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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 odd shape and stature, it really makes you wonder, what were Corgis bred for?

Believe it or not, both the Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis were bred to herd livestock. Shocking, yet true. They’re known as “heelers” because they herd cattle by nipping at the heels of the animal. But today, they’re much more than that.

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

RECOMMENDED: The Pembroke Welsh Corgi Guide

The Corgi Origins

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

Historians believe that Corgis originated sometime in the 9th or 10th century. In fact, they 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, it’s hard to deny the uncanny resemblance to the Welsh Corgi. 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 this herding instinct and ability in Corgis. It’s why these dogs became such excellent herding dogs in the past.

Corgi enthusiasts, breeders and historians will agree that this may be the most realistic origin story of these dogs. However, there are other origin stories. Some of which, more farfetched than others.

Fairies and Corgis

The less believable origin story of the Corgi involves fairies (yes, you read that right). If you get a kick out of folklore and ancient legends, this 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 refer to mythical fairies.

It was believed that Corgis were the all-purpose work dogs for fairies. Not only did they pull magical carriages, but also led fairy tribes into war by pulling their carts into the battlefield.

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

The fairies had just fought a war with another tribe and were mourning their loss. They ended up giving the children the deceased fairies’ Corgis to help with their herding needs.

No matter which story is told, there is one thing that’s constant – the involvement of fairies.

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.

Welsh Corgis were originally bred to herd livestock. They may be short and stubby, but don’t underestimate their internal desire and instinct to round up farm animals.

Herding was not all they did on farms. Welsh Corgis were “multi-purpose” farm dogs that worked various jobs. But in the end, they were most effective as herding dogs.

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

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

But if you’re not careful with obedience training, these instincts can shine through and they may start to herd humans.

One Corgi owner on Reddit tells us his story:

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)

Being stuck with a Corgi that tries to herd humans is not something you want to deal with. 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 of which, have a lot of similarities – both physically and with temperaments. For example, they’re all agile, quick, sturdy with amazing stamina and work ethic. Most notably, they all don’t have short legs.

Despite the Welsh Corgis’…shortcomings, they are actually some of the best herding dogs in the world. It’s just a shame most don’t get the opportunity to show it.

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 compact body. They have lively outgoing personalities and can be quite spirited most of the time.

As a result, these dogs have a lot of tenacity on the field. 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 – lots of it.

One Corgi owner sums it up, saying:

They are vocal dogs, but they should let you sleep at night with the right training and setup. A noisy dog overnight likely means they didn’t get enough activity or training during the day and staying up late and barking is much more fun.

– Tokisushi (Reddit)

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 day with one.

Though annoying to owners, this loud bark is useful in herding. It signals to the livestock where the dog is, and can actually help drive them to the desired location.

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

Shorter is Better

Believe it or not, shorter is better – at least in this very specific case. There are many reasons why Corgis specialize 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, effectively dodging a potential big blow without even trying.

While the Blue Heeler is considered the gold standard for cattle herding, this is something they lack – a short stature. Fortunately, they’re quick enough to dodge.

And as you may have guessed, 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.

Tail-less Corgi

First of all, Corgis have tails. As a matter of fact, both the Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis are born with tails.

Though it’s very rare that a Corgi is born without a tail, most of Corgis have their tails docked. According to Spruce Pets, this happens when they’re about 3 to 5 days old.

It’s believed that 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 to you, however, this explanation has been met with some skepticism in the dog world.

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 corgi that retain their tails have a tail that’s curled upwards. For this reason, it’s hard to imagine a cow stomping on a tail.

But today, a docked tail seen in a Corgi is primarily because of cosmetic purposes and following the “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 and can thrive in almost any setting with the necessary essentials.

They are lively and outgoing, making them great 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, as indicated by their previous roles, 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. Ideally, 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, lasting 30 to 45 minutes.

Corgi in Families

Because these dogs were bred to herd animals, it’s hard to control these instincts even with a ton of socialization and training. So, it’s worth nothing that Corgis may herd small kids.

Though Corgis can get along with children, you’ll need to keep them in check. They may nip at the heels of your children, especially early on as puppies. Obviously, this is not a habit you want with your dog.

Corgis will herd. They occasionally 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 way they’ll herd them. 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 mix well together. The last thing you’ll want is for a barking Corgi to wake up for baby in the middle of slumber.

Still Herding

Corgis have come a long way since their old 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.

Belli is the breed’s first AKC triple champion. But more importantly, Belli is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. To gain 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 a typical Corgi, but it just proves that Welsh Corgis are still highly capable of being excellent herding dogs.

So Are Corgis For Me?

Corgis are great dogs for almost everyone. My family has raised a Corgi (follow her here) and we know them oh so well.

They can be a handful for many owners, but if you’re willing to put in the time and provide them with what they need, they’re fantastic companions.

Though they may have been herding specialists in the past, they’re companion “specialists” today. There’s never a dull moment with these dogs and they’re worth the effort.

I highly recommend a Corgi 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.

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