What do border collies, Australian shepherds, corgis, and sheepdogs have in common besides four paws and a tail? They’re all herding dogs.
As their name implies, herding dogs have natural instincts to herd. Bred for farm work, they’re high-energy and smart dogs. They come in all shapes and sizes, from small dogs like corgis to extra large sheepdogs like Anatolian shepherds.
If you have the right environment for them, herding breeds can make great pets. Just don’t expect them to sleep all day and laze around.
If you’re considering a herding dog breed (or mix) as a pet, it’s good to understand their needs and temperament. These are not the type of dogs to thrive in a small city apartment. They need room to run and activities for mental stimulation. Otherwise, they’ll create their own “fun,” which could mean turning your couch into a chew toy.
Additionally, while they can make great family pets, herding breeds have a reputation for herding young children, which is something to consider.
In this article, you’ll discover the key characteristics of herding breeds and the best dog toys for playtime to keep them happy.
Characteristics of Herding Dogs
If you’ve ever watched one of those sheep herding demonstrations, then you’ve seen the shaggy black and white border collie zigzag through the field as they round up the sheep to move them from pasture to barn.
The dogs are whip-smart, fast, and agile. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, they “possess a hypnotic stare used to direct herds.”
It’s true that they crouch down and stare at the sheep. Then, depending on whistles or other signals from the human sheepherder, they change direction and run, nipping at the heels of the sheep to get them to move. If you have a border collie, one of their natural instincts is to stare at you.
Other herding breeds include corgis, collies, sheepdogs, German shepherds, and more. Generally, they’re smart, active, and happy breeds who can make excellent pets if you have the right lifestyle for them. They need adequate exercise to match their age and energy levels.
Typical characteristics of herding dog breeds:
- Hard-working (and NEED to work)
- Easily bored
- Sometimes vocal (some breeds)
How Much Exercise Do These Working Dogs Need?
As you probably know, sometimes large dogs need more exercise than smaller dogs. However, age and energy levels do play into their needs. At a minimum, most dogs need to get out and exercise for at least thirty minutes a day. However, if you have a young herding pup, their minimum may be closer to two hours of exercise a day.
Running, dog training, dog sports, and interactive dog toys can help them meet their physical needs and give them the mental stimulation they also crave.
For example, throwing a tennis ball is great exercise. They run and retrieve. You toss the ball. You can use a ball launcher to throw it further, too. Some dogs love catching frisbees. But traditional frisbees are made of hard plastic, which cracks and breaks. These can cut your dog’s mouth or damage their teeth.
A natural rubber frisbee like the Zoom Flyer Disc protects your dog’s teeth and gums. Some dog owners enroll their herding dogs in dog sports like agility or even doggie freestyle (choreographed doggie dancing). Participating in such activities is a great way to bond with your dog and provide the mental stimulation and exercise your pooch needs to be the best dog.
A herding dog’s natural instincts are to go, go, go.
Herding breeds make great pets when they have interactive activities like fetch, puzzle toys, and other fun activities.
Best Toys for Herding Dogs and Working Dogs
When you find a healthy outlet for your dog’s herding instincts, your herding breed dog can be a fantastic pet. A rotating selection of dog toys for your doggy will help keep them interested. Puzzle toys provide mental stimulation and chew toys are good for chewers.
1. Chew Toys
Dogs explore the world with their mouths and chew toys are perfect fodder. When choosing chew toys for your pup, consider the size and strength of their jaws. Chew toys come in many different sizes. For example, for smaller dogs to large dogs, we have the Dogwood chew in multiple sizes.
While real tree branches can splinter in your dog’s mouth and pose a choking hazard, the dogwood stick mimics the taste and texture of tree branches but won’t splinter.
Then again, some pups are aggressive chewers. You give them a new plush toy, and within minutes they’ve torn it apart, freeing the squeaker. If this sounds like your dog, then it’s good to have a nearly indestructible chew toy like a tough, bouncy bone that you can even stuff treats inside of!
2. Puzzle Toys
As mentioned, the herding breeds are smart. For example, working border collies learn various sounds and symbols for herding sheep.
Your typical herding breed requires more mental stimulation than other breed dogs.
Sequential puzzle toys can keep your pup interested. Like leveling up in a video game, these puzzles start easy and move up to more challenging levels. At each level, they’re teaching your dog to follow its nose to learn how to open and close compartments, move blocks, and spin wheels to find hidden treats or peanut butter.
These treat dispensers come in different sizes, colors, and difficulty levels.
3. Outdoor Agility Toys
Your herding dog can indulge his natural instincts by learning to weave through poles, run through tunnels, and jump through a hoop. A backyard obstacle course like the Zip & Zoom Agility Kit (pictured above) is a fun interactive game and perfect for dog training too. Your dog will be all eyes on you as you teach him to weave through pools for a sweet potato treat.
4. Fetch Toys
Tennis balls, soccer balls, rubber balls, any ball can be a dog ball and a great fetching toy. Which type of ball is best for your dog? It depends on your dog, of course.
How big are they? While a larger pup might enjoy carrying a soccer ball in his mouth, a corgi probably isn’t going to be able to do so and would prefer a tennis ball or other bouncy ball.
However, dogs of all sizes enjoy the Orbee-Tuff balls. This bouncy ball will keep your dog entertained for hours. Every bounce is unpredictable, thanks to its asymmetrical design. Plus, they float in water so you can take games of fetch from the yard to the beach.
For fun after dark games of fetch, try a light-up dog ball like the Planet Dog Strobe.
Last but not least, these small squeaky bouncy balls are enjoyable for smaller dogs.
5. Plush Toys for Herding Dogs
Squeaky toys, toys that rattle or light up, your doggy will prance with delight when you introduce them to these dog toys. Take the Tough Skinz Rattlesnake, this toy rattles, squeaks, and stands up to tough chewers. It’s also great for dogs who love to play tug of war.
Another fun plush toy (and puzzle) is the Hide a Hedgie toy. This best-selling dog toy offers your herding breed the chance to pull out the hedgehogs and hear them squeak. Or, you can use the individual plush toys to play fetch with your pooch. Can you teach your dog to clean up by putting them back into the tree trunk?
These dog toys have durability and will keep your pup busy for hours.
Other Ideas for Your Energetic Herding Dog
You can also play hide and seek with your pooch, where you hide favorite toys from your dog and encourage them to hunt for them. Many dogs love playing tug-of-war with a rope toy and you on the other end. Swimming is an excellent outlet for all that energy as well.
With a good mix of dog toys, you’ll always have something for your furry friend, no matter the mood.
All dogs require exercise and interactive play, but herding breeds do require more than others. This is especially true when they’re young. However, these dogs can make great pets if you have an active lifestyle and keep them engaged with plenty of enrichment activities.