Guild of Shepherds & Collies

How to Choose the Right Herding Breed Dog for Your Family

Want to know how to choose the perfect dog for you?

Humans are so silly about falling in love at first sight, especially when it comes to our dogs. But when we choose a dog solely because of beauty instead of brains, that's when we often get more than we bargained for and realize we should know the breed before committing - I discovered this the hard way, after falling in love with the handsome guy pictured below. If you're interested in adding a herding breed dog to your family, read my story and tips on how to choose the right one.

wyatt dawg Wyatt Ray Dawg


“Real” German Shepherd Dogs 101: Understanding the Breed

Like many first time dog parents, my husband and I chose our first pup because we loved the way German Shepherds look – and didn't give nearly as much consideration to the breed's temperament or behavioral needs. The first time out, we got very lucky. Our first rescue pup, Jerry, was what you might call “German Shepherd Lite” – he had many external GSD markings, but lacked most of the breed's temperament traits.




He was loyal and obedient, but his white markings and other behaviors indicated he probably had Collie mixed in there, too (this was before DNA screening kits). Jerry had the best of both worlds as he was:

  • Alert and watchful, but non-aggressive
  • Emotionally sensitive, but curious and playful
  • Affectionate with people, kids and other animals
  • Mellow and easygoing
  • Demanded only a moderate amount of exercise

Throughout his life, we foolishly assumed that all German Shepherd Dogs were like Jerry. After he passed (ironically from osteosarcoma, a common cancer found in GSDs), along came Wyatt Ray Dawg. He's a high energy, purebred German Shepherd Dog rescue who won our hearts the first time we met him – and he didn't take long to teach us that everything we thought we knew about GSDs was wrong.




Wyatt was abandoned at six months old by an owner who tethered him to an object and neglected him so long that the tether cut off circulation to his back leg. We would have adopted him regardless, but had we put our infatuation with the German Shepherd Dog’s appearance aside and done our research before adoption day, we would have been better prepared for his weak nerves and anxiety. In the last six years, Wyatt has tested our patience and kept us on our toes. We discovered that his extreme reactions to certain triggers and high anxiety antics are indicators of a weak temperament that's typically the end result of backyard breeding – a common and sad situation for millions of herding breed dogs. We love him nonetheless.

Don't Let Looks Trump Temperament

German Shepherd Dogs, like Wyatt, might be nearly perfect specimens of the breed on the outside, but a jumbled mess on the inside. Sadly, there are millions of herding breeds living with the challenges of weak nerves and poor temperaments, caused by profit-motivated breeders whose only goal is to churn out good-looking dogs who can fetch a high price.

It's far too easy to fall head over heels in love with a dog's appearance, but there are two major steps any potential dog parent can take to avoid a difficult situation with a highly intelligent breed like a Collie or German Shepherd.

Step 1: Never buy a herding breed dog from an advertisement.

Good breeders strive to create stock with good temperament and looks. Bad breeders only care about looks. The good news is that if you decide to buy, you can't miss the bad breeders: they're the ones who advertise in local newspapers and online classified ads. Good breeders, on the other hand, don't need to advertise which means you'll have to look a little harder, but the payoff is worth it.

“Well-bred dogs are found by networking,” advises the Collie Club of America. “There are many small quality breeders across the country, connected by the Collie Club of America’s network through our District Directors and local Collie Clubs.” Of course the same holds true for German Shepherd breeders and all other herding dog breeders.

Step 2: Understand the challenges of adopted herding breeds.

Adopted dogs have hearts of gold, but they can arrive in your home with a slew of issues caused by their previous humans. Until they find the right human, they can be masters at turning the breed's best characteristics upside down and sideways. Whether you plan to adopt or purchase a puppy from a breeder, it's critical to understand their potential behavioral challenges – especially if you choose to adopt a Shepherd, Collie or other herding breed. Don't commit until you know for certain that you have the time and financial capabilities to help your herding dog work through any challenges; you'll both be happier because of it.

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