Since I have Border Collies, every once in a while I am asked how do they herd, and do they protect the animals they herd.
There is a big difference between a livestock guard dog and a herding dog. Border collies, more than any other herding breed, crouch and give animals “the eye”. Anyone who has met a BC knows the stare, that look. They control sheep with their eyes. Originally this would have been predatory behavior, but through years of selective breeding and training, the stare is now for herding, not hunting.
Herding stock dogs are usually controlled by whistles, words or signals. In addition to the actual work of herding, many are involved in herding trials, where they must guide a few sheep through a series of gates around a course, and into an enclosure. It’s beautiful to watch.
Of course there are other herding dog breeds beside Border Collies, in fact many throughout the world. Corgi’s, Bearded Collies, Australian Heelers (so called because they nip at the heels of the herd – as will a BC), Kelpies, Australian Shepherd, Welsh sheepdog, Rough and Smooth Collies, and Australian Cattle dogs. Note the irony – wherever there are sheep (Scotland, Wales, England, Australia) the herding breeds came forth.
All these breeds want to gather the flock together and bring them home. The goal is to get them home or back to their master safe, and keep them there. Hence a Border Collie with a behavioral issue doesn’t mind someone entering the house, but the dog might consider a person leaving a real problem. More than once I remember our old BC “Rex” on the farm trapping someone in a corner and not letting them leave.
While the herding breeds can make good pets, they are not for everyone. They really need some job to do (if not herding, then fly-ball, Frisbee, or some other active task), and lots of exercise. I have always said if you do not give a Border Collie a job, he will find one on his own, and probably not something to your liking.
Then there are the guarding dog breeds – Komondors, Great Pyrenees, Kuvasz, Maremma Sheepdog, all the various Mastiffs breeds, Anatolian Shepherd, and many more. these dogs expect, and want to, live with the herd. They can be very independent and stand offish with people, but will guard their flock and are very protective. Many farmers use Livestock guardian dogs to keep wolves, coyotes and other predatory species away from sheep, goats, llama’s etc. These are large dogs, not easily intimidated, but extremely loyal to those they serve.
They are at their best not kept as pets, but to be raised with the herd, (which human guidance and instruction up to about 2 years of age) and left out with the herd on pasture. They are not happy in the house or contained in a barn or kennel run. They will fight with predators, loyal until death if need be, but usually a fierce display of aggression keeps the predators at bay.
Lastly, there are also the “drover” dog breeds – those breeds which will drive a flock, without necessarily controlling them the way a herding dog will. These include breeds like the Old English Sheepdog, and Rottweilers.
Of all the breeds, I am partial to my Border Collies. I admit it.
What is your favorite dog breed, and why?