There are a great number of reasons that people are naturally attracted to dogs that have been bred as herding animals. Typically these types of dogs are calm, intelligent and active, easy to train but also independent. They tend to be dogs that are suitable to being left alone for normal time frames during the day without having separation anxiety problems, plus they are often very capable of entertaining themselves if they have a companion dog or two.
There are also some other considerations for owning a herding breed, whether it is a breed that is recognized by the Kennel Clubs as a herding dog or just has the traits in its temperament. Herding breeds are naturally very active and require both physical as well as mental exercise on a daily basis. They also tend to be dogs that require a significant amount of outside activity, including challenges in training and responsibilities, to be fully happy and content. Without proper training and lots of regular work they can become bored and destructive, leading to significant problems for the owners.
With well-trained and well-socialized herding dogs, there are few activities your dog will not enjoy. Since herding breeds come from all over the world there is a significant variation in their size, physical appearance and coat type that can match exactly what you are looking for. If you are thinking of a unique type of dog, you may also find you have a unique type of coat to care for. The great news is that nature has ensured that these historically outdoor types of dogs tend to have relatively easy to keep coats. Some coat types are more time consuming to keep looking tiptop than others, so it is important to know the grooming requirements for the breed before deciding if they are right for you.
One of the most unusual coat types for any dog is seen on the Puli. This herding breed from Hungary is very ancient, believed to have been brought into the country thousands of years ago. They have a long, corded coat that parts down the center of the body, hanging all the way to the ground in tight cords or ringlets. They are a medium sized dog, maturing at about 35 pounds for males and 30 pounds for females. Typically they are black in color however gray, apricot and rarely white, with or without a black face mask are acceptable colors in some registries. They are sometimes mistaken for the much larger Komondor, also from Hungary, that is used as a flock guardian, not a herding dog. The Komondor, however is always white, one easy feature to distinguish between the two.
The Puli's unique coat doesn't start to develop until he or she is about 6 months old. Prior to that they have a fluffy, soft coat that is medium in length, resembling something like a straighter version of a Poodle coat. At this time the soft, wooly undercoat starts to mat into the longer, heavier hairs of the outer coat. During this time period the owner has to split the mats into cords that are about the size around of a pencil. This is done by hand pulling on the mats, which will actually separate very easily. This cord separation needs to continue throughout the dog's life as the mats will continue to form and require separation. Generally once the cording has started this is not a time consuming activity and if the dog is not being shown the cords can be left heavier.
These dogs are never brushed, just the cording completed on a weekly basis once the dog is mature. The coat can grow to the point of reaching the ground, which is highly desirable on show quality dogs. The coat is naturally resistant to water and it actually repels debris as well, making this a very clean dog. The matted cords shed very little hair and the skin is not prone to dander, making this a possible breed for an allergy sufferer. The Puli can be bathed as necessary but it can take a day or two for the coat to completely dry.
The Afghan Hound is typically not considered by most to be a herding breed, however its early history is just that. These dogs were used both for herding sheep, goats and livestock and also for guarding the flocks and chasing off predators. They are very fast dogs, requiring lots of space to run and exercise. Since they are sighthounds they do need to be kept in a fenced yard as they are notorious chasers and once the game is spotted the chase is on.
The Afghan is a very tall dog, measuring up to 29 inches at the shoulders. Their coat is very long and thick, uniformly covering the body and legs. Although the coat is very beautiful, it requires regular, daily grooming and detangling to prevent mats from forming. Many owners groom daily using a pin brush and detangling spray to keep the coat in good condition. If the coat does become dry it is important to bathe and condition the coat prior to grooming as the dry hairs become very brittle and can break off, leading to further problems with matting and tangles. This breed is a moderate to heavy shedder year round, however grooming does help remove dead hair. The ears of the Afghan Hound need particular attention to prevent the long hair from getting into the food and becoming a mess. Many owners have a special bonnet type covering, known as a snood, which is placed on the dog's head to keep the ears out of the food bowls during meals.
From the very long haired Afghan Hound and the corded Puli, there is a short haired herding dog that is perfect for the owner that wants minimal grooming requirements. There are actually several dogs that fit into this category, including the more traditional Corgi's through to the relatively rare and unusual Catahoula Leopard Dog, sometimes known as a Louisiana Catahoula Dog. This breed has a very short, single coat and they are relatively low shedding dogs year round.
The colorations of the Catahoula make it really unique with merle colorations the most common. Grays, blacks, whites and tri colors all possible in the merle or in a bi-colored dog. The eyes are often marbled, meaning they can be blue, brown, amber, greenish-brown or bi-colored and do not need to match each other. The most vivid eye colorations tend to be combinations of blues and browns or ambers found in the merle coat colors.
The Catahoula is a loyal and protective type of dog that needs time outside on a regular basis as well as something to do to keep themselves busy. They are excellent at working with livestock and were traditional used to herd cattle, sheep and even hogs. Some have been trained to herd wild feral hogs throughout the southern states. Although they are very tough they are excellent with children but will become very protective of kids that they see as their "flock". Socialization and regular obedience training is a must for this breed to keep them happy. They are not a good match for city living or for small apartments, unless they can have extended outdoor time and space several times a day.
Other articles under "Rare and Unusual Dog Breeds"