The History Behind New Zealand Heading Dogs

New Zealand Sheepdog, VBT Bike and Walk Tour, blog
We all know that dogs make great companions, but to the people of New Zealand, dogs are often more than four-legged friends. Sometimes, they’re a vital part of their agricultural livelihood.

According to Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, there are as many as 200,000 working dogs in New Zealand, many of which are heading dogs. You’ll likely see a more than a few of them in action when you visit a sheep herding station on our New Zealand: Bike and Walk the South Island tour.

Read on to learn more about these distinguished canines:

Origin of Heading Dogs

Heading dogs are the direct descendants of Scottish border collies. According to the Taranaki Daily News, James Lillico, a Scot, came to New Zealand in 1895 and bred his home nation’s distinctive sheepdogs with huntaways, which are large, mutt-like dogs used in New Zealand for heavy farm work. Eventually, the modern heading dog became common. It has black and white (or tan) fur, medium hair, and long legs. Heading dogs are well regarded for their speed and intelligence.

These half-breed pups became part of a culture that had great love for dogs to begin with, both as companions and work mates. Greyhounds, purebred border collies, Smithfields, huntaways, and bearded collies are other notable New Zealand breeds.

Heading Dogs and Agriculture

New Zealand is well known for its outstanding dairy products as well as some of the world’s best lamb and steak. There’s no way for these foods to be produced without well-managed herds of cattle, and heading dogs play a vital role in keeping this livestock organized. Heading dogs circle the cattle and use a piercing gaze to intimidate the cows or sheep and prevent them from running. And they do it all without barking.

There’s little chance of the heading dogs being replaced by some sort of automated herding solution. The rugged, hilly landscape of New Zealand makes that practically impossible. These dogs were bred for these conditions. But why fix what isn’t broken? Heading dogs are as essential to the New Zealand’s agricultural economy as their farmers are, and we hope this tradition continues for another hundred years (and then some).

To learn more about our New Zealand bike tour, click here. If you would like to speak with one of our Tour Consultants, please call 800.245.3868. They are available Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. EST and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.