Also known as sheepdogs, herding dogs, and cattle dogs, the many types of shepherd dog breeds have been herding companions throughout history. They are trained to herd sheep and cattle and ensure that none of the animals in their care are lost.
Shepherd dogs also have found their place in other jobs like tracking, courier work, and sniffing due to their general intelligence and eagerness to please. For years, shepherd dogs were a mainstay of every farm, which is still true for many farms today. They have also gotten quite popular as family pets, as they are known to be extremely loyal to their families, incredibly intelligent, and highly athletic.
Several shepherd breeds from all over the world come in all shapes and sizes. In this article, you’ll find some of the most popular shepherd dog breeds. Each breed is recognized by the Herding Group by the American Kennel Club. Keep reading to learn more about these amazing, diligent dogs who are fantastic companions both on the field and in the home.
If you are not certain of your dog’s genetic makeup, you can use an at-home DNA test kit to find out.
This breed is arguably the most recognizable shepherd breed around. German Shepherds are quick, athletic, and intelligent. As their name suggests, German Shepherds were bred in Germany in the late 1800s by crossing various herding breeds. They became the preferred military breed during World War II. These days, German Shepherds take on a variety of jobs, from seeing-eye work to K9 units.
German Shepherds typically stand at 26 inches at the shoulder and sport a double coat. Most German Shepherds sport a black and brown coat with darker colors concentrated on the back and the muzzle. They can also have completely jet-black coats.
German Shepherds are courageous and intelligent. They learn quickly and are always eager to keep up with an active owner. These dogs also require proper socialization from a young age to keep them from growing up nervous and high-strung. This involves exposing them to children and other animals to stray away from their over-protective instincts.
They also require a lot of exercise and daily walks to stay mentally and physically fit. German Shepherds shed about twice yearly, but they still do require brushing a few times a week. Fortunately, well-bred German Shepherds do not tend to snore and drool, and they’re also less likely to dig up your garden!
Belgian Shepherd Dog
The Belgian Shepherd Dog is also known as the Belgian Sheepdog, Belgian Malinois, Groenendael, and Chien de Berger. Four varieties of Belgian dogs are named after four Belgian villages: Groenendael, Mechelar/Malinois, and Tervuren.
They were first bred in the 1880s when they were simply called Continental Shepherd Dogs. This medium-sized breed is perfect for the crisp, damp atmosphere in Belgium. They stand from 22 to 24 inches tall and typically have a rich, black coat. This thick double coat is perfect for keeping the cold out and keeping bodily warmth in.
Belgian Shepherds love to stay active and keep moving. They have also been used in police and law enforcement, as they have a certain talent for sniffing out bombs and contraband. However, Belgian Shepherd Dogs are best left in the hands of experienced dog owners with years of experience in handling energetic dogs.
Belgian Shepherd Dogs have an extremely wide range of temperaments that vary from individual to individual, so one has to be prepared for the unexpected. One thing for sure is that protective instincts come naturally to the Belgian Shepherd, so they will learn naturally as they grow.
The Australian Shepherd is the favorite herding dog of American cowboys and is a common sight in rodeo shows. Also known as Aussies, they come in a variety of colors. Their medium-length coat is thickest around the neck. It’s a misconception that these dogs originated in Australia; the truth is they were named after the Australian cattle they were bred to herd.
Most people believe that the Australian Shepherd was a European breed that was perfected in California, but the lack of reliable sources makes the story of the Australian Shepherd very difficult to decipher. Nonetheless, the Australian Shepherd was registered by the American Kennel Club in 1993, making them a relatively new breed to appear on the roster.
Aussies are the complete opposite of lazy and have an irresistible desire to herd. They always want to be doing something, which is why they make great herding dogs for large flocks of sheep and sometimes cattle. Some Aussies can even be trained to do simple household tasks.
If they are not stimulated enough, they may go off and do their own thing, like chasing cars or wandering about unsupervised. They are used to wide expanses of land, so they should live in an open space or a very wide yard. Fortunately, this means that Aussies do great with some simple household tasks. Aussies also do great in competitive obedience sports, though sport dogs require rigorous training and a strict diet.
The Great Pyrenees, technically a livestock guard dog vs. herder, is a massive dog with an equally massive sense of duty. They are also known as Pyrenean Mountain Dogs in the UK. This breed originates from the Pyrenees mountains bordering France and Spain. They have a shaggy white coat, perfect for keeping cold and moisture out.
Several centuries ago, Great Pyrenees dogs were considered to be dogs for peasants. However, in 1675, the court of King Louis XIV named the Great Pyrenees the Royal Dog of France. This allowed French nobles to acquire these big dogs and use them as guard dogs.
Great Pyrenees dogs are not for novice dog trainers. Though they are calm and docile in safety, their strong sense of individuality, plus their size and strength, may make discipline difficult. Just like a German Shepherd, a Great Pyrenees needs ample socialization to ensure they know how to tell friends from foe. If well socialized, a Great Pyrenees can be one of the friendliest canines around.
The Great Pyrenees also requires a specialized low-protein diet, as they are susceptible to bloat. Finally, anyone who wants to raise a Great Pyrenees must prepare for their powerful barks and howls. They are very vocal dogs, and their calls will reach great distances. This makes perfect sense; they were bred for mountain life!
Belgian Malinois Dog
The Belgian Malinois is quickly becoming the favored breed for police and military jobs. They stand from 22 to 26 inches at the withers, with easy-to-manage coats. Their coats are brown or fawn, with black on their ears and mask. Belgian Malinois are known for being very intelligent and eager to please. Thus, they have been used in various army special forces across the globe.
They are often confused with the German Shepherd, but they can be differentiated by their paws, coat, and head. Malinois stand on their toes and have brown coats with smaller, more triangular ears. German Shepherds, on the other hand, stand flat on their feet and generally have tan coats with black saddles with larger ears. Both dogs are very intelligent, but they also vary slightly in temperament.
Belgian Malinois have a powerful prey drive and will chase animals smaller than themselves. Unfortunately, this includes other pets, pest animals, wild squirrels, and children. This means these dogs will not get along with other pets in the house if not properly socialized. Furthermore, Belgian Malinois have massive energy levels and tend to be very twitchy and sensitive. They should not be left alone, making them ill-suited for people who travel a lot or work long hours.
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi is among the shortest of the herding breeds, standing only 10 to 12 inches at the shoulder. These are also the Corgis that the British Royal Family swears by, as Queen Elizabeth II herself raises Welsh Corgis in Buckingham Palace!
Pembroke Welsh Corgis originate from Pembrokeshire, Wales, where they were first believed to have originated from myths about fairies and elves. These tiny herders have short, waterproof coats, little legs, a nubby tail, a fun sense of humor, and a need to be involved in whatever family activities happen.
Pembroke Welsh Corgis are hardy little dogs and require only occasional brushing. Given their adventurous nature and their need to be in the thick of things, they can often be found in odd places, like tables and the back of couches.
Given their herding nature, they may chase and nip at children, so measures must be taken to keep Pembroke Welsh Corgis from exerting too much pressure on children. They are also very vocal dogs; bored Welsh Corgis may bark excessively. Corgis’ body structures also mean they are prone to back problems.
The Shetland Sheepdog is popularly known as the Sheltie. Its original name was the Shetland Collie, but Rough Collie breeders pushed against that name until it was formally changed. Shelties originate from dogs living in the highlands between Scotland and Norway. They used to be called Toonies by the Norwegians.
After some cross-breeding, they were brought to the Shetland Islands, where they were bred to be smaller and fluffier. They were crossbred more and more until the original image of the Sheltie was lost to time by the end of the 19th Century. The first official Sheltie was registered by the American Kennel Club in 1911.
Shelties are friendly dogs and get along with kids and the rest of the family. They also are very athletic and do well in agility sports and competitive obedience. However, due to their original breeding as herding dogs for sheep, they will chase birds and everything resembling them, including airplanes.
Shelties also shed very heavily, so potential Sheltie owners will want to invest in a very good vacuum cleaner. Fortunately, they tolerate some time alone as long as they still get cuddles and ample attention when everyone is home.
The Rough Collie is also known as the Long-Haired Collie. Perhaps this version of the Collie breed is best known through Lassie, the hero of the 1950s television series of the same name. Lassie and hundreds of other Rough Collies are known for their wedge-shaped heads, almond-shaped eyes, and impressive mane-like coats, which set them apart from other herding breeds out there.
The Rough Collie arose from sheepdogs in Scotland and Wales. Throughout the 1800s, the Rough Collie became the herding pet of choice in Scotland and Wales until they became family pets throughout the Industrial Revolution, then known as Scotch Sheep-Dogs.
Throughout the years, Rough Collies have been bred to become family pets instead of working dogs. Unlike typical herding dogs, Rough Collies lack the aggression often needed for herding. A well-trained Rough Collie will bark at strangers but not attack.
Rough Collies also adjust to many different living styles, so they will be happy with apartment life as long as they get their daily walks. Given their coats, they will need a lot of brushing and bathing to keep their long locks from getting matted. It is also important to get a Rough Collie from a responsible breeder, as the original Lassie’s explosive popularity gave rise to many unscrupulous breeders who care very little for dogs and more for the money.
Caucasian Shepherd Dog
Caucasian Shepherd Dogs, or Russian Bear Dogs, are massive, powerful dogs hailing from the Caucasus mountains, which is in Russia. This Russian dog breed is also called Caucasian Ovcharka, Caucasian Mountain Dogs, and Russian Caucasian Ovcharka. They are large and muscular, with a thick, fluffy coat that can come in various colors.
This coat is so dense that they make Caucasian Shepherd Dogs look larger than they already are. They are one of the oldest breeds and have been around for at least 2,000 years. Some new archaeological data claims that the breed goes back to Mesopotamia.
The Caucasian Ovcharka is courageous at best and ferocious at worst. They may not exhibit as much energy as other shepherd dog breeds, but they can unleash their full strength if pushed too far. They are extremely wary of strangers but happily interact with friends and family. Children must not be left alone with a Caucasian Shepherd Dog, as they may start guarding the child with more force than necessary. If trained and socialized right, they can make loving family pets and guardians.
Australian Cattle Dog
Unlike the Aussie Shepherd, the Australian Cattle Dog was developed in Australia. They were originally bred to herd sheep within large expanses of land. The breed first originated when herders and ranch owners expanded westward from Sydney, and they needed a good herding companion that could handle miles and miles of ranch land. These days, Australian Cattle Dogs come in two colors: red speckle and blue.
“Blue Heelers” are either black or blue mottled, as the name suggests, while the red dogs have an even red speckle from their Dalmatian genes. Other breeds, such as the wild Dingo and Collies from Scotland, were also involved in breeding the Australian Cattle Dog.
At first glance, the Australian Cattle Dog seems highly adaptive and easy to raise. They do not snore, bark, or drool much, adapt well to various climates, and shed only once or twice yearly. However, they were bred to patrol vast plots of land and thus react poorly to confined living spaces. They need lots of exercise and mental stimulation to stay happy. Australian Cattle Dogs also do not fare well with other animals and may display defensive tendencies that can go too far.
The English Shepherd is a herding dog breed that, according to legend, dates back to the Roman Empire in 55 BC. The breed first was developed when dogs from the Roman Peninsula were brought with Caesar and his troops to the British Isles. During the invasions, Roman dogs were used to herd livestock under Roman control.
As the livestock dwindled, the Roman dogs were interbred by British Isle natives with local breeds to exemplify the intelligence and agility that comes from breeding dogs. The resulting breed was brought to the New World by immigrants from Britain. The English Shepherd is known for being an expert herder and rat-catcher, which earns it a place in many farmsteads to this day.
The English Shepherd is eager to please and is a great addition to the family. However, without proper socialization through exposure to humans and pets, the English Shepherd can become bossy and act as the top dog of the pack. With proper socialization, the English Shepherd will trust the right people.
The English Shepherd also needs daily walks and generous yard space to run around in. Compared to other herding dog breeds, the English Shepherd has an easy-to-manage coat and only requires occasional brushing.
The Border Collie is widely considered the smartest dog breed in the world. Many Border Collie owners swear by the intensity of their Border Collie’s wise gaze! These dogs have long-haired coats that usually appear black and white, but red, white, and tricolor Border Collies are also seen. Border Collies are smaller dogs, standing at about 20 inches high. They have been herding sheep for about 300 years.
Some Border Collies have also participated in historical trials that test each dog’s abilities. The tasks in each trial may involve bringing sheep to a specific point and rounding sheep up into a pen. The Border Collie was finally registered as a breed within the American Kennel Club in 1995, making them one of the newer herding breeds registered.
Like other highly intelligent breeds, Border Collies need a reasonable amount of exercise and mental stimulation. While they can handle kids, strangers must take care not to be at the receiving end of a Border Collie’s nip, as they will nip at human heels much like how they nip at sheep. Proper socialization from an early age can deter such nipping behaviors and turn these dogs into perfect home companions.
Border Collies are also among the herding dogs that thrive with space and a lot of exercise, so someone should always be home to spend time with them.
Cardigan Welsh Corgi
Most people don’t realize that another breed of Welsh Corgi exists! The Cardigan Welsh Corgi is the older of the two Corgi breeds, also originating in Wales. The main difference between the two Corgi breeds is the tail. Pembrokes have short, nubby tails, while Cardigans have longer ones.
Cardigans also have coats in a wider variety of colors, including red, black, sable, and merle. It is widely believed they originated from the same family of breeds that produced Dachshunds and Basset Hounds. The earliest ancestor of the Cardigan Welsh Corgi was believed to have arrived in Wales more than 2,000 years ago, far before the time of the Pembroke Welsh Corgi.
Just like the Pembrokes, Cardigan Welsh Corgis are also prone to back injuries and disorders, so special care and vet visits must be made to avoid health complications. Cardigan Welsh Corgis are also not as open to strangers as the Pembrokes, but they can be just as friendly with some time and patience. They also have waterproof coats but are not as fit for the outdoors as Pembrokes.
Old English Sheepdog
The Old English Sheepdog is instantly recognizable by their coat of shaggy hair that often covers their eyes. Their older names include Shepherd’s Dog and Bob-Tailed Sheep Dog. This large, shaggy dog’s roots are largely a mystery, though many sources believe they originated in Southwestern England as a herding dog for cattle.
Interestingly enough, geneticists have also traced other European and Russian strains in the Old English Sheepdog’s traits. From the 1880s to the 1900s, the Old English Sheepdog became a show breed for wealthy families.
The Old English Sheepdog is a fun-loving, friendly dog who loves to spend time with family. They deal well with kids and don’t tend to get overprotective; their protective instincts seem only to kick in when really needed. Surprisingly, the Old English Sheepdog adjusts well to home and apartment life.
Though this breed sheds little, the bulk of their fur means that they require long hours of grooming per week. This includes daily brushing and occasional visits to a professional groomer. The Old English Sheepdog also does not fare well for long hours alone; they quickly develop social anxiety and, as such, need to be with family almost always.
Spanish Water Dog
The Spanish Water Dog is a woolly, intelligent, and even-tempered dog who feels most at home working with humans. The most notable characteristic of the Spanish Water Dog is its curly, woolly fur. These curly fur strands wind around each other and grow out into cords. Because of this, farmers back in the day used to shear their dogs at the same time they sheared their sheep!
Their origin is also a bit confusing, with various theories claiming their beginnings in Turkey or Northern Africa. Nonetheless, they have made their place within the Iberian Peninsula as sheepherders or waterfowl retrievers. These days, Spanish Water Dogs also find their way to police forces and disaster rescue.
The Spanish Water Dog does well as a family pet. These dogs are intelligent and eager to please, with good hunting and guardian instincts. This also means that one must put themselves on top of the pack hierarchy to keep their Spanish Water Dog from being too territorial or overprotective.
Notably, the Spanish Water Dog must never be combed or brushed, as brushing might just pull on the curled furs and cause pain. Bathing should involve plenty of conditioner and a gentle shampoo. Fortunately, this breed never really sheds, making them one of a few hypoallergenic dog breeds.
The Beauceron is a tall, rugged dog, standing at 27 inches at the withers. Their name comes from the Beauce region of France. Beaucerons do not hail from Beauce. Oddly enough, they hail from the province of Brie. They have pure black double coats with red feet that give rise to the nickname Bas-Rouge, or “red stockings.”
They were originally developed as hunting dogs in the 1500s but were soon bred for herding work. Interestingly, like several French shepherd breeds, the Beauceron has an extra dewclaw on each of their hind legs. They are levelheaded dogs, protective of their families, and full of energy.
The Beauceron is especially strong-willed and almost bows to no master. This breed is not for inexperienced dog owners! As usual, they must be socialized very early in life. If they are put in their place within the pack hierarchy as soon as possible, this counteracts their natural need for being the Alpha.
Without proper training, they might assert dominance over children in the family, which could induce stress in both the kids and the dog. They also need at least 40 minutes to two hours of exercise daily, as well as a wide yard or farmland for them to run around in.
This breed’s name is pronounced ber-zhey pi-car. In the Northern Hemisphere, Berger Picards are best known thanks to the 2005 film Because of Winn-Dixie, where the titular dog was played by a Berger Picard. They are another old breed hailing from Picardy in Northern France. The breed has existed since the Middle Ages, leading many to believe that the Berger Picard is the oldest of the French herding dog breeds.
They were officially recognized in France in the 1960s and were registered by the American Kennel Club in 2015. Berger Picards are a medium-sized breed with a rough, thick, strong coat that may come in red, blue, grey, or fawn. They also have a long tail that ends in a slight J-curve and tall, erect ears.
Berger Picards tend to be skittish and, as such, easily become overstimulated. Therefore, a steady hand, lots of socialization, and positive reinforcement are important to ensure the Berger Picard grows up happy and healthy. They also require daily pack walks if there are other dogs in the household.
Berger Picards respond poorly to harsh voices, so it is important to be kind, consistent, and firm in their training. They can adjust to a small apartment as long as they are sufficiently exercised. They also are quiet dogs, so there’s less risk of waking up grumpy neighbors in the middle of the night.
Their name says it all; the Finnish Lapphund hails from Finland, with the Saami people, far north in Lapland. They were first used as reindeer herders and were bred to dodge lanky reindeer legs and horns. Finnish Lapphunds nearly went extinct just before World War II, but enthusiasts banded together and saved the breed from disappearing.
They are extremely agile and can go from walking to a full sprint in no time at all. Finnish Lapphunds have coarse, long topcoats and fluffy undercoats that keep the cold out. They come in all sorts of colors, ranging from white to red to brown to black.
Finnish Lapphunds crave family affection, are good with kids, and are wary of strangers. They are not guard dogs, though; they will bark at strangers but not attack. Finnish Lapphunds also need the daily exercise required of most herding breeds. They react poorly when left alone, so someone should always keep an eye on the Lapphund lest they become anxious and display destructive behavior.
They also have a strong “startle” reflex developed from dodging reindeer, so a good owner keeps them away from loud noises and dangerous situations. As long as one can handle the shedding and the barking, Finnish Lapphunds make great additions to a close-knit family.
Bouvier des Flandres
The Bouvier des Flandres is a smart, burly, barrel-chested dog bred to keep up with heavy-duty farm work. This breed hails from Flanders, also known as the Flemish area of Belgium. Their name means “cow herder from Flanders,” which accurately describes their usual line of work up in the heights of Belgium.
They can grow up to 27 inches tall and weigh 95 pounds. They have a rough outer coat and a thick undercoat that can withstand the cold of the Belgian mountains. Aside from herding and guarding cattle, they were also used to help pull carts. Bouviers des Flandres also served in both World Wars as messenger dogs and sentries.
Bouviers des Flandres seldom bark and have a generally calm demeanor. However, as herding dogs, they may tend to herd more than they should. They might start nipping at bikers and joggers if they are not given enough things to do.
Fortunately, Bouviers learn quickly under the hand of an experienced dog owner or a professional trainer and learn to take on a leash quickly. Bouviers’ coats are also notorious for picking up a lot of dirt and plant material, and they often track dirt across the house. This can be mitigated through frequent bathing, but the dirt can’t be helped for the most part.
To most people, the Puli dog may resemble a friendly, four-legged mop. The Puli is an old Hungarian breed related to the Tibetan Terrier, first brought to Hungary in 900 CE. Just like the Spanish Water Dog, the Puli’s coat is curly and grows out in tightly wound cords– though theirs are much thicker than the Spanish Water Dog’s! The Puli’s skin is fully pigmented in blue or black, no matter the color of the coat. They were bred to be sole companions high up in hill ranches, so they tend to latch on to one person.
Pulik (plural of Puli) are intelligent and assertive; sometimes, they may be too intelligent for their own good! Pulis tend to circle their “flock,” nipping at those who stray too far. They always return to their owners, whether they are out investigating something or simply going for a romp.
Given the density of their corded coat, Pulik tend to overheat if the weather is too warm. They also need to be carefully watched if they are going for a swim, as the cords can weigh down and tire out a swimming Puli. Though their coat is thick and presents a grooming challenge, Pulik are impressively agile and acrobatic and love to run around in wide-open spaces.
While many dogs may be up to the task of shepherding a flock, few are genetically predisposed to the task. If you have a small farm or a homestead, any of the Shepherd-type dog breeds we’ve covered here can adequately keep your other farm animals safe and contained.
It’s important to remember that shepherd breeds come in all shapes and sizes. Each breed also varies in temperament, and even from individual pup to individual pup. Reading up on each breed is essential to preparing for each dog’s challenges. It is also important to have a healthy respect for the unknown. Each dog is different, so a well-prepared owner will know to adapt to each individual breed.