Herding dog

Herding dog

A herding dog is a type of pastoral dog that either has been trained in herding or belongs to a breed developed for herding. In Australia and New Zealand they are known as working dogs irrespective of their breeding. Some herding breeds work well with any kinds of animals; others have been bred for generations to work with specific kinds of animals and have developed physical characteristics or styles of working that enhance their ability to handle these animals. Commonly mustered animals include cattle, sheep, goats and reindeer, although it is not unusual for poultry to be handled by dogs.

The term "herding dog" is sometimes erroneously used to describe livestock guardian dogs, whose primary function is to guard flocks from predation and theft. Herding dogs do not guard flocks but move them.

In general terms when categorizing dog breeds, herding dogs are considered a subcategory of working dogs, but for conformation shows they usually form a separate group.

Herding behavior

Dogs can herd other animals in a variety of ways. Some breeds, such as the Australian Cattle Dog, typically nip at the animals' heels (for this reason they are called heelers). Others, notably the Border Collie, get in front of the animals and use what is called strong eye to stare down the animals; they are known as headers. The Koolie has been observed to use both these methods and also to jump on the backs of their charges. Koolies are therefore said to head, heel, and back. Other types such as the Welsh Sheepdog and English Shepherd are loose eyed, working more independently. The Australian Kelpie is an adaptable breed that can find, hold and drive various livestock. Some strains of this breed perform better with cattle than others.

All herding behavior is modified predatory behavior.

Most herding breeds have physical characteristics that help them with their work, including speed and endurance. Shorter breeds, such as Welsh Corgis, were bred so that they would be out of the way when cattle, their primary charges, kicked at them.

Basic herding dog commands

  • Come-bye - go to the left of the stock, or clockwise around them.
  • Away - go to the right of the stock, or counterclockwise around them.
  • Stand, wait, down or sit - stop.
  • Cast – gather the stock into a group. Good working dogs will cast over a large area.
  • Find – search for stock. A good dog will hold the stock until the stockman arrives. Some will bark when the stock have been located.
  • Hold – keep stock where they are.
  • Bark, or speak up - bark at stock. Useful when more force is needed, and usually essential for working cattle.
  • Look back - return for a missed animal.
  • In there - go through a gap.
  • Walk up - move in closer to the stock.
  • That'll do - stop working and return to handler.

These commands may be indicated by a hand movement, whistle or voice. There are many other commands that are also used when working stock and in general use away from stock.

These are not the only commands used; there are many variations. In New Zealand each dog has a different set of commands to avoid confusion when more than one dog is being worked at one time.

Herding dogs as pets

Due to their intelligence and beauty, herding dogs are often chosen as family pets. These dogs have been bred as working dogs and must be kept active. They retain their herding instincts and may sometimes nip at people's heels or bump them in an effort to 'herd' their family, and need to be trained not to do so. Often such dogs are regarded as dangerous. Their activity level and intelligence makes them excellent canine athletes.

Breed list

Herding breeds include the following:

See also


  • "DOGS, WORKING" , from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966. Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 11-Jul-2005

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