New Zealand Heading Dog

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New Zealand Heading Dog
New Zealand heading dogs head.jpg
New Zealand heading dog in truck carrier box
Other names New Zealand Heading Dog
New Zealand Eye Dog
Country of origin New Zealand New Zealand
Coat smooth
Color black, white, tan
Classification / standards
Not recognized by any major kennel club
Dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

The New Zealand Heading Dog, or New Zealand Eye Dog, is a working and herding dog that uses its visual prowess and quick movement to control sheep. Bred from Border Collies, Heading Dogs are a sturdy, long-legged, and even-haired breed. They are generally black and white in color, but may also be tan.[1]


Ancestor of the New Zealand Heading Dog, the Border Collie is a farm dog originally from the Scottish border. Early settlers brought these dogs with them to New Zealand to herd sheep from Scotland, and later on bred newer and more specified dogs. Due to the Border Collie's long hair, they were bred with shorter haired dogs to create a new breed that was better suited to the local environment. Widely used by shepherds, the most famous dog from the settlements of New Zealand was James Lillico.[2]

The New Zealand Heading Dog has been integral to sheepdog trials, which began in New Zealand as early as 1867 in Wanaka.[3] The competitive dog sport involves herding sheep around a field and into enclosures and became popular on television in the 1980s when A Dog's Show was broadcast to the New Zealand audience.[4]


The New Zealand Heading, or Eye Dog, has been bred with natural abilities of being aware of its surroundings and able to adapt to quick movements in its line of sight. They are classified as medium to large dogs with long, smooth, straight hair. These types of dogs are specifically bred and trained for work in farms to circle sheep. The pure bred New Zealand Heading Dogs are usually black and white, but some may be tan or other colors.[5] The breed requires an agrarian environment and are generally not intended to be kept as house pets. New Zealand Heading Dogs are extremely intelligent and should not be left alone for long periods of time. They are capable of herding animals as an innate ability and if left alone for too long they will try to escape or try to herd small animals or children.[6]


The New Zealand Heading Dog is extremely active, so leaving them indoors in small spaces or chained in backyards is not recommended. If they are left indoors, destruction of furniture and other household objects is likely to occur.[7]


New Zealand Heading Dogs herd sheep together by running in circles and stopping to watch the sheep, close enough to stop one or more sheep from running in any direction they do not want them to go in. If New Zealand Heading Dogs were to be in the wilderness, the step after heading the sheep or other animals would be to pursue and hunt them down for the kill. Both New Zealand Heading Dogs and Border Collies are known for their ability to take commands from the shepherd to lie down and stay still and to circle sheep as they are commanded.[8] New Zealand Heading Dogs do not lay down as much as their Border Collie ancestors, allowing them to be spotted by the farmer from a further distance.[9]

The traditional trait of the New Zealand Heading Dog is the keen eye contact it uses to notify the sheep that it is not supposed to run for its freedom. With a stare, a sheep will stop its movement and hurry back to the pack. The "eyeing" of New Zealand Heading Dogs come from the skills of its natural "heading" ability which is commonly known as a trait in New Zealand Heading Dogs.[10]


New Zealand Heading Dogs are commonly bred for special work, similar to the following categories of dogs: Huntaway: Famously known for its loud bark to chase sheep away. Handy Dog: A breed of dog which has the traits of both Huntaways and Heading Dogs. Leading Dog: Best known for its ability to lead groups of sheep. Backing and Yard Dog: Backing and Yard Dogs are usually trained from Handy Dogs or Huntaways to gain the ability to make sheep move forward or chase sheep back to the original position on the farm. Stopping Dog: Stopping dogs are usually Heading Dogs, specially trained to hold sheep in position after they have successfully herded the sheep as commanded by their owner. All the types of dogs listed are groups of dogs trained for farm work, some may belong to the same breed but the task and training given to each dog provides different results of work in the fields.[5]


  1. ^ Dalton, Clive. "Farm dogs - Heading dogs, huntaways and all-purpose dogs". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 12 May 2012. 
  2. ^ Dalton, Clive. "Woolshed 1". Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  3. ^ Williams, Victoria. Weird Sports and Wacky Games around the World: From Buzkashi to Zorbing. p. 267. ISBN 978-1-61069-639-5. Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  4. ^ "Story: Farm dogs. Page 6 – Sheepdog trials". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 13 May 2012. 
  5. ^ a b "New Zealand Heading Dog". Dog Breed Info Center. Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  6. ^ Dalton, Clive. "Story: Farm dogs". the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  7. ^ "New Zealand Heading dog". Dog Breed Info Centre. Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  8. ^ Dalton, Clive. "Woolshed 1". Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  9. ^ Dalton, Clive. "New Zealand farm working dogs. Heading or Eye Dogs". Woolshed 1 Blog. Retrieved 13 May 2012. 
  10. ^ Dalton, Clive. "Woolshed 1". Retrieved 14 August 2013.