Canine Co-Workers: Herding dogs from around the world

19.May.21

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Canine Co-Workers: Herding dogs from around the world

For any sheep farmer here in the UK, when it comes to considering a canine colleague for their work ethic, shepherding skills and stamina, there’s one breed that springs to mind. The Border Collie. Far from these being the limit of their positive attributes, the collie is highly intelligent, trainable, energetic, athletic and acrobatic among other qualities that we’re sure many reading this will be familiar with. 

Border Collie

Height 46-56cm
Weight 12-20kg
Lifespan 10-17 years

Developed in the Anglo-Scottish borders, they are physically light of bone in front, with a deep chest and well-sprung ribs to house a good heart and lungs. Their well-muscled thighs, strong hocks and good bone behind provide the power and agility required for their job as a herding dog. A dense double coat provides great weather resistance against the UK’s temperamental climate, while they work the hills, fields and fells. 

With over 6,000 collie pups registered in the UK each year, they continue to be the herding dog of choice throughout our sheep farming community. In fact, we’re pretty sure there are a number curled up at the feet of the farmers reading this right now… but we know they aren’t the only breed of herding dog in the world, so let's take a look at a few.

Welsh Corgi

Country of Origin Wales
Height 46-56cm
Weight 12-20kg
Lifespan 10-17 years


With long-standing ties to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Welsh Corgi is far from just a Royal institution. As heelers, originally bred for herding cattle, their short stature meant they were below the firing line when the cows kicked out, reducing the chance of injury as they nipped at their heels. They may not be the biggest herding breed but they are more than capable of working a variety of livestock including sheep, goats, chickens and pigs.

Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie)

Country of Origin Shetland Isles, Scotland
Height 33-41cm
Weight 5-11kg
Lifespan 12-18 years

This plucky little dog, as his name suggests, originates from the Shetland Isles. Hardy but petite, the sheltie is excitable and clever, vocal and eager to please. Their loyalty shines through in their shadow-like tendencies and their intelligence and trainability make them great herding dogs. Their boundless energy is enough to put any of us to shame and they are best with a job to do.

Old English Sheepdog 

Country of Origin England
Height 61cm+
Weight 30-46kg
Lifespan 10-11 years

Now best known as the mascot of Dulux paint, the Old English Sheepdog is a breed that emerged from early types of herding dog. Originally used to help farmers herd their sheep and cattle to market, their long shaggy coat made them rather impractical for muddy conditions (muddy paws across the kitchen floor anyone?!). This thick coat, like many, is double layered with the undercoat forming the water-resistant layer, protecting the skin.

Standing at upwards of 61cm, they are one of the larger known herding dogs in the world. However, they are now more of a show dog than a working dog.

The Pyrenean Sheepdog

Country of Origin France
Height 38-56cm
Weight 8-15kg
Lifespan 15-17 years

Originating from the Pyrenees Mountains in France, and not to be confused with the larger Pyrenean Mountain Dog, which is kept as a flock guardian, the Pyrenean Sheepdog is a small to medium-sized breed. Used for herding sheep through the mountains, it is found in three coat types – long-haired, goat-haired and smooth-faced. In fact, the two breeds traditionally work in tandem, with the Mountain dogs protecting flocks from predation by wolves and the Sheepdog herding the flocks as they graze the mountain pastures through the summer months.

Catalan Sheepdog

Country of Origin Spain
Height 45-55cm
Weight 20-27kg
Lifespan 12-14 years

Like many sheepdogs, because of its intelligence, the Catalan Sheepdog is easy to train and, while an extremely agile dog, its courage makes it the perfect watchdog – guarding sheep without instruction. Their basic herding instinct and intelligence also makes them trainable for herding trials while their kind and loyal nature make them lovely to have around.

The Catalan, which originates in Spain is widely bred in Europe – especially in Spain, Finland, Germany and Sweden.

Icelandic Sheepdog

Country of Origin Iceland
Height 42-46cm
Weight 11-14kg
Lifespan 12 years

A shepherd’s very own emergency service in the form of a canine co-worker - the Icelandic Sheepdog originates from the dogs brought to Iceland by the Vikings. As their name and origins might suggest, they are hardy and tough, energetic and agile and invaluable for herding and driving livestock and finding lost sheep.

While largely used as a shepherding dog, they are also used as a watchdog and a general working dog. Contrary to our Border Collie, which largely works in silence, the Icelandic Sheepdog barks to drive its charges, when herding fails.

Puli

Country of Origin Hungary
Height 42cm
Weight 10-12kg
Lifespan 10-15 years

With his dreadlock-esque corded coat, Pulis are a more unusual looking dog. Originating in Hungary, they are a small-medium herding and guarding dog. They are an intelligent and active dog, despite their bulky appearance and very thick coat. Speed, agility and ability to change directions instantly, make them fantastic herders, while their protective nature makes them very good guard dogs. That said, they can be tough and headstrong and it is therefore recommended that obedience training should be started from a young age.

Koolie

Country of Origin Australia
Height 40-60cm
Weight 15-24kg
Lifespan 15 years

Where else would you find a dog by such a name than Australia? The Koolie is a breed of dog that varies in appearance as much as the country they originate from. While all are agile with the ability to adapt to any situation, the Koolie varies in size and stature around the country, to suit its surroundings.

Unlike other shepherding breeds, who tend to have a crouched stance for fieldwork, Koolies are much more upright, with a good eye and shifting focus that makes them able to switch between tasks with ease.

Canaan Dog

Country of Origin Israel
Height 45-60cm
Weight 18-25kg
Lifespan 12-15 years

The Canaan is the national dog of Israel and is found in several Middle Eastern countries. Used by the Bedouins for guarding their herds and camps, they are a wild-looking dog in appearance – owing perhaps to their past. It is said that the Israelites were forcefully removed from their land at the time of the Diaspora and had to leave their dogs behind, which then reverted to the wild.

Kelpie

Country of Origin Australia
Height 39-51cm
Weight 13-19kg
Lifespan 12-15 years

Originally derived from the British collie, the Australian Kelpie is a sheepdog that is gaining popularity for its ability to muster and drive with little or no guidance. Now, widely exported throughout the world for its ability to effectively work sheep, cattle and goats, it gets its name from a mythological shape-shifting water spirit of Celtic folklore.

They have a brilliant natural instinct for preventing stock from moving too far away from the stockman but the Kelpie’s signature move is to jump on the backs of sheep and walk across them to reach the other side to break up a jam.

Paws for thought…

It’s easy to take our canine colleagues for granted, but with a little insight into other working breeds, we’re filled with a newfound admiration for our very own shepherding superstars – the Border Collie. Not only this but the skills, instincts and attributes of working dogs around the world and our ability to utilise these in the work that we do.

We’d love to hear more about your Border Collie, Kelpie or other herding dog capers, or tales of your waggy tailed farming friends, so be sure to tag us in your stories on Facebook and Twitter, for your chance to be featured in future blogs.