Although there isn’t a concrete definition for the term “shepherd” as it relates to dogs, most authorities apply the term to various herding and livestock-guarding breeds. There are about 30 different types of shepherd dogs in total, giving ranchers and farmers plenty of options to choose from.
Also called sheepdogs or cattle dogs, most shepherd breeds exhibit a few common traits, including high energy levels, a strong work ethic, and intelligence. And while these traits serve working shepherds well, they also make them great pets for owners willing to keep them busy and provide them with plenty of exercise.
We’ll talk about 10 of the most notable breeds of shepherds below. We’ll discuss their physical traits, personality and any special challenges they present. This way, you should be able to select the best breed of shepherd for your family.
Weight: 35 to 70 pounds
Height: 18 to 23 inches (at the shoulders)
Ideal Activities for the Breed: Agility training, tracking, obedience
Australian Shepherds are the descendants of Basque Shepherd Dogs, who arrived in the “Land Down Under” during the early 1800s. The breed developed over time, as breeders began trying to emphasize the traits that served the dogs best in their new home.
Presently, Australian Shepherds are some of the most popular herding breeds in the world, and it is easy to see why. They are very intelligent, athletic and energetic, and they not only excel at actual herding work, but agility trials, Frisbee-based sports and obedience competitions too. And because they typically bond strongly with their owners, they make good companion animals too.
The coat of these animals become darker as they age, but they remain very active until the end. No doubt, they are amazing dogs that make all the other breeds of shepherds proud.
Australian Shepherds have thick, weather-resistant coats that are often quite beautiful. They vary in color, but most individuals are covered in patches of red, black, white, blue and grey. Their coats are quite long and thick, so they require frequent brushing and regular baths to look and feel their best.
Weight: 80 to 150 pounds
Height: 20 to 27 inches (at the shoulders)
Ideal Activities for the Breed: Herding, hiking
Originating in rural Turkey 6,000 years ago, Anatolian Shepherds are smart and capable herding dogs, who’ve long proved valuable to the farmers and ranchers who depend on them.
Although historically tasked with a variety of duties, Anatolian Shepherds were primarily used to guard livestock. In fact, unlike many other livestock guarding breeds, who were only expected to fend off coyotes, foxes and other small predators, Anatolian Shepherds were required to defend their flocks from large predators, such as wolves and bears.
Given their impressive size, Anatolian Shepherds proved highly effective at the task. In fact, they’re still used to guard livestock, as well as people and property in the modern world. But despite their large size and formidable appearance, Anatolian Shepherds are typically quite gentle with their families, and they can make good pets for some owners.
Unlike most other herding breeds, who are clad in long, unruly fur, Anatolian Shepherds have relatively short hair when compared with other shepherd breeds. Most individuals are off-white to pale yellow or brown in color, and they typically bear black markings around the muzzle and face.
Anatolian Shepherds mature slowly, which means they’ll typically act like puppies until about 4 years of age. Nevertheless, you’ll want to begin basic obedience training at a young age, to ensure that your new pet is safe around strangers and well-behaved in the home.
Weight: 45 to 65 pounds
Height: 22 to 26 inches (at the shoulders)
Ideal Activities for the Breed: Herding, search and rescue, obedience
Belgian Sheepdogs are very striking-looking canines, who bear long and luxurious black coats. Originally developed in Belgium during the early 19th century, these sheepdogs are extremely intelligent, they’re relatively agile, and they have a work ethic that few other breeds can match.
Four different herding breeds were developed in Belgium, but the Belgian Sheepdog is likely the most prized by ranchers and farmers who need a capable dog to help tend their flocks. They are primarily used to herd sheep (and other livestock), but they are also expected to frighten away medium-sized predators. Their long coats help greatly in this respect, as it makes the breed look larger than it actually is.
Belgian Sheepdogs can make good pets for those who can provide plenty of space for these high-energy dogs, but they are rarely calm enough for apartment life. Most Belgian Sheepdogs are good with children, but they may chase or torment smaller pets.
Weight: 35 to 60 pounds
Height: 20 to 22 inches (at the shoulders)
Ideal Activities for the Breed: Herding, agility, tracking
Long-haired and lovable, the Bearded Collie is one of the most popular herding breeds in the world. And while they’re capable working dogs, who excel at herding livestock, they are primarily kept as pets in the modern world.
Originally developed in Great Britain, the Bearded Collie is one of the oldest breeds of shepherds. They have long been praised for their intelligence, work ethic, and alert personality. A lively and energetic breed, they love working a flock and keeping their charges together and safe from predators.
Their long coats help to protect them from inclement weather, but it is also quite attractive. They do, however, shed heavily and require frequent grooming to promote proper skin and coat health. Bearded Collies come in a number of color combinations, including fawn, tri-color, black, brown and white.
Bearded Collies can make good pets, but you’ll need to be sure to provide them with basic obedience training to ensure they are well-behaved around strangers. Additionally, you’ll need to ensure they get plenty of exercise to prevent the development of destructive behaviors.
Weight: 15 to 35 pounds
Height: 15 to 18.5 inches (at the shoulders)
Ideal Activities for the Breed: Herding, search and rescue
The history of the Bohemian Shepherd is cloaked in a bit of mystery, but we know that they were bred in France sometime during the 19th century. And although they are relatively small by shepherd standards, Bohemian Shepherds are very skilled herding dogs, who’ve long proven their value to farmers and ranchers.
Bohemian Shepherds are noted for being sensitive and intelligent animals, and because they have a strong desire to please their owners, they are usually quite obedient and well-behaved, once provided with proper training. They are very energetic dogs, however, who are willing to work long hours while tending their charges.
This can make them somewhat challenging for pet owners, as they require a great deal of exercise to prevent them from becoming bored and destructive. If you want a Bohemian Shepherd, you’ll need to be willing to head to the park for about an hour of vigorous play every day.
There are two types of Bohemian Shepherds, rough-faced and smooth-faced. Those in the former group have a frilly ring of fur around their faces, while those in the latter group lack such hair. Both varieties are lean and agile, which serves them well when tending sheep and other livestock.
Most Bohemian Shepherds are black with brown markings on the face, legs and belly.
Weight: 50 to 75 pounds
Height: 22 to 26 inches (at the shoulders)
Ideal Activities for the Breed: Herding, tracking, obedience training
Collies are Scottish herding dogs, who have a long and interesting history. Although first mentioned in Thomas Beswick’s 19th-century book The History of Quadrupeds, Collies didn’t become widely known until the mid-20th century when the world met Lassie, the four-footed star of books, movies and television shows. In fact, Lassie is arguably the most famous dog of all time.
Collies are medium-sized, herding dogs excel in a variety of roles. They not only herd and guard livestock, but they are also skilled trackers, who can follow a trail for miles. They are remarkably intelligent, well-natured and gentle dogs, who also make great pets. They do, however, require copious amounts of exercise, like most other shepherd breeds.
There are two different types of collie. Rough-Coated Collies have long, silky hair, while Smooth-Coated Collies have short, thick hair. They both come in a variety of colors and combinations, including tri-color, blue merle, white and sable. Both types will require frequent baths, brushing and grooming, although the smooth-coated variety is slightly easier to care for.
Weight: 65 to 90 pounds
Height: 25 to 29 inches (at the shoulders)
Ideal Activities for the Breed: Herding, running, obedience, guarding
While they may appear very similar to German Shepherds, East-European Shepherds are, in fact, an entirely different breed. They descend from their more well-known German counterparts, but, thanks to the work of the breeders who developed these dogs, they’re larger and better-suited for cold temperatures.
And while they descend from herding dogs, East-European Shepherds were primarily developed to work with police officers and military personnel, rather than tending sheep or cattle.
Like German Shepherds, East-European Shepherds are intelligent dogs, with a strong work ethic. They are very easy to train, and they typically enjoy pleasing their owner or handler. Most are remarkably loyal and courageous, which helps them to not only excel in military and police contexts but protection work too.
East-European Shepherds can make good pets, but few owners are willing to provide them with as much exercise and stimulation as they need. These dogs require a daily “job” to remain healthy and happy, and they are not a good choice for those who live in apartments.
Weight: 19 to 30 pounds
Height: 16.5 to 18 inches (at the shoulders)
Ideal Activities for the Breed: Agility, obedience training
Also known as the “Dog of the Vikings,” Icelandic Sheepdogs are thought to have been originally developed by the marauding mariners in the late 9th or early 10th century. Interestingly, they’re the only breed in the world to hail from Iceland.
Icelandic Sheepdogs are smart and effective herding dogs, whose bravery belies their small size. Despite weighing less than many of the sheep they were expected to protect (as well as the predators who’d threaten them), Icelandic Sheepdogs won’t hesitate to put their body between their flock and danger.
And although these spunky dogs were developed to perform a variety of herding and flock-guarding tasks, they have very endearing personalities, which makes them popular among pet owners too. Most will become obedient with proper training, although they can be quite vocal, which makes them unsuitable for apartment life.
They’re also extraordinarily energetic, so you’ll have to be sure to provide your Icelandic Sheepdog with plenty of time to run, jump and play each day. You’ll also need to be willing to bathe, brush and groom their long coats regularly, as well as deal with the copious amounts of hair they shed twice a year.
Weight: 25 to 30 pounds
Height: 10 to 12 inches (at the shoulders)
Ideal Activities for the Breed: Herding, retrieving, going on walks
Small, smart and spunky, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi is one of the most popular breeds of shepherds kept by people in the modern world. And while a handful of farmers and ranchers continue to employ them as working dogs, the vast majority of Pembroke Welsh Corgis are kept as companion pets – a task at which they also excel.
Small to medium-sized dogs, Pembroke Welsh Corgis are packed with personality, and they usually make quick friends with everyone they meet. They even get along with other pets in most cases, which is a relatively rare trait among breeds of shepherds. They’re typically well-behaved (if a bit mischievous), and they’re relatively easy to train.
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi’s small stature is not an accident – they were specifically designed to be short enough to avoid the kicking feet of bulls and cows, who they were tasked with herding. That’s right – these tiny dogs were expected to corral and control animals weighing 1,000 pounds or more. Their agility, speed and bravery also helped make them well-suited for such work.
Corgis are certainly one of the best-suited shepherd breeds for families seeking a pet. Just be sure that you are prepared to provide them with plenty of exercise, and you’ll likely find that they make great family companions.
Weight: 50 to 70 pounds
Height: 18 to 26 inches (at the shoulders)
Ideal Activities for the Breed: Agility, obedience, runs
A close cousin of both the German and Belgian Shepherd, the Dutch Shepherd is a skilled herding dog that makes a great family pet. They aren’t seen very often in the United States, but they’re quite popular among European farmers and families.
Dutch Shepherds are affectionate animals, who have a beautiful and unique coat pattern, that often bears stripe-like markings. They have medium-length hair, which requires regular brushing and grooming, but their coats don’t require as much maintenance as some of the other breeds of shepherds.
Agile, strong and fleet of foot, these dogs are very skilled at most herding tasks, and they’re big and brave enough to deter most would-be predators. They’re even used as protection dogs in some cases. Like most other shepherd breeds, they’re loyal dogs, and they tend to be very observant – they’re quite skilled at reading their owner’s body language.
They are very well-suited for agility trials and obedience competitions, where their high energy levels and intelligence make them formidable competitors. Just be sure that you are prepared to provide these dogs with plenty of exercise, if you want to keep one as a pet.
Although they are extremely smart and obedient if trained well, shepherd breeds can also present a few challenges – especially to those who wish to keep them as family pets.
For example, they all have very high energy levels, so they must be provided with the opportunity to exercise every day. If deprived of such opportunities, these dogs can develop a variety of problematic behaviors, including destructive chewing, obsessive licking behaviors, and nuisance barking.
In fact, shepherds are usually pretty vocal dogs, so they aren’t a great choice for owners who value peace and quiet, or for those who live in apartments. Typically, shepherd breeds are best-suited for families that have large, fenced yards in which the dogs can burn off plenty of energy and bark to their heart’s content.
Additionally, it is often helpful to give breeds of shepherds a job to keep them occupied. This may simply be guarding your backyard from squirrels and passing cars, or you may want to participate in agility or tracking competitions with your pet. They rarely care what their job is – they just care that they have a job they’re expected to do.
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