Humans and canines have had a long history together that stretches back for thousands of years. The domestication of dogs was a long process that likely began with wild canines following groups of nomadic humans in order to scavenge scraps of food from them. As ancient nomadic tribes developed into agricultural societies, they began to realise the potential to use the natural behavior of dogs to their advantage. Thus, herding dogs came into existence, and the first working role of canines in human society was established.
Although similar techniques can be applied to herding a wide variety of livestock including goats, sheep and cattle, the term “sheep dog” or “shepherd” is the most commonly used term to describe herding dogs. The roles of herding dogs can differ depending on the circumstance. In some instances, the dog is required to move the livestock by “driving” them; in others, the role of the dog is to keep the livestock from wandering too far from their grazing area. Regardless of the precise role of the herding dog, it remains that the act of herding plays off of the natural predatory instincts of the canine. Of course, many breeds of dog have lost these instincts over thousands of years of being bred for other roles. However, any dog can be tested for herding instincts in order to determine their suitability for work as a herding dog.
It should be noted that while both are often referred to as “sheep dogs”, there is a difference between dogs that are trained to herd versus dogs who are trained to guard livestock against natural predators. To add to this confusion, some dogs are expected to perform both roles. For a guard dog, the guarding instincts for which they have been bred will make a good fit for guarding livestock. However, many guard dogs today are taken from traditional shepherd breeds such as the German Shepherd, or Belgian Malinois. Dogs from these breeds are likely to still have strong herding instincts, and may be a good fit for herding livestock.