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14 Best Farm Dog Breeds for Herding and Protection

14 Best Farm Dog Breeds for Herding and Protection

Life on the farm requires the tenacity, speed and loyalty of a working dog. Even with new technologies and aids, nothing quite compares to the perseverance and aptitude of farm and ranch dogs.

A flash of fur zigging and zagging through thick sagebrush in pursuit of an ornery cow or a stalwart statue with a lulling pink tongue keeping watch over the herd; working farm and ranch dogs perform any number of vital tasks on a daily basis. From moving, guarding or holding livestock to companionship, some of the best farm and ranch hands actually have paws.

Farm Dogs for Herding

Moving, holding and handling livestock is a major role that working dogs have played for many years. Great herding dog breeds are the result of specially selecting and breeding dogs who showed proficiency and ability in this area, making current herding breeds well adapted to their trade.


1. Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherds or “aussies” are a midsize breed known for their intelligence and herding instincts. Fast learners and always ready to work, these dogs are great for herding sheep, cows or even kids. While they are bursting with energy, this breed is known for its loving and agreeable nature making them equally great as family and companion pets.

Coat: Type: Double I Length: Medium

Color: Black, Red or Red/Blue Merle

Traits: Smart / Work-Oriented / High-Energy

Keen herding instincts for bringing or moving livestock.



2. Australian Cattle Dog (Heeler)

Australian Cattle Dogs, better known as “heelers” are a staple for livestock owners and handlers. These dogs are compact and built for a hard day's work around the ranch or out on the summer range. They have powerful herding instincts and are known for their ability to quickly nip the heels of livestock. These dogs are very loyal and just as willing to take a drive in the truck as they are to herd cows.

Coat: Type: Smooth or Double I Length: Short

Color:  Blue or Red (can be mottled or speckled)

Traits: Alert / Curious / Pleasant

Strong herding instincts for moving and handling livestock.

3. Australian Kelpie

Australian Kelpie or just “kelpie” dogs are tenacious herders known for their intensity while moving livestock. Like heelers and aussies, the breed has strong herding instincts but with a little more aggression. Their strong attitude and abilities are great for taking on ornery cattle or encouraging livestock out of thick undergrowth. Once adapted to a family or person they are very loyal dogs. While traditionally not as affectionate as other herding breeds, they are vigilant and protective.

Coat: Type: Smooth or Double I Length: Short

Color:  Black, Red, Blue, Fawn, Chocolate, Black and Tan or Red and Tan

Traits: Loyal / Alert / Intelligent

Strong herding instincts for moving and handling livestock.



4. Border Collie

Border Collies are a common breed used on many farms and ranches. The dogs are extremely intelligent with a high energy drive and need to work. They are gentle family members but quick and witty when moving livestock. These dogs are quick learners and willing to please. Whether you need a buddy to run to town with or a fleet-footed partner moving the livestock, your border collie will be there.

Coat: Type: Wavy or Double I Length: Medium

Color: Black, Blue, Brindle, Lilac, Gold, Red, Seal, Sable, Slate and Blue or Red Merle or any of these with white

Traits: Affectionate / Smart / Energetic

Keen herding instincts for bringing or moving livestock.



5. Catahoula Leopard Dog

Catahoula Leopard Dogs or just “catahoulas'' are smart and athletic canines that have found success in a great variety of jobs including that of stock dogs. They are agile with great endurance and a keen hound-like sense of smell that helps them seek out and hold livestock for their handlers. They are serious about their work and easy to train but very affectionate at home. As long as these dogs have a job, they are happy and willing.

Coat: Type: Smooth I Length: Short

Color: Black, Blue, Brindle, Chocolate, Red, Yellow and Blue, Red, White or Yellow Merle

Traits: Independent / Loyal / Watchful

Keen sense of smell and loud bark for seeking, holding and leading handlers to livestock.



6. Scotch Collie

Scotch Collies, made popular in pop culture, are easily recognizable with their graceful movement and lithe bodies. Though they are a larger breed, their agility and gentle demeanor make them subtle but effective herding dogs especially with sheep. But, herding isn’t their only strong suite. Collies are also known for their innate fondness of people and especially children making them excellent companions and family pets.

Coat: Type: Rough or Smooth I Length: Short or Long

Color: Sable, White, Blue or Sable Merle (with or without white) and Blue Merle or Black with White and Tan

Traits: Devoted / Agile / Loving

Keen herding instincts for bringing or moving livestock.



7. Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Small but mighty, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi might not be the first breed to come to mind when you need a hardy herding dog but these pint-sized canines are bred to work. From cows to sheep, these dogs are agile and quick despite their compact size. When the work is done these dogs are exceptional companion and family pets with a loving and protecting nature.

Coat: Type: Double I Length: Short

Color: Fawn, Red, Sable or Black and Tan

Traits: Affectionate / Smart / Alert

Strong herding instincts for moving and handling livestock.

Find the best dog food for your 4-legged farmhands. Learn what ingredients make for a rich, happy canine?


Farm Dogs for Protection

Livestock guardian dogs own a special place on the ranch. Besides moving and handling livestock, these canines offer farmers and ranchers their instinctual bravery and loyalty to help protect their flocks or herds making a working guard dog worth his weight in gold.


8. Anatolian Shepherd

Anatolian Shepherd dogs are devoted protectors with imposing size, strength and presence. The large canines have historically served as guardians of sheep and other livestock. They are intelligent and loyal with a strong sense of devotion and desire to protect. With strong leadership and training, these dogs serve as valuable guard dogs and members of the family.

Coat: Type: Smooth I Length: Short

Color: Brindle, Fawn, Liver, White and Biscuit with White or Blue, Red or Gray Fawn

Traits: Independent / Loyal / Reserved

Intelligent and territorial protectors 



9. Great Pyrenees

Gentle giants, Great Pyrenees dogs are popular livestock protectors with a gentle nature beneath a powerful frame and weather-proof white coat. Though affectionate, these dogs are notoriously protective. With early training and introduction, a Great Pyrenees dog can learn to love a herd of animals and will be devoted to protecting them against wild animals.

Coat: Type : Double I Length: Medium

Color: White

Traits: Smart / Patient / Calm

Mellow but vigilant protector

10. Maremma Sheepdog

Like the Great Pyrenees, these fluffy, white giants are born with strong protective instincts. Though lesser-known, these dogs are growing in popularity as livestock protectors. With early training, the dogs become attached to and devoted to protecting their herd. While good natured, they can become independent and aloof if left alone too long making it important to have constant human interaction.

Coat: Type: Double Length: Medium or Long

Color: White

Traits: Hard Working / Intelligent / Friendly

Mellow but fearless protector



11. Bernese Mountain Dog

Bernese Mountain Dogs are loyal and loving companions in a powerful package. The sturdy dogs are built for work and devoted to pleasing. Originally bred to protect livestock in Switzerland, they use their strength and intelligence to fend off predators but their kind nature generally keeps them from engaging with human threats. Though big and strong, they are family dogs at heart and when the work is done they make gentle and loving companions.

Coat: Type: Double I Length: Medium

Color: Rust and White, Black and Rust, Black and White or Black and White with Tan or Rust

Traits: Good-Natured / Calm / Strong

Gentle with humans but protective against predators


Crossbreed Farm Dogs

These unique crossbreeds combine two breeds into one extraordinary canine that works tirelessly until the farm and ranch work is done.

12. Hangin’ Tree Cowdog

Hangin’ Tree Cowdogs were bred for the sole purpose of cattle and livestock handling. The breed originated by mixing other popular herding dogs including the Border Collie, Catahoula, Kelpie and Australian Shepherd. They are known for not backing down when working aggressive or ornery cattle and while the breed is not recognized by the American Kennel Club, they may be registered under the Hangin’ Tree Cowdog Association. Unlike most associations, breeding and bloodline alone do not qualify an animal for registration. To be a registered Hangin’ Tree, the dog must have registered parents AND photo proof of the dog biting a cow's head/nose and heels. While they are exceptional workers, these dogs require a great deal of training to ensure their instincts are put to good use.

Coat: Type: Smooth I Length: Short

Color:  Solid black, red merle, blue merle

Traits: Good Disposition / Aggressive (with cattle) / Intelligent

Aggressive herders for bringing, moving and handling livestock



13. Black Mouth Cur

Bred in the southeastern United States, Black Mouth Cur dogs are all-around working dogs with a mixed background. The dogs are great protectors as well as livestock handlers with agility and keen herding instincts. They are tough and designed to perform in rugged landscapes. These dogs are sensitive and loyal and with the right training can make excellent farm and ranch hands.

Coat: Type: Smooth or Double I Length: Short

Color: Brindle, Chocolate, Fawn, Red, Gold or Yellow

Traits: Loyal / Energetic / Fearless

Good herding and protective instincts for handling and protecting livestock

14. Cowboy Corgi

With herding parents on both sides, Cowboy Corgis are aptly named companions and working dogs. A corgi-heeler or corgi-aussie mix, these mighty little herd dogs often retain the short build of their corgi parent and the keenness, energy and unique coat colors of their aussie or heeler parent and a double dose of herding and biting instincts. With direction and training, these little cow hands can be put to work or claim the passenger seat of the pickup.

Coat: Type: Double I Length: Medium or Short

Color: Black, Blue, Fawn, Red, Sable,  Black and Tan or Red/Blue Merle

Traits: Affectionate/ Loyal / Curious

Strong herding instincts for moving and handling livestock

Choosing the Perfect Farm Dog

Belonging to a farm and ranch breed does not automatically guarantee a dog will be great at farm and ranch tasks. Selecting a canine that will perform the jobs you have in mind is not an exact science, but these key traits help reveal your ideal working companion.

Energetic Breeds

Whether you need a protector or a herder, you need an animal with enough vigor and determination to work long hours, travel long miles and refuse to back down. If a puppy is energetic this could be a good indicator that it is strong enough to handle the work it must do.

Aggressive Breeds

An aggressive puppy, or one that will bark or growl at you is often a good indicator that the animal has grit. This is especially important in working farm and ranch dogs. A dog that isn’t afraid to go after a cow or chase off a predator needs to be aggressive.

You might consider searching for a working dog at your local shelter. There are many dogs surrendered every year by well-meaning people that don't understand these dog's inherent energy or herding instincts. Many of these pets would benefit from learning to channel their instincts and energy with farm and ranch tasks.

Dog Breeds to Avoid

Dogs bred as companions gravitate to their humans, rather than to work. As a result, there are a few breeds you might avoid when searching for a working dog. The Bichon Frise, Shih Tzu, Chihuahua, Maltese and Coton de Tulear are a few examples of companion breeds not suited to rugged farm and ranch work.


How to Care for a Working Dog

Farm and ranch breeds boast naturally-independent qualities, but to maintain optimum health, owners must consider specific training, nutrition and protection geared to their high-energy pooch.


Keep in mind that without the proper training and guidance, working dog traits can create a destructive and out-of-control animal. Work closely with a trusted dog trainer, pet behaviorist or vet before and after purchasing or adopting your ranch hand to ensure your animal is equipped for the task.


As working animals, they need proper fuel. Readily-available water and quality farm and ranch pet food meets their needs when there is a hard day's work ahead. Dog foods high in protein can provide necessary nutrients for your furry partners. Note: Caring for your outdoor pets in the winter requires a little extra maintenance with an increase in food calories and a heated water bowl to avert an iced-over source of hydration.

Find the right food for your dog based on its age, size and activity level

Collars and Microchipping

Farm and ranch dogs might travel miles across expansive countryside and spend a fair portion of their time away from home. With so much land to cover and time spent away from home, it is not uncommon for a dog to become lost or even be picked up by a well-meaning passerby.

Collars with nameplates, numbers and addresses can help reduce the risk that a working dog will be taken as well as increase the odds that a lost dog may be returned. Using tracking collars or microchipping your working dogs can also help you reduce the risks of losing a good working dog. These devices can not only help you locate a lost dog but potentially help you find the dog if it is injured on the job.

Helping Your Four-Legged Helpers

When the work is done or when there is still work to be done, we know that your loyal furry sidekick(s) will be by your side through it all. They are great workers but more than anything they are family.

Visit our Helping to Grow Blog for tips to care for your furry family members and stop by your local IFA for the nutritious dog food, snacks and supplies that your farm and ranch “paws” may need.


Information provided by Brett Yardley, Richfield IFA Branch Manager; Dillon Sorensen, Branch Manager, Ephraim IFA Country Store; Sam Mortensen, Branch Manager, Cedar City IFA Country Store; Maureen Goodrich, Office Manager, Logan IFA Country Store.  “American Kennel Club.” American Kennel Club, https://www.akc.org/

Photo credits: Sidney Wintermote, Larie Provost, Stephanie Cotham, Melissa Mickel, Kendra Covert, Alli Curtis and Lucretia Siri