Every dog breed was developed with a purpose, from retrieving downed waterfowl to keeping your lap warm. Today, we’re going to discuss shepherds, the group of doggos who excel at herding and protecting sheep.
We’ll explain the basics of each shepherd breed below to help you discern which might work best for your farm or family.
The 15 Most Popular Types of Shepherd Dogs: Key Takeaways
- The term “shepherd” means sheep herder — it isn’t an official breed group. Bred to work livestock, shepherds are renowned herders and athletes, built for farm life.
- Shepherds come in many forms. Shepherds aren’t a one-size-fits-all group, and this canine collection includes everything from small, agile doggos to massive livestock guardians from mountainous regions.
- Shepherds are great companions for some, but not all. These dogs were developed to work, and this inherent need for activity may conflict with couch potatoes or busy schedules.
What Is a Shepherd Dog? How Many Kinds of Shepherd Dog Exist?
There is no official grouping for shepherds amongst UKC and AKC’s breed groups, leading different people and organizations to include varying breeds under the “shepherd” label.
Per the term, a shepherd is defined as one who cares for sheep, whether herding them or protecting them from predators. This is why you see overlap between herding breeds and livestock guardians under the “shepherd” label.
Depending on your definition of a shepherd, there may be as many as 30 different shepherd breeds, including quite a few obscure ones most people have never heard of.
But today, we’re going to focus on the most popular shepherd breeds and their attributes.
What Traits Do Shepherd Dogs Have?
Working with livestock requires many traits that continue to shine bright in shepherds today, including:
- Intelligence: While herding, a dog must solve problems on the fly, requiring above-average smarts to stay one step ahead of the flock.
- Working drive: Farm life isn’t for the lazy, with shepherds putting in hours of grueling work every day. Many shepherds could give the Energizer Bunny a run for his money.
- Athleticism: Chasing down wayward sheep requires speed and agility, two things many shepherds offer with ease. Others may act as a deterrent against predators, requiring a large, well-muscled frame capable of navigating rough terrain.
- Trainability: Working dogs like shepherds must have an eagerness to please and be among the easiest dog breeds to train. Farm life moves fast, meaning a herding or protection dog must be up to speed on their task as soon as possible. There’s no room for stubbornness here.
- Agreeable nature: Working with livestock means forming a bond with the herd. For herders, this requires keeping sheep in line without being overly aggressive, while guardians must be fierce enough to deter threats without harming the animals they’re protecting.
- Independence: Shepherds often work separately from handlers, requiring a degree of independence to get the job done without supervision or coaxing. This trait is especially prized in guardian shepherds who must remain alone with the flock in pasture for days on end.
- Bravery: Protecting the herd against predators means many shepherds are fearless in the face of danger, putting life and limb on the line without question.
These qualities are certainly admirable, but they come with definite drawbacks, like:
- High exercise demands: Most shepherds need more than a walk around the block to satisfy their exercise requirements. These breeds make excellent dog jogging partners or canine hiking companions. Multiple daily walker sessions or doggy daycare stays are needed for owners who can’t meet these needs.
- Mental stimulation needs: Shepherds are highly intelligent and need to put their brainpower to use through daily work or exercises. This means implementing some canine enrichment strategies to keep your pupper thinking through sports like herding, agility, and obedience, or at-home games, such as puzzles or herding balls.
- Separation anxiety: Intelligent dogs can be prone to separation anxiety, and many shepherds are notorious Velcro dogs, loving nothing more than being by your side. This can lead to extreme cases of separation anxiety and all of the associated challenges it presents.
- Nuisance herding: Herding breeds will herd anything — including children, geese, toys, or anything else they encounter during the day. This is all fun and games until one is nipping at your ankles or attempting to herd your kids around the yard.
15 of the Best Types of Shepherds
Many breeds fall under the shepherd umbrella, but today we’re covering the most popular and well-known, giving you insight into which breed might be a good fit for you.
1. German Shepherd
The most widely known shepherd is likely this handsome guy, a hardworking farm dog who’s one of the most popular breeds in the US. Treasured for his eagerness to please and courage, the German shepherd regularly finds work as a police companion, bomb sniffer, and protection dog, though he can still be found herding sheep at the farm.
German shepherds are intelligent and rather clingy, making separation anxiety more common in this breed than in some others. He needs an owner committed to positive, ongoing training and exercise routines, including physical and mental outlets, like Schutzhund, agility, and obedience.
These dogs actually come in two forms: the “short-haired” German shepherd (which is the more common of the two) and the long-haired version.
2. Anatolian Shepherd
This loyal guardian comes from the Anatolia region of Turkey, where he still protects livestock today. He’s one of the most independent shepherd breeds, preferring to be off patrolling your property for threats on his own instead of hanging around with family. He’s not too keen on strangers, either, so don’t expect him to be a social butterfly at any parties. In fact, having strange people around a lot will likely stress this giant breed out.
The Anatolian is not a good breed for novice dog owners, as he can and will push boundaries. Early training is a must, focusing on obedience and positive reinforcement since this guy can grow to over 150 pounds. Due to his powerful build, he’s a good hiking companion, but don’t expect him to take up jogging anytime soon. A walking pace is more his speed.
3. Australian Shepherd Dog
This agility favorite is one heck of a hard worker. He’s known to run himself to the point of exhaustion, whether he’s herding sheep or wowing spectators at dock diving events. This go-go-go nature means you can expect plenty of daily exercise to keep him happy. Fortunately, he’s a jack of all trades when it comes to sports, so you have your pick at everything from rally to flyball.
The Aussie is highly intelligent but sensitive, making positive training methods a must to avoid damaging his delicate spirit. His smarts are a double-edged sword, however, as he’ll make his own fun if understimulated for too long. The Aussie shepherd is a prime candidate for doggy daycare since he’s super friendly with other dogs, and he makes an excellent family companion with his love of kiddos.
One of the other neat things about Aussies is the number of colors they can display. For example, some have tri-colored coats, while others sport merle color patterns, and some even come with harlequin coats.
4. Belgian Shepherd Dog
Now known as four distinct breeds, this grouping — containing the Belgian Malinois, Tervuren, sheepdog, and Laekenois — was formerly considered a single kind of doggo.
The primary difference between the four is coat type, with Malinois being short-haired, Tervuren being longhaired and red/fawn, sheepdogs being longhaired and black, and Laekenois having wiry coats. All require regular brushing to strip away dead hair, though Tervurens and sheepdogs require extra combing around their ears and tails to prevent matting.
All Belgian shepherds are incredibly high-energy dogs, demanding daily runs at a minimum to burn off steam, as well as mental games, like puzzles and varied obedience training to keep their minds abuzz. If left understimulated, this dog will find his own fun, and you (and your house) may not like the results. Canine sports like Schutzhund, agility, and dock jumping are highly recommended with a Belgian shepherd around.
Belgian shepherds are not recommended for most home settings, as they need a job to do. Malinois especially are wired to function at full-speed ahead, which is why they’re regarded as one of the best breeds for use in police and military work. If you’re looking for a dog that’s ready to work, look no further.
5. Dutch Shepherd
Bred to herd and protect livestock, this agile athlete is now a popular police dog thanks to his drive and intelligence. Putting his brain to use every day is a must, as this smarty pants needs a challenge, or he’ll grow bored and tune you out. Ongoing obedience training is recommended, as he’s at his best when he’s learning, but make sure you switch up your routines to keep him interested. Daily exercise is also essential in having a happy, healthy Dutch shepherd.
The Dutch shepherd’s coat comes in three forms: short, rough, and long. Weekly brushing is needed to remove loose hair, with more frequent sessions necessary for long and rough-coat Dutch shepherds to avoid matting.
Sweet and sensitive, the collie is one of the top family dogs in the shepherd family, loving his human friends as much as his flock. As highlighted in the classic Lassie tales, this famous film dog’s loyalty seemingly knows no limit, though his feelings can get hurt quite easily. Because of this, gentle training methods are recommended, focusing on positive reinforcement.
Collies come in both smooth and rough coat varieties, with both shedding a fair amount. Both coat types require brushing a few times a week to remove loose hair and prevent tangles, though the rough coat needs special attention around his hind end for cleanliness.
Note that collies have drug sensitivities, so always check with your vet before trying out a new supplement, medication, or flea preventative.
7. Border Collie
This all-around athlete isn’t just a whizz at herding sheep; he’s amazing at just about everything. As the smartest dog breed, the border collie picks up new tricks and tasks with ease, wowing those around him.
This intelligence is admirable, but it’s also a challenge, as this pup gets bored easily. He’s not the dog for most households, as he needs a vigorous daily physical and mental exercise that’s best met with a job, such as herding sheep.
His double coat comes in medium-length and short, though the longer variety doesn’t require as much day-to-day maintenance as you’d think. Just run a brush through him twice a week to prevent any tangles, and he’s ready to work.
8. Miniature American Shepherd
This relative newcomer to the AKC scene first appeared in the 1960s, descending from small Australian shepherds in California.
He’s a petite powerhouse, working through herding obstacles with impressive agility and intelligence. His eagerness to please and ease of training makes him one of the best shepherds for new dog owners, but make sure you provide him with lots of brain games and toys to prevent boredom.
Like his larger shepherd relatives, the miniature American shepherd is an active pup requiring daily exercise. He can tolerate apartment life if walked enough, though a canine sport is your best bet. Flyball, agility, and herding are just some of the activities he excels at.
9. Old English Sheepdog
If you’re looking for a big, fluffy, white dog breed, the OES is your guy. Weighing up to a 100 pounds, this double-coated doggo needs frequent brushing to prevent matting, though you can clip him short to make grooming easier. The only thing fluffier than his coat is his spirit, with his affectionate nature making him one of the best shepherds for families with kids.
Despite his herding roots, the OES doesn’t require as much exercise as his shepherd cousins, needing only a daily walk and romp in the yard before settling inside. He’s still a prime candidate for canine sports but with a much more manageable battery life to deal with at home.
The OES does need daily mental stimulation, however, and he absolutely hates repetitive training methods, so keep things interesting during training and play so he remains engaged.
10. Shetland Sheepdog
Small but mighty, the Sheltie is a formidable herder, who’s constantly earning accolades for his work ethic and intelligence.
He’s easy to train and eager to please, making him one of the best options for newbie dog owners amongst shepherd-type breeds. He’s also one of the friendliest, ranking as one of the best family dogs.
A Sheltie’s long coat sheds a fair amount and needs combing a few times a week, so prepare to dedicate a chunk of time to maintenance with one around. He also requires daily physical and mental exercise, preferably in the form of a long walk or jog, or even some backyard play with his favorite human.
This furry Frenchman got his start herding and protecting sheep, and is still regarded as an intelligent and extremely loyal dog breed. Positive, varied training tactics are recommended for him, however, as he bores easily with repetition.
Breed fanciers can’t get enough of his loving nature, a common trait among shepherds. This sweet side makes him an ideal choice for family life.
Grooming a Briard is no cakewalk, requiring thorough combing several times a week to prevent painful matting. You should check his eyes frequently for signs of irritation, and a sanitary trim around his backside is highly recommended to keep him looking and smelling his best.
Most people don’t think of these lowriders when they hear “shepherd,” but corgis are herders at heart. In fact, their short statures make them the perfect height for nipping at the heels of sheep or cattle while rounding them up.
Of course, there are two kinds of corgi: the Pembroke Welsh version and the Cardigan Welsh version. But despite minor differences between the two, both are beloved companions, cherished for their intelligence and playful natures. Both are also fantastic family dogs, who thrive around children and other pets. They even make great dogs for seniors.
The corgi suffers from several health issues because of his build, including back injuries, disc disease, and elbow dysplasia. To reduce these risks, he should be kept at a proper weight and blocked from high-risk activities, such as jumping off furniture or running up and down stairs.
13. Caucasian Shepherd
As one of the largest shepherds (and a pretty darn fluffy dog breed), this big guy turns a lot of heads. Weighing upwards of 170 pounds, he grows fast, making early training and socialization essential in rearing a balanced companion.
While intelligent, the Caucasian isn’t for novice or even moderately experienced owners, as his infamous independent streak can be frustrating. Due to his guardian roots, he is incredibly aloof with strangers and is not recommended for busy households with frequent guests coming and going. He’s happiest when roaming with his herd, deterring threats.
Originally from the Caucasus mountains, this giant breed comes in both short and long coat varieties. Both types shed a hefty amount and drool, so expect daily brushing sessions during coat-blowing season, occurring twice a year.
Hailing from Hungary, this small herder is one of the most affectionate shepherd breeds, loving nothing more than to be with his pup parent. Paired with his eagerness to please and intelligence, he’s a dream to train, but he can be a handful in the energy department. Daily exercise is a must, along with grooming, though his long curly coat can be kept brushed out, clipped, or corded.
This corded cutie’s intelligence can lead to mischief, so make sure you utilize plenty of brain games to keep him busy. He isn’t a dog that’ll be satisfied with a boring life in the backyard — he requires a job or sport like agility to put his mind and body to work.
15. Bergamasco Sheepdog
This Italian sheep guardian has a striking look, marked by thick, locked hair. This dense coat keeps him warm in frigid weather and is surprisingly maintenance-free despite its length. The Bergamasco doesn’t need to be brushed, but he does require bathing a few times a year and should never be shaved. That said, having this hairy of a dog around the house isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and hotspots can be a problem if you live in wet climates.
This herder isn’t as high-energy as some of his shepherd cousins, though he is a bit of a clinger when it comes to his family, so make sure you include him in as many of your day-to-day activities as possible. He’s a good watchdog breed thanks to his guardian roots yet still manages to be great with kids at home too.
Types of Shepherd Dogs: FAQs
With so many shepherds around, you might still have some questions. We’ve compiled the most commonly asked to bring you the answers you need.
Which kind of shepherd dog is best?
The best shepherd dog for you depends on your lifestyle. If you’re looking for a more laid-back guardian breed, the Caucasian or Anatolian might be your top pick, while those looking for a high-energy herder around the farm might favor the border collie or Belgian shepherd. A German shepherd or corgi may be best for those just looking for a house dog to walk and play in the yard. The secret is to be honest about your training and exercise capabilities, with some shepherd breeds (such as the Belgian shepherd) having hard-to-meet needs for the average owner.
Are shepherd dogs smart?
Yes, shepherds are extremely intelligent, allowing them to perform many tasks, from herding sheep to detecting bombs to finding survivors in rubble. This intelligence makes them easy to train, though they may grow disinterested if sessions or commands become repetitive. Interactive toys and canine sports are highly recommended to keep your shepherd entertained.
Do shepherd dogs make good pets?
Shepherds make excellent pets when matched with the right family. Some excel with children while others do best in all-adult households, so always do your research to find the breed that works best for your living arrangements. Not every shepherd can break from its hard-working, farm roots, either, so pay close attention to exercise and enrichment needs. Some shepherds, such as the Belgian and Caucasian, require experienced owners with special home settings.
What is the largest shepherd dog breed?
The largest member of the shepherd family is the Caucasian shepherd, both in height and weight. Male Caucasian shepherds can reach 30 inches at the shoulder and weigh up to 170 pounds.
What’s your favorite kind of shepherd? Do you have one at home? Tell us about them in the comments!