Herding Dog Breeds :
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Collie Herding Dog Breeds

Photos of Collies

The herding dog breeds were expected to do what was needed according to the situation. The way in which a dog works is made up of a combination of a great many factors. Herding often involves a fluid, changing situation.


Australian Shepherd
Australian Cattle Dog

Bearded Collie
Belgian Malinois
Belgian Sheepdog
Belgian Tervuren
Border Collie
Bouvier des Flanders

Canaan Dog
German Shepherd Dog
Old English Sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdog
Welsh Corgi (Cardigan)
Welsh Corgi (Pembroke)

Herding dog breeds developed in different areas

Herding dog breeds developed in different areas in response to local situations and needs. In many cases, the work required versatility. In other cases, there were particular conditions that led to some specialization. Conditions could change over time. Many tasks for herding dog breeds involve the same basics, wherever they take place. Thus, particular characteristics may appear more frequently in one breed compared to another, or may be considered to be more desirable in one breed than in another, while at the same time there can be a number characteristics in common, even if one dog or puppy tends to bark as it does its job, while another is largely silent. Two dogs or puppies can work quite differently but still be useful for the same basic task, while in other situations, one dog may have a way of going about things that is the best fit for the particular situation. What is important is that the dog does the work that is needed, in a calm, efficient way.

Herding Dog Breeds

The manner in which a dog approaches and handles livestock is sometimes referred to as "style." This can encompass an overall way in which the dog works, or some particular aspect of its work. Many things are referred to under "style": the way the herding dog breeds gather the stock and bring it to the handler, pushes the stock away from the handler, barks, works silently, works close to the stock, works further from the stock, moves smoothly, moves brusquely or bouncily, crouches low to the ground, shows an upright stance, covers a balance point precisely or more loosely, etc. “Balance point” is a term that can have different interpretations, but here it is used to indicate the point at which the dog needs to be in relation to a group of animals or an individual animal to control the movement and direction of the animals; the “balance point” will be affected by factors such as the animals wanting to go toward something that attracts them, for instance a gate into an area where they are regularly fed. Often the reference to “style” relates to the natural tendencies shown by the dog or there puppies with respect to such behaviors.

Herding Dog Breeds

People like to categorize, and the herding dog breeds have ended up at various times in various categories – for example, sheepdog’s vis-à-vis cattle dogs, or “headers” vis-à-vis “heelers,” among others. “Droving” dogs are another category used on occasion, sometimes being contrasted with herding dog breeds. Semantics enters in, with the same word having slightly different meanings to different people. Although categories usually have some basis in reality, they also should be approached with caution. Herding just isn’t that simple, as appealing as compartmentalizing might be to someone looking for simple answers. Oversimplification can precede to the point of inaccuracy, for instance, recent assertions that herding breeds are divided into three styles called “fetching”, “driving,” and “tending” with the breeds listed neatly in their supposed categories. All too often, such claims are simply picked up and passed along with little investigation, even when, unfortunately for the theory, they just don’t hold up in fact. A bigger problem with such facile characterizations is that they can mislead beginners when it comes to considering training for their own dog.

Herding Dog Breeds ---- Photos of White German Shepherds

A notable difference between herding dog breeds in general is that between the “classic” strong-eyed, crouching, wide-working Border Collie (and many Kelpies), and most other breeds. "Strong eye” generally indicates a dog that uses an intent gaze as it works the stock, tending to approach in a low-to-the ground, stalking manner, often fixing attention on a small group or an individual, showing precision in reacting to the balance point of the group or an individual within the group.

Herding Dog Breeds

It is not merely intensity: although a strong-eyed dog will be intense, a loose-eyed dog can also be quite intense. Eye is, rather, a development of a self-checking tendency based on the stalking phase of the canine hunting pattern. The dog is sensitive to the flight “bubble” around the stock and will show a tendency in varying degrees to balance “vertically” (toward the stock) as well as “horizontally” (from side to side). This self-checking tendency helps the dog “read” the stock in situations where slight movements can be critical. There can, however, be too much of a good thing, “sticky eye” being used to describe the dog that has such a strong tendency to pause when approaching stock that it will freeze in place rather than continuing to move when needed.


Herding Dog Breeds

Loose-eyed dogs or puppies, on the other hand, generally work with an upright posture, often using their bodies in controlling the stock through movement, blocking, sometimes even bumping the animals, and usually showing an inclination to push right up to the stock with little apparent concern for the flight zone. The dog takes in the whole picture, glancing around from time to time while nonetheless being aware of the position of the stock. The loose-eyed dog usually has a "looser" balance, balancing more on the group as a whole than on an individual, or moving freely past a balance point and then reversing to recover it; this will be particularly noticeable on smaller groups of sheep. Often this balance will tighten up with experience, but some dogs, of course, have more of a sense of balance than others. There are dogs with little sense of balance or with a tendency to chase rather than herd that still can be used simply for pushing stock or “driving” in certain situations, but even this does not necessarily mean that the dog has solely or primarily some specific kind of instinctive “style,” i.e. “driving instinct." And while such dogs usually are more of the "loose-eyed" type, a good loose-eyed dog will have plenty of balance and genuine herding ability. Even “eye” doesn’t provide a hard-and-fast distinction. Individuals of herding dog breeds that are generally loose-eyed may show varying degrees of eye. Not all Border Collies are strong-eyed. Some dogs will use greater or lesser eye depending on the type or number of stock they are working.

Briard Herding Group

Herding Dog Breeds

Historical accounts indicate that, although "eye" has long existed in some strains of sheepdogs, up until the late 19th century most working collies (as is the case with most herding dog breeds) were loose-eyed dogs. This was because, although eye could be useful in practical situations, for many all-round farm situations it simply wasn't a necessity or even a particular advantage. John Holmes comments in The Farmer's Dog:
"There are several other types of Collie quite distinct from the Border Collie in that they are 'loose-eyed' workers. Most of these are native to Scotland and include the old-fashioned Scotch Collie from which the modern show collie is descended . . . They were all easy-going, level-headed dogs and puppies, useful but not flashy workers, and quite willing to lie about the place when there was nothing better to do. Personally I think it a great pity that this type has been practically exterminated by the increasing popularity of 'strong-eyed' dogs. For all-round farm work they were often far more use than the classically bred [strong-eyed trials type] dog."
The use of small groups of fairly flighty sheep was conducive to the success of a dog that was strong-eyed and wide-running, able to work at great distances from the handler with a high degree of precision and control. These characteristics were enhanced and spread by selective breeding, giving rise to the modern Border Collie. While becoming better known through their performances in ISDS trials, Border Collies are also, of course, used in a variety of practical working situations, on large groups as well as small and on all kinds of livestock both light and heavy.

Herding Dog Breeds

Such tending of grazing flocks in unfenced areas was not unknown in the United States. It was a common practice in the wide open spaces of the American West, but also occurred in mid western and eastern farming areas and even in urban areas.

Separation from Their Working Roots

As time went on, many herding dog breeds had puppies more as show, pet or protection dogs and less as herders. A recent increase in interest in the original working capabilities of dogs has brought some renewed attention to herding in a number of breeds. For many breeds, however, there are complicating factors involved in the investigation of their herding tendencies. For one, there is little detailed information going back any length of time as to specifics of training or even use. For another, terms have changed over time. For instance, today “driving” is often used to indicate the dog at the rear of the flock pushing the animals ahead of or away from the handler. But in earlier times (and in many cases today as well), “driving” meant simply moving the stock, and a reference to a dog driving a group will also mention the handler leading the way, or what today often would be termed “fetching.”

Differences and Similarities

Herding is the result of complex factors. The individual dog, given the opportunity, will reveal its natural herding dog breed tendencies, and these tendencies are also subject to being shaped by experience and training.

Herding Dog Breeds

Historically, and at present where the opportunity exists, dogs might work with a particular type of stock or with all types of stock, according to the needs of the particular farm or ranch.

Herding Dog Breeds

Many herding dog breeds performed a multitude of tasks – including non-herding tasks – and in many cases there is a lack of detailed historical information as to just what work was done and how it was performed. How is it to be decided then, which of several jobs is the "proper" one for a particular breed or which era of history is to be looked upon as the "true" one to be imitated? Not every task of a herding dog, or every individual tendency occurring in herding dogs, constitutes a distinct, specific "breed style." Even in some cases where a breed might have been used more for one job than another; it still wouldn’t necessarily be selected for that job alone.

Herding Dog Breeds

The differences in the herding dog breeds are often those of emphasis and degree rather than purely of kind. Thus, a Border Collie on average may have a greater tendency to arc out wide when gathering sheep and may be easier to get to pause when it comes to the balance point and begins to bring the sheep toward the handler. But a Bouvier may have no less of a gathering tendency, although it may cut close to its sheep as it moves around them and may need more training to establish a firm stop. It is nonetheless just as important, when teaching the stop, to work with the dog's sense of balance, even when that sense of balance is not so “finely tuned” as in the Border Collie. The loose-eyed, close-run dog may be harder to stop than the typical Border Collie and may need more experience in developing its pace and its balance, but it still will stop more readily when on the balance point.

Herding Dog Breeds

Many differences have little to do with herding tendencies per se. A particular body build or size was required, a particular coat type or color was preferred. One would not expect to see many dogs the size of a large Old English Sheepdog being kept by crofters in the Shetland Islands, although the Old English could do the same kinds of general farm work a Shetland Sheepdog could do. In modern times, appearance preferences often have related to show or other non-herding concerns. For instance, blue merles, wiry coats and other variations continue among the working German herding dog breeds, but not in the registered German Shepherd Dog.

Herding Dog Breeds

Temperament enters the picture. A dog working flighty sheep at great distances would need to have a very biddable nature and could have a less forceful manner than a dog expected to work cattle or sheep accustomed to the presence of men and dogs. There often is a tradeoff, and these tradeoffs, particular needs, individual preferences, played a part in making the breeds what they are, without, however, necessarily establishing a wide gulf between breeds or a few narrow categories into which all breeds are to be slotted.

Herding Dog Breeds

While much farm work would be general in nature, there also are more specialized situations with which a breed becomes associated. The Australian Cattle Dog, for instance, was developed in the rugged conditions of Australia for handling large groups of cattle. A desirable characteristic that was selected for was a low-heeling style, a natural tendency for the dog to reach down low to nip an animal just above the hoof. The Australian Cattle Dog has frequently been employed for hard work in stockyards, where a strong pushing dog would be needed, and it wasn’t important that the dog have a pronounced ability to cast out wide around the animals. Stockyard work wasn’t the only work done by the breed, however. While there might be individuals within the breed best suited primarily for stockyard work, other stockmen needed the dog to work in varying situations, out in the open, rounding up cattle and moving them. Such a dog has to be able to head and gather as well as drive. The stockman might have some other types of livestock that need occasional handling and expect his dog to take care of that as well. Accounts of the origin and use of the Cattle Dog reflect this. It isn't entirely surprising, then, that many individuals in this breed have a gathering tendency. Cattle Dogs do tend to be close, powerful workers, which would be expected from their background and should be considered positively. But neither are they merely some kind of four-footed stock prod which can only push at, not control the direction of, livestock. The breed emphasis may have been on particular characteristics, but other important characteristics weren't ignored or eliminated. The more versatile dog with the right characteristics generally will be able to do the more specialized job, but the reverse isn't true. This doesn’t make the more limited dog “wrong” when in fact it may fit well into a particular job. But neither does it make it the ideal, with the more versatile dog to be labeled negatively as some kind of amorphous “jack of all trades master of none.”

Corgi Herding Shee

Corgi Herding Dog

The Old-fashioned All-around Farm Dog

As society has become more urbanized, family farms have diminished and agricultural practices have changed, many people will only see herding demonstrated at a local or televised trial. Almost forgotten are many of the jobs of the all-around farm dog. In America, many of these dogs are remembered as the “Old Shep” on grandpa’s farm. Usually with a working collie background, these dogs were called variously “farm shepherds” or “farm collies” and some went into the development of modern registered herding dog breeds such as the English Shepherd and Australian Shepherd.

Herding Dog Breeds

Generally these farm dogs were loose-eyed, upright workers, relaxed in nature but forceful when necessary. Most commonly they worked in a fairly routine situation with familiar animals, although there would also be times when routine would be broken or unfamiliar animals would need to be handled. They brought the cows in for milking and drove them back, gathered sheep from the pasture and searched for any animals that were lost or had strayed. Herding dog breeds might go along with the farm children to watch over cattle or sheep being grazed in unfenced fields, and remain on the job while the children went off to find fun elsewhere! They watched gates that had been left open, drove out the pigs that invaded the orchard and put them back in their place, rounded up the chickens to put them away for the night – any number of tasks that might need doing.

Droving Dogs

“Droving” is sometimes confused with “driving,” leading to the thought that a dog described in old accounts as a “droving” dog must have had particular instincts to “drive” the animals out ahead of the handler as opposed to “fetching.” However, this is not the case. “Droving" meant taking the stock some distance, down roads or lanes, usually to market. This work required flexibility. The dog had to be able to work any position relative to the stock. It had to be able to push at the rear, and go to the head to turn the group or stop breakaway attempts. While some herding dog breeds came to be associated with droving work, in fact the droving dog usually was just the common local farm dog picked up by the drover, and suitability for the work had more to do with considerations of stamina and temperament. An account of working Smooth Collies in Canada in the 1920’s provides a picture of a drover’s dog:

Herding Dog Breeds

“A drover, who went from farm to farm buying cattle, had one of these smooths. The dog brought the cattle along, held them while the drover dickered, collected the purchased cows and drove them down the road till he caught up to the drover again, who would go on ahead. At the end of the day the drover could go home ahead of the dog, telling him only to bring them home, and he would always arrive with them all, steady and unhurried, no matter how far or how late the hour.” Katherine M. Nicks, Collie and Shetland Sheepdog Review, May 1960.

Puli Herding Dog Breed

Considerations in Testing and Training

may happen that a newcomer to herding with, say, a Belgian Tervuren, will observe the crouching, pausing approach of a Border Collie and assume that that is what “herding instinct” is. A typical Belgian, however, when introduced to stock, shows little of this behavior. Many herding dog breeds become excited, moving quickly, either circling the stock repeatedly or dashing in close. The owner may be puzzled. Why is their dog so much harder to stop than the Border Collies? The owner may not realize that these active, pushy characteristics are seen in many keen herding dog breeds of the loose-eyed type.

Herding Dog Breeds

In observations of a number of dogs of a number of breeds, it has become evident that gathering tendencies are fairly common in all herding dog breeds, even in breeds usually associated with "driving" such as Welsh Corgis and Australian Cattle Dog. A demonstration of gathering or fetching tendencies does not mean that these dogs immediately sweep around the stock in a wide arc, pausing on the opposite side and easing the sheep toward the handler -- neither do all Border Collies in their early encounters, for that matter. But most loose-eyed herding dog breeds will, generally, all other things being equal (barring such interfering factors as timidity of nature, stickiness of stock, etc.), readily show an inclination to attempt to go around the stock and try to move the animals in some semblance of grouping, picking up the idea that this grouping should involve the handler. This might be disorganized at first and some human guidance might be needed to help establish a more controlled pattern, but then, this is also the case with many Border Collies on their first exposure to stock. It isn’t uncommon in an inexperienced dog with a very strong desire to go to the head of the animals for that “stop them at the head” tendency to override other tendencies so that the dog ends up holding the animals to the fence rather than including the handler in the picture. Not all dogs will show the gathering tendency equally, of course; in some it will be stronger than in others. Some herding dog breeds will show both gathering and driving tendencies to some extent. And some, but relatively few in all breeds, will show a definite driving tendency, deliberately attempting to push the animals away from the handler while still working in relation to the handler and keeping the animals grouped (as opposed to merely following the animals or chasing them).

Herding Dog Breeds

Actual training techniques usually are not clearly explained in the old books. Many of the techniques used today have been used in a systematic manner only in fairly recent times. In earlier times, and often still today, the training of herding dog breeds is usually of a somewhat haphazard, learn-as-one-does type. Over time, principles of herding behavior came to be understood and techniques developed and disseminated.

Herding Dog Breeds

Many techniques were first outlined by Border Collie trainers, but practical experience with other breeds has shown many of these methods to be beneficial with other breeds in producing a well-rounded, well-trained herding dog. But adjustments will be made, particular emphases will be altered.

Herding Dog Breeds

The adaptable, practical herding dog should be able to both gather and drive. It should be able to go out from the handler and round up the animals. This doesn’t necessarily need to take place at 400 yards -- in smaller fields, this distance could not be approached. Most breeds in most areas did not do a great deal of work at great distances from the handler. Even with this realization, however, herding dog breeds can be encouraged to do distance work within their individual capabilities. It is often impressive just what some can accomplish when given a good foundation and the opportunity to gain experience.

Herding Dog Breeds

It is important to learn the dog's true natural tendencies and take them into consideration in early training. At higher levels, the dog should be able to do what is required by the situation. The Border Collie isn't labeled a "driving breed," but driving is an integral part of all but the novice-level trials. Border Collie handlers don't do the outrun/lift/fetch with a Border Collie, then put it aside and get another breed to do the driving. Neither should limitations be put on other herding breeds, known for their versatile abilities.

There are many methods of training herding dog breeds, and different techniques will work best with different dogs. It is a common practice to focus on gathering or fetching first. This is because for many dogs, gathering work better helps the dog develop balance and ability to independently cover the moves of the stock while at the same time working with the handler. If this gathering ability is not developed and the dog is required to work with a heavy emphasis on driving early in its training, it may later prove difficult to get the dog to go around and gather up the stock efficiently when needed. The dog will not have developed the "feel" of collecting, covering and controlling the stock and may revert to chasing, or even aggressive behavior, if the stock is at all flighty. While there are some situations where driving is all that is needed, in most cases a dog that will only drive is a limited dog. A dog that can only push from behind ends up just pushing the stock further away, not necessarily in the desired direction. Conversely, waiting too long before incorporating driving can lead to a dog (especially a dog that is strong to go to the head), resisting being asked to move the stock quietly and in a controlled fashion away from the handler. So the point at which various elements are introduced into the training will vary with each dog. Thoroughly-grounded herding training will produce a dog that not only will be able to handle a wide range of situations, but when called upon to drive, will be able to truly drive, controlling the direction of the stock, not merely following.

Herding Dog Breeds

Attention to well-rounded training will not turn all the breeds into some kind of generic herding dog. The standard shouldn't be whether or not the dog shows eye, barks, moves wide or close (other than as these characteristics may impact on the particular stock at hand). The standard should be whether the dog accomplishes the desired task smoothly and efficiently. The breeds will retain their identifying characteristics and their flexibility.

Herding Dog Breeds

Some people will concentrate on competitive trialing of one type or another. Others will be more interested in the daily work needed on a farm or ranch, whether all-purpose farm work or a particular, more specialized use. Some will find aspects of stock work in the country of a breed’s origin particularly interesting, while others will be most concerned with their practical situation in the here-and-now. All of these things are part of herding.

Colie with Puppies

Herding Dog Breeds

Learn about your dog, your breed and its background; learn about many aspects of herding. Consider the kinds of chores you may be requiring of your dog. Approach your dog as an individual. Investigate a variety of training techniques and use those that work best for you and your dog in producing a capable, well-rounded worker.

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