17 Top Dog Breeds for Herding Livestock

German shepherd dog lying on grass

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Many breeds are classified as herding dogs—sheepdogs, cattle dogs, shepherds, or collies. Herding dogs come in all shapes and sizes from all over the world. They are adept at herding in mountainous areas, flat fields, and all-weather situations.

Herding dogs have slightly different flock management styles, such as the border collie, which stays at the front of the herd, curbing wanderers by using its stare to keep the herd together in a group. Heelers like Australian cattle dogs or corgis are driving dogs that keep pushing the animals forward. Typically, they stay behind the herd. Other types like the Australian shepherd and Old English sheepdog do a little bit of both. Belgian herding dogs, German shepherds, and Briards are tending dogs that guide large flocks of sheep to graze and prevent wandering.


If herding dogs don't have an outlet for their excessive energy, they might find their own outlet for that energy by chewing, digging, or barking. Keep your dog busy with dog sports, such as agility or herding trials.

Breed Characteristics

Herding breeds are among the most intelligent and active dog breeds. They tend to be highly trainable but need ample mental and physical exercise. Most of the herding dogs from cold-weather regions are long-haired or double-coated to protect them in the mountains or during harsh weather conditions. Unfortunately, most herding dogs are so ingrained with herding instincts that it may include nudging or heel-nipping of their human companions, too.

Here are 17 of the best-known dog breeds for herding sheep, cattle, and other livestock.

  • 01 of 17

    Australian Cattle Dog

    red Australian cattle dog

    marion802105 / Pixabay 

    Australian cattle dogs were developed to herd in extreme weather conditions from intensely scorching temps to a rainy Australian Outback. Their background includes collies, Dalmatians, and even dingos. These dogs are smart, hardy, and energetic. They need vigorous daily exercise and make great jogging partners. They also require mental work from puzzle games, obedience training, and dog sports.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 17 to 20 inches

    Weight: 30 to 50 pounds

    Coat and Color: Smooth double coat; colors include blue and red with black and tan markings

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 16 years

  • 02 of 17

    Australian Shepherd

    An Australian Shepherd on a sofa

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    Despite its name, the Australian shepherd was developed in the United States, but its predecessors came by way of Australia. Aussies are excellent herding and all-around ranch dogs. They are brilliant and athletic. They excel at almost any dog sport and enjoy hiking, jogging, flying disc, and learning tricks.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 18 to 23 inches

    Weight: 40 to 65 pounds

    Coat and Color: Medium-length coat; colors include black, blue merle, red, and red merle

    Life Expectancy: 13 to 15 years

  • 03 of 17

    Bearded Collie

    A close-up of a bearded collie

    Magnus Blom / Getty Images

    Originating as herding dogs in Scotland, bearded collies are intelligent and have high exercise needs. They also can be somewhat stubborn, so it’s important to start obedience training at a young age and remain consistent with them. They prefer space to run off-leash and need lots of attention to thrive.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 21 to 22 inches tall at the shoulder (male); 20 to 21 inches (female)

    Weight: 45 and 55 pounds

    Coat and Color: Straight, coarse, shaggy coat comes in black, blue, brown, or fawn

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years


  • 04 of 17

    Belgian Malinois

    Belgian Malinois with flowers in the background

    Tara Gregg / Getty Images

    The Belgian Malinois is one of four related Belgian herding breeds. Many Belgian Malinois also work in law enforcement—and for a good reason. These dogs can withstand long days and hard work. They're brilliant and will test their limits, so they need an owner who will adequately train them.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 22 to 26 inches

    Weight: 40 to 80 pounds

    Coat and Color: Short coat; colors include fawn, mahogany, and red with a black mask 

    Life Expectancy: 14 to 16 years

    Continue to 5 of 17 below.
  • 05 of 17

    Border Collie

    A Border Collie on a sofa

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris 

    Border collies have been herding sheep in the British Isles for more than a century. These dogs are possibly the most intelligent breed and must have a job—whether it be herding or training for a competitive dog sport. It is a challenge to keep a border collie entertained.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 18 to 22 inches

    Weight: 30 to 55 pounds

    Coat and Color: Rough or smooth, medium-length coat; can be solid, bicolor, tricolor, merle, or sable

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 17 years

  • 06 of 17

    German Shepherd

    A German Shepherd on a dog bed

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    The German shepherd is perhaps the breed that comes to mind when you think “shepherd dog.” The breed was developed to herd livestock and work on farms in Germany, but this all-purpose dog is also highly prized in law enforcement. German shepherds tend to be very intelligent, loyal, and trainable.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 22 to 26 inches

    Weight: 50 to 90 pounds

    Coat and Color: Medium-length double coat; colors include black and tan, black and red, solid black, and more

    Life Expectancy: 7 to 10 years

  • 07 of 17

    Icelandic Sheepdog

    Icelandic sheepdog panting

    abe / Getty Images

    The Icelandic sheepdog is Iceland’s only native breed. Viking settlers brought this dog's ancestors to Iceland more than 1,000 years ago. The medium-sized dogs are adept at herding livestock and capable of a range of farm duties, including protection. The breed requires lots of exercise and needs the space to run off-leash.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 17 to 18 inches

    Weight: 25 to 30 pounds

    Coat and Color: Waterproof, double-thick, bushy coat; colors include black and white, chocolate and white, gray and white, and more

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

  • 08 of 17

    Miniature American Shepherd

    Miniature American shepherd

    sterou70 / Pixabay 

    Like its larger Australian shepherd cousin, the miniature American shepherd (also called the mini Aussie) has lots of smarts and energy. But thanks to its compact size, it’s somewhat easier to exercise than a larger shepherd. Miniature American shepherds often get along well with horses and are popular with equestrians. 

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 13 to 18 inches

    Weight: 20 to 40 pounds

    Coat and Color: Medium-length double coat; colors include black, blue merle, red, and red merle with tan and white markings

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 13 years

    Continue to 9 of 17 below.
  • 09 of 17

    Old English Sheepdog

    Old English sheepdog with its tongue out

    Tara Gregg / Getty Images

    Old English sheepdogs emerged in the 1800s in England, driving cattle to market. Known for their stamina and steadiness, they can make very loving and playful pets. But they are not lazy. These dogs need daily walks, as well as off-leash play sessions where they can be their bouncy selves. This is a large, powerful dog with a gorgeous shaggy coat and is a truly unique animal with a gentle, loving temperament. Provided that they get adequate exercise throughout the day, they can happily live in apartments.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 21 inches and up

    Weight: 60 to 100 pounds

    Coat and Color: Shaggy coat; colors include blue and white, gray and white, and more

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

  • 10 of 17

    Shetland Sheepdog

    Shetland sheepdog standing on grass

    Yvonne Van der Horst / Getty Images

    Originating on Scotland’s Shetland Islands, Shetland sheepdogs (or Shelties) are active, agile herding dogs. Because they are so intelligent and eager to please, they tend to be easy to train. These athletic, energetic dogs excel in dog sports, including agility and flying disc, which are helpful to drain them of some energy. These dogs look similar to their cousin, the rough collie, although they are much smaller. They are similar in character and are highly intelligent, friendly, and affectionate animals. They are also highly protective of their family, making them excellent watchdogs.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 13 to 16 inches

    Weight: 15 to 25 pounds

    Coat and Color: Straight and harsh with a dense undercoat; black, sable, and blue merle, with white markings

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

  • 11 of 17


    Border Collie
    Purple Collar Pet Photography / Getty Images

    Like Shelties, the larger rough collie originated in Scotland and was bred primarily for herding. They are most recognizable for their gorgeous long coats and were made famous by the classic “Lassie” TV show and films. These animals are highly intelligent, loyal, and bond strongly with their owners, making excellent family pets. They are generally good-natured and friendly but can be wary of strangers. They are never aggressive.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 13 to 16 inches

    Weight: 15 to 25 pounds

    Coat and Color: Straight and harsh with a dense undercoat; black, sable, and blue merle, with white markings

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

  • 12 of 17

    Pembroke Welsh Corgi

    Smiling Welsh Corgi
    Purple Collar Pet Photography / Getty Images

    Small in size but large in personality, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi was developed as a herding breed but is far more commonly kept as a loving family pet. They are often associated with the British royal family and Buckingham Palace residents. Welsh corgis were cattle herding dogs or "heelers," nipping at the heels of the larger animals to keep them moving. The combination of their low height off the ground and innate agility allows them to avoid the hooves of cattle.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 10 to 12 inches

    Weight: 24 to 30 pounds

    Coat and Color: Medium length double coat in black and tan, red, sable, or fawn (all colors are typically seen with white markings)

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 13 years

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  • 13 of 17

    Cardigan Welsh Corgi

    Cardigan Welsh corgi profile.
    volofin / Getty Images

    Like the Pembroke corgi, the Cardigan Welsh corgi is slightly longer than the Pembroke, and its head is larger. Like its Pembroke cousin, this ancient breed has likely been around for thousands of years. They have a distinguished look about them that makes them seem like they were bred to be lapdogs, but they are highly adept herding dogs. They may be small, but they need plenty of exercise and can quickly become overweight and badly behaved without it. The term "corgi" means either cur dog or dwarf dog in the Welsh language, which was not derogatory but intended as a descriptive term.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 10.5 to 12.5 inches

    Weight: 25 to 38 pounds

    Coat and Color: Medium-length, dense, water-resistant double coat; red, sable, brindle, black or blue merle, with or without white markings on the neck, chest, legs, muzzle, tail, and face

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

  • 14 of 17


    Cute Black and White Puli Dog
    DejaVu Designs / Getty Images

    For centuries, the Puli has been used to herd sheep and guard farms in Hungary. Naturally protective and watchful, today’s Puli retains its guarding instinct, as well as the instinct to gather and drive a flock of sheep. If there are no sheep around, the Puli will herd family pets, kids, chickens—pretty much anything that moves. Its thick mop-like corded coat protects it against predators and the elements while out with the flock. Its larger, also corded cousin, the Komondor or the Hungarian sheepdog, is another powerful sheep guardian—although it is a little less common than the puli.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 16 to 17 inches

    Weight: 25 to 35 pounds

    Coat and Color: Short and glossy coat; solid colors only: black, rusty black, gray, or white

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 15 years

  • 15 of 17

    Polish Lowland Sheepdog

    Polish Lowland Sheepdog isolated on a white background
    mimic51 / Getty Images

    The Polish lowland sheepdog is popular in Poland as a watchdog and livestock herder. Headstrong, lively, and confident, this breed needs a dedicated owner. Its thick, shaggy double-coat requires daily brushing. Also, this dog needs rigorous training since this stubborn breed can make you throw up your hands in frustration. This breed, in combination with Scottish herding dogs, likely was the foundation stock for bearded collies.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 17 to 20 inches

    Weight: 30 to 50 pounds

    Coat and Color: Thick, long, and shaggy coat; beige, black, black and white, brown, chocolate and white, gray, gray and white, tricolor, and white

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

  • 16 of 17


    Portrait of tawny male Briard in cornfield
    LottaVess / Getty Images

    Like the popular cheese, this intelligent and athletic sheep herding dog hails from the dairy-producing Brie region of France. The versatile Briard was a flock guardian and herder. The French appreciated and revered this two-in-one dog. For a long time, the Briard was a mainstay on French farms. The breed is also extremely good-natured, welcoming human affection yet remains ruthless in the fields.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 23 to 27 inches tall at the shoulder (male); 22 to 25.5 inches (female)

    Weight: 55 to 100 pounds

    Coat and Color: Long coat comes in black, white, gray, blue, tawny, or a mix of colors

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

    Continue to 17 of 17 below.
  • 17 of 17

    Great Pyrenees

    Great Pyrenees Dog
    Kathleen Moir / Getty Images

    The powerful Great Pyrenees mountain dog guards flocks in open spaces. It is one of the largest sheepdog breeds in the world, capable of confronting and repelling attacks by brown bears and wolves. The Great Pyrenees' thick coat protects it from the elements when working high up in the mountains. Great Pyrenees dogs work by patrolling the perimeter of the flock, constantly retracing their steps and keeping an eye out for danger. They are calm and patient and are quick to spring to the flock's defense, showing great courage in the face of danger.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Working (AKC)

    Height: 25 to 32 inches

    Weight: 85 to 150 pounds

    Coat and Color: Thick double coat in white (may have markings of gray, tan, badger, or reddish-brown)

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

Breeds to Avoid

There are 41 dogs in the American Kennel Club's herding group. Most all dogs in the herding category will herd instinctively, including children and other animals in the house. You might want to reconsider a herding-type dog if you have or plan to have young children. Also, these dogs require a lot of mental stimulation and time. Small children often require a lot of your attention, so consider if you have ample time to dedicate to this dog.

German shepherds are wonderful dogs for the right owners, but usually not for first-time dog owners. These dogs need rigorous training, exercise, and dedication to stay one step ahead of this dog. German shepherds are also prone to hip dysplasia and neurological problems. Another dog that is a challenge for novice dog owners is an Australian cattle dog. This super energetic and often stubborn pooch can be tough to train. It is called a "heeler" for nipping at heels, which is the instinctual skill it might use around your house.