Characteristics of Shepherding Dogs

German shepherds, border collies and any breed with the word "cattle," "sheep" or "shepherd" in its name were originally bred to work alongside a shepherd as a herder, a drover or both. Shepherding dogs make great pets: they're intelligent, quick learners and adapt well to domestic life. If you're considering getting a shepherding dog, you've got a huge choice of breeds, all with different characters but with some common personality traits.


Prey Drive

Although shepherding dogs were bred for the protection and control of livestock, they possess a strong prey drive. This is an essential personality trait, but when put to work, the shepherd controls this instinct with training. Herding requires the dog to "hunt" livestock to control its movement, but the final, gruesome part of the hunt never happens. This is because the dog is intelligent and will obey his master's commands. You'll notice your shepherding dog, whether it's an Australian cattle dog or an Anatolian shepherd, loves to chase.

High Intelligence

The border collie is typically regarded as the most intelligent dog breed in the world. The German shepherd and Shetland sheepdog also make it into the top five. Due to the complex and demanding nature of shepherding, only the most intelligent dogs were used for work. Subsequently, the offspring of the original shepherd dogs have inherited this intelligence. High intelligence is a blessing and a curse for dog owners. While training a smart dog is a rewarding and thrilling experience, your shepherding dog won't be happy if under-stimulated. Herding dogs excel at agility trials, flyball and other dog sports.

Low Boredom Threshold

One of the most common problems that come with owning a high-intelligence dog is the low boredom threshold. While some dogs, especially those bred purely for companionship, are happy to laze about all day, your shepherding dog will not put up with this. If you don't provide plenty of mental stimulation such as agility training, your dog will soon find ways to entertain himself, and you may not be happy with his choices.

Working Instinct

You'll notice that your shepherd dog, whether a border collie or an old English sheepdog, loves to "work." His instinct for controlling the movement of his flock remains strong, even though he's a domestic pet. He'll try to round up family members, nip at the legs of people running by and possibly even chase cars. If you've ever noticed Lucky the sheepdog glaring at you, it's because he's waiting for your next move so he can herd you.


Unlike scent hounds and sledding dogs, herding dogs were bred to work with a shepherd and nobody else. This calls for a high degree of loyalty. Those dogs that didn't devote themselves to their shepherd would typically have been regarded as poor shepherd dogs and certainly wouldn't have been used for breeding. A shepherding dog is a "one-man dog." He'll stick by your side, won't fawn over strangers and will always have his eye on you. For this reason, these dogs make excellent guard and watchdogs.

By Simon Foden


About the Author
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for