In the past, nearly all domesticated dogs were bred for a purpose in society. These dog “jobs” could be anything from retrieving to herding, guarding, tracking and even companionship. All of which, served a crucial role in developing the modern human-dog relationship.
The one category of breeds that we’re investigating today is herding dogs. But more specifically, we’ll be looking at shepherd dogs. Throughout the years, we’ve been fortunate enough to witness the birth of so many types of shepherds.
As such, we’ve compiled the ultimate list of shepherd dog breeds that excel on the field, but can be just as great in as a family companion. Read on to learn more about the role of the shepherd dog, example of breeds, and their temperaments.
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Table of Contents
- What’s a Shepherd Dog?
- Best Shepherd Dog Breeds
- 1. Australian Shepherd
- 2. Border Collie
- 3. German Shepherd
- 4. Dutch Shepherd
- 5. Belgian Shepherd
- 6. Shetland Sheepdog
- 7. Caucasian Shepherd
- 8. Icelandic Sheepdog
- 9. Old English Sheepdog
- 10. Bohemian Shepherd
- 11. Briard
- 12. Beauceron
- 13. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
- 14. Polish Lowland Sheepdog
- 15. Belgian Malinois
- 16. Bearded Collie
- 17. Australian Kelpie
- 18. New Zealand Huntaway
- 19. Chow Chow
- 20. Rough Collie
- 21. Shiloh Shepherd
- 22. Belgian Tervuren
- 23. Belgian Laekenois
- 24. Australian Cattle Dog
- 25. Puli Dog
What’s a Shepherd Dog?
Shepherd dogs are essentially herding dogs. But while all shepherd dogs are herding breeds, not all herding breeds are shepherd dogs. Confusing? That’s because shepherd dogs refer to a herding dog that specifically drives sheep.
For example, the Finnish Lapphund is one of the world’s top herding dogs. However, they’re are not technically a shepherd dog breed. In fact, the Finnish Lapphund was originally bred to herd the reindeer! Though, most others specialize in cattle.
That is not to say: cattle herders can’t herd sheep. In reality, many cattle dogs, such as the Blue Heeler, can and do herd both types of livestock. In many cases, a shepherd will evolve into a herder for cattle, ponies, fowl and more.
Check out exactly how shepherd dogs herd:
Shepherd vs. Sheepdog
Many people erroneously use sheepdog and shepherd interchangeably. But while the two are not technically the same, I can admit that the two words can be confusing.
Shepherd dogs, like we’ve already discussed, are those that herd by pushing and driving sheep flocks into formation and directions. These dogs are your classic herding dogs, such as Border Collies and Australian Shepherds.
On the other hand, a sheepdog is generally associated with dogs that raise sheep. Not only do they move sheep, but they also guard and protect them. Some even think they’re part of the flock because they pretty much live together.
As you look through a list of different dog breeds, you’ll notice that some take on the sheepdog name and others, the shepherd name. The reality is, many shepherds were also tasked with guarding and raising. Likewise, some sheepdogs also did some herding.
So for the sake of simplicity, we’ve included “sheepdogs” that also herded sheep in the past.
Shepherd Dog’s Herding Instincts
All shepherd dog breeds are born with an instinctive tendency to herd. These breeds have been performing this job for several generations. As a result, their natural herding instincts have been deeply ingrained in them.
Even if the shepherd dog has never seen a livestock in his or her life, you may still notice these instincts in day to day life. For example, it’s not uncommon for herding dogs to nip at the heels of small kids or adults. After all, this behavior is how many of them herd.
Generic ‘no biting’ training doesn’t work with this behavior. This isn’t play behavior, this is an ingrained instinct. It calls to the dog like the need to eat or drink.– Dogdragoness (Dog Forums)
Other shepherd dogs, such as the New Zealand Huntaway, will bark to herd sheep. Many of them do this because it’s a great way of telling the flock the location of the dog. Plus, barking can be a great way of moving livestock without getting too close.
For this reason, Shepherd breeds tend to have an eager bark. That is, they aren’t afraid to bark and use it as their main way of communicating with humans. Although this may be annoying to most owners, it’s just how they were bred to be.
The Shepherd Dog’s Temperament
Yes, all dog breeds will have different temperaments and personalities. In fact, individual dogs of the same breed can often have differences, just like how humans vary. Still, these dogs tend to share many similar qualities.
For example, shepherd breeds will usually be lively and energetic. These dogs were, after all, bred to run around a farm chasing animals for many hours. They needed to be highly active in order to excel at their jobs.
In addition, shepherds tend to be alert, obedient and highly intelligent. All these qualities help out with their special skillset. Confidence is key with herding sheep, as seen in many shepherd dogs. It’s why they’re not afraid to run at animals larger than them.
Best Shepherd Dog Breeds
We’ve found and compiled a list of all the shepherd dog breeds we can find to be as complete as possible. These are the best in no particular order. Let us know in the comments section below – which of the shepherds is your favorite?
1. Australian Shepherd
Highlights: Energetic, Loving, Protective
The Australian Shepherd is one of the world’s most popular shepherd breeds that still herd on farms all around the world. They’re superb at controlling flocks and the insatiable energy means they’re going full speed all the time.
The history of Australian Shepherds starts with the Australian Basque sheepherders. By cross-breeding their dogs with European shepherds, they perfected their shepherd dog. Soon after, the shepherds moved to California, where their dogs became a hit.
Local Californian ranchers eventually bred the Basque’s dogs into the modern Aussie. But since they were dogs of Australians, many falsely believed the dogs originated from the country. This is why they’re mistakenly called Australian Shepherds today.
In the home, Australian Shepherds are intelligent and eager learners. They love to work, often for the sake of working. And while they can be a little protective of the pack, know that it’s solely because of their love for the family.
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2. Border Collie
Highlights: Intelligent, Keen, Tenacious
The Border Collies are certified workaholics. With these herding dogs, the motor never stops running. And when it comes to obedience and working intelligence, they’re ranked number one. In other words, they’re the best at learning and performing commands.
After the Roman Empire fell, the Vikings invaded the once-booming region. They took with them their dogs, which were described as small spitz-type herding dogs. After crossing the dogs with local Roman breeds, the Vikings developed the ancestors of the BC.
Border Collies are high-octane dogs that have what seems like an insatiable amount of drive and energy. As a result, they’re frequently referred to as the world’s top herding dogs. Although they were developed for sheep, they also excel with cattle.
We don’t recommend the Border Collie for everyone. They require an unreal amount of mental and physical stimulation. Otherwise, they may show destructive behaviors. But as long as this is kept in check, Borders can make great family dogs.
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3. German Shepherd
Highlights: Intelligent, Brave, Confident
The German Shepherd is certainly not known for sheep herding. Even so, that’s what they were originally bred for. They essentially had two jobs: drive the flocks and protect them. It’s largely why they make popular guard dogs today.
These dogs are descendants from old German herding dogs. However, the development of the German Shepherd is credited to a German officer, named Max von Stephanitz. He crossbred many variations of German herders, which ultimately led to the GSD.
The popularity of the German Shepherd skyrocketed in the 1990s, when these dogs first made headlines in Hollywood. With the growing popularity and fame of Rin-Tin-Tin and Strongheart the GSDs, people started to take notice.
Today, German Shepherds are known for a variety of work. They’re some of the most versatile dog breeds that far exceeds their expectations as just shepherd dogs. The GSD is famously known for police & military work, search and rescue, and more.
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4. Dutch Shepherd
Highlights: Courageous, Alert, Hard-working
One cannot deny the Dutch Shepherd’s eerie resemblance to America’s favorite shepherd, the GSD. In fact, it was so confusing that the breed standard changed so that Dutch Shepherds would only be brindle, thus making it easier to distinguish.
But unlike its German Shepherd cousins, the Dutch variety originated from The Netherlands, as given by their name. They were the perfect jack-of-all-trades shepherd that guarded farms and drove sheep. In the home, they would protect the kids too!
However, the popularity of the Dutch Shepherd as farm dogs didn’t last long. By the 1900s, the rise of industrialization took away most of the farm lands. Fortunately, the versatility and skills of these dogs made their transition in society smooth.
Dutch Shepherds, like the German Shepherds, evolved into police dogs, military assistants and search and rescue dogs. Today, many of them serve as affectionate guide dogs too. But even with all these new jobs, many Dutch Shepherds still herd in rural regions.
5. Belgian Shepherd
Highlights: Vigilant, Independent, Smart
The Belgian Shepherd is another large, strong and hard-working European shepherd, much like the German and Dutch Shepherds. But unlike the other two dogs, the Belgian Shepherd sports a signature solid black coat.
The tiny yet highly productive country of Belgium has always been a favorable region for raising livestock. As a matter of fact, Belgium is a leading exporter of milk chocolate and wool. In other words, there’s plenty of sheep and cows in the country.
Belgian Shepherds are highly intelligent dogs with a strong eagerness to work and please. It’s why they make such excellent working dogs – they actually enjoy it! Combined with their sturdy frame and athleticism, Belgians have become premier shepherds.
As much as they love to work, Belgians are know how to play hard. Despite their exterior looks, they’re actually very affectionate dogs that need human attention. When their relationship with the handler is good, they do their best work.
6. Shetland Sheepdog
Highlights: Intelligent, Active, Loyal
The Shetland Sheepdog, or Sheltie for short, is a shepherd breed exclusively developed to herd sheep, ponies and domestic fowl (chicken, ducks, etc.). Originally from the most northern point of the UK, Shelties have quietly made its name all over the world.
Shetlands are very much like their cousins, the Rough-coated Collie. However, they were bred to be more compact and small, thus requiring less food. It’s an important factor because that particular region of the UK was freezing cold. Food was more scarce.
But despite the popularity of the Shetland, we know very little about their true origins. Historians believe they were isolated from the rest of Britain for too long. In short, most of the country did not even know about Shelties until the 20th century.
Even so, it’s easy to see why they’ve become so popular in modern times. Shetlands are lively and energetic, but they’re not all about herding. While they possess the instincts and skills to be a great herder, they love playing with their owners even more.
7. Caucasian Shepherd
Highlights: Courageous, Spirited, Friendly
While most believe that the Caucasian Shepherd originated from Russia, many countries have claimed this shepherd as their own. Throughout many generations, the Caucasian has made its way all over Eastern Europe – to Iran, Armenia, Turkey and more.
However, Caucasian Shepherds are not your “typical” sheepdogs. Sure, they did some herding work on the farm, but their primarily job was in protecting the sheep flocks. These huge dogs can reach 170 pounds, so the guard dog role perfectly suited them.
Size wasn’t all these dogs have going for them. They’re known to be fearless, brave and highly confident dogs. There were very few things that could scare a Caucasian. To top things off, the shepherd has extremely good hearing and sight.
They take their jobs seriously. But in the home, they’re soft and loving dogs that make a perfect family pet. The loyalty of these dogs are high and they’ll bravely protect all the members of the pack, including other dogs or pets.
8. Icelandic Sheepdog
Highlights: Curious, Friendly, Fun-loving
Among shepherd breeds, the Icelandic Sheepdog has one of the oldest histories, dating back to over a thousand years before. As given by the name, these sheepdogs were fully developed in Iceland. However, they weren’t native to the island.
Historians believe that these dogs were brought to northern island by Norse settlers. Not only did they bring their mysterious Nordic culture, but also spitz-type breeds that were excellent at rounding up sheep and ponies.
The fan-favorite shepherd is still popular in Iceland today. In fact, they’re a national symbol of the island, forever cemented as part of their cultural heritage. Though, that’s not the reason why they’re such beloved dogs.
Icelandic Sheepdogs are all-around friendly family companions. The dog’s cheerful vibe and energy will certainly bring a smile to your face. Plus, they’re known for their unwavering loyalty that few dog breeds can match.
9. Old English Sheepdog
Highlights: Adaptable, Docile, Intelligent
The Old English Sheepdog may not appear like a highly skilled herding dog, but you would be surprised. Along with the Bulldog and Collie, they’re one of the most iconic dogs to come out of the British Isles. Though, many believe they have other European roots.
Their name isn’t as accurate as it should. For example, they’re actually not that old. It’s believed they first appeared in the late 1700s, which is actually not very ancient in the canine kingdom. In addition, the OES weren’t technically sheep herders from start.
Old English Sheepdogs started off as drover dogs that moved sheep and cattle to the markets. It wasn’t until relatively recent that their natural instincts to move sheep were developed and nurtured into true herding dogs.
Today, you can expect the Old English Sheepdog to be bubbly and cheerful. They’re outgoing dogs and thrive on human interaction. Always fun-loving and playful, the OES knows how to enjoy life, even with their strong work ethics in tact.
10. Bohemian Shepherd
Highlights: Loyal, Alert, Intelligent
The Bohemian Shepherd is one of the most underrated herding dogs. Developed to be athletic, agile and intelligent, they’ve evolved into more than just a herding breed. Even in the past, the Bohemian was touted as a multipurpose farm dog.
The lean muscular frame of these dogs made them ideal for guarding. They not only protected the flock, but also their humans. As a matter of fact, Bohemian Shepherds were once used to patrol the Kingdom of Bohemia’s borders. Hence, the name.
As dangerous as they appear, they really aren’t. Bohemians are highly affectionate shepherds in the home – with a special soft spot for children. The loyalty ingrained into these dogs are not something to scoff at. They’ll always have your back.
Just like the German Shepherds, these dogs are primarily used for protection today. Though the Bohemians have been known to succeed with agility, tracking, search & rescue, therapy and so much more. It’s just another testament to their versatility.
Highlights: Fearless, Loyal, Obedient
The Briard is a shepherd breed that packs all the top qualities of a family dog into a large fluffy dog. They’re deeply devoted, never leaving your side, but also spirited and playful enough to keep up on the field. Essentially, they’re a “heart wrapped in fur.”
These sheep-herding dogs hail from Northern France and have been pasture working dogs for many centuries. What makes them unique is their ability to protect and herd, as intended by the French farmers of the past.
Despite their bulky frames, the Briard is sneaky agile and athletic. They’re quick on their feet and excellent and running the field. On the other hand, Briards are fearless and brave dogs that will boldly step in if intruders try to hurt the flock.
With these dogs, you know you’ll get a fun and happy-go-lucky dog. They know when to bring the energy, but also when to mellow out. As such, Briards have become treasured companions in modern society. Shower them with love to bring out the best.
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Highlights: Protective, Calm, Intelligent
Beaucerons are not the most obvious sheep-herding dogs that first comes to mind. Regardless, the Beauceron is a highly intelligent and versatile herding dog. They’re the brains of a Poodle put into the body of a Doberman, with the herding instincts of an Aussie.
Like the Briard, the Beauceron is also an iconic French shepherd dog breed. Though they first got their start as flock guardians, they eventually evolved into herding dogs that did multiple jobs on the farm. They were truly France’s most versatile farm dogs.
Given the 100-pound frame, Beaucerons are powerful and strong dogs. However, they’re also very sensitive dogs too. As a result, they’re not your typical shepherd dogs that bark and nip at livestock. Instead, Beaucerons were silent herders.
The physical prowess of the Beauceron was hard to ignore. Eventually, they moved into other respectable canine roles, such as military and police dogs. The courageousness of these big dogs can be scary, but they’re actually gentle dogs at home.
13. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Highlights: Alert, Intelligent, Hard-working
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi may in fact be the internet’s favorite dog breed. But did you know they’re exemplary herding dogs too? Even with his short stubby legs and elongated body, the Welsh Corgi excels on the field with livestock.
The origin story of the Pembroke is full of mysteries and fairy tales – quite literally. According to folklore legend, they were once the working dogs of fairies. That’s right, Pembroke Corgis would pull fairies into battle fields, among other things.
But in all seriousness, Pembroke Corgis are some of the finest herding dogs that specialize in cattle herding. Nevertheless, plenty of them have shifted into herding sheep – or both! With a “pushy” personality and deep bark, they’re perfect for the job.
Most Corgis are simply family companions today. The adorable looks isn’t all they have going for them. In fact, they’re known to be highly affectionate and bright. Their energy can be a bit contagious, thus making them ideal pets for active owners.
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14. Polish Lowland Sheepdog
Highlights: Bright, Cheerful, Confident
Iconic for its shaggy coat, the Polish Lowland Sheepdog is a herding dog bred to work hard and play hard. While they’re medium-sized dogs, the Lowland is a compact and durable worker, who thrives on a field with much larger livestock.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the nomadic warriors known as the Huns, were among the many to invade the region. And like the other tribes, the Huns brought with them their own set of herding dogs to start a new settlement.
The Polish Lowland Sheepdogs are believed to be the hybrid of the Hunnic dogs with the local dogs of the region (Poland). Not only did they excel with herding sheep, but they also acted as the guardian and protector of the flock.
Fortunately, the Polish Lowland made it until this day. With their cheerful demeanor and loving soul, it’s hard to resist these herding dogs. They may still retain some protective instincts over the family, but they’re generally friendly and sweet dogs.
15. Belgian Malinois
Highlights: Active, Intelligent, Hard-working
Believe it or not, the Belgian Malinois is often described as a smaller “super-charged” German Shepherd. The Malinois is likely going to be even more active and energetic than your typical GSD. It’s why they’re the canine of choice for the Navy Seal unit.
While many of these dogs serve as underrated heroes today, it wasn’t always the case. They were originally bred to be a shepherd, that is, a high-energy Belgium sheepherding dog. But as more people discovered their talents, they evolved into military dogs.
The Malinois is a very serious working dog. They take on their roles with full confidence and pride. So when you combine these qualities with their high intelligence, you have some of the most versatile shepherds in existence.
With that said, the Belgian Malinois isn’t for just anyone. As much exercise as shepherd dogs need, the Malinois needs even more. Both physical and mental stimulation is key to raising the Malinois for happiness and good health.
16. Bearded Collie
Highlights: Charming, Lively, Intelligent
Nicknamed the “beardie,” the Bearded Collie is an upbeat and enthusiastic shepherd from the rural regions of Scotland. They always sport their shaggy coats, though they get their name due to the long facial fur that hangs from their chins.
Bearded Collies are ancient breeds, having been traced back to the first century BC. No one knows the exact origins of these dogs, but historians believe they were originally bred from a cross between the Polish Lowland, Komondorok and others.
For many centuries, they worked as herding and droving dogs in the Scottish highlands. Their lively temperaments made them excellent at pushing sheep. Plus, the high intelligence meant they were relatively easy to manage and train.
When they’re off the field, they bring their confidence and energy into the home. It’s why very few of them still herd, though many more are family companions. The durability of these dogs mean that they’re great with kids, and can handle the rowdy play.
17. Australian Kelpie
Highlights: Alert, Eager, Energetic
Originating from down under, the Australian Kelpie is a tireless herding dog known for working long and exhausting hours. Even so, they love their jobs and have the instincts to make them a top-tier sheepherding dog breed.
These shepherds first appeared in Victoria and New South Wales as farming expanded into the more rural regions of Australia. As such, the lands were filled with sheep. In fact, some farms had over 250,000 sheep in millions of acres!
Given the vast land properties of the Australian farms, an enclosure to keep the sheep was not a realistic option. Instead, the farmers relied on the Australian Kelpies to keep their flocks in check. It’s largely why Kelpies needed so much energy – they run a lot!
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18. New Zealand Huntaway
Highlights: Obedient, Vocal, Friendly
The Huntaway is a large and muscular dog breed originating from New Zealand. They were first developed to work on farms with tasks, such as herding and guarding. However, they are not your typical sheepherding dogs.
Most shepherd dog breeds will nip at the livestock’s feet and bark to move them in the desired direction. With the New Zealand Huntaway, they drive sheep with only their barking. It’s why they have such loud and deep barks.
It’s still relatively rare to find a Huntaway outside their motherland. These shepherds were bred for the unique farming conditions of the country. Nevertheless, you can expect a trainable and obedient dog that loves to communicate with humans.
19. Chow Chow
Highlights: Independent, Loyal, Proud
The Chow Chow is not a dog breed you’d expect on a list of shepherd breeds. However, it does not mean they weren’t sheepherding dogs. In fact, they were brilliant multi-purpose farm dogs in China. Herding, guarding, pulling, hunting – they did it all!
Believe it or not, the Chow Chow is one of the most ancient dog breeds, with origins that can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (and possibly further back). So it makes sense why this spitz dog has been molded for so many roles in past generations.
Today, the Chinese Chow is mostly a family companion. They have great instincts to be guard dogs, but their old herding instincts may be long gone. Chows tend to be aloof and cautious in the presence of strangers. Though, they’re loving with family.
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20. Rough Collie
Highlights: Intelligent, Obedient, People-loving
Rough Collies are much like their many collie cousins, that is, they’re a superior shepherd dog breed. Primarily used as herding dogs in northern Europe, the Rough Collie is as beautiful on the outside as he is on the inside.
They’re easily identified by their long, rough-textured fur that’s both stunning and lavish. Still, it doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re highly intelligent shepherds. They’re easy to train and highly devoted to work, thus making them attractive shepherds.
The Rough Collie, however, is famously known for their ability to connect with kids. They tend to get along great with humans and their lively yet gentle nature will seamlessly blend into any loving home. Lassie was a great example – they’re truly amazing dogs.
21. Shiloh Shepherd
Highlights: Intelligent, Versatile, Agile
The Shiloh Shepherd combines the best of herding and sled-pulling. Believed to have been developed from a German Shepherd and Alaskan Malamute, the Shiloh is a high-energy dog with a work ethic that few shepherd dogs can match.
Like their cousin, the GSD, Shiloh Shepherds were originally bred for herding sheep. Though it didn’t take long for owners to see their true potential. With high intelligence and an eagerness to learn, Shilohs are now used as service, police and therapy dogs.
In the home, Shiloh Shepherds will have a high appetite for fun play. After all, it’s their lively energy that made them once great herders. They also play well with children and other dogs as long as they were raised in the same home.
22. Belgian Tervuren
Highlights: Protective, Brave, Loyal
One of the few premier shepherds of Belgium, the Belgian Tervuren is a confident, devoted and attentive dog that works hard. Put them on a farm and their ingrained herding instincts will kick in. Whatever work needs to be done, you can count on the Tervuren.
Before the industrial age took over Belgium, farmers ruled the land. As such, they needed dogs capable of protecting, herding and moving livestock. That’s why the Tervuren was developed with amazing stamina and unparalleled agility.
While many Belgian Tervurens have continued the herding tradition, others have become great companions for households. But thanks to their long history of excellence in herding, they will need plenty of mental and physical stimulation.
23. Belgian Laekenois
Highlights: Alert, loving, Intelligent
The Belgian Laekenois, pronounced lak-in-wah, is another iconic shepherd breed hailing from the northern regions of Belgium. At first glance, the Laekenois resembles the Malinois and the Tervuren, though the Laekenois has a unique coat texture and color.
Like his Belgian cousins, the Laekenois was originally bred for both guarding and herding the sheep flock. A key difference in early canine roles is that the Laekenois was also used to guard linen that were drying out in the fields.
The evolution of the Laekenois job didn’t stop there. Eventually, these shepherds served in the World Wars as dependable messenger dogs among other things. The intelligence and eager-ness to learn were the key qualities that got them so far.
24. Australian Cattle Dog
Highlights: Attentive, Alert, Inquisitive
The Australian Cattle Dog, most famously nicknamed the Blue Heeler, is a top herding dog that specializes in moving cattle. Hence, the name “cattle dog.” However, they’re just as good when it comes to driving sheep.
The origins of the Blue Heeler isn’t a complex one. The first ancestors of these shepherd dogs were called Smithfields. Because they were imported from Britain, they weren’t highly suited for the extreme terrain of the Australian continent.
It wasn’t until breeders and farmers crossbred the Smithfield with the local Australian Dingoes that the Blue Heeler was born. And, the rest is history. Today, Blue Heelers are touted for their hard-working attitudes and durability – even in the worst of conditions.
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25. Puli Dog
Highlights: Faithful, Energetic, Obedient
It’s difficult to mistaken the Puli dog, unofficially known as the “mop dog.” It’s even more difficult to guess that they were actually shepherds at one point. Nevertheless, the Puli is a durable and compact herder, with a close working relationship with his humans.
The first thing that sticks out is the coat. The Puli dog’s unique dreadlocks are indeed a funny sight, though it does serve a purpose. The fur is naturally dense and has a wooly texture to provide a full-on weatherproof coat for work in rough conditions.
But despite their comical appearance, the Puli is a wonderful dog to have in the home. They are quick learners and as a result, very obedient dogs. Plus, the Puli enjoys human interaction as much as any other shepherd dog breed.
Did we miss a shepherd dog breed that deserves to be on this list? Let us know in the comments section below. Also, which is your favorite type of shepherd dog?
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