As all pet owners know, there are several different breeds of dogs who have their own special qualities and unique styles. Several breeds have their own behavioral traits, whether they be aggressive, loving or intelligent. The herding dog is one of these unique breeds commonly referred to as a stock dog. Herding dogs are pastoral dogs that have either been trained in herding livestock or belong to one of the several breeds developed for herding. Their intelligence is perhaps the largest reason they are training for this specific purpose, and a well trained dog can act on the command of a whistle or command.
In New Zealand, Australia and the United States these dogs are referred to as the working dog, no matter what their breed. While some herding dogs work well with all kinds of livestock, others have been bred for generations to specialize in the herding of only specific animals as they have physical characteristics that enhance their abilities to handle these specific animals. The working dogs primary job is to move flocks and herds in one general vicinity or station for farmers and owners.
A dog bred for herding has special characteristics that assist them in working with animals in a variety of different ways. As many may correctly assume, speed and endurance are the most common characteristic found in herd breeds, however these are not the only ones that are important. Australian Cattle Dogs and others are trained to nip at the heels of animals for herding purposes and are nicknamed “heelers”. Other breeds, such as the Border Collie, have a special talent of getting in front of the herd and giving them the strong eye. This intimidation method gives Collies the nickname “headers”, as they are always ahead of the pack. While heeling and heading are both methods of herding, some breeds, for example the Australian Kelpie, use all of the methods at once. While Kelpies are adaptable to working with many animals, they are known to perform best with cattle.
Attributing to herding dogs skill to drive and gather livestock is the training by man modifying their inherited predatory behaviors. While a dog’s natural inclination is to view sheep and cattle as prey, man has trained these dogs to minimize this inclination and maintain the dog’s hunting skills to keep these animals as much of a threat as possible without actually injuring or killing the droves of animals. They are often taught voice and hand commands to make their herding skills even better.
The intelligence and beauty that herding dogs have to offer make them the perfect addition to any family. Collie breeds are friendly, however they may need to be trained to not “herd” the family and nip at their heels as they would cattle. They are easily trained because of their intelligence, so diverting this natural instinct is not too difficult.
The herding dog category is vast and includes several different dogs you would never expect. From the rottweiler and German shepherd to Collies and Koolies, many of these breeds have become a common domestic pet. Whether they are the working dog, or a family loved one, these breeds are intelligent in their own unique way.