Known for their smarts, trainability, and good looks, dogs from the herding group are among the most popular breeds in America. However, what kind of person is best suited to thrive with these high energy dogs? Great question!
Whether you are considering a purebred or are shopping for the perfect dog to adopt, there are some things you should know about herding dogs before you bring one home.
Upsides of Dogs from the Herding Group
Easy to Train Using Positive Reinforcement Methods
After centuries of selective breeding for the ability to learn and work independently, dogs from the herding group are generally among the smartest of all dog breeds. For example, the Border Collie is often cited as the smartest dog breed in existence.
In addition to having above average intelligence, the herding group boasts some of the most driven dog personalities in the canine world. They want to work, thrive on learning, and are motivated to show up for training sessions ready to absorb their lessons like a sponge. This is especially true if you have some experience with using positive reinforcement training methods and have a clear sense of your dog’s motivators (food, tug, ball, etc.).
If teaching fun tricks is one of the main reasons you want to get a dog, then adopting from the herding breed may be an excellent option. And, with so many of these intelligent dogs available for adoption through breed rescue groups, finding the right candidate is easy.
Athletic and Adventurous Companions
For those with an active lifestyle, herding dogs often make the best companions. Extremely agile paired with boundless endurance makes dogs such as Australian Shepherds, Australian Cattle Dogs, German Shepherds, and Sheepdogs of various types excellent partners on the hiking trail and in wide open spaces.
Because they are often highly bonded to their owners and quite biddable, most herding dogs can be trained to have a bomb-proof recall, which means they will come back when called regardless of the distractions. The same cannot be said, for example, among dogs in the hound group who will often abandon their owners to chase an intriguing scent trail.
For pet owners interested in competitive dog sports such as flyball, freestyle or agility, dogs from the herding group offer major advantages in terms of their ability to bring home the blue ribbons.
Loyal and Intense Relationships with People
With few exceptions, dogs from the herding group tend to form strong bonds with their human companions. Bred to work with humans, their drive to be praised and appreciated helps them to stay “people oriented,” sometimes to a fault. Having an intense relationship with a dog is not for everyone – “laid back” just isn’t a characteristic this group of dogs is known for.
Since many herding dogs were also historically bred to protect their herds, some breeds in this group can also be territorial and protective. For example, German Shepherds are known to develop fierce loyalty for family members, and sometimes going to extremes when a perceived threat shows up (real or imagined).
Early and regular socializations of dogs from the herding group is recommended to make sure they get along well with others and develop a comfort level with strange people, animals, and environments.
Downsides of Dogs from the Herding Group
High Needs for Physical and Mental Stimulation
Many people are simply not prepared to handle the high exercise needs of many dogs in the herding group. Vigorous and regular off-leash games (fetch, for example) are a requirement for most dogs in this group. A few walks on a leash each day is simply not going to cut it.
In addition to needing to stay extremely physically active, dogs in the herding group absolutely need mental stimulation to thrive. That means they do best when they are learning new behaviors, tricks, and skills. Otherwise, their overactive minds can become bored and restless, leading to the next major downside of this breed: the tendency to develop behavioral problems.
Another way to help keep dogs from the herding group thinking is interactive pet toys, such as those offered here at PetQwerks.
Notorious for Developing Behavioral Problems
A problem barker? (Ask a German Shepherd owner!) A neurotic and obsessively circling dog? (Many Border Collies have been surrendered to shelters for this kind of behavior.) Destructive habits when left alone and a tendency to develop aggression around other dogs? (Check out some forums among frustrated Australian Shepherd owners.)
This is not to say these are bad breeds. In fact, all of the behavioral issues noted above can find their cause in owners who thought they wanted a smart and highly driven dog but then failed to meet their canine’s needs for mental and physical stimulation and proper human leadership for these intelligent animals.
Intelligence and drive, when not properly guided by humans with basic knowledge about meeting dogs physical and mental needs, are a recipe for obsessive, neurotic, destructive, and even dangerous behaviors.
One last downside to consider with many of the dogs in the herding group is that several of these breeds come with significant grooming challenges. Many of these breeds have been bred to withstand often brutal climates that include wet, cold, and wind. As a result, many have double coats which means a soft undercoat in the winter that will shed all at once each spring and again in fall.
Others in this group have long single growth coats. For example, Spanish Water Dogs, Pulis, and several among the sheepdog family have coats the require extensive grooming, regular trips to the professional groomer, and daily upkeep to maintain a coat that is handsome rather than unkempt looking.
The Verdict: Is a Dog from the Herding Group Right for You?
Adopting a dog from the herding group might be right for you, if:
- You have a basic understanding of positive reinforcement based training techniques.
- You have access to wide open spaces for regular and vigorous off leash play.
- You are interested in competitive dog sports or have a very active lifestyle.
- You have the time and interest to develop a deep bond with a fiercely loyal companion.
Adopting a dog from the herding group might be a huge mistake for you, if:
- You live in an apartment or a house with a small yard.
- You work long hours and don’t have the time or energy for a high maintenance dog.
- Your idea of a great relationship with a dog mostly includes belly rubs in front of the tv.
- “Chill” is your strong suit and you are looking for a laid back and hassle free dog to fit your lifestyle.
Susan is a professional writer with a Masters in Science Studies from Virginia State University, she has also worked as a professional dog trainer for over 10 years.