To The Dogs—Canine Advice Column

Finding your ‘Hank’

Heelers and other herding dogs can make great barn and ranch additions, with a few caveats.

By Hilton Butler

Drive into a horse facility, and you’ll probably be met by a dog or two—sometimes more. Horse people love animals of all kinds, but dogs are right up at the top of horse people’s list of favorite companion animals.

But what dog breeds are best to have on the ranch or farm? Which dogs are best suited for hanging out around horses or other livestock?  Do horse owners have to consider their horses when choosing a dog breed?

In our last article we investigated the Belgian Malinois. It’s not a breed you will commonly encounter on a farm. Herding breeds, especially heelers, seem to be found more frequently around livestock, so let’s dive in and look at some important things to consider before bringing a dog home to your horses.

Herding Dogs

Traditionally, dogs bred to herd cattle and sheep—like Australian Shepherds, Australian Cattle Dogs (also known as blue or red heelers), Welsh Corgis, Border Collies (collies of all kinds), Sheep Dogs, Catahoula Leopard Dogs and others in the herding group—are popular on ranches and horse farms. We will concentrate on the a few of these breeds in this article. Heeler dogs are naturally aware of livestock and know instinctively how to avoid getting kicked or stepped on. They have an innate respect for horses and tend to mind their owners well when trained, but they can be headstrong.

Heelers are short-coated, blue- or red-patterned dogs with upright ears and deep eyes. They are intelligent, active and loyal. This traditional Australian herding breed was bred to “nip” the heels of cattle and endure a kick or two; they’re hard-headed and need diligent training to not “heel” horses—or people for that matter. Heelers are high-energy herders who need work and plenty of exercise, or they’ll make a job for themselves that might not be appreciated by their owners or others.


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2023 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.