The Myth of the Herding Pit Bull Farm Dog

All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth. Friedrich Nietzche

Trying to find objective third party evidence to back up the bogus claim that pit bulls were once used as farm dogs and herded cattle, was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Of course nearly every pit bull propaganda website regurgitates that claim but the real world and the fantasy world that pit bull advocates occupy more often than not contradict each other.

Herding Dogs

Here's what Ledy VanKavage's former employer, the ASPCA had to say about pit bulls and herding:
The Pit Bull Today

Most experts agree that today’s pit bull is a short-coated dog characterized by a wide skull, powerful jaws and a muscular, stocky body. But there is great variation in the pit bull’s appearance. Typically 35 to 65 pounds, some weigh as little as 25 pounds, while others tip the scales at 80 pounds or more. Some have bulkier frames and colossal skulls; others have leaner, more muscular bodies. All are strong and athletic. With their impressive stamina and staunch work ethic, pit bulls enjoy a variety of activities, including agility, disc dog competitions, flyball, freestyle and competition obedience. They often excel in weight-pulling contests and schutzhund. Some pit bulls work cattle in herding trials, and some still function as hunting dogs.
There is the fantasy world of versatile herding pit bulldogs and then there is the reality of pit bulldogs herding cattle.

I managed to find a couple of videos of pit bulls "herding" sheep. My favorite is Hagrid the Herder. Watch this video closely. During the 5 minutes Hagrid is in the pen, he is given time outs at :50, 1:49, 2:27, 2:57 and 3:35. Notice how small the pen is and how close the handler stays to the sheep. Also note that the handler doesn't use the standard flimsy whip to keep the pit bull at bay, he uses a rake. The handler excessively praises the pit bull and is constantly making physical contact with the pit bull.

Herding Instinct Tests

According to the American Kennel Club, "The purpose of noncompetitive herding tests is to offer herding breed owners a standardized gauge by which a dog's basic instinct and trainability are measured."

"The purpose of the competitive herding trial program is to preserve and develop the herding skills inherent in the herding breeds and to demonstrate that they can perform the useful functions for which they were originally bred. Although herding trials are artificial simulations of pastoral or farm situations, they are standardized tests to measure and develop the characteristics of the herding breeds."

The AKC defines Herding Instinct as follows: The inherited balance in a dog’s temperament, between the predatory drive and the dog’s submission to its master. The stronger the herding instinct, the stronger must be the desire to comply with the commands of the handler. 

8 month old Border Collie

9 month old Sheltie

6 month old Aussie

Kelpie (young!)


Corgi (never seen a sheep before this test)

11 month old GSD

Now that you have seen what REAL herding dogs go through to achieve their herding instinct certification, let's watch a purebred american pit bull terrier earn his herding instinct certificate.

You can also watch this on a larger screen on youtube.


Notice how the handler keeps her body between her pit bull and the sheep as they circle the small flock and she stays a good 20-30 feet from the sheep at all times. This sheep owner should be ashamed for participating in this sham.

This is how pit bull advocates are able to claim that their dogs can do it all. I do not believe that Jaeger legitimately earned that certificate. Either CARLA ANN THOMAS greased someone's palm to sign off on this test or Jaeger did not pass and she is lying. I will attempt to answer that question elsewhere.

Same here. This APBT earned his herding instinct title while LEASHED.

According to WorkingDogs.com, the dogs are to be tested off leash. This website has a good overview of the test. The author of this page acknowledges the subjectivity of the testers and how they evaluate and grant titles for dogs.

From the AKC Herding Regulations
Amended to August 2008

Section 4. Qualifications. The total number of
qualifications necessary to complete the requirements
for a Herding Instinct Certificate and for the issuance of
the titles Herding Tested Dog (HT) and Pre-Trial Tested
Dog (PT) shall be established by the Board of Directors
of The American Kennel Club.
The Judge’s certification of qualification for any particular
dog constitutes certification to The American Kennel Club
that the dog on this particular occasion has evidenced abilities
at least in accordance with minimum standards and that
the abilities demonstrated would justify the awarding of the
title associated with the particular test class. Qualification
must never be awarded to a dog, which exhibits abilities that
do not meet minimum requirements.
In Instinct Test the dog must show sustained interest
in herding livestock, either going around them, gathering
them and moving them toward the handler, or moving
them ahead of the handler to drive them or a combination.
For boundary, the dog should show sustained interest in
working the livestock and honor the border.
In tests, dogs must demonstrate the ability to move and
control livestock by fetching or driving, and be sufficiently
trained to work at the proper balance point to move the
stock forward on the course. Dogs that constantly prevent
the stock from being moved in a controlled fashion, or that
chase or harass the stock, will not qualify.
Dogs may continue to enter tests to gain experience
after the title for that class is earned with no entry

Section 5. Instinct Tested Certificate.
American Kennel Club will issue an Instinct Tested certificate
to an eligible dog that has been certified by two
different Judges to have qualified by passing two separate
licensed or member Herding Instinct Tests.

Section 6. Instinct Test Description and Test
The dog is brought into the arena on a long
line approximately 6-15 feet in length. At some point
while on the line, the dog must demonstrate a stop (down,
sit or stand) and a recall before the line is dropped or
removed. A dog, which cannot be recalled, shall not be
let off line. Dogs must be immediately removed from the
ring if physical force is necessary to protect stock from
the dog.

Either the two women involved in the herding instinct tests above are lying or they have found some unscrupulous individuals willing to sign off on anything that pays the entry fee.

There is not a whole lot of buzz on the pit forums about herding and it is understandable when you look at the above rules and regulations. I did find two interesting discussions about herding. On pit bull chat forum. A member is interested in trying it with her pit. One member suggests using a muzzle to be safe, while another states "While I love APBT's.... terriers often don't make good herding drive. They lack the gathering instinct that the prey drive has developed into. That said, if you can afford to reimburse the trainer for dead sheep, go right on ahead! Herding is really fun!"

A member on chazhound broaches the question of herding with pit bulls and the responses are equally interesting. i have used them as rec herders we used to have a cattle ranch and i would take them out with a few cows and work with them herding them. Never anything serious tho. Our sheltar and farm dogs did that. 

My dogs would love to herd livestock........then bring them down. But baiting bulls/livestock is in there blood so for me to expect them to be perfect gentlemen/ladies around large animals might be asking too much. It honestly depends on the animal/dog aggression within that dog. And I've seen a case where someone brought their very submissive non-DA 'pit bull' out to the barn & it seems instinct took over. The dog however ended up with the brunt of the damage after being ganged up on by 2 of the horses (1 of them the one he was going after).

What does the Bulldog Diva, Diane Jessup have to say on the subject?
Because I titled Dread in duck and sheep herding and trialed him a time or two on cattle, as well as earning "Herding Certificates" (not really a training title) on several other pit bulls, people often ask me about information on this activity. To be truthful, it is not something I recommend. Today's herding trials are not a fair venue for these "catch dogs". Bulldogs can and do move stock, but that is not their real purpose. Their purpose is to catch and hold.
Today's herding trials are so much more risky than real world "herding" of yesteryear (sarcasm again). That might have something to do with society progressing towards more humane attitudes and behavior towards animals. The baiting activities that pit bulldogs were originally bred for was criminalized in England in 1835.

There will always be X number of duds within each breed. A dud being a dog that lacks all ability to function as originally intended. I do think that a few select people can exert sufficient control over even fewer select pit bulldogs long enough to pass these tests but no one with half a brain would trust a pit bulldog to round up their sheep or function in an unsupervised capacity as a farm dog.

The herding instinct titles on these two pit bulls are even more worthless than the ATTS.

Farm Dogs

The farm dog myth goes something like this, early immigrants brought their cherished bulldogs with them to America where they continued their role as loyal hard working family members on american family farms.

My search for references to pit bulldogs functioning as all purpose farm dogs on non-pro pit bull propaganda web sites and books proved to be as futile as finding objective third party references to the pit bull as herding dog. 

I haven't been able to find even a rough date when bulldogs began to invade our shores but at the very latest, they came here in the late 1700's as President Thomas Jefferson reportedly had a couple of bulldogs.

In 1800, 94% of the U.S. population lived in rural areas. That means nearly every american lived on a small family farm. They grew their own vegetables, raised their own chickens, milked their own cows and goats. Any dog owned by 94% of the population in 1800 could technically be labeled a farm dog. By 1920, half of the U.S. population lived in the country and half in the city.

Babe Ruth lived on a farm in the 1920's. He raised poultry and he owned pit bulldogs. Technically, you could call Babe Ruth's pit bulls "farm dogs", since they lived on a farm. But Babe Ruth's pit bulls didn't behave like farm dogs when they escaped containment and killed his chickens and a neighbor's cow. This behavior is the antithesis of a farm dog and like every early american would have done, Babe Ruth killed the dogs.

The most famous pit bulldog that is credited as being a "farm dog" is Laura Ingalls' Jack the Brindle Bulldog. In her books, Jack is credited with protecting the Ingalls from wolves and it was also noted that Jack needed to be tied up to keep him from attacking indians. There is no mention of Jack rounding up sheep or cattle. Jack functioned as a guard dog. Interestingly, the Ingall's loyal hard working "farm dog" was callously traded for a horse.

If you are like me, when someone says "farm dog", you picture a dog that adheres to the phenotype of collies and shepherds. Farm dogs were truly versatile dogs. They had to be, or like Babe Ruth's dogs, they would have become food for worms. Early americans could not afford to own dogs that viewed their family's food source and livelihood as prey. As I searched in vain for objective evidence to support the pit bull propaganda, I realized I needed to expand my breed net to find information about farm dogs in general.

Hobby Farms had an extensive list of "farm dog breeds" on their website, everything from collies and shepherds to flock guardians and hunting dogs, even rottweilers. But alas, no bulldogs or pit bulls.

Farmcollie.com proved to be a wealth of information. The description of the farmcollie reads exactly like the fantasy pit bull histories found on Badrap, the ASPCA and every other mom and pop pro-pit bull website. In fact, I thought that pit bull advocates likely stole the identity of the american farm collie for their own Machiavellian purposes; european roots, versatility, once the most popular breed, they even allude to the farm collie performing nanny dog type functions.

The American Working Farmcollie, also known as the Old Farm Shepherd, (Old Shep) was once the most popular dog in the country. As descendants of the Old Scotch Collie, the farmcollies were versatile dogs, indispensable to farmers in the 19th and early twentieth centuries. During that period, it was this dog that most Americans thought of as a “collie”, although they were quite different from the AKC collies of today. The Farmcollie in this country quite likely also carried the blood of other types of herding and shepherd dogs that were brought here from Europe, but he remained a dog that clearly showed his Scotch Collie heritage. Like the Scotch Collies, the American Farmcollies excelled at herding, guarding (both livestock and the family), hunting and predator control. Their duties varied from protecting the baby from snakes to moving the bull. Over the years, however, the focus of American life moved from the homestead to the urban areas, and as small farms became swallowed up in larger corporate farms or urban sprawl, the need for this type of all purpose farmdog had all but disappeared. In its place came myriads of specialized breeds---companion dogs, hunting dogs, guardian dogs and herding dogs.

Nope, no pit bulldogs in here.

farm breeds


Old-Time Farm Shepherd

Jack the Brindle Bulldog

1800 - 1990 changes urban rural us population

Old Time Farm Shepherd

Thomas Jefferson

Babe Ruth

pitbull-chat Herding!

chazhound pit bulls as herding dog

What To Expect from a Herding Instinct Test 

Herding on the web

Diane Jessup on Herding

Carla Ann Thomas and Jaeger 


orangedog said...

That pit bull "herding" test is um... interesting. Walk your leashed dog in a circle around some sheep that are closely guarded by another person. And this tests what exactly? LOL
Much like all their propaganda, grossly exaggerated or flat out lies to make a fighting dog appear to be more than it is. I wish these morons would just own their real history - dog fighting and bull baiting and shredding other animals and people. Own it nutters!

RaRa94 said...

As a pitbull owner, I laugh at the the thought of my pitty, Congo, trying to herd. Interesting information! Didn't even know pitbull people used this argument. :)

vintage said...

Here's a great article about trying to use a pit bull as a Retreiver for duck hunting


Didn't work out so well...The pittie would go get the duck, then rip it to smithereens.

*Disclaimer...You Can't Make This Stuff Up!

scurrilous amateur blogger said...

vintage, the answer to the age old question "why do pit nutters dislike labradors so much?" lies in this newslink.

"I love labs because they are wonderful companions and superb duck dogs. I hate them because they are 10 times smarter than I am."

Illinois Pitbull Attacks said...

This is how pit bulls were used on farms


Not exactly herding.... And true to form, release was the bugaboo of the pit bulldog terrier catch dog.

A Saratogian Says said...

I think your site is full of bull. We own an american pit bull terrier and she is the best dog we have ever had. many of our friends also have pit bulls and have never had a problem with them and we all have children ranging from 2 to 20. If you train them right they are the best dogs one can have. My father has a french poodle and there is a vicious dog.

scurrilous amateur blogger said...

so, did your father abuse & neglect the french poodle to be vicious or was it born that way?

Unknown said...

Hagrid the Herder...What can i say lose for words a bit, but thats not herding at all and a rake?

This is sheep herding


scurrilous amateur blogger said...

Totosan1950, your comment is completely off topic. there is nothing remotely related to herding or farm dogs. your grammar is poor for someone who is supposedly studying bio-medical engineering and to top it off, you are an anonymous "dog trainer". wtf man? what is "Old Latian"?

Unknown said...

Oy. Every nutter proclaims themselves as an authority on the pit breed merely by virtue of ownership. There is no real value in biased personal anecdote and blind luck. A smattering of high-fanciers does not sound science make. News flash people: anything starting with "I personally...." Doesn't qualify as objective and sound evidence.

Maybe that's why these cognitive defuncts claim this site is BS... Their mouth-holes are a'yammerin' but there's nothing going on upstairs... Higher thought is beyond their scope of reach.

Sarah E Collins said...

Have you seen this clip of a kelpie pup in training. Looks to be no more than 10 wks old.http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=65OXmLbj-bk

scurrilous amateur blogger said...

impressive video! i will add it above. thanks.

Unknown said...

Convenient omission of Diane Jessup.

scurrilous amateur blogger said...

What does the Bulldog Diva, Diane Jessup have to say on the subject?

Because I titled Dread in duck and sheep herding and trialed him a time or two on cattle, as well as earning "Herding Certificates" (not really a training title) on several other pit bulls, people often ask me about information on this activity. To be truthful, it is not something I recommend. Today's herding trials are not a fair venue for these "catch dogs". Bulldogs can and do move stock, but that is not their real purpose. Their purpose is to catch and hold.

Laura said...

Interesting read. I have a mixed breed girl who, while represented as an Aussie Mix by the shelter, tuns out to be a mix of German Shepherd, Pit Bull, and Chow. I have introduced her to Sheep herding and she easily passed the instinct test. Yes, I know the first and third make excellent herding dogs but the pit is a close runner-up to the percent Shepherd.

I’ve been researching hurting style because our trainer said that our dog herds like a German Shepherd, not an Aussie. (Very perceptive as we knew nothing about the background and the instinxt test. )

That intrigued me so I did some research on the differences. Aussies and collies are “gather and fetch” types of herders which is the classic type Sheepherding dog in everyone’s head. German Shepherds are “boundry” types of herders, meaning they keep the sheep in a givrn territory, standing or moving.

In the Hagrid video, I think you may be being too tough interpreting what you saw. What I saw was a dog establishing a boundry, then moving the sheep around within it.

The rake is a plastic number which would not intimidate a pit bull and certainly not stop one intent on hurting or killing the Sheep. And what you called time outs looks to me like the trainer practicing with the pit the maneuvers asked for when the dogs are supposed to stop herding for whatever reason the Shepherd has. Nothing different then I saw with numerous border collies in training the same day as we went.

Yes, pit bull fans have an agenda, but from the tone of your article, I fear you decided on your conclusion before doing the research. As I move forward with my dog after letting the trainer know what the real mix is, I will certainly keep your article in mind. I don’t want the pit coming out in mine as we progress and you don make some excellent points. But I also think you may want to interview several sheep herding trainers about the requirements of the sport and maybe show them the video of Hagrid (I will show my trainer it and get her thoughts before I release My dog in a pen of sheep again). You may be surprised with what they say.

Thank you for presenting this article. It WAS very interesting and informative, whether we end up agreeing or disagreeing on the ability of pit bulls herding sheep.

scurrilous amateur blogger said...

the differences between the behaviors of hagrid and his handler and all of the videos of the legitimate herding dogs and their handlers (sometimes seeing sheep for the first time opposed to a carefully selected video with an obvious agenda) are plain as day. there is nothing i can do to help you see it.

my tone is deliberately transparent and is based on massive research and personal experience. i wonder if you can claim the same.

i doubt that we will ever agree on anything about pit bulls.

be sure to report back about your trainer's opinion, or have them stop by.