The Best Dogs for Herding Cattle


The best dogs for herding cattle depend on the type of cattle operation. The American Kennel Club has more than 20 breeds listed in its herding group, and quite a few of them make good cattle dogs. Still, a few breeds are virtually guaranteed to do a good job with proper training.

Australian Cattle Dog

The Australian cattle dog, also known as a blue, red or Queensland heeler, is one tough pooch. "Heeler" refers to dogs trained to herd by nipping at the heels of cattle. This breed is smart and high energy, devoted to their owner/handler. Australian cattle dogs focus intently on their work and will continue working even if in pain. Australian cattle dogs range between 17 and 20 inches tall, weighing between 30 to 50 pounds, with males larger than females. Their weather-resistant coats are either blue or red speckled.

Australian Shepherd

The Australian shepherd isn't actually from Down Under, but he excels at cattle work. The breed was actually developed in the American West. The AKC calls this breed "smart, work-oriented and exuberant." Along with his herding skills, he's an especially eye-catching animal. Australian shepherds have either wavy or straight coats, and blue or red merle is a common coloration. Merle consists of dark spots on a lighter base coat. When full grown, Australian shepherds stand between 18 and 23 inches tall, weighing between 40 and 65 pounds, with females smaller than males.

German Shepherd

The German shepherd is good at so many tasks -- police work, search-and-rescue, guarding -- that it's easy to forget his original purpose was herding livestock. For smaller farms or ranches, the German shepherd makes a fine herding dog while serving double or triple duty as a guard dog and family pet. While he won't move cattle the same way certain herding dogs will, he will keep the cattle in one place and not allow them to wander from a specific area.

Smart and easily trained, the German shepherd matures between 22 to 26 inches in height and weighs between 50 and 85 pounds, with males larger than females. The AKC lists him as the second most popular dog breed after the Labrador retriever. For a herding dog, you may want to find a German shepherd from German rather than American lines, since the former breed especially for working ability.

Border Collie

Border collies are probably the smartest of all dogs, and they are also considered the best of all herding canines. They can herd any type of livestock successfully, whether bovine, caprine or ovine. A border collie circles the herd, then directs them back to the handler using his famous laser-focused "eye."

Named for the border region between England and Scotland, the border collie stands between 18 to 22 inches tall at maturity, weighing between 25 to 45 pounds, with females smaller than males. Because these dogs are bred for work, not appearance, coat and colors vary widely. These workaholic, extremely energetic dogs need a job.

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