The Pastoral Group, also known as the Herding Group by the AKC, are dogs initially bred to work sheep, cattle, reindeer, and livestock on farms for herding or guarding. Some of the more popular dogs within this group include:
Anatolian Shepherd Dog
Australian Cattle Dog
Belgian Shepherd Dog
Old English Sheepdog
Pyrenean Mountain Dog
German Shepherd Dog
These dogs respond well to training, are hard-working, brave, energetic, and loyal. Most are friendly and affectionate towards their owners and make good family pets with a few caveats, which I will discuss later in this article.
The popularity of herding dogs as pets is growing, while the work for them is diminishing. They are at their best when they have a job to do. These are working dogs that are extremely intelligent, so they need to be physically and mentally active. If they don’t receive sufficient exercise or mental stimulation, behavioral problems are likely to develop. These behaviors often include chewing, climbing, chasing, digging, obsessiveness, “herding” children, etc. Owners need to look for activities that will keep these dogs engaged, such as agility training, flyball, frisbee, obedience training, trick training, etc.
Two of the most intelligent dog breeds fall within this group- the Border Collie and the German Shepherd. Most dog trainers and researchers believe the list for the most intelligent breeds falls in this order:
1) Border Collie
3) German Shepherd
After this top three opinions vary widely.
When I get a call from a Border Collie owner that tells me that their dog is untrainable and is “bouncing off the walls” (which is quite often), I tell them that the problem is not the dog. I tell them that I don’t work with people with dog problems; I work with dogs that have people problems.
Most members of this group make good pets, but due to their natural herding instinct, some tend to nip at the ankles, which can be problematic with smaller children. They need to be taught to extinguish that tendency.
Obedience is critical for this group so you can control these unwanted behaviors. Dogs often figure out human behavior before humans figure out dog behavior. I can’t tell you how often I have seen 8-week old puppies outsmart their owners, essentially training them.
Exercise requirements are critical as well. Two 45-1 hour walks a day are necessary, with at least 30 minutes of HIIT. My dogs do not belong to this group, but I always begin their walk with 15 minutes of fetch or frisbee playing, then we walk for an hour and then finish with another 15 minutes of fetch when we return home. We must remember that walking beside a human can barely be considered exercise for most medium to large breeds. It is equivalent to a human walking a tortoise. It would take 30 minutes to travel 30 feet-not much exercise for a human. When dogs are off-leash, they do not walk; they trot or canter. So walking beside a human, even for a mile, is like a human going from the couch to the refrigerator and back. Wolves travel 50 miles per day just to mark their territory. Large breed dogs such as the Malamute, German Shepherd, Huskies, etc., could do the same if they were in shape. Few pet dogs are in condition.
In addition to exercise, mental stimulation is also required for this group due to their high level of intelligence. It would be best if you spent time every day teaching your dog new commands or tricks. There are also toys designed to stimulate the dogs’ mental processes.
I believe the best environment for many members of the herding group is a rural setting, preferably on a farm. However, these breeds are highly adaptable and can fit into most homes if the owners are willing to provide the exercise, mental stimulation, and obedience training that these dogs need. I know owners of Border Collies that live in apartments in the city, and these dogs do just fine. The fact that they are marathon runners and bring their dogs with them every day when they run has something to do with it. The problem arises when the owner lives in a city apartment and is sedentary. If the dog is never allowed to go for a walk, is there any wonder why the dog is “bouncing off the walls”? I would ask these owners if they researched the breed before they purchased them. I will often get a shoulder shrug as if this is a foreign thought to them. I tell them that their dog is very trainable, but they need to know more about their dog so all aspects of training can be covered. I will ask them to do a simple google search focusing on exercise requirements to help them understand why their dog is behaving the way it is.