Border Collie running through a field

Border Collies are a classic Pastoral breed

Pastoral is defined as something which incorporates ‘grazing sheep or cattle’. Since the dawn of farming, man required assistance in maintaining their herd and dogs were happy to stand up to the plate in return for shelter and food. To this day, Pastoral dogs will work alongside any grazing animal, which can even include reindeer in the case of the Samoyed! More traditionally, when we think of this group, we think of the Border Collie in the field with a herd of sheep.

Records show that man began to keep livestock about 7,000 years B.C. and it is assumed that Pastoral Dogs were by their side from the beginning. As well as guarding the flock from predators, they would guard man too. Most historians agree that the very first Pastoral dogs existed in what is now known as Western Asia.


Aidi puppy in a field

Aidis are also a type of shepherd dog, belonging in the Pastoral group

A dog that works outside all year round, it is essential that the Pastoral dog be robustly built with a hardy demeanour. Similarly, they benefit from warm, waterproof coats. They need to be large and muscular enough to threaten away predators and they should have the endurance to run with the herd for hours on end.

As well as strength and stamina, individuals within the group should have brains. They need to be able to follow commands from the herdsman, to round up their flock and to guide them to safety if needed. This combination of physical and mental prowess can make the Pastoral dog one that requires a lot of commitment and dedication when kept as a companion animal, as they can be prone to boredom and require a large amount of exercise.


Australian Blue Heeler running through field

Australian Cattle Dogs, of course, belong in the Pastoral group for their ability to handle herds of cattle

In a nutshell, the Pastoral dog has traditionally worked alongside livestock. A versatile breed, in the past this has meant many things. These dogs can guard animals, herd animals and drive them over long distances. Even on farmyards today, the farm dog is indispensable and continues to be used for these purposes.

Throughout the last few centuries, Pastoral Dogs have become popular in other areas. Many excel in the world of canine competition, placing high in the worlds of Flyball, agility and obedience. Of course, where these breeds really shine, is within Sheepdog Trials, popularised by the 1995 movie, Babe.

Pastoral Dogs can transition well to the life of a companion animal but require more work than other breeds. They have a constant desire to be active and learning and are not suited to a sedentary lifestyle. Behavioural issues are not uncommon in those animals that are under-stimulated.


German Shepherds in a field

German Shepherds belong in the Pastoral group

Pastoral Dogs can be split into two main functional groups: Livestock Guardians and Herding Dogs. While Livestock Guardians are loyal to their herd and will fiercely protect them from any threat, Herding Dogs will control the movement of the animals.

Livestock Guardians

Livestock Guardians are quite different to herding dogs in that they integrate with the herd and blend in as much as possible. They will bond with the animals from a few weeks of age, ensuring they are not seen as a predator themselves. As soon as they sense a predator or threat, they will warn them off with guttural barks and snarls. If necessary, they will attack any predator that gets too close.

To enable them to carry out their role effectively, these dogs must be strong and brave. It is also essential that they can be trusted to protect the livestock and to never turn on them. The Carpathian Shepherd Dog is a Romanian Livestock Guardian that devotes itself to its herd and has been known to fight off bears to protect them. The Aidi is a North African Livestock Guardian used to keep local herds of sheep and goat safe. This breed is alert and very protective, making it an excelled guardian.

Herding Dogs

Some will call a herding dog a ‘stock dog’ and these breeds take charge of where herds move, keeping them in order. Breeds, such as the Australian Cattle Dog, will control movement from behind by nipping at the heels of the flock, while others, such as the Border Collie, control things from the front, using techniques, including staring, stalking and chasing.

Not many realise that the German Shepherd is a Herding Dog, one that is mainly used to ‘fence in’ the livestock and create boundaries, keeping them away from roads and valuable crops. All over the world, herding as a sport is big business. Sheepdog Trials are popular rural competitions that can be televised and may even earn the winning farmer a nice amount of prize money.