Sheepdogs take their name from what they were bred and trained to do -- work with sheep. This work can involve herding sheep as they are moved, or guarding sheep from predators or poachers. Many sheepdogs also manage other animals, such as horses or cattle, and they often become integral working members of a farm team. Though these breeds are perfectly suited for working with livestock, many are also capable of taking on the job of loving pet. Active, intelligent, watchful, and trainable, a sheepdog may be the perfect addition to your family’s flock.
During WWII, these dogs performed amazing feats on the battlefields, serving as message carriers, ambulance dogs, and weapons transporters. Today, this breed makes a wonderful pet to owners who can provide them with plenty of stimulation. The Belgian Sheepdog needs lots of exercise, and makes a great search and rescue dog, therapy dog, guide dog, or watchdog.
A smart and faithful breed, the Catalan Sheepdog is an excellent companion pet, but tends to be wary of strangers. These dogs excel at dog sports and agility training, and require a good deal of exercise for their active personalities. Today, the Catalan Sheepdog is still commonly used for sheep herding.
The Croatian Sheepdog is an alert and energetic breed. These dogs are cautious of strangers and make excellent watchdogs. Their athletic bodies and sharp minds crave exercise, stimulation, and challenging tasks. This breed has a tendency to choose one special master to obey.
The rustic Himalayan Sheepdog is a mountain dog. This breed originated in Nepal, and is rarely seen outside of India and Nepal. Observant, territorial, and fearless, these dogs are often used for herding purposes, but also make great companion pets. The Himalayan Sheepdog requires ample outdoor space, and is not recommended for homes with other animals.
Loving, playful, and curious, Icelandic Sheepdogs are so adored in their native country of Iceland that they are portrayed on postage stamps. These are ideal family dogs who are very social, eager to please, and patient with children.
This large and fluffy dog (pictured above) has a friendly, gentle, and adaptable personality that is well suited to homes with children. The Old English Sheepdog is also very intelligent, and highly trainable.
Polish Lowland Sheepdog
A classic working dog, the Polish Lowland Sheepdog is attentive, loyal, and full of life. Their medium size makes them a good fit for any type of home, and they are good watchdogs who are often suspicious of strangers. Not a low maintenance pet, the Polish Lowland Sheepdog requires daily brushing to prevent coat mats.
Polish Tatra Sheepdog
The Polish Tatra Sheepdog is a herding dog through and through. These dogs are very independent and prefer to be outdoors, but become devoted to their family and offer protection with booming barks and self-guided vigilance. These dogs do best with regular obedience training, and get along well with other pets as well we children. This breed is still regularly used for the herding and guarding of livestock.
Small and agile, the Shetland Sheepdog is one of the most obedient dog breeds. Affectionate, devoted, and extremely intelligent, these dogs are celebrated for their amazing capabilities of tracking, herding, guarding, and performing tricks.
The Welsh Sheepdog is an active-minded dog who likes to be occupied with a task. These dogs are very protective of their owners, and will do just about anything to please them. This breed can be trained rather easily, and will act obediently as long as there is an outlet for their vast amounts of energy. Today, these dogs are still commonly used for herding livestock.
Shepherd Dog Breeds
Shepherd dogs are in the family of herding breeds, dogs that have been carefully bred for their useful hunting instincts while minimizing aggressive tendencies. Shepherd dogs are named after their long histories spent herding sheep and cattle around the world—some are still used on farms or ranches. They are popular pets because of their intelligence and responsiveness to commands. When trained for herding they can learn 20 or more complex commands for rounding up the cattle, looking for lost sheep, or splitting the herd into groups.
While you may not have sheep at home, that doesn't mean your shepherd won't find something to herd. Many pet parents find that their shepherd dog is subtly trying to herd them or their kids. Shepherds tend to be large, athletic, and high energy, so it's important to keep them mentally and physically active—you can even use mock herding exercises at home!
In order to stay out of trouble, shepherd dogs require careful, firm training. All of these dogs look to the pack leader for decisions and guidance, so you need to be their pack leader. The best pet parents for shepherd dogs have experience raising and training dogs as well as the time to train them and keep their bodies and minds exercised. These dogs require a lot of time and effort, but the payoff is an intelligent friend who will be a joy to play with and will keep the family and home safe.
German Shepherds (pictured above) have been promoted from herding sheep to police dogs because they are so smart, loyal, and easy to train. Because they love to work hard to please their pack leader, it's important to include challenges in their daily exercise, like fetching balls and Frisbees. While some people think these dogs can be aggressive as police dogs, a German Shepherd trained early and well will be a docile pet and protector for the family.
Surprising given their name, these dogs originated in Europe, but they were first introduced to North America as coming from Australia. These medium sized shepherds have a beautiful multi-colored coat, and they are very fast with the ability to change directions easily, traits that make them better at herding cattle than sheep. Part of their herding style is to nip at the feet of animals, so if they try to herd your family, you may get nipped in the heels.
Caucasian Shepherd (Ovtcharka)
Ovtcharkas have been herding sheep and cattle in the Caucasus for centuries and it's easy to see why this giant, brave, and independent dog is good at herding and protecting. Caucasian Shepherds require firm training with authority and so they know that the pet parent is the pack leader—weak training might allow for aggressive tendencies to emerge in this huge breed.
Belgian Groenendael Shepherds, like German Shepherds, also have a history of police work and served in World War II as message-carriers. These dogs are highly intelligent, but require very careful training, purposeful exercise, and early socialization or they can become stubborn or shy. Once you have them running and fetching, you'll notice they tend to run in circular patterns, rather than straight lines.
These sheep-colored dogs originated in Turkey and are better guard dogs than herding dogs. Since they are very wary of strangers, they will try to protect the family unless they recognize that you, the pack leader, have decided to welcome the stranger. It's very important to train these dogs while they are young because once Anatolian Shepherds become adults they become more independent and protective.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can sheepdogs be aggressive?
Sheepdogs can display aggression under certain circumstances, but it's not a common trait among them. Sheepdogs are generally bred and trained to be gentle, intelligent, and obedient animals that work well with other animals and people. However, certain factors can trigger aggression in sheepdogs, such as lack of socialization, fear, insecurity, or territorial behavior. Aggressive behavior in sheepdogs can be directed towards other dogs, livestock, or even humans, and it can range from growling and barking to biting and attacking. Aggressive behavior in sheepdogs is not a desirable trait, and responsible breeding and training can help prevent it. Proper socialization, early training, and positive reinforcement can also help reduce the risk of aggressive behavior in sheepdogs.
Do sheepdogs like to cuddle?
Sheepdogs can enjoy cuddling and physical affection from their owners, but it ultimately depends on the individual dog's personality and temperament. Some sheepdogs are more affectionate and crave attention from their owners, while others may be more independent and prefer their space. However, sheepdogs are generally social animals that form strong bonds with their owners and thrive on positive interactions and attention. They are intelligent, loyal, and loving dogs that enjoy being around their human family and participating in activities with them. Sheepdogs also have a natural herding instinct and may display affection in unique ways, such as nuzzling or gently herding their owners. Overall, if a sheepdog is well-socialized and receives proper training and attention from their owner, they are likely to enjoy cuddling and spending time with its human family.
Are sheepdogs good family dogs?
Yes, sheepdogs can make excellent family dogs. They are intelligent, loyal, and protective animals that can form strong bonds with their human family. Sheepdogs are also patient and gentle with children, making them a popular choice for families with kids. Sheepdogs have a natural instinct to protect and herd, which makes them excellent watchdogs. They are alert and attentive, and they will not hesitate to protect their family if they sense any danger or threat. However, with proper training and socialization, they can also learn to differentiate between real threats and everyday situations. In addition, sheepdogs are active and energetic dogs that enjoy outdoor activities, such as running, hiking, and playing fetch. They require regular exercise and mental stimulation to keep them happy and healthy, which can make them a great fit for active families.
Do sheepdogs shed a lot of hair?
Yes, sheepdogs shed a lot of hair, particularly during shedding season. Sheepdogs have a thick and dense double coat that consists of a soft undercoat and a longer, coarser topcoat. This coat helps protect them from the elements while they're working in the fields, but it also means that they shed a lot of hair throughout the year. During the shedding season, which usually occurs in the spring and fall, sheepdogs will lose even more hair as they shed their winter and summer coats. This shedding can be quite heavy and may require more frequent brushing and grooming to keep their coat under control. Regular grooming is essential for sheepdogs to help prevent matting and tangles in their coat and to keep their skin healthy. Brushing their coat at least once a week can help remove loose hair and distribute natural oils throughout their coat, which can keep them shiny and healthy. Additionally, trimming their hair and bathing them as needed can help keep their coat looking and feeling clean and healthy.
Can sheepdogs be left alone?
Sheepdogs, like all dogs, can be left alone for short periods, but it's not recommended to leave them alone for extended periods of time. Sheepdogs are social animals that enjoy being around their human family and may experience separation anxiety if left alone for too long. The amount of time a sheepdog can be left alone depends on their age, temperament, and level of training. Puppies and younger dogs may require more attention and care than older dogs and may not be able to hold their bladder for as long. Additionally, dogs that are not well-trained or socialized may be more prone to destructive behavior or anxiety when left alone. If you need to leave your sheepdog alone for an extended period, it's important to make sure they have access to food, water, and a comfortable and safe space to rest. You may also want to provide them with toys or puzzle feeders to keep them mentally stimulated and entertained while you're away.
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