Difference Between Herding Dogs & Working Dogs

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The American Kennel Club's seven recognized breed groups include the herding and working groups, among which are some of the world's most loved and popular breeds, including German shepherds and Dobermans, but also some of the more unusual and rare breeds, such as the komondor. While crossover exists between the dogs in the working group and those in the herding group in terms of personality and appearance, the differences are more telling.

Working Ability

Dogs in the herding group are specialized for pastoral work, while dogs in the working group are not specialized at all. Herding dogs perform pastoral roles, namely herding and droving livestock. Conversely, the working group contains dogs capable of a multitude of roles. Included in it are the spitz and sled breeds adept at working in snow such as the Alaskan malamute, chinook, Siberian husky and samoyed; the water-going breeds including the Portuguese water dog and the Newfoundland; and the mountain dogs including the Bernese mountain dog, the Saint Bernard and the greater Swiss mountain dog.



Herding dogs are noted for their intelligence, with the border collie being the sharpest of a clever bunch. Of the Top 10 most intelligent breeds, according to a study conducted by psychology professor Dr. Stanley Coren, five are herding dogs: border collie, German shepherd, Shetland sheepdog, Australian cattle dog and Pembroke Welsh corgi. Only two working breeds, the Rottweiler and Doberman pinscher make it into Coren's list. That's not to say working breeds are dumb; they just don't have the extreme intelligence of their herding cousins.



The size range of the working group is narrower than that of the herding group. Of the herders, the Pembroke Welsh corgi is the smallest at around 12 inches tall and 27 pounds. The largest is the Belgian Malinois, at 26 inches. In the working group, the range of height and weight is narrower. From the 27.5-inch, 180-pound Saint Bernard to the 20-inch tall German pinscher, the working group contains the largest breeds in the world.

Coat Length


Due to their collective histories of working outside with livestock, typically in Europe, herding dogs usually have thick, protective coats. The puli and komondor each have distinctive corded, dreadlock-like coats to protect them against the harsh Hungarian winters. In the working group, coat length is much less uniform. Ranging from the short, slick single coat of the mastiff and cane corso to the thick, winter-ready double coats of the leonberger and samoyed.


The temperament of a herding breed is relatively predictable. Herding dogs have an instinct for chasing, are stimulated by boredom and will have a low threshold for boredom. This is true across the group. In the working group, temperament is much less uniform. From the docile gentle giants like the rottweiler, Saint Bernard and Leonberger, with their calm watchfulness via the high energy, protective boxer and Akita to the super-energetic huskies and chinooks, there's a dog of every temperament in the working group.


By Simon Foden

American Kennel Club: Herding Group
American Kennel Club: Working Group
American Kennel Club: Great Pyrenees
American Kennel Club: Anatolian Shepherd Dog
Stanley Coren: The Intelligence of Dogs
American Kennel Club: Pembroke Welsh Corgi
American Kennel Club: Belgian Malinois
American Kennel Club: Saint Bernard
American Kennel Club: German Pinscher

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 Dogmagazine.net.