Choosing Working Stock Dogs for Herding Livestock

How to choose working stock dogs for herding livestock when you need to round up your farmstead livestock, but not guard it from predators. Includes stock dog breeds, dog training and living with stock dogs.

| July/August 1982

In MOTHER EARTH NEWS issues 69 and 73 we discussed protection dogs . . . but if you need canine assistance to round up your farmstead livestock rather than to guard it from predators, you may prefer these working stock dogs for herding livestock. (See the working stock dog breeds in the image gallery.)

A good, well-trained dog may be one of the most valuable assets any farmer or rancher can own, often spelling the difference between success and failure in an animal-raising operation. And stock dogs, products of generations of selective breeding, will—at a certain age—begin to herd other critters whether directed by a master or not. This born-in-the-bone instinct is the foundation of their training.


It's not surprising, then, that—with proper education augmenting its own natural inclinations—a good working stock dog can range out to your back 40, search out hidden sheep or cattle, and deliver them to you . . . direct a large herd of animals across open fields, through gates, and down lanes to a particular destination . . . "cut" specific animals from a group for special ministrations by the master . . . and fight, to the death if need be, to protect its charges from wandering marauders.

Of course, herding and driving, rather than fighting, are the stock dog's main vocations, and the various breeds tend to be grouped by their aptitude for one activity or the other. Both jobs depend upon the canine's normal hunting instinct . . . which in some breeds is demonstrated by the intense "eye"—or riveting stare—that the dogs level on their charges.

Herding (or "fetching") dogs circle widely to reach the back of a group of livestock . . . then bring the animals to the master by "wearing", or moving from one side to the other behind the herd or flock, keeping it together while urging it forward. Herders are especially suitable for work with animals that are often penned (sheep and dairy cows, for example), that require firm but gentle control, and that must be maneuvered with great precision through narrow openings.

Driving (or "heeling") dogs are used to direct the herd away from the master to some designated area, and are known for their skill in "gripping", or biting the heels of the stock in order to keep it moving. Individual dogs may show a preference for "heading"—that is, going to the front of a herd to stop or redirect its movement, perhaps by actually gripping the nose of the lead animal—rather than (or in addition to) heeling.

3/8/2007 5:17:28 PM

I have been looking for a trained red heeler stock dog and have been looking for about 4 years. No luck yet. If you know of any at all please email me back I am wanting one.

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