to some other breeds on this list, including the German Shepherd. As with most high-energy breeds, Belgian Malinois need to be properly socialized and trained so they don't become too dominant.


The Cardigan Welsh Corgi

The Cardigan Welsh Corgi is another breed that was bred for herding. This small breed of dog was used to herd sheep in Wales until the 20th century. They are still popular today as a pet and companions. Although they are small, these dogs can be very high-energy and may require some obedience training to control their herding instincts.


The Australian Shepherd

As their name suggests, the Australian Shepherd was developed in Australia from a mix of different breeds - including English Shepherds! They were then brought over to America and developed further into the breed we know today. This breed can be very independent and intelligent, so they might need some advanced obedience training to learn how to properly channel their energy.


The German Short-haired Pointer

The German Short-haired Pointer was bred as a hunting dog and sounds like it would make for a good herding dog. This breed is very gentle - they were bred to be gun dogs, not attack dogs! But this gentle temperament means that they can make a great family dog.


The English Pointer

This breed was also developed as a hunting dog and sounds like it would make for a good herding dog. The English Pointer has been around since the late 18th century and was bred to be very fast and maneuverable. This breed is still popular as a hunting dog today, but they can also make for great family dogs.


The Welsh Corgi

Slightly different from the Cardigan Welsh Corgi (that we've already seen), this breed was chiefly meant as a herding dog. These little dogs were bred to run extremely fast with their sheep, which meant they needed durability and endurance. They are also quite popular as family pets today.


The Swedish Vallhund

This breed is closely related to the Welsh Corgi (that we've already seen). This breed was primarily bred for herding - they truly were the cow dogs of Sweden! The Swedish Vallhund is a small but hardy breed that can also be used in herding today. They are also known to be very loyal to their family.


The Australian Cattle Dog

This incredibly popular breed was actually developed in Australia, not America or Europe. Although this dog was bred for cattle work, they are typically considered to be one of the best herding breeds. The ideal age for training this breed is usually between 8 and 18 months, so you may need to start training early if you want to compete with your dog!

Looking for more dog sports and the best breeds for each? Check out our Comprehensive Guide to Sporting Dogs!

Become close with your Dog

Daniel Barrett’s emotionally intelligent approach to dog training has created a large following of dog owners who feel that their relationship with their dog has transformed substantially.

Become close with your Dog

Daniel Barrett’s emotionally intelligent approach to dog training has created a large following of dog owners who feel that their relationship with their dog has transformed substantially.

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