Sheep farmers have benefited from the help of dogs for centuries. There are two primary types of dogs used for sheep farming: guard dogs and herding dogs. Depending on the needs of your sheep farm, you would have one or the other, or both. Continue reading to learn the difference between guard dogs and herding dogs, and the best breeds to choose for both roles on your sheep farm.
As the name suggests, herding dogs help manage sheep flocks. Sheep are social animals, and require a large group of other sheep around them to feel safe and comfortable. And where one sheep goes, the rest will follow. This is especially true for “leadersheep”, which we’ll discuss in another blog soon. Since sheep are hardwired to roam as a group, it is easy to train certain breeds of herding dogs to manage the flocks and ensure they go where they need to and remain where they should. Herding dogs are also referred to as “stock” dogs or working dogs.
You cannot just train any dog to become a herding dog. Only certain breeds are recommended. The most common breed used for sheep farming are Australian Shepherds, Australian Kelpies, New Zealand Huntaway dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs, and Border Collies. These breeds can be trained to work with their owner as a partnership, obeying commands to perform their jobs. When trained properly, a herding dog exhibits calm and controlled authority over a flock of sheep, and can make sheep move anywhere you want them moved.
In contrast to herding dogs, who move and manage flocks, guard dogs are in charge of protecting the flocks from nearby predators. They are also referred to as livestock protection breeds, and they were likely one of the first domesticated dogs in the history of mankind. Common sheep predators include mountain lions, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, bears, and even other dogs. The most common breed for guardian dogs in the United States is the Great Pyrenees, however, sheep farmers also have success with other breeds, including Anatolian Shepherds, Tibetan Mastiffs, and Akbash Shepherds.