Herding Dogs: Smart Workers, Wonderful Pets

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We've been having a lot of fun with our Dogtober campaign, and today's Western theme has us thinking about the history of herding dogs and their modern function, both as companions and as working dogs.

There are dozens of herding breeds from all over the world that have been developed to assist in the management of livestock. Herding dogs are agile, intelligent, and have harnessed their inner prey drive to be able to control herds of animals often much larger than they are including cattle, bison, reindeer, sheep, goats, and even poultry.

Different Herding Styles

Some herding dogs nip at the heels of sheep and cattle to control them and are called "heelers." Others control herd movements by staring them down and walking in front of the herd to keep the stock in a tight group. Sometimes ranchers will have both types of working dogs in their employ for maximum movement and control. There are even some types that walk on the backs of the sheep to move them!

An Amazing Partnership

These working dogs are often trained with verbal and whistling cues to respond to the cattleman/shepherd. There are dozens of commands the dog can learn including going clockwise or counterclockwise around the herd, finding lost stock, etc.

The most prized herding dogs have a fluid ability to read the quickly-changing circumstances and be able to protect and move the stock intuitively. Since herding dogs have been developed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, these dogs seem to be channeling the wisdom of their predecessors, working tirelessly to please.

Watch this video to witness the amazing skills of these herding dogs and their trainers.

The Herding Class as Pets

Today many herding dogs may never cross paths with livestock, but the traits that are treasured in the pasture are appreciated as a family pet: intelligence, ease of training, sociability, intuitiveness, and loyalty.

Because the herding breeds are highly intelligent and active, they do require long walks and activities or they could become bored and start making their own entertainment (which could be destructive.) For this reason, herding dogs are excellent candidates for agility training, which is a healthy outlet for them and a great bonding experience to be enjoyed by both the dog and the handler.

Keep in mind when selecting a dog from the herding breeds, they were designed to herd things, so children and other pets may be targeted. Obviously nipping should be trained out in this situation, though keeping the toddler away from the stairs is a plus!

Meet Paige, the Border Collie

I had the privilege of meeting Paige the border collie at BlogPaws 2012. She is the epitome of what these wonderful dogs can be as pets and companion animals! After watching this, I'm sure you'll want to like her on her very own Facebook page!

Have any great stories to share about your herding dog?

Australian Shepherd photo by carterse.

This entry was posted by .
Linda Wenger on October 10 at 6:01 PM said:

We have had Shetland Sheepdogs for 20 some years. They are wonderful dogs that excell in many areas. Each of our dogs did very well in obedience training. We never got into agility or herding, but I have many Facebook friends that do both with their Shelties. Our first Sheltie was a birthday gift for our 11 year old daughter. He played with the all the neighborhood kids. We used to call him our little boy in a fur suit. He even attended college with her for her senior year. Everyone on campus knew Drew, and he was the mascot for the art building. My youngest Sheltie right now, age 7, loves to run back and forth and do spins and jumps in the fenced back yard every time a car goes by.
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