How Does the American Kennel Club Define the Herding Group?

In 1983, the AKC created a new classification for dog breeds that were previously part of the working class – the herding group. While the working group includes dogs bred for jobs like guarding, water rescue, and sled-pulling, members of the herding group are all linked by their keen instinct for herding livestock. There can be some overlap between breeds that herd livestock and breeds that guard it; for example, the German Shepherd is classified as a herding breed by the AKC, though it is renowned for its ability to perform both duties. However, generally these functions are kept separate, and unlike most livestock guardian breeds, which must be large and powerful to fend off thieves and predators, there is much more variety in the size and shape of breeds within the herding group. From the little Shetland Sheepdog to the hefty Beauceron, each herding breed is specially suited for the task at hand.

Farmers created herding dogs by making use of the dog’s natural instincts, maximizing their drive to stalk and chase while breeding out the canine tendency to view livestock as prey. Herding dogs may work with sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, or even reindeer. Most herding dogs can be trained to work with any species, although some breeds are designed to be highly specialized at working with whichever animal is most common in their region of origin.

Herding dogs tend to operate using one of two herding techniques, “heading” or “heeling.” Heading is the behavior most commonly thought of when one pictures a border collie. The border collie works from the front of an animal, using a “strong eye” and a stealthy crouch to keep its flock together and hold it in place until its owner arrives. “Loose eye” headers, like the Bouvier des Flandres, will be less intense in their technique. They tend to use an upright stance and are not so predatory in their herding, focusing more on the herd as a whole instead of zeroing in on individuals. Heelers, on the other hand, work from behind an animal, nipping its heels to keep it from escaping, and to keep the herd moving forward. The small, compact corgi, which stands at only around 12 inches at the shoulder, is an example of a heeler. The corgis’ short stature might make it surprising to learn that they were bred to be cattle dogs in their native Wales, but they are very efficient at keeping the huge animals in line. In fact, their height becomes an asset in the pasture, letting the dog easily duck beneath the hooves of a kicking cow.

The Herding Group Today

The need for herding breeds has declined along with the rise of modern agriculture, although they are still a huge asset on many small farms, where they help with daily chores. Today the breeds are popular as pets and show dogs, and their abilities are showcased in herding competitions. Currently, there are 25 breeds within the AKC’s herding group. Herders are marked by their high intelligence and boundless energy, as well as the close bonds they form with their humans. When kept as pets with no livestock to work with, these breeds will often find an outlet for their instincts through play. They love to “herd” their family members, especially children. Though this is usually gentle and harmless, some dogs may be chronic nippers, and need to be trained out of it. Exercise is critical in preventing a herding dog from becoming neurotic or destructive. They prefer to have a large yard to play in, and are happiest when given a job to do. They excel at obedience, flyball, and agility training, though they can be headstrong, as many herding breeds have been developed for their independent decision-making ability. With adequate exercise and proper training, a herding breed’s natural even temper makes it an excellent family dog.

Herding Group Breeds

Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherd