Dogs that are recognized as having outstanding herding skills come in many shapes and sizes. There are currently 30 breeds considered herding dogs recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC).
Australian Cattle Dog
Australian Cattle Dogs are known for their skills at keeping herds of cattle together by nipping at their heels. "Blue heelers" come with a short blue, mottled coat and "red heelers" have a reddish coat and are also known as Queensland heelers. These are powerful medium-sized dogs with a muscular frame, weighing about 30 to 35 pounds. They're highly intelligent but have exercise and mental stimulation needs that may be too much for the average dog owner.
Despite their name, the Australian Shepherd was a breed that originated in the United States by sheep ranchers. They are medium-size dogs with a thick, long double coat that comes in black, blue merle, red or red merle. They weigh between 40 to 65 pounds. Like other herding dogs, "Aussies" are very intelligent, and need an owner who can keep them occupied and provide lots of exercise. Despite this, they're friendly dogs that can do well in families and also are popular in dog sports and competitive obedience.
The Bearded Collie, or "Beardie," is a friendly dog that looks similar to the Old English Sheepdog. The Beardie is smaller, weighing in at 45 to 55 pounds. Their long double coat comes in black, blue, or fawn mixed with white and they get their name from the long hair under their chin. Beardies are happy, funny dogs that make excellent family pets. They will need lots of exercise and training but are the perfect companion for an active home. Their intelligence also makes them easy to train and they are often found in dog sports competitions.
The Beauceron hails from France and is a large, intimidating dog. They have a short coat that comes in either black and tan or black and red, and they weigh between 70 and 110 pounds. Along with the Bouvier des Flandres, they are the largest of the AKC herding group breeds. Despite their appearance, the Beauceron is affectionate and loyal to their human families. They are a high energy breed that will need a lot of training and exercise and they're a great candidate for dog sports with their athletic build. They also can make excellent watchdogs because of their size and imposing appearance.
Belgian Malinois dogs are fearless guardians of any flock or herd. They are a very popular breed for police and military work. They are a short-haired breed with a black mask and ears and coat colors can be fawn, mahogany or brown. They weigh between 40 to 80 pounds with males larger than females. They are athletic and powerful dogs with a keen intelligence and excel at dog sports and obedience. While they are highly focused on people and loyal companions, their intelligence, exercise needs and temperament can make them a difficult dog for the average person to keep.
The Belgian Sheepdog is known for their distinctive long, shiny black double coat. They have a long, flat, tapered muzzle and pointed ears like the Collie and weigh between 45 to 65 pounds. Because of their smarts, they are used in many areas such as search and rescue, tracking, and competitive obedience. They are also known for being sensitive and gentle with humans and excel at therapy work.
The Belgian Tervuren looks similar to the Belgian Sheepdog but with a fawn to mahogany and black coat. They weigh between 45 to 75 pounds. They are also like the Belgian Sheepdog in their sensitive, loving nature and are excellent choices for service and therapy dog work. They can also be found at dog sports and competitive obedience trials as they are great athletes and easy to train. Though they are affectionate dogs, they aren't a good choice for an owner who cannot put the time into training and exercising them as they are a high energy, mentally active breed that needs a job to stay happy.
This unusual breed looks like an Old English Sheepdog with dreadlocks. The Bergamasco Sheepdog is a large dog, weighing 55 to 85 pounds with a muscular, heavy build. Their unusual fur is designed to keep them warm as they were bred to protect flocks on the cold slopes of the Alps. They are intelligent dogs that have a natural instinct to be protective and are loyal to their humans. Their unusual coat is actually easy to care for and they are a low shedding breed that some even consider hypoallergenic. The coat comes in various shades of gray to black. Unlike many other herding dogs they do not have excessive exercise needs and have a mellower temperament.
Another herding breed originating from France is the jovial Berger Picard. These dogs are known for being smart, funny and eager to spend time with their people. They are a rare breed, having almost gone extinct after the World Wars in Europe. These dogs are medium-sized, weighing about 50 to 70 pounds and have a distinctive shaggy double coat that comes in either fawn or brindle. They have an athletic build with distinctive erect ears and a "j-shaped" tail. Berger Picards have a lot of energy so they can make a good family dog with an active family that provides a lot of daily exercise outlets. They also excel at training activities such as dog sports and competitive obedience.
Widely recognized as the most intelligent breed of dogs, Border Collies are gifted herders. They're a favorite choice of dog trainers and dog sports and obedience competitors because of their combination of smarts and an intense focus on their people. Border Collies are medium-size dogs with a long double coat that can be rough or smooth and comes in any color, although black and white is probably the most popular coloring. They weigh between 30 to 55 pounds. Border Collies can make wonderful family dogs but they need a lot of exercise and training to keep them from becoming destructive.
Bouvier des Flandres
This dog breed originated in Belgian to help ranchers herd cattle and their name means "cowherd from Flanders." The Bouvier des Flandres can be an intimidating sight as they're large, with thick fur and an imposing build. In reality they're quite mellow and make excellent family dogs with proper socialization and training. They are also known for being protective of their families and can make good watch dogs. The Bouvier, as well as the Beauceron, is the largest of the AKC herding group breeds. They weigh between 65 and 110 pounds and are known for their thick, shaggy fur, especially around their face, making their head look twice as large. Their coat is often solid black but can also come in fawn and various shades of brindle.
When it comes to herding, Briards are just as skilled as they are beautiful. They have a beautiful, long and shiny coat that comes in black, tawny or gray and a distinctive feature of their hair is the strands found on their ears and above the eyes. Briards weigh between 55 and 100 pounds and have a strong, athletic build underneath their coat. They're highly intelligent and can be protective around strangers, making them a good watchdog for a family willing to put in the time to socialize and train the dog. They do need a lot of daily exercise so they are not a good choice for a dog owner or family that cannot provide for the dog's regular needs. They are an excellent choice for someone who wants to do dog sports like herding, agility and competitive obedience.
The Canaan Dog is an ancient breed and their existence dates back to the time of the Bible. They are the national dog of Israel and were bred to herd and guard flocks. This is a medium-size dog weighing between 35 and 55 pounds, with a short double coat, erect ears, and a fluffy tail like a spitz. They can be protective and territorial and need a lot of training and socialization to keep their guarding instincts at bay. They also need a lot of exercise and will not do well in a sedate home that does not want to put the time into providing for the dog's mental and physical needs. They're a great option for dog sports like herding and agility.
Cardigan Welsh Corgi
There are two types of Corgis, the Cardigan and Pembroke. The Cardigan has larger, rounder ears than the Pembroke with a longer body and muzzle. They weigh between 25 to 38 pounds and have a stout body with short legs. Their double coat is short and can be black, black and tan, black and brindle, blue merle, brindle, red, and sable and they often have white markings accompanying these colors. They are smart, high energy dogs who are wary of strangers so they're a good choice for a smaller sized dog that can be both a companion and watchdog.
Smooth Collie and Rough Collie
The collie comes in two variations, the Standard Rough Collie and the Smooth Collie. The Rough Collie is among the oldest breeds of any list of herding dogs, and they hail from Scotland and England. They are also famous for being featured in the Lassie movies and TV shows. Collies weigh between 50 and 75 pounds and have a graceful, athletic body with a long, flat tapered head. They come in black, blue, merle, sable and white. The Rough Collie has a long, thick coat whereas the Smooth Collie has a short coat. Collies are known for their loyalty, intelligence and love of their families and make a great dog for just about any type of activity. They do need regular training and exercise because like all herding dogs, they tend to have a lot of energy to burn.
Entlebucher Mountain Dog
The Entlebucher Mountain Dog, or "Entles," hail from Switzerland and are known as the "laughing dog" of the Swiss Alps region. They were bred to herd cattle and have a strong work ethic coupled with athletic ability and canine smarts. They can do well in families with older children and dedicated time for training, socialization and daily exercise. They generally have a friendly disposition, though they can be protective of their people. They are a medium-size dog weighing between 40 and 65 pounds. They have an athletic body with short legs, floppy ears and an intelligent face. Their short, glistening wash-and-wear tricolor coat comes in black, tan and white. They are a great choice for an active lifestyle and excel at all types of dog sports and training activities.
An unusual entry in the herding group is the sweet Finnish Lapphund. These dogs were bred to herd reindeer and they have a thick, fluffy double coat to keep them warm in harsh winter climates. They weigh between 30 and 50 pounds and look similar to many other northern spitz breeds with a fox-like face, pricked ears and a fluffy tail. They are one of the calmer herding breeds and make good family dogs provided they get enough exercise. Although this breed is hard to find in the United States, they're immensely popular in their home country of Finland.
German Shepherd Dog
The German Shepherd dog may be thought of as a working breed because of their popularity for military and police work but they are actually a herding breed. They are versatile dogs that excel in obedience, search and rescue, service dog work and more. German Shepherd dogs are known for being fiercely loyal to their human families and can be very protective. They can make good family dogs with proper socialization and training. The breed has a short, thick coat that generally comes in black and tan, although some can have a pale tan through reddish gold color, as well as black and sable. There is also a long-haired variety. They are a large breed dog, weighing between 50 and 90 pounds.
Another rare herding breed in the U.S. is the Icelandic Sheepdog. This breed is the only one native to Iceland, and like other northern breeds, has a spitz-type appearance. They have pricked ears, an intelligent fox-like face, fluffy curled tail and a thick double coat which can be short or long. Their coat comes in a mix of white and black, chocolate, cream, fawn, gold, gray, red, sable, or tan. The Icelandic Sheepdog weighs about 25 to 30 pounds and is a good choice for a small to medium sized family dog. They have a generally happy, excited temperament and can be loud when they're feeling energetic.
Miniature American Shepherd
If you love the Australian Shepherd but prefer a smaller dog, a Miniature American Shepherd is the perfect breed for you. These dogs weigh between 20 and 40 pounds and looks like a "mini" version of the Aussie from which the breed was created. They have a fluffy double coat that comes in black, red or merle. They are friendly dogs who can be good family companions although they'll do best in an active household that can give them plenty of mental and physical enrichment. They do well in any type of dog sport or training activity, as well as therapy work.
The Norwegian Buhund is another herding breed from the spitz family. They are medium-size dogs weighing between 25 and 40 pounds and have a weatherproof double coat. Like other spitz breeds, they have pointed ears, a "foxy" face and a plumed, curled tail. Their coat, which can be short or medium length, comes in either black or wheaten. They make good family dogs as they are loving with people and protective of their homes. They will need a lot of exercise so they're a good choice for active homes with older children who enjoy outdoor sports like hiking. They also are great choices for any type of high energy dog sport and are easy to train.
Old English Sheepdog
Old English Sheepdogs are well known as brave and gentle guardians of sheep. They are known for their thick, fluffy double coat that comes in blue, blue merle, gray or grizzle mixed with white or solid. They weigh between 70 and 90 pounds and very athletic and agile despite their thick hair and large frame. Old English Sheepdogs are calmer than other herding breeds which makes them excellent family dogs, even with smaller children. They are protective of their families and will alert to the presence of strangers. They do need regular exercise but enjoy participating in many activities such as training classes, dog sports and therapy dog work.
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi is probably most well known as the beloved breed of the Queen of England. Like Cardigan Welsh Corgis, they have a long body with short legs. They differ from the Cardigan in that they have straighter ears, slightly shorter legs and shorter tails. They weigh between 25 and 30 pounds and come in fawn, red, sable or black and tan, with white mixed into most color combinations. Pembrokes can be more excitable than Cardigans, but they're also less wary of strangers and can be a good family dog, although they will nip and chase small children. They are very intelligent and will need regular mental and physical exercise.
Polish Lowland Sheepdog
The Polish Lowland Sheepdog has a very similar look to the Old English Sheepdog, although this breed is smaller. They are known as PONs, which means Polski Owczarek Nizinny, the breed's name in Polish. They weigh between 30 and 50 pounds. Like their English counterparts, they are calmer than some other herding breeds and have an affectionate, pleasant demeanor. They're a good choice for families and can be protective, loving companions who enjoy children. They will need socialization and training as they can be wary of strangers.
This small-size herding dog has a very distinctive look as it is covered all over with wooly "cords." They look like a dog that has spent too much time with a hair crimper and curling iron. The coat comes in black, brown, cream, rust, silver or white. They weigh in at around 25 to 40 pounds and despite their small size they have an athletic frame. In fact, they're known as the "acrobat of the dog world" and you can find Pulis regularly competing in dog sports like agility. They have a moderate level of energy and are intelligent training companions. Pulis are known for having a playful, fun temperament and are a good choice as an active family dog.
The Pumi is a Hungarian breed with a friendly, happy-go-lucky expression and energetic personality. They are on the small side, weighing about 20 to 30 pounds. Their thick coat is made up of tight curls to protect them from the weather and comes in black, black and tan, fawn, gray or white. They are smart dogs that enjoy training and working and are known to bark so obedience training early is a must. These dogs are hard to find in the United States although they're popular in their native Hungary.
The Pyenean Shepherd, or Berger des Pyrénées, originated in the Pyrénées Mountains in France as a sheep herding dog. They are also known as the Pyr Shep in the U.S. They are small dogs, weighing 15 to 35 pounds and have a distinctive, triangular-shaped head. Their coat comes in either a smooth short version or a rough long or medium style. Coat colors include black, blue, brindle, fawn, gray, white or black and white. They are happy, fun-loving dogs that do well in families although they do need a lot of exercise and mental enrichment. They are very athletic and excel at sports like herding, flyball and agility.
Shetland Sheepdogs are compact, but don't let their small stature fool you. They are quite skilled when it comes to keeping a herd of livestock in order. Appearance-wise they look like a miniature version of the Rough Collie, weighing in around 15 to 25 pounds. They are the smallest of the herding breed group in the AKC. "Shelties" are a beloved family dog and they are wonderful with children. They are known for barking and you'll want to start obedience training and socialization early. They also will need lots of mental and physical enrichment to keep them from getting bored. Shelties are popular in many dog sports like competitive obedience, rally and agility, as well as trick training and therapy dog work.
Spanish Water Dog
The Spanish Water Dog is a medium-size dog weighing between 30 to 50 pounds. It has a short, wooly, curly coat that is water resistant. Their coat comes in black, beige, brown, white or a particolor mix. Spanish Water Dogs adore water, as their name implies, and they're an excellent companion dog for people who enjoy the outdoors and water sports. They do well with families although they may be a better pick for older children as they will chase and nip smaller kids. They need a good amount of daily exercise but they are not as hyper as some other herding breeds.
The Swedish Vallhund is believed to have been created over 1,000 years ago by the Vikings in what is now Sweden. They are also called the Vilkingarnas Hund which means Viking Dog. These are small spitz dogs, weighing between 25 to 35 pounds. They have a stocky body with short legs and a sturdy build. Some Vallhunds have no tail while others have a small stub or a complete curl tail. Their muzzle is long with big, pointed ears and intelligent eyes. Their double coat is short and harsh and they come in a sable color featuring gray to red shades and sometimes white markings. Vallhunds are friendly, outgoing dogs that enjoy people and training and can make energetic, charming companions.
What Is the Best Herding Dog?
Herding dogs come in so many varieties that it's difficult choose the "best" one for you. If you're looking for an active, energetic and intelligent companion to do outdoor and training activities with, breeds like the Border Collie, German Shepherd Dog and the Belgian Malinois are excellent choices. Other herding breeds are better suited as calmer family companions like the Rough Collie, Shetland Sheepdog or the Old English Sheepdog. In general, expect herding breeds to have at least a moderate need for exercise, with some having higher than average requirements. They will also tend to be very intelligent, focused on working and being with people and easy to train. If you want to bring a herding dog home, make sure you understand the breed's energy level and if they will do well with children, as some herding dogs can nip and chase children as if they think they're a flock to herd and protect.