The American Kennel Club (AKC) places each of its 205 recognized breeds into one of seven different groups. Of particular note is the AKC’s newest category, the Herding Group. This group is home to some of the most intelligent, athletic, and loyal breeds in existence. Not only does this group perform beautifully in competitive sports, but its members make up much of the professional working dog force of today.
Some of these herding breeds, sometimes called shepherd dog breeds, are easy to identify by name alone, such as the German and Australian Shepherds. Others, though, are less obvious.
1. German Shepherd
When you hear the term “shepherd dog,” the German Shepherd is probably the first breed that comes to mind. As the name implies, this dog originated in Germany, where it was bred to herd and guard livestock. Today, though, the German Shepherd is more synonymous with police K-9s and working military dogs than life on the farm.
These intelligent canines are also extremely popular as family pets, taking second place on the AKC’s 2018 list of the most popular dog breeds. However, their headstrong personalities and physical strength make them much better suited for experienced dog owners than first-timers.
2. Australian Shepherd
The Australian Shepherd easily stands out from the canine crowd with its intense gaze and silky coat (often featuring a unique coloration called merle). While they might not be as large and imposing as some of their herding counterparts, they’re mainstays in the ranching world for a reason!
With a tireless work ethic and constant need for activity, the Australian Shepherd requires a life full of new experiences and learning opportunities. This makes the breed an excellent choice for an active household, but a not-so-great one for dog owners who prefer lounging to adventuring.
The Collie has been one of the most popular family pets for decades, mostly thanks to Hollywood’s famous Lassie. Fitting its silver screen reputation, the breed is well suited to family life and is known for being extremely fond of children.
Like all herding dogs, though, the breed started as a working farm dog long before entering family homes around the world. In the Collie’s case, this meant herding sheep in the Scottish Highlands.
The most common variety of Collie is known as a Rough Collie, boasting a long, incredibly silky coat. However, there’s another variation called the Smooth Collie, which has short fur similar to a Labrador Retriever’s.
4. Welsh Corgi
The Welsh Corgi has enjoyed quite a bit of time in the spotlight, with entire social media pages devoted to sharing adorable photos and videos of the short-legged pups. But did you know that the Welsh Corgi is actually a type of shepherd dog breed?
In fact, their herding abilities are directly related to their stout stature. Welsh Corgis were bred to sit extremely low to the ground, not because it looks cute but because it meant they could avoid the kicking legs of cattle and other livestock.
The Welsh Corgi can actually be split into two separate breeds: the Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. (If you want to quickly differentiate one from the other, Cardigans have long tails. Pembrokes do not.) Whichever breed you choose, however, you’re sure to have a smart, affectionate, and surprisingly athletic dog on your hands.
5. Old English Sheepdog
You can’t miss an Old English Sheepdog, but its peek-a-boo hairstyle might make it easy to miss you. This shepherd breed dog has a shaggy coat, typically in grey and white hues. Most notable, though, is the hair around its face that can grow so long it completely covers its eyes!
The Old English Sheepdog strikes a perfect balance between hard worker and family companion. While they are profoundly clever and athletic, the breed is also very kind and protective.
Their reputation as guard dogs is also not unfounded — there’s nothing quite like an Old English Sheepdog’s bark!
6. Australian Cattle Dog
Also known as a Blue Heeler, the Australian Cattle Dog is closely related to Australia’s native Dingo. If you don’t believe us, just spend some time with a bored Australian Cattle Dog. You’ll quickly learn how much wild energy one can hold!
With that said, the breed is a wonderful companion when placed in the right household. Agility sports, hunting, and farm work are all great activities to keep this breed mentally stimulated and physically fit. Or, if you’re in the market for a four-legged running partner, we definitely recommend putting the Australian Cattle Dog at the top of your list.
7. Border Collie
If your dream dog is one with the energy to work all day paired with the desire to snuggle all night, look no further than the Border Collie. Like the standard Collie, this breed originated from Scotland’s livestock herding industry. Many believe the Border Collie is the most skilled herder in the world, in part due to the breed’s famed stare.
Since the need for working farm dogs has declined in recent years, many Border Collies now dominate the competitive sporting circuit. But despite the sheer amount of energy in the average Border Collie, the breed is also known for being hyper-affectionate and devoted to its family members. Border Collie owners might find themselves struggling to keep up most days, but they’re just as likely to find their dog peacefully curled up at their side once the day is done.
8. Belgian Malinois
Interest in the Belgian Malinois spiked after Conan, a working military dog, was honored for his service alongside U.S. troops in Syria. While the breed shares a striking similarity to the German Shepherd, there are some marked differences: a lighter coat, sleeker build, and more assertive temperament, to name a few.
Ultimately, the Belgian Malinois is one of the least suited to family life of all shepherd dog breeds. Although the breed is loyal and obedient, they require much more attention and discipline than the average household can provide. Instead, these dogs thrive in environments where they are given a structured job to perform along with regular human companionship.
9. Finnish Lapphund
Few people would look at the diminutive size and smiling face of a Finnish Lapphund and identify the breed as a herding dog. However, they’d be mistaken. While these dogs boast shiny coats and super-sweet temperaments, they’re also incredibly quick on their feet and protective.
But perhaps the most interesting fact about these dogs is what they’re bred to herd. Rather than rounding up cattle or guarding sheep, this breed herds reindeer! While you don’t see them much further south, the Finnish Lapphund is quite popular in Finland, where reindeer farmers rely on the breed’s agility and quick reflexes to keep their herds safe.
10. Belgian Sheepdog
Although all-black German Shepherds do exist, this next breed could easily be mistaken for one. The Belgian Sheepdog is closely related to the Belgian Malinois, but tends to be a little less aggressive and headstrong. However, it still retains the intelligence and confidence seen in the Malinois.
Just because this breed responds to a gentler hand than its counterpart doesn’t mean you can kick back and relax, though. The Belgian Sheepdog needs regular exercise and training, but is always eager to learn. This dog is also known for forming intense bonds with its human companions and struggles in environments where it doesn’t get the attention it craves.
11. Miniature American Shepherd
Unlike the Miniature Australian Shepherd, which is not recognized by the AKC, the Miniature American Shepherd is a member of the organization’s Herding Group. These smaller dogs appeal to owners who want a portable and compact companion for apartment- or city-living, but don’t let their petite size fool you. These shepherds have just as much energy as larger herding breeds.
The Miniature American Shepherd’s stubborn personality also presents a challenge to many first-time dog owners. If you devote the necessary time and energy to training, though, the breed provides a loyal and intelligent companion.
12. Shetland Sheepdog
Once known as the Shetland Collie, the Shetland Sheepdog (or Sheltie) very much looks like a miniature version of Lassie. The breed may have started as hard-working livestock herders on Scotland’s Shetland Islands, but they make excellent family dogs in the modern world.
While Shetland Sheepdogs are quite intelligent and active, they lack the serious demeanor of some other shepherd dog breeds. Rather, the breed is known for being playful and affectionate with its human family members, especially children. They even do well living with cats, but be prepared for your Sheltie to herd its feline companions from time to time!
How many of these shepherd dog breeds did you already know? Were you surprised by the origins of some of your favorite breeds? And, perhaps most importantly, which of these incredible dogs is destined to be your new best friend? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image Credit: K Zoltan, Pexels
Emily started this blog out of pure passion. She LOVES her 3 dogs; Chew Barka, Cooper & Nelson, and spends countless hours every day playing with them.
When she’s not nerding out on dogs, you’ll find her on a snowboard or in the kitchen baking chocolate brownies.
She’s been featured in PetAware, Dogtime, and ModernDog.