Best Herding Dogs: Top 5 Breeds Most Recommended By Experts

The herding dog is perhaps one of the oldest types of working dog, along with hunting hounds. Whereas hunters and trackers venture out in search of game, herding dogs guard pastures and stock animals with a watchful eye. These amazing working dogs are known for their ability to corral and drive livestock, but they are also fearsome protectors that guard against predators. Our list of the top five best herding dogs includes some of the most reliable and loyal breeds of all.

Finding a good match between a home and a dog is very important for long-term happiness. Herding dogs are magnificent workers that don’t always thrive in urban settings. Sadly, mismatched dogs and homes happen all too often, and this can result in an overflow of animals that need adoption. Over six million animals enter shelters on an annual basis, but only about half end up being adopted. Shelter animals, specifically dogs, often get the reputation that they’re mangy and hard to control. While there may be some truth to these canine stereotypes, new research indicates most households that decide to adopt a shelter dog end up feeling very happy about the decision. Scientists at The Ohio State University report that while shelter dogs did indeed display more “stranger aggression” or training problems while researchers tracked them for six months at their new homes, owner satisfaction still remained high. In fact, 94 percent characterized their new pup’s behavior as either excellent or good.

Once a deep emotional bond has been established, dogs often fully integrate into a home with their family. Dogs are more than just pets; they can provide valuable insights into how the environment affects their health and aging. A study conducted by researchers at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences has uncovered the social determinants that contribute to healthier aging in dogs. The study, part of the Dog Aging Project, surveyed over 21,000 dog owners to investigate the factors influencing their canine companions’ well-being. The researchers found that a strong social support network has the greatest impact on a dog’s health, surpassing financial factors, household stability, and the age of the owner. Why bother with such detailed studies of canine aging? Dog parents will attest that it is because we love them and want our canine companions to live long and healthy lives.

Dogs make great family pets, but they can also fill important working roles at many American farms and ranches. The best herding dogs earn their keep by maintaining a watchful eye over their charges and protecting them from harm. Let us know your favorite farm-friendly breeds in the comments below!

The List: Best Herding Dogs, According to Canine Experts

1. Australian Cattle Dog

These dogs are called Heelers because of their talent for snapping at the heels of livestock to drive them. Intelligent and commanding yet eager to please their humans, these dogs make great ranch hands. Cesar’s Way raves, “This cattle dog was bred by Australian settlers to drive livestock across the wide and treacherous spaces of the continent, and they are believed to be descendants of wild dingoes. These athletic, intelligent canines require a good deal of work, agility training, or other activities to stimulate their mind and body.”

black and white short coated dog on green grass during daytime Photo by Jill Dimond on Unsplash
Australian Cattle Dog (Photo by Jill Dimond on Unsplash)

“Sturdy and powerful yet small and highly athletic, the Australian Cattle [dogs]… are hardy animals that can run for hours in scorching temperatures. Besides this, they are loyal, intelligent, and affectionate animals that make great family dogs and love being as close as possible to their human companions,” praises Pet Keen.

IFA exclaims, “Australian Cattle Dogs, better known as ‘heelers’ are a staple for livestock owners and handlers. These dogs are compact and built for a hard day’s work around the ranch or out on the summer range. They have powerful herding instincts and are known for their ability to quickly nip the heels of livestock. These dogs are very loyal and just as willing to take a drive in the truck as they are to herd cows.”

2. Australian Shepherd

The second Aussie on our list is the beloved Australian Shepherd. This prized breed is robust, brave, and highly intelligent. “The Australian Shepherd is one of the world’s most popular shepherd breeds that still herd on farms all around the world. They’re superb at controlling flocks and the insatiable energy means they’re going full speed all the time… By cross breeding their dogs with European shepherds, [Breeders] perfected their shepherd dog. Soon after, the shepherds moved to California, where their dogs became a hit,” says The Smart Canine.

black white and brown long coated dog
Australian Shepherd (Photo by Ilona Frey on Unsplash)

“Australian Shepherds or ‘Aussies’ are a midsize breed known for their intelligence and herding instincts. Fast learners and always ready to work, these dogs are great for herding sheep, cows or even kids. While they are bursting with energy, this breed is known for its loving and agreeable nature making them equally great as family and companion pets,” describes IFA.

Wag! elaborates, “This stocky, beautiful dog is super smart and waiting for something to do. They are great at herding sheep or ducks and will do so gracefully. Strong and protective as well, they fit into an active family lifestyle just fine… A quick, daily brush is all their coats need to keep them shiny!”

3. Border Collie

Border Collies are famous at dog shows and competitions, but they are also indispensable for some ranchers. Intelligence and obedience are the most desirable traits for herding dogs, and Border Collies exhibit these in droves. Wag! comments, “Tops on the list is the Border Collie. Swift moving and a never-ending work ethic make this pup a great choice as a herder. Working sheep and cattle looks simple when these pups take over. Easily cared for, these medium-sized pups just need a wash and brush, and they are ready to go.”

brown and white short coated puppy
Border Collie puppies Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

Top IIII Must adds that, “The Border Collie is widely considered to be the best herding dog breed in the world. These dogs are highly intelligent, energetic, and have an intense work ethic. They were originally bred in the Scottish borders for herding sheep but have since been used to manage a wide range of livestock, from cattle to ducks.”

The Pioneer Woman writes, “This is one of the best known of all the herding breeds! The high-energy border collie is super smart, hardworking, and athletic. They can make good family pets, but only if given ample attention and exercise—and yes, border collies will ‘herd’ small children if not discouraged. This is not a pup that can be penned up in a small city apartment for hours on end, unless you want an unhappy and destructive dog.”

4. Bearded Collie

These shaggy cuties are hardworking and brave. Bearded Collies have a thick coat that protects them from the colder mountain regions where they originate. Top Dog Tips explains, “Recognized in 1976, the Bearded Collie was originally known as the Mountain Collie and Highland Collie. They have made their living for centuries in the Scottish Highlands as hardy herding and droving dogs.”

Two Bearded Collies
Two Bearded Collies (Photo by Kyle Bushnell on Unsplash)

The Spruce Pets says, “Originating as herding dogs in Scotland, Bearded Collies are intelligent and have high exercise needs. They also can be somewhat stubborn, so it’s important to start obedience training at a young age and remain consistent with them. They prefer space to run off-leash and need lots of attention to thrive.”

“The Bearded Collie is a medium-sized, long-haired dog breed that is known for their intelligence and affectionate personality. They are generally easy dogs to train, making them great for novice owners, and have an inexhaustible enthusiasm, upbeat nature, and lust for life that is contagious. They are highly social dogs that make fast friends with everybody and are wonderful family pets,” states Pet Keen.

5. Cardigan Welsh Corgi

The Corgi is an adorable stubby little breed that was made famous by Queen Elizabeth II during her reign, where she raised no fewer than 30 of these remarkable dogs over her life. Despite their charming look and affable demeanor, Corgis are cattle dogs through and through. AZ Animals gives some details on how to tell the difference between the two types of Corgis. “There are two breeds of the Corgi, Pembroke Welsh, and Cardigan Welsh. Cardigan Corgis have a long tail, and the tail of the Pembroke corgi is stubby. The Pembroke also has a ‘foxier’ looking head. Both are long-bodied dogs, but the Cardigan is a little bit bigger.”

Someone petting a Corgi
Someone petting a Corgi (Photo by Michal Mikulec on Unsplash)

“Like its Pembroke cousin, [the Cardigan Welsh Corgi] has likely been around for thousands of years. They have a distinguished look about them that makes them seem like they were bred to be lapdogs, but they are highly adept herding dogs. They may be small, but they need plenty of exercise and can quickly become overweight and badly behaved without it. The term ‘corgi’ means either cur dog or dwarf dog in the Welsh language, which was not derogatory but intended as a descriptive term,” says The Spruce Pets.

“Recognized in 1935, the Cardigan Welsh Corgi, the older of the two Corgi breeds recognized by the AKC, is a gorgeous dog that got its name from the Welsh medieval kingdom of Cardiganshire. Throughout the long history of the breed, Cardigans have served in different roles including all-around farm dog, hunting partner, family guardian, and athlete,” reviews Top dog Tips.

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  1. You need to add the versatile Australian Kelpie (not Working Kelpie). They were the backbone of the Australian sheep industry. They are now in the United States. The Australian Kelpie is a more low key dog than the Working Kelpie, which added Border Collie And Koolie into the lines.

  2. I had my last heeler for 26 years I lost her 3 yrs ago May . I have now adopted a new girl she is 9 months old I have had her for 2 months and she is coming around beautifully. Most intelligent breed I have ever had the pleasure of working with. They are super smart and if you’re not careful they will train you instead of you training them.

    1. 100% agree. The Border Collies strength and style us superior to the other dogs. It is also better for the animals they are herding.

  3. I had my 1st blue heeler a female for 16 yrs and I lived in an àpartment the 1st couple of yrs I had. A a mobile home the last 14 yrs. She was fine with apartment living though we lived by the beach and minutes away from creeks. I took her in 3;walks a day ranging from 3 to 6 hrs. She loved her Frisbee and friends, both dog and human. So special that even though I was born into a dog family and grew up always with several dogs around, she was my 1st dog of my own and why it took me 10 yrs to get another dog. They aren’t pets there family and if treated right will die for you to protect you. I now have my 2nd heeler a red male. I got him at 3 months old. I took one week of training him on leash for me to be able to walk him anywhere without worry of leash. Very intelligent easy to try if you start early and stay consistent. My opinion is they are the best dogs ever. Mind you there are several dog breeds right up there. He’s 11 still plàys soccer love ball. Still wants to play for hours but just a lot more breaks . If your active and can give them a hard 2 min. To at least 3 hours a day exercise (3 to 6) for a tired but happy well behaved heeler that has been an amazing dog and with lots of love and exercise has thrived living with me in our home a van for the last 8 years . They can live in any type of home and in environment with lots of love and play/work time. Without cañ be destructive and can be stubborn. Also love not just there owner but all there human and dog friends. Plus great characters. Long live heelers!!!! And all pups!!!

  4. An acquaintance had a bearded collie that kept herding our saint bernard, endlessly. At the dog park our saint had no choice but to go where the collie wanted him to go; which usually was in circles. The collie’s disposition was supremely calm but determined.

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