The 7 Adorable Shepherd Dog Breeds to Know

shepherd dog in the grass

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Shepherd dog breeds were created to assist human shepherds by herding livestock like sheep, cattle and goats. Many different breeds are classified as shepherd dogs; these breeds might also be called sheepdogs, cattle dogs, herding dogs or collies. Shepherd breeds come in all shapes, sizes and coat types, and hail from widely varied geographical locations, but all are adept at working with a human partner to move flocks or herds of animals. 

Shepherd dogs are among the most intelligent of all dog breeds. They must follow human directions but also make independent decisions as they anticipate which way animals will move next and act to keep them in position. Because of these characteristics, shepherd dog breeds are highly trainable and enjoy learning new things. 

Many shepherd dogs also have a reputation for being high-energy. Thanks to centuries of instinct, herding breeds are hard-wired to gather and drive livestock all day long. The very things that make herding dogs excellent workers—intelligence, energy, endurance, drive, alertness and confidence to name a few—can also translate to some very real challenges for pet owners. Shepherd dogs must have appropriate outlets for both their abundant energy and super smarts or they will find their own ways of entertaining themselves, and not in a good way (think, chewing, digging, barking, counter surfing and more). 

Many shepherd breed owners find themselves teaching their dogs endless fun tricks of training for a competitive dog sport like agility, obedience, herding, treibball, tracking or nose work. Let’s take a look at just a few popular shepherd dog breeds.

  • 01 of 07

    Australian Cattle Dog

    Australian Cattle Dog

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    Australian Cattle Dogs were developed in the 1800s to herd cattle in the extreme conditions of the Australian Outback. Breeds found in the Australian Cattle Dog’s background include collies, Dalmatians and even the Australian dingo. The strong, compact, hardy Australian Cattle Dog is just about as intense as they get. Bred to work, Cattle Dogs demand more than just exercise (although they do need a lot of that). They also need mental work, whether in the form of herding, agility, Frisbee, or almost any other competitive canine sport. They have incredible endurance, so if you’re looking for a jogging partner, look no further.

  • 02 of 07

    Australian Shepherd

    Australian Shepherd

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    Despite its name, the Australian Shepherd was not developed in Australia, but rather in the United States. The dogs used as the foundation for the Australian Shepherd, or Aussie (as it is affectionately known), were from Australia, which explains the name. However, as it turns out, these herding dogs were not actually native to Australia—they were brought there by Basque shepherds from an area near the Pyrenees Mountains. Australian Shepherds are excellent herding dogs and all around ranch dogs. The Aussie is highly intelligent, athletic and energetic. They excel at almost any dog sport and enjoy hiking, camping, Frisbee and learning tricks.

  • 03 of 07

    Belgian Malinois

    Belgian Malinois

    825545 / Pixabay 

    The Belgian Maolinois is one of four related Belgian herding breeds (the others are the Belgian Laekenois, the Belgian Sheepdog and the Belgian Tervuren). Many Belgian Malinois are employed as police K-9s, and for good reason. This breed is built for long days and hard work. They are extremely intelligent and will test their limits so need an owner who will teach them to respect the rules. This is an advanced-level breed of dog that does best with experienced dog owners.

  • 04 of 07

    Border Collie

    Border Collie

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    Border Collies have been herding sheep in the British Isles for more than a century. Famously known as the smartest dog breed, the Border Collie is as intelligent and energetic as a two- or three-year-old human child. If you’ve been around many toddlers you know this means endless energy and an insatiable desire to learn and play. Border Collies must have a job to do, whether herding or training for a competitive dog sport like agility or obedience. Border Collies are among the most challenging breeds to live with, but they are also among the most fun.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    German Shepherd Dog

    German Shepherd Dog

    mihailadorudaniel / Pixabay 

    Thanks to Rin Tin Tin, the iconic German Shepherd Dog is perhaps the breed that first comes to mind when you think “shepherd dog.” The breed was originally developed to herd livestock and work on farms in Germany, but this all-purpose breed is also highly prized as military and police dogs. The German Shepherd Dog is intelligent, loyal and highly trainable. It’s no wonder the German Shepherd is one of the most popular breeds in the world. 

  • 06 of 07

    Icelandic Sheepdog

    icelandic sheepdog

    abe / Getty Images

    The Icelandic Sheepdog is Iceland’s only native breed. Viking settlers brought the ancestors of the Icelandic Sheepdog to the Nordic island of Iceland around 900 AD. The medium-sized dogs adapted to the harsh climate, developing unique skills that made them invaluable to Icelandic farmers. Icelandic Sheepdogs are adept at herding sheep, cattle and horses, but they are first and foremost working farm dogs, capable of a range duties, including guarding and driving livestock. The breed requires lots of exercise, including free running. 

  • 07 of 07

    Miniature American Shepherd/Miniature Australian Shepherd

    Miniature American Shepherd/Miniature Australian Shepherd

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    Like its larger Australian Shepherd cousin, the Miniature American Shepherd (or Miniature Australian Shepherd or Mini Aussie, as it is called by some), has plenty of energy, but thanks to its compact size, it’s easy to provide ample exercise to keep this smart, lively little dog as happy as clam. Miniature American Shepherds get along great with horses and are highly popular with equestrians. 

The shepherd dog breeds listed here are just the tip of the iceberg. With so many shepherds, sheepdogs, collies and cattle dogs to choose from, there’s a shepherd dog breed for everyone.