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]


The Border Collie is an ancestor of the New Zealand Heading Dog and it 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 then went onto breeding 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. The New Zealand Heading Dog is widely used by shepherds. The most famous shepherds 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. Sheepdog trials became popular on television in the 1980's when A Dog's Show was broadcast to the New Zealand audience.[4]


The New Zealand Heading or otherwise know as the Eye Dog has been bred with natural abilities, they are very aware of their surroundings and are able to adapt to quick movements that are in their line of sight perfectly suiting their shepherding requirements. These types of dogs are specifically bred and trained to work in farms to circle sheep. They are classified as medium to large dogs with long, smooth, straight hair. 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 have the innate ability to herd animals and, if left alone for too long, they will try to escape and or try to herd small animals or children.[6]


The New Zealand Heading Dog is extremely active and therefore leaving them indoors or 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]


The New Zealand Heading Dogs herd sheep together by running in circles, they watch the sheep closely to stop one or more sheep from running in any direction keeping them in a tight formation required for shepherding. If New Zealand Heading Dogs lived in the wilderness, they would use their herding skills to pursue and hunt sheep or other animals to kill for food. Both New Zealand Heading Dogs and Border Collies are known for their ability to take commands from the shepherd, such as, to lay down, stay still and to circle sheep as they are instructed.[8] An advantage of the New Zealand Heading Dog is that they do not lay down as much as their Border Collie ancestors, hence meaning they can be spotted by the farmer from a further distance.[9]

A specific trait of the New Zealand Heading Dog is its use of eye contact; this is a natural ability of the New Zealand Heading Dog and this trait is known as "eyeing" .[10] The New Zealand Heading Dog uses eye contact to notify the sheep that they need to stay where they are and makes it clear that the sheep are not supposed to run for their freedom. With a stare from the New Zealand Heading Dog, sheep will stop their movement and hurry back to the pack.


New Zealand Heading Dogs are commonly bred for special work and are similar to the following categories of dogs; Huntaway: that is well known for its loud bark that chases away sheep. Handy Dog: A breed of dog that possesses both the traits of the Huntaways and Heading Dogs. Leading Dogs: are best known for their ability to lead groups of sheep. Backing and Yard Dog: Backing and Yard Dogs are usually trained from Handy Dogs or Huntaways. Their training involves developing the ability to move sheep forward or move them back to the desired location. Stopping Dog: Stopping dogs are usually Heading Dogs, that are specially trained to hold sheep in position after they have successfully herded the sheep into position as commanded by their owner. All the dogs listed above are dogs trained for farm work. Some may belong to the same breed, however the task and training that the dogs undergo will provide different results in their field work.[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. 
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