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What is a Sheepdog?

A sheepdog manages sheep.
Mastiffs are sometimes used as sheepdogs.
Sheep have excellent hearing and vision, so they can be alert to predators.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2014
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A sheepdog is a dog which has been bred and trained to work with sheep. Sheepdogs are often used in herding, to manage sheep flocks as they are moved and handled, and they may also work as guard dogs to protect the livestock from predators and poachers. A wide variety of dog breeds are used as sheep dogs, and all of these breeds have very active, intelligent personalities which make them well suited to livestock management.

In addition to working with sheep, a sheepdog can potentially work with other livestock as well. Sheepdogs are trained to work both alone and together, and they can cooperate with humans to ensure that the herd is managed as needed. On ranches where horses are also used in livestock management, sheepdogs are trained to work well with horses as well, creating a tight team of people, horses, and dogs which keeps sheep and other livestock firmly under control.

Collies, mastiffs, retrievers, corgis, Koolies, and great Pyrenees are all used as sheepdogs, as are a number of other dog breeds, including all of those with “sheepdog” in their names. Some of these dog breeds have been refined over centuries of careful breeding and hard work, and their natures are perfectly attuned to working with sheep. Sheepdog breeds tend to be very trainable, but they can have a stubborn and independent streak as well.

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In addition to being working animals, some sheepdogs also participate in competitions. Many nations with a long tradition of sheep farming host sheepdog competitions and trials, allowing the dogs to strut their stuff at agility trials and in herding tests. Watching these trials can be quite interesting, especially when a talented sheepdog and its master are at work, as a coordinated pair uses a series of signals which is so subtle and complex that it sometimes seems as though they are reading each other's minds.

Some people like to keep herding dogs as pets, but this is not advised. Sheepdog breeds require a lot of work, because they are very demanding, high energy dogs, and they may become frustrated without a herd to care for. In some cases, sheepdogs will attempt to herd members of the household, which sounds amusing, but it can also be dangerous, as sheep dogs will bite, claw, and kick to keep the herd in line. Sheepdog breeds are especially unsuitable indoor pets, and people who want to keep such breeds as companion animals rather than working dogs should think carefully.

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Discuss this Article

anon248357
Post 2

I don't agree with your assumption that the sheepdog does not make a good pet. If you are dedicated to the proper raising of high energy dogs, but buyer beware, dedication is critical. Then they can make fine pets. But they are not for the couch potato! These dogs must have a job.

Additionally, you are not clear on sheepdog herding dogs and livestock guardian dogs. Both have different jobs, and one is not suited for the other's job. Herding dogs make lousy guardian dogs, and guardian dogs make lousy herding dogs.

anon87765
Post 1

I beg to differ with your assertion that sheepdog breeds make unsuitable pets. We have had two Great Pyrenees and they are wonderful animals, gentle and kind with the family but they keep a watchful eye on your property and livestock.

Max is a perfect dog, except for the long hair which he sheds everywhere. Once trained to stay in the fence, I think they are the best guard dogs and pets possible.

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