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What Were Corgis Bred For? – History, Origins & Roles of the Welsh Corgi

So what were Corgis actually bred to do?
Written by Richard Jeng

Iconic for their short legs and elongated bodies, Welsh Corgis have quietly amassed a cult following on the web. But with such an unusual shape and short stature, it really makes you wonder what these dogs were meant to do.

So, what were Corgis bred for? Both Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis were bred to herd livestock – herding everything from ducks to sheep and cattle. Corgis are known as “heelers” because they herd cattle by nipping at the heels of the animal. However, most Corgis are simply family companions today.

Let’s examine why this funny-looking dogs makes the ideal herding dog and how they excel at it despite their…limitations. We’ll also look into the history, origins and the present roles of both Welsh Corgis.

RECOMMENDED: Pembroke Welsh Corgi Guide

The Corgi Origins

The origin story and history of the Welsh Corgi is a mysterious one, full of “fairy tales” and folklore. And despite their relatively recent explosion in popularity, the history of these dogs can be traced much further back.

Historians think that Corgis originated sometime in the 9th or 10th century. They believed these dogs were probably companion dogs of Scandinavian raiders, who brought them to the British Isles many hundreds of years ago.

Swedish Vallhund – The ancestor of Corgis?

If you take a look at the Swedish Vallhund (pictured), it’s hard to deny their uncanny and eerie resemblance to the Welsh Corgis. For this reason, many believe the Vallhunds were crossbred with native Welsh dogs to develop the Corgi.

As such, only those that showed an interest or skill in herding were selected for breeding, thus enhancing and engraining this herding instinct in all future Corgis. It’s why these dogs became such excellent herding dogs.

Corgi breeders and historians will agree that this is likely the most realistic origin story of these dogs. However, there are other, less convincing origin stories. Some of which, sound more like mythology and folklore.

Fairies and Corgis

One of the more improbable origin stories of the Corgi involves fairies (yes, you read that right). So if you get a kick out of folklore and ancient legends, this one is for you.

According to Mental Floss, two Pembroke Welsh Corgis were given to two human children by the “wee folks.” In Welsh folklore, wee folks or good folks often refer to mythical fairies. In other words, Corgis are gifts from mythical fairies.

The legend suggests that Corgis were the multi-purpose working dogs for fairies. Not only did they pull magical carriages, but also led fairy tribes into war by pulling their carts onto the magical battlefield.

Like with almost all folklore, there are several variations to this story. For instance, others believe that the children were gifted Corgis after getting lost and accidentally stumbling on a fairy funeral service.

The fairies had just fought a war with another tribe and were mourning their loss. So, they ended up giving the children the deceased fairies’ Corgis to help with their herding needs. No matter which story is told, the involvement of fairies is the constant.

True Purpose of the Corgi

Sometimes it's best to own a dog breed that's not as smart as the Corgi. Here's why.

Legends and folklore aside, Welsh Corgis were originally bred to herd livestock. Though they may be short and stubby, don’t underestimate their internal desire, tenacious attitude and strong instincts to round up animals.

However, herding was not all they did on farms. In fact, Welsh Corgis were “multi-purpose” farm dogs that worked various jobs. This could mean pulling carts, guarding livestock and even companionship. But in the end, they were most effective as herding dogs.

Herding is the Corgis’ instinctive intelligence, meaning that little to no extra human training or intervention is necessary for these dogs to herd livestock. Put them on a field with sheep, ducks, goats or cattle and watch them go.

Don’t believe me? Check out these amazing Corgis going at it:

However, not all Corgis will be a herding superstar on the first attempt. In fact, my sister took our Pembroke to a herding trial and the result was…confusion. Sometimes, they just need a little help to bring out this special skill.

He’s in big teething mode right now. But the biggest thing is that he’s already showing his herding habit by nipping at the ankles and tugging, as well as growling. 

– Grayfrost (Reddit)

Given the strong herding instincts of the Corgi, it’s inevitable to witness it in daily life, even if they’ve never seen a farm animal. Without proper obedience training, these instincts will shine through and they may start to herd humans.

Being stuck with a Corgi that tries to herd humans is not something you want to deal with, especially if you have kids in the home. Early socialization and plenty of obedience training is needed to minimize these instinctual habits.

What Makes Corgis Good Herders

When you think of world-class herding dogs, which breeds first come to mind? Perhaps, the Australian Shepherd or the Border Collie. Maybe even the Blue Heeler.

All these herding dogs have a lot of similarities in both temperaments and physical qualities. For example, they’re all agile, quick, sturdy with amazing stamina and strong work ethics. Most notably, they all don’t have short legs.

Corgis just don’t fit the typical herding dog appearance. But despite the Welsh Corgis’ short-comings, they’re actually some of the best herding dogs in the world. But if not with their physical attributes, what actually makes Corgis good herding dogs?

Tenacious, Vocal Dogs

You could say that Corgis are “larger than life” dogs packed into a small yet compact body. They have lively outgoing personalities and can be quite spirited and bold most of the time. They’ll always let you know if they’re happy or upset.

As a result, these dogs have a lot of tenacity, especially on the field. Part of this is due to the stubbornness of the Corgi. Plus, they’re very pushy dogs, which is ideal for essentially “pushing” livestock into formation.

When it comes to communicating, they’re very vocal dogs. And by vocal, I mean barking. I have never owned a dog that barked this much. One owner sums it up perfectly, saying:

A noisy corgi during night time likely means they didn’t get enough activity or training during the day. So staying up late and barking is much more fun.

– Tokisushi (Reddit)

While they may be small dogs, it’s amazing how deep and loud of a bark comes out of my Pembroke Welsh Corgi. And if you’re not sure about the barking, I recommend spending a full day with one. It does take some time getting used to.

Though annoying to owners, this loud bark can be useful in herding. Barking signals to the livestock where the dog is, and can actually help better drive the animals to the desired location. And, Corgis are not the only herding dogs to use this.

It’s exactly why the New Zealand Huntaway was developed with a louder bark. Instead of nipping at the heels (like with the Corgi and other heeler breeds), the Huntaways will let out deep loud barking.

Shorter is Better

Believe it or not, shorter can be better – at least when it comes to herding. There are many reasons why Corgis excel in herding cattle and “being short” is one of them.

Thanks to the short stature of these dogs, they’re able to duck under a cow’s kick, thus effectively dodging a potential big blow without even trying. And while the Blue Heeler is the gold standard for cattle herding, this is something they lack – shortness.

It makes a lot of sense. And if you think about it, there aren’t a lot of tall and bulky dogs used for herding cows for this very reason. Bigger dogs tend to get injured from devastating cattle kicks to the body or head.

Tail-less Corgi

Despite popular belief, Corgis do have tails. As a matter of fact, both the Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis are born with tails. Though a natural bobtailed Corgi is rare, most Corgis have their tails docked.

And according to Spruce Pets, this happens when they’re about 3 to 5 days old. Corgis get their tails docked because of their original roles as herding cattle. Since they’re low to the ground, cows can accidentally step on their tail, thus causing a lot of pain and damage.

It may make a lot of sense, however, this explanation has been met with some skepticism in the canine and herding world. Not all people believe this is necessary nor effective with preventing injuries.

There’s very little evidence to support that this would actually be a problem. I remember reading that when Sweden first considered banning docking, they specifically studied this claim and found that it didn’t really matter (for injuries).

– Zyx (Reddit)

You can read more on the tail-docking studies and the Swedish ban here. Most Corgis that retain their natural tails have a tail that’s curled upwards. For this very reason, it’s hard to imagine a cow stomping on a tail.

But today, a docked tail seen with a Corgi is primarily because of cosmetic purposes and following the breed standard. For the record, our Corgi has a docked tail. But that was when we thought it was just “normal” without doing much research.

Modern Day Welsh Corgi

Here are the major problems that arise with owning an intelligent Corgi.

Today, Corgis are bred primarily for companionship. They’re very affectionate and loving dogs that tend to thrive in almost any setting – given the necessary essentials.

They’re lively and outgoing, making them ideal for large families. But at the same time, they can be independent dogs, so they won’t be too needy. But because of their strong herding instincts, they require a ton of activity and exercise.

According to Corgi Care, these dogs need about 1 to 1.5 hours of physical activity a day. If possible, you’ll want to split this into two sessions. Once in the morning, lasting 45 minutes to an hour. Also, another session later in the day.

Corgi in Families

It’s hard to control these herding instincts even with a ton of socialization and training. So, it’s worth noting that Corgis may herd small kids. And in some cases, it’s not uncommon for them to herd adults and other dogs too.

Though Corgis can get along with children, you’ll need to keep them in check. Especially in the puppy phase, they’ll nip at everything living. Obviously, this is not a habit you want and efforts to discourage this type of behavior should be made.

Corgis herd. They will nip our kids and their friends’ ankles. They knocked down little ones…It will be better with older children.

– Lovetoloveyababy (Reddit)

Nipping the heels of children is not the only concern with Corgis in the home. The barking of these dogs aren’t suitable for households with infants.

If you’re a parent, you probably have basic understanding that loud noises and babies don’t go well together. The last thing you’ll want is for a barking Corgi to wake up your baby in the middle of slumber. And trust me, Corgis will bark at everything.

Still Herding

Corgis have come a long way since their past days as world-class herding dogs. But did you know that herding Corgis still exist today?

Though much less common, Corgis will sometimes partake in herding activities on rural farms. And if you don’t believe these dogs still make great herding dogs, just check out Belli – the breed’s first AKC triple champion.

But more importantly, Belli is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. To receive this extraordinary title, a dog needs to become a champion in either agility, obedience or tracking. In addition, they’ll need to earn a title in conformation and of course, in herding.

Belli is not your typical Pembroke Corgi, but it just proves that Welsh Corgis are still highly capable of being excellent herding dogs. And if you want to try it out with your Corgi, here’s more information on how you can get started.

So Are Corgis For Me?

Do Corgis get along with children? Yes!

Welsh Corgis are great dogs for almost everyone, as long as you have the time and energy to keep up with them. My family has raised a Corgi (follow her here) and we know them so well. They can be a handful at times, but they’re truly great dogs.

If you’re willing to put in the time and provide them with what they need, they’re fantastic companions and family dogs. However, if you have small kids or infants in the household, you may want to reconsider.

Though Corgis may have been herding specialists in their previous roles, I’d argue they’re companion “specialists” today. There’s never a dull moment with these comical dogs and they’re definitely worth the effort. I highly recommend them, and you won’t regret it!

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About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd. Read More.

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