Are you struggling to choose which of the shepherd dog breeds is right for you? While they all resemble each other, you should explore their differences in more detail before you decide.
For centuries, intelligent and courageous dogs have protected our sheep from predators. The earliest herding breeds came from the nomadic Asian tribes. Now, we have over 20 types. Keep reading to learn more about each one and find the best dog for your needs.
What Is a Shepherd Dog?
With the development of stockbreeding, herding dogs turned into valuable assistants. They helped herd the cattle and protect people from predators. As a rule, they’re usually of medium size, hardy, muscular, and with harmoniously built bodies. Plus, they can withstand heavy loads.
Most Shepherd dogs have thick fur that protects them from harsh weather. But their qualities are even more essential to the job. These dogs are famous for their endurance, bravery, selfless devotion, and distrust towards strangers. But what’s the definition of shepherd dog breeds?
Some Dogs Don’t Herd but Are Still “Shepherds”
While some dogs, like the Anatolian Shepherd or Turkish Kangal, are called shepherd dog breeds, they aren’t true herding dogs. Protective and territorial, they have a different purpose on the farm. These dogs are excellent at guarding livestock and protecting defenseless animals from predators. In Turkey, they also safeguard people and property.
Meet the Herding Breeds
Let’s dive into all the types of shepherd dogs. We’ll discuss their characters, herding skills, and unique traits.
Australian Kelpies, also famous as Working Kelpies, are among the most popular herding dog breeds. We often call them the workaholics of the dog world because of their energy and stamina. Their predecessors are likely British Collies and wild dingoes. Professional breeding of these dogs began in 1956.
The Australian Kelpie has a beautiful proportional body and well-developed limbs. You’ll recognize them by their wide forehead and pointy ears. The muzzle is reminiscent of a fox, and their tail is a bit curved when they rest.
Australian Shepherd dog breeds are also sometimes called Aussies. The breed is famous for its energetic, docile, and gentle character. Like many good herding dogs, Aussies look for a flock to take care of. Some Australian Shepherd characteristics include loyalty and sociability. Also, they love herding small children and other pets.
Aussies have a medium-sized body and sturdy bone structure. They’re among the best-looking dogs due to the thick double coats of medium length that can come in red, red merle, blue merle, black, or tri-color. Also, these dogs can have hazel, amber, blue, or green eyes.
German Shepherd dog breeds are perhaps the most recognized and widespread. They’re pretty adaptable to various types of training and have exceptional intelligence, sensitivity, and extraordinary devotion to their owners. More than 90% of all service dogs are representatives of the breed.
These shepherds were bred to be the best herding dog in Germany at the end of the 19th century. As the need for herding dogs declined, they were increasingly used as service dogs in the army and the police.
German Shepherds have a strong body and well-developed muscles. They’re very protective and well aware of their territory boundaries. Also, they can have three types of coats — plush, double, or long-haired. What’s more, you can find them among the white shepherd dog breeds, too. If you get one, you’ll also need a harness for large breed dogs to reduce the risk of neck injuries.
The Belgian Shepherd is a large service breed that combines the qualities of a search and herding dog. They originated in Belgium, where they used to herd sheep. There are four types of Belgian Shepherd dog breeds — Malinois, Groenendael, Laekenois, and Tervuren. But since they share similar characteristics, they all fall under the Belgian Shepherd name.
Elegant and graceful, these dogs usually have a long luxurious black coat. Nowadays, they’re among the best guard dogs you can get for your home. Note that the breed needs enough space to roam around freely.
The Icelandic Sheepdog is among the ancient breeds of shepherd dogs brought to the country by Vikings in the ninth century. These hardy, agile dogs were trained to guard flocks, find lost sheep, and protect the animals from predators. Now, the Icelandic Sheepdog is part of the country’s cultural heritage. In 2017, the International Organization of Icelandic Shepherd Dogs registered about 16,000 Icelandic Sheepdogs in 11 countries.
These dogs are of medium size, sturdy, with pointy ears and a curled tail. They have a thick double coat in medium or long length that’s quite waterproof.
The Dutch Shepherd was bred in the Netherlands as a herding dog. Nowadays, it’s more commonly used as a guard dog and companion. Also, it serves well as a tracking dog or guide dog for the blind. These beautiful pets have a unique coat pattern with brindle striping.
Dutch Shepherds are strong, hardy, and brave, making them the perfect dog to guard your house. But caring for these types of shepherd dogs requires special attention. Their coat, especially if it’s long, needs regular brushing. Also, they should get plenty of exercise, so you better be ready for long walks with your furry buddy.
Here’s a breed that’s recognized as the most intelligent dog. Due to their quick wit, good nature, and high energy, many owners consider Border Collies the best herding dogs among all shepherd breeds. Also, they do well as guards, guides, or rescue dogs. The breed gladly serves people and is a wonderful companion. It’s ideal for families with children and outdoor lovers.
The Border Collie has a proportioned body that’s medium in size. They’re graceful but strong and muscular dogs. Characteristic features of the breed include their intelligence and calm eyes.
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi is a wonderful companion. Despite its cartoon-like appearance, this dog has a calm demeanor, incredibly quick wit, and vigor. All these qualities rank them among the best shepherd dog breeds and help with herding livestock.
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi is a tiny fox-like dog with round dark eyes and raised ears. It’s not large, but that doesn’t stop it from being a guard dog and protecting the family. Corgis are naturally energetic dogs and excellent family pets.
Chow Chows are good shepherd dogs that have a long history in herding livestock. The homeland of this breed is China. They’ve existed for up to 3,000 years, making them one of the most ancient breeds. The versatile breed also has much experience in sledding, hunting, and guarding.
Some owners liken the Chow Chow to a cat. They’re both independent, dignified, stubborn, and aloof with strangers. Today, the breed is fully domestic and lives comfortably in an apartment. But these dogs know exactly how to respond if they see a threat, so don’t underestimate their fluffiness.
Many specialists consider the Bohemian Shepherd as the predecessor of the German Shepherd dog breeds. The breed dates back to the 14th century, and it was professionally bred in the 16th century. At that time, they lived in Czech territory and guarded the country’s southwestern borders. Also, they herded flocks and protected sheep.
If you have a child, expect these dogs to play with it for hours. Apart from its lovely nature and high energy, the Bohemian Shepherd is also incredibly defensive of its loved ones.
For centuries, the Beaucerons have been among the widespread French herding dog breeds in the northern part of the country. The earliest records of these dogs date back to the 16th century. In France, they’re famous as the Berger (bair-zhay) de Beauce (bohs), meaning “shepherd of the Beauce.”
Despite its long history, the Beauceron received official recognition in the 19th century. These dogs are brilliant, brave, calm, and devoted, making them excellent guard dogs.
The Caucasian Shepherd, or the Caucasian Mountain Dog, is among the large shepherd dog breeds originating from the Caucasus mountains. The breed was raised under the influence of the highland people and their shepherd traditions. They selected for breeding the largest and strongest dogs with a good instinct that could also be trained to follow commands.
These dogs guarded fortresses and sheep. They even served under special order in the Russian Empire army. With proper training, Caucasian Shepherd Dogs can also become family pets and guardians.
The Šarplaninac is a herding dog from the Balkan Peninsula. Its homeland stretches over the Shar Planina, Korabi, Bistra, Stogovo mountains, and Mavrovo valley. Also, local residents used these shepherd dogs to guard herds against predators. In 1938, the breed was registered as the Illyrian Shepherd Dog.
It’s one of the largest shepherd dog types. It has a fluffy appearance, with almond-shaped, dark eyes, a strong body, and a curved tail. In Macedonia, the dog is a symbol of loyalty and strength.
The Belgian Malinois is among the dog breeds similar to the German Shepherd. But compared to German Shepherds, they’re squarer in profile and lighter in bone.
Many believe these dogs belong to one of the most intelligent breeds. They’re active, easy to train, and enjoy all kinds of reward training, games, and sports. The dogs bond closely with their owners and become ideal companions for energetic families.
Old English Sheepdog
The Old English Shepherd naturally comes from the British Isles. They were bred to be all-purpose dogs — helping in the fields, herding livestock, and protecting the owner’s territory. These traits make the breed a good choice for breed mixes like the Sheepadoodle. According to the British Kennel Club, the breed has been listed as vulnerable to extinction after a drop in popularity.
These dogs are well-proportioned with strong stature underneath their thick coats. The OES is among the most intelligent shepherd-type dog breeds, and it loves learning new tricks and working hard. It’s best if owners considering an Old English Sheepdog have a large, secure garden where the pet can play and a dog house heater box to keep it warm in winter.
Briards fall among the French shepherd dog breeds. They have long hair all over the body and stylish shaggy bangs that hide their eyes. Also, breeders say these dogs have a sharp mind, liveliness, and independent decision-making. Bred as a herding dog, the Briard was the official French army dog during World War II.
The Briard’s coat colors are fawn, black, and grey. It needs regular brushing to prevent the hair from tangling. Also, the breed enjoys spending much time outside and has a pleasant personality. To keep the Briard’s paws clean, you can use a portable dog paw washer.
Polish Lowland Sheepdog
The Polish Lowland Sheepdog or PON (Polski Owczarek Nizinny) has likely descended from Central Asia and shipped to Poland. Initially, these dogs helped shepherds with herding flocks and guarding sheep. The AKC officially recognized the breed in 2001.
These dogs are medium-sized, compact, strong, and have unique personalities. Its calm, balanced character makes the Polish Lowland Shepherd the perfect guide dog for the blind. Like many shepherd dog breeds, they love playing with children and spending time with all family members, but they can be aloof towards strangers.
The Bearded Collie is affectionately called Beardie because its facial hair hangs from the chin and looks like a beard. The dog’s history goes back over 500 years, and it appeared in Scotland in the 16th century. Due to their excellent herding skills, these dogs are among the best shepherd dog breeds.
The Bearded Collie is a medium-sized dog with a flat and shaggy outer coat. Its fur can be black, blue, all shades of gray, brown, with or without white markings. These dogs are peaceful and calm. But they can stand up for their loved ones and are always ready to protect family members.
New Zealand Huntaway
The New Zealand Shepherd Dog was bred in the 20th century. Although the breed is relatively new, it’s not clear how it first appeared. Most specialists agree that its ancestors are the Border Collie and Doberman.
It’s the largest shepherd breed. Their quick wit and athletic ability make them the perfect shepherd dogs, and their good nature means they fit in well with farming families. The New Zealand Huntaways are busy dogs that channel their curiosity and energy into positive behavior. Plus, these dogs can be soft and gentle around children.
Although the Rough Collie is often called Scottish, historians don’t have any data to confirm this origin. But we know that Queen Victoria visited Scotland and returned home with several puppies, which played a significant role in the breed’s rise in popularity.
Famous as one of the best herding dog breeds, the Rough Collie is loyal, friendly, sensitive, and fast. Also, they make excellent “baby” dogs. A smiling face, pointy and floppy ears, thick coat, and a bushy tail are the dream of any child. So apart from serving the family, this dog is a lovely companion for children.
Which Shepherd Does Its Job the Best?
The Border Collie confidently stands at the top of the shepherd dog breeds list. Its dedication, trainability, and intelligence help it excel at herding flocks. According to a study from the University of British Columbia, the Border Collie is the most intelligent dog as it can understand up to 200 words.
When it comes to ranking the best shepherd dog breeds, the Australian Kelpie comes in second place. It’s a unique herding dog, distinguished by the widest possible field of vision, which helps it control what happens around without turning its head.
The third place goes to the Australian Shepherd. These dogs remain very vigilant, which guarantees your farm’s safety. Also, years of selective breeding have improved its herding and guarding skills.
Now you know which shepherd dog breeds are best at what they do and can be loving pets. Getting that balance right is the key to having a great relationship with your pet.
But the most important decision you have to make is whether that’s the right breed for you. Hopefully, our article has helped you find that out. But before you get one of these dogs, make sure you can spend enough time and money on your new family member.