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.
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