Herding dogs were originally bred as working dogs and have heightened instinctive herding abilities. Various breed were developed for specific tasks to help people manage domesticated animals such as cattle and sheep.
Today these working dogs not only herd animals, but are used as police dogs, rescue dogs, therapy dogs and any other job suited to their intelligence, agility and willingness to please.
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The term "herding dog" is sometimes erroneously used to describe livestock guardian dogs, whose primary function is to guard flocks and herds from predation and theft, and they lack the herding instinct. Although herding dogs may guard flocks their primary purpose is to move them; both herding dogs and livestock guardian dogs may be called "sheep dogs".
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.
Australia has the world's largest cattle stations and sheep stations and some of best-known herding dogs, such as the Koolie, Kelpie, Red and Blue Heelers are bred and found there.
Dogs can work other animals in a variety of ways. Some breeds, such as the Australian Cattle Dog, typically nip at the heels of animals (for this reason they are called heelers) and the Cardigan Welsh Corgi and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi were historically used in a similar fashion in the cattle droves that moved cattle from Wales to the Smithfield Meat Market in London but are rarely used for herding today.
Other breeds, 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 headers or fetching dogs keep livestock in a group. They consistently go to the front or head of the animals to turn or stop the animal's movement. The heelers or driving dogs keep pushing the animals forward. Typically, they stay behind the herd. The Australian Kelpie and Australian Koolie use both these methods and also run along the backs of sheep so are said to head, heel, and back. Other types such as the Australian Shepherd, English Shepherd and Welsh Sheepdog are moderate to lose eyed, working more independently. The New Zealand Huntaway uses its loud, deep bark to muster mobs of sheep. German Shepherd Dogs and Briards are historically tending dogs, who act as a "living fence," guiding large flocks of sheep to graze while preventing them from eating valuable crops and wandering onto roads.
Herding instincts and trainability can be measured when introducing a dog to livestock or at noncompetitive herding tests. Individuals exhibiting basic herding instincts can be trained to compete in herding trials.
Basic Herding Dog Commands
- Come-bye or just bye - go to the left of the stock, or clockwise around them.
- Away to me, or just away or 'way - go to the right of the stock, or counterclockwise around them.
- Stand - stop, although when said gently may also mean just to slow down.
- Wait, (lie) down or sit - stop.
- Steady or take time - slow down.
- 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 shepherd arrives. Some will bark when the stock have been located.
- Get out or get back - move away from the stock. Used when the dog is working too close to the stock, potentially causing the stock stress. Occasionally used as a reprimand.
- 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 and sheep.
- Look back - return for a missed animal.
- In here - go through a gap in the flock. Used when separating stock.
- Walk up, walk on or just walk - move in closer to the stock.
- That'll do - stop working and return to handler.
- Hey's of shame - just repeat hey... that's all thank you.
These are not the only commands used: there are many variations. When whistles are used, each dog usually has a different set of commands to avoid confusion when more than one dog is being worked at one time.
Herding Dogs as Pets
- Altdeutsche Hütehunde (Tiger, Gelbbacke, Harzer Fuchs, Kuhhund, Schafpudel, Schwarzer, Strobel)
- Australian Cattle Dog (Also known as "Blue" or "Red" Heeler)
- Australian Kelpie
- Australian Shepherd
- Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog
- Basque Shepherd Dog
- Bearded Collie
- Belgian Shepherd Dog (Groenendael, Laekenois, Tervueren, and Malinois)
- Bergamasco Shepherd
- Berger Picard
- Berger Blanc Suisse
- Black Mouth Cur
- Blue Lacy
- Border Collie
- Bouvier des Flandres
- Can de Chira
- Can de Palleiro
- Cão da Serra de Aires
- Carea Castellano Manchego
- Carea Leonés
- Catahoula Leopard Dog
- Catalan Sheepdog
- Chien de Crau
- Collie breeds (see specific breed)
- Croatian Sheepdog
- Cumberland Sheepdog
- Cur (Blackmouth Cur, etc.)
- Dutch Shepherd
- English Shepherd
- Farm Collie/Farm Shepherd
- Finnish Lapphund
- Garafian Shepherd
- German Shepherd Dog
- Hairy Mouth Heeler (Also known as Wire Mouth Heeler)
- Icelandic Sheepdog
- King Shepherd
- Kerry Blue Terrier
- Koolie (also called Australian Koolie or German Coolie)
- Lancashire Heeler
- Lapponian Herder
- Magellan sheep dog
- Miniature Australian Shepherd
- New Zealand Heading Dog
- Norwegian Buhund
- Old English Sheepdog
- Pastor Mantiqueira
- Picardy Shepherd
- Pyrenean Shepherd
- Polish Lowland Sheepdog (Pons)
- Pomeranian Sheepdog
- Portuguese Sheepdog
- Pumi (dog)
- Pyrenean Shepherd
Wikipedia contributors. "Herding dog." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Sep. 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herding_dog
Signs of Herding Behavior
- Stay calm the moment your dog starts pushing you around. Avoid laughing, running away or yelling, because this reinforces the behavior; your dog might think you’re playing a game.
- Leash your dog when you walk with them until you’re confident you’re got their herding behavior under control. The leash will allow you to maintain control over your dog so they can’t take off and start chasing and herding people or animals.
- Enforce obedience training so you can control your dog’s actions. Teach them basic commands such as “sit” and “stay”.
- Provide your dog with other ways to satisfy their urge to herd. Play games, such as fetch and tug. Command your dog to “sit” before throwing the ball when playing fetch. This teaches your dog self-control and satisfies their urge to chase moving things. Tug gives your dog’s mouth a workout and provides them with an outlet to bit and nip.
- Keep your dog busy and entertained so they are less likely to resort to herding. Provide mental stimulation; food stuffed toys and obedience training sessions with rewards. Take your dog on doggie play dates so they meet other people and dogs and can improve their socializing skills. Take your dogs on walks for physical stimulation.