The Sheltie Mom in me wants to scream that herding dogs make great pets. But I’m biased! And besides, it is more complicated than a simple yes or no. The bigger question may be, are you ready and able to be the owner of a herding dog?
Do herding dogs make good pets? Here are my top 3 reasons why herding dogs make great pets:
Those are my top three reasons, but there is so much to love about these smart, adoring, and energetic dogs. Even within individual breeds, while they may share certain characteristics, they each have unique personalities, quirks, and preferences. If you are considering bringing a herding dog into your family, there are many things to understand and consider. We’re going to explore those things in this article.
Do Herding Dogs Make Good Pets?
Herding dogs have been bred to have a job and are intelligent, motivated learners. Easily trainable, they enjoy “working” as long as they understand what is expected of them and require as much mental stimulation as physical exercise.
These breeds have a tendency to fully embrace the pack mentality. They appreciate a hierarchical structure, look up to their Alpha, and are faithful to their humans.
They bond easily with their human and other animal family members, but will often single out a favorite.
Herding dogs, while generally friendly, will put themselves between perceived danger and their humans. One evening in the mountains, well after dark, I let my female six-year-old Shetland Sheepdog out to take care of business. She went down the hill into the darkness. After a few minutes, I heard her growling and, in a flash, she was back. She circled around me twice, then using her rear end backed me up into the garage door, her eyes never leaving the woods. I didn’t stick around to see what was out there!
Which Breeds are Considered Herding Dogs?
Many breeds fall under the heading of herding dogs.
Because they have all been historically bred to herd, they may have similar behavioral traits. However, they come in all shapes and sizes, and each possesses individual and uncommon characteristics.
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Old English Sheepdog
- Belgian Malinois
- Cardigan Welsh Corgi
- Pembroke Welsh Corgi
- Rough Collie
- Border Collie
- Bearded Collie
- Australian Cattle Dog
- Australian Shepherd
- Australian Kelpie
- German Shepherd Dog
- Bouvier Des Flandres.
Traits of a Herding Dog – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
With a commitment to consistency, a new owner will find that dogs bred for work are easy to train and have a strong innate desire to please.
Highly intelligent, these breeds learn quickly and once they have established who is the leader of the pack, they will fall in line and stay there, most of the time.
Once trained, these breeds are recognized as some of the most obedient and loyal. If you enjoy an active lifestyle and can include a dog in your activities, a herding dog is a wonderful choice for a pet.
Now, you may think that since you are on the go all of the time, that you have an active lifestyle that would fit well with one of these breeds. But herding dogs need an equal amount of mental and physical stimulation.
Because of their heritage, in addition to exercise, they need something that they understand as “a job“, whether that involves agility training or a significant amount of fetch every day. For example, on a daily basis, our seven-month-old Sheltie male needs at least a three-mile hike, an hour of fetch and fun in the yard or at the dog park, and additional toy and puzzle play in the house. That’s all in one day! Do you see the level of commitment here? If you regularly, hike, bike, or run that would be wonderful for a herder, but he will also need committed mental stimulation.
NOTE: not all herders will enjoy a dog park. For some, the need to herd in a park full of unwilling participants can cause frustration or anxiety!
The ugly? Herding dogs that are left alone for too long or do not get sufficient activity and mental exercise will get bored and eat everything that you own! Also, their instinct to herd will remain, and while you can train them not to nip at the heels, it will happen, particularly with small children, so care should always be taken.
Activities That Herding Dogs Really Enjoy with Their Human
If you happen to have a giant yard full of sheep, then your herding dog should be well-sorted.
If not, there will be a little trial and error.
Although all herding dogs instinctually need a job, each individual dog is different.
Just like humans, they don’t all want or will love the same job.
We have an eight and a half-year-old female Sheltie that lives to retrieve a frisbee or a tennis ball. She will chase the thing and return it right to our feet over and over and over until she is completely worn out. For some herding dogs, this activity won’t stimulate them at all.
Here are some activities that you can do with a herding dog that they may enjoy or take on as their “job”:
- Agility Training
- Swimming/Water play
- Obedience Training
- Hiking Running
- Seek and Find Games
- Puzzle Games
Tips on Training Herding Dogs
Their natural curiosity and urge to please make training herders an enjoyable activity for both humans and pups. Some things to keep in mind for successful training:
- Start with the basics (sit, come, stay, leave it) and stay positive.
- Consistency with your instruction and verbiage. “Sit” and “Sit down” may not necessarily register as the same thing for the dog.
- Short five to ten-minute training sessions with repetition.
- Rewards are hugely important and can be food treats, special toys that only come out after successful training, and, of course, affectionate encouragement.
- Pay close attention to your dog’s cues. He may just not be in the mood.
- Socialization with other dogs and humans as soon as possible will help your training success. Obedience classes are an ideal place.
Things a Herding Dog Needs in Their Environment to Thrive
One of the first unwanted things that you may encounter with a herding breed, especially on days when they haven’t gotten enough activity, is seemingly random barking. Most herding dogs are very sensitive to sudden noises, or abrupt changes in their normal environment. Something as seemingly innocuous as the heat kicking on or something as simple as a piece of furniture in a new place can set off a barking fit. Consistency in all things is extremely important to them.
Along those same lines, it is necessary for most herding breeds to have a place of their own. Either a crate or just their own bed on the floor, that doesn’t get moved around and they know that it belongs to them.
Most importantly, if you want a herding dog to thrive, they need people. These are not the kind of dog that can be left alone in their crate for ten hours. Social interaction, attention, and activity are imperative for these animals to be happy and healthy.
The Type of Human That Would Suit a Herding Dog
Full disclosure, I am not a naturally athletic, up at dawn, go for a hike kind of gal. If left to my own devices, I would wear my PJs all day and lounge around reading books while eating peanut butter out of a jar.
My first Shetland Sheepdog belonged to my husband when we met and many years and three Shelties later, I am an up at dawn go for a hike kind of gal that dreams about lounging around and reading books. I have done and seen so many things that I may not have chosen were it not for these amazing creatures in my life.
That being said, to truly give herding dogs the lives that they deserve, you should be able to provide them with space to move around.
If you live in a city apartment and work long hours every day, this probably isn’t the kind of dog that will work for you.
A human suited for a herding dog needs to love the outdoors and have the time to spend there. Ideally, a herder’s human will have the opportunity and the willingness to schedule quantity and quality dog time into every single day.
My Tips For New Owners of Herding Dogs
- Your goal every day should be to wear the dog out. “A tired dog is a happy dog”, is a common phrase and I like to add, a tired dog doesn’t eat my slippers.
- Get pet insurance. My best friend’s Belgian Malinois got bored a few weeks ago and ate an entire avocado, pit and all. He is fine now, but Mom’s savings took a $6000 hit.
- Love every single minute, even the moment you realize that your puppy has grown tall enough to reach the counter because he is bouncing around the living room with a half-pound package of bacon in his mouth (This just happened). It goes by faster than you think.
What is the one main thing I need to be aware of regarding dog herding behavior?
Exercise, mental exercise, and more exercise.
What are the top 3 characteristics of a herding dog?
Intelligence. Intact instinct to herd. High energy.
Why do dogs herd humans?
They need to have a “job” and in the absence of anything else, they will resort to their breeding.
What do I need to know about hearing dog training?
Consistency. Repetition. Fun!
What are the 3 most popular types of herding dogs?
Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, German Shepherd Dog (I looked at a number of top 5/10 lists and Shelties are usually listed at number 4, 5 or 6. Obviously the research there is flawed)
How do dogs herd sheep?
This will give you the best answer in my estimation: www.canidae.com/blog
Herding dogs mass roundups – what’s the world record?
On September 25, 2017, Willaston Oval in South Australia 576 Border Collies gathered to break the World Record.
Should I dock the tail of my herding dog?
Somewhat controversial. Some dog owners maintain it’s cruel and the practice is prohibited in certain countries. Dog owners of dogs who actively herd heavy livestock maintain tail docking is necessary to prevent injuries.
You can read a full examination of this topic to make your own informed decision.
We Have More Resources For You
If you are interested in owning a herding dog, take a look at these other articles we’ve published on our blog here at Outdoor Dog Fun:
- All you need to know about the traits of herding dogs
- The nasty habit of nipping and how to stop it
- To dock or not to dock (a herding dog’s tail) – that is the big question