Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Huntaway

The Huntaway was developed in New Zealand by mixing the Border Collie with a variety of other breeds, such as the Doberman, in order to create a herding dog that used its bark out on the field. Their appearance varies, and while most are medium to large sized black and tan dogs, their other physical characteristics differ greatly within the population.

Their quick wits and athletic ability make them well-suited to their job, and their good nature means that they tend to fit in well to the farming family. They can possess an independent streak and require firm training to bring out the best in them. Hyper and destructive when under-exercised, this dog absolutely requires an active lifestyle.

About & History

In a country with the densest population of sheep in the world, sheepdogs have always been in high demand in New Zealand. A determined dog with stamina to spare was needed to patrol the vast terrains on the large sheep farms throughout the country. What sets the Huntaway apart from the other herding breeds, such as the Border Collie, is the loud bark it uses to shepherd. Using their bark is a useful characteristic on very hilly land, when sometimes the farmer and the dog will disappear from each other’s sight. Their short fur is also an advantage in the summer months, when longer haired breeds, such as the Border Collie, can struggle to keep cool.

Developed by mixing a variety of sheepdogs, including the Border Collie, as well as other breeds, such as the Rottweiler and Labrador, the Huntaway fills a niche in the sheepdog market, with its ability to herd via barking, rather than sight alone.

While its exact origin is unknown, the first known written record of the Huntaway appeared in 1870 in the region of Upper Waitaki, where a sheepdog trial was known to have a Huntaway class. Furthermore, in 1884, in the Otago Daily Times newspaper, there were advertisements featuring the breed.

It was not until as recently as 2013 when the Huntaway dog was recognised by the New Zealand Kennel Club. However, because they are working dogs whose appearance has never been specifically bred for, creating a breed standard and showing the dog is just not an option at this stage. There is a huge variety in the appearance of this breed. The organisation also specified that the Huntaway should never be kept solely as a pet, but rather must continue to exist as a working dog.

When breeding a Huntaway, the breeder must focus exclusively on their ability and health, and never on their appearance which is insignificant to the breed. While best known in New Zealand, Huntaways are also used in Australia and Great Britain, and there has even recently been a Huntaway club started in Japan.


Huntaway Large Photo
Cgoodwin /

Unlike most modern dog breeds, the Huntaway is not a dog with a uniform appearance and breed standard. They come in a huge variety of colours, sizes, conformations and coat types. Their appearance matters much less than their working ability, which is what they are bred for. Any description can only be a generalised account, as there is a huge amount of variability within the breed.

Saying that, Huntaways tend to be a medium to large sized breed, and typically, a Huntaway will measure between 50 and 66cm, and weigh anywhere between 18 and 45kg. They are known for their black and tan coat, which can be of any texture. While black and tan is by far the most common colour combination, it is quite usual to see a Huntaway of a different coat colour, such as brindle, black or white. For working purposes, most dogs will have a well-muscled, athletic body. The majority of the breed will have floppy ears and a deep chest with long legs.

Character & Temperament

Diligent workers, Huntaways are driven, obedient and extremely intelligent. They are renowned for their problem-solving ability and will excel at sheepdog trials. Their intelligence means that they can be quick to bore and do not enjoy repetitive tasks.

Built for their stamina and ability to be active for long periods of time, they will quickly become destructive and hyper if not given an adequate outlet for their high energy levels. Generally not well-suited to an indoor lifestyle, they much rather roam outside, and like to work in a pack rather than alone.

Despite the dedication to their work, they enjoy the company of humans, and respect their handler in particular, often forming a close bond with them. They do well with children, and are good with other animals, though may attempt to herd smaller creatures if given the opportunity. As they are shepherds by nature, and not watchdogs or guard dogs, they are very tolerant of strangers, and will often welcome them good-naturedly. While you might assume that Huntaways will bark incessantly, and that it would be problematic, anecdotally, they will rarely bark when not working.


Photo of Huntaway puppy
23260Ches /

In the right hands, this breed is a dream to train. Sharp on the uptake, and willing to learn, they will pick up on new commands and tricks remarkably quickly. It is true, however, that they can often be quite independent, and so benefit from a firm owner who is consistent and dedicated. Keeping their training interesting and varied is key for their continued interest and participation.


The Huntaway is known for being an incredibly hardy dog with relatively few health issues. They tend to live into their early teens. Due to the rarity of the breed, there are very few relevant health trials that have been performed, though there are three worth mentioning:

  • There is one genetic condition that has been well studied within the breed, and that is Mucopolysaccharidosis type IIIA (MPS IIIA) – a condition that occurs due to the lack of an enzyme called heparan sulfate sulfamidase (SGSH). This condition is a rare metabolic disorder that will result in neurological abnormalities and affected dogs should never be bred from.
  • A very small study performed in 2011 of twelve dogs determined that the rate of Dilated Caridomyopathy (or DCM) may be higher in the Huntaway dog than other breeds. This disease results in an enlarged heart that does not function correctly. DCM tends to results in heart failure, and ultimately can be fatal.
  • A preliminary study focusing on hip health was performed in 2011 that concluded that it is likely that hip dysplasia is an issue in the breed. Hip dysplasia is a condition that is commonly seen in medium to large sized dogs. Affected animals have hips that have not formed correctly, leading to immobility, lameness and pain. Medication and surgery can both be helpful in cases of hip dysplasia, but it is a progressive condition that gets worse with age.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Given the purpose of this breed, it will come as no surprise that they need a large amount of exercise to keep them sane. As well as physical activity, they equally need suitable mental stimulation. Participating in a variety of activities, such as herding, agility and obedience will lead to a satisfied dog. Inevitably, an under-exercised Huntaway will become a nuisance in the home and may be destructive, hyper and badly behaved.


Due to the variety of coat types within this breed, each individual will have particular needs. In general though, this is a low maintenance breed that requires infrequent brushing and bathing only rarely. As with all dogs, it is recommended that their teeth are brushed daily and claws are clipped every few months. These are tasks that should be introduced from a young age. Due to their floppy ears, the Huntaway will need regular ear checking and cleaning. Ear canals should be thoroughly dried after swimming and bathing to prevent infection.

Famous Huntaways

While there are no well-known individual examples of the breed, it is clear that the Huntaway is well respected within their native New Zealand. In Hunterville, there is a well-known Huntaway dog monument.


While there are no recognised cross-breeds, it is not unusual to find a Border Collie crossed with a Huntaway.

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