Corgis: Herding on the Homestead

Corgis: Herding on the Homestead featured image

by Stephen Edson

With their short legs, long bodies, fox-like faces, and bat ears, Corgis have captured many dog lovers’ hearts around the world. Most famous in recent times as having been the companion of choice for Queen Elizabeth II, surely her love of the breed has helped to popularize it.

Today, most Corgis are simply companion dogs, which is understandable given their lively and affectionate dispositions. However, beneath their adorable exterior is a true blue-collar working dog.

They come from a long line of herding dogs, bred specifically to be capable of moving livestock with little assistance. This included the very important task of driving cattle to be sold at the local market. Not a job that is all that necessary today, but as we have found on our farm, their working instinct is still present. With the right training, you can foster that instinct and utilize it, too.

Breed History

Corgis may only now be reaching the height of their popularity, but they are a very old breed. There are conflicting theories as to their exact origin, with one possibility being that they are descended from another short-statured herding dog, the Swedish Vallhund, brought to the British Isles by the Vikings. However, they are known to have existed in Wales since at least the 1100s, and have remained highly prized working farm dogs ever since.

There are two distinct breeds of Corgis, the Pembroke and the Cardigan, once interbred, but which mostly developed in different Welsh districts. They have been officially separated for almost a hundred years now.

The two breeds have several differences, the most obvious of which is the traditional docking of the Pembroke’s tail, while the Cardigan’s is left at natural length. Cardigans are also slightly bigger and longer than Pembrokes, coming in a wider range of colors. Cardigans tend to be slightly more reserved in temperament and a bit more wary of strangers.

Meanwhile, Pembrokes are typically quite outgoing and friendly, though they are still very alert watchdogs. The other main difference between the breeds is their popularity. Pembrokes are far more common than Cardigans, and while both breeds retain their natural herding instincts, fewer Cardigans are still employed as farm dogs.

Two Corgis - Kadi and Trixie
Kadi and Trixie
Photo credit to Stephen Edson

In their native Wales, Corgis were bred to be an all-around poor man’s farm dog. Their primary job was moving livestock, but they were also used as watchdogs, both for home and herd, and helped to eradicate farms of vermin (an instinct which they also still possess).

Naturally, Corgis were bred to herd cattle. One would not think that a dog of 25 to 30 pounds would be capable of moving a herd of cattle on their own, but their short stature was advantageous in their work.

They act as heelers, meaning that they drive cattle by nipping at their heels. Obviously, it is a dangerous position, given that a cow’s kick could be fatal. However, in the Corgi’s case, a kick in response to nipping will most likely go right over their head, limiting the risk of serious injury. This, along with their tenacity and outstanding work ethic, made Corgis highly valued herding dogs.

Herding Instincts in Corgis

For starters, let me give a brief backstory of how we first began using our Corgis to herd.

We had three Pembroke Welsh Corgis when we first got dairy goats. They had been around some livestock previously, but had no formal training. However, when we started having difficulty moving our goats around (they were a handful even as bottle babies at the time), we decided to try letting our female, Kadi, help us in the barn. She was already seven years old, but she took to the work as if she had been doing it her whole life! Within a few days of having her present at bottle feeding time, she figured out the routine and earned the goats’ respect.

Subsequently, we tried using our male Corgis, but both were slightly too aggressive. They showed good instinct but were too much for the goats. They probably could have worked well with bigger stock, like cattle, that require a firmer hand.

We eventually got an English Shepherd, Blaze, who Kadi helped to train, and he became the dog to help us get our does back and forth from the barn and milk parlor. He was the first dog we trained from a puppy, which helped us learn the best ways to achieve results in our training going forward.

A couple years after getting him, we got another female Corgi, Trixie. We started training her to herd from day one, and it really shows. Having two dog mentors was a great help, too. In some ways, despite being the youngest, she has become the most reliable worker of all, being quite adaptable to working any of the goats in almost any situation.

In our current daily work, Blaze and Trixie work as a team to gather up any does that refuse to come into the milking parlor willingly, while Kadi then sorts them into the correct pens. Once sorted, we bring the does out to be milked in a specific order, which all the dogs know. They make sure nobody escapes before their turn.

Then, Blaze escorts the goats back to their barn. Initially, we used him for most of the fieldwork because of his longer legs, but now that Trixie has fully matured, she also participates in the occasional pasture roundup of stragglers. You would be amazed how fast those short legs can carry a Corgi!

This is not only meant as a testimonial. Our story of how we got into herding, particularly with our Corgis, is meant to show that the breed still retains their herding instincts and can be used quite effectively. In many ways, Corgis are ideal homestead dogs because that is what they were bred to be from the beginning of their modest origins.

They are among the smallest of herding dogs, though do not be fooled by their size. As the saying goes among Corgi fanciers, “They aren’t small; they just have short legs.” One perk of their short stature is that they are slightly less intimidating to livestock, especially smaller animals like goats and sheep. Yet, with their determination and drive, they can absolutely match the working ability of any other herding breed as long as they are put in the right situation and given the proper training.

Training Corgis to Herd

Before deciding to get a Corgi for your homestead, there are considerations that must be considered seriously. One of the first questions you must ask yourself is if you have the time to train a dog. It is a process, and you have to be able to put your dog into favorable situations where it can gain positive experience. This will help them gain confidence and realize how much fun it is to work.

On the flip side, it is also important to take your stock into consideration. Depending upon the animal, they could react with fear or aggression towards your dog, especially if it is a puppy still learning what to do. Particularly in a smaller operation, like a homestead, where you typically have just a few head of livestock, you are in essence attempting to train your dog and the stock at the same time.

For instance, with all of our dogs, the goats were learning just as much about how to react to the dogs as the dogs were to the goats. Some stock will learn faster than others. Our goats figured out rather quickly how to read the dogs’ behavior and signals. Now, often, a bark or subtle move is all that is required to communicate to the goats what the dogs want them to do.

The first step in training really begins before getting a dog. As with any working dog, no matter their intended job, it is very important to acquire one from a reputable breeder, preferably someone who also uses their dogs to work.

In the case of getting a Corgi as a herding dog, this comes with a slight caveat. Not many people still use Corgis to work, which makes a decision on where to get your puppy a little more difficult. However, in our personal experience, all four of our Corgis (three of which came from the same breeder and the fourth who was a stray) have shown good herding instincts, even without having parents who actively worked.

So, if you can find someone who uses their Corgis to herd, that is great, but the next best thing would be to buy from someone who at least has had them around livestock and other animals.

It is always better to get a puppy rather than an older dog. While it is quite possible to train an older dog, a puppy will pick up on what you are asking them to do much quicker. Think of it in terms of how kids can learn a new language more easily than adults.

One common mistake is believing that a puppy must be several months old before they are allowed to start learning about herding. Puppies are sponges for knowledge, and the earlier you start working with them, the more easily they figure out what you want from them.

If they have good instinct, then they will show it from a young age, especially when they are rewarded by your praise. It is important to keep in mind that you cannot teach instinct. You can foster and encourage it, but it is all genetics, something developed over centuries of selective breeding.

It is critical to recognize when a dog is showing the correct instincts and reward them for doing that. If they learn that it is fun to move animals around when they are young, then it will stick with them the rest of their lives.

Trixie and the goats
Trixie and the goats
Photo credit to Stephen Edson

Now, when it comes to actually working a puppy with livestock, as touched upon before, it is important to make everything a positive experience. Obviously, care must be taken when it comes to the safety of both the puppy and the stock they are trying to herd. Corgis in particular tend to be quite fearless, believing themselves to be a lot bigger than they are, which leads to possibly putting themselves in a position to get hurt.

Remember, they are naturally heelers, meaning that they want to go after an animal’s legs. This can be very dangerous for both dog and stock, because while their short legs might keep them from getting kicked as easily, a small Corgi puppy underneath an animal’s feet could be disastrous.

By the same token, a puppy with sharp teeth that has not yet learned how to control itself poses a risk to the stock. The puppy might bite too hard, even accidentally, and injure the livestock. Therefore, a balance must be struck between letting your puppy begin to work without them overdoing it. You want them to show interest in your stock, including making motions to start moving them, but it is necessary to temper their enthusiasm if they go too far. 

Before too much formal herding training is done, it is important that they have basic obedience commands down, because you need to be able to maintain control of every situation. For instance, helpful commands would be, “Sit,” “Stay,” “Stop,” “Wait,” “Through” (as in to go through a gate or door), “Out” (as in to get out of a pen), “Back” (as in back up), and “Behind” (as in to get behind a person, animal, or object).

One helpful tip is to use these commands, which will one day be used while working, in everyday life. If you lead your puppy through a gate or door, say “Through” while doing it, and soon, they will associate the word with the act. The same thing applies to all commands.

Corgis are wickedly smart dogs, and they will pick up patterns very quickly. As with any training, consistency is key. Odds are, as a homesteader, your daily work will be quite similar, and so your puppy can pick up your routine easily. We often joke on our farm that once we do something twice, our dogs expect that to be the new routine!

Always make working fun. We have found that when beginning with a dog, it is best to expose them to the stock as early as possible, helping to awaken their instincts. Sometimes, this means keeping them on a leash or behind a fence so that they can observe the activity before participating.

As an example, for her own protection, we kept Trixie in a crate in our milking parlor. She observed us bringing the goats from their pens to the milk stanchions and back. Within a few days, we started allowing her to help with certain, less cantankerous goats. It took very little time for her to learn every goat by name, know where they belonged, and what order in which we fed them.

If a puppy has the right instinct, they should begin showing interest in them when they are exposed to livestock. As soon as they do show interest in following the stock or attempting to move them, give them praise. You do not want chasing, but rather, you want them to remain relatively composed. You want to keep the dog and the stock as calm as possible at all times.

A good dog will want to bring the stock to you or take them to the place where they think they belong. This is where it is helpful for the dog and, hopefully, the stock to know what they are expected to do.

Praise your dog whenever they do the right thing. With care and patience, the proverbial light bulb will go off at some point in your dog’s head, and they will realize what their job is all about. 

Once they learn the objective, you can start teaching them the finer points of herding, such as directions. In our case, we chose to simply use “Left” and “Right” instead of the typical directional commands of “Away to me” and “Come by.” We did this by merely saying the word and rewarding them when they went in that direction around any obstacle.

However, another tip would be to trust your dog’s natural instincts. You need to maintain control, but good herding dogs have a sort of sixth sense when reading a situation. Dogs like Corgis will learn what does and does not work for them when herding.

For instance, rather than chasing animals into the open, they will drive them along a fence, wall, or other barrier to help make the situation more manageable. Again, this is not really something that can be taught. This is learned in time and experience.

Everything with your training should be about building upon the earliest foundation that they learn as puppies. Training is a long process, and in some ways you never quite finish. It is an ongoing journey, but if your dog knows how to learn and understands the task at hand, together you can make it through.

Remember that this is about making your life a little easier on the homestead. Rather than you having to chase down and corral stubborn stragglers, you will have a lifelong companion who can do the job much more quickly and efficiently than you ever could. Once you have a good, well-trained dog, you will ask yourself, “How did I ever do it without them?”


Corgis are awesome dogs. They are not for everyone, but they have many devotees for a reason. Hopefully, more people will realize how their unique skill set makes them especially qualified as homestead workers.

No matter what kind of livestock you have, Corgis can learn where you want them, put them there, and then keep them there. There is nothing like seeing a dog get to do what it is bred to do, and Corgis are no exception.

More on Farm Dogs

Anatolian Shepherd: Livestock Guardian and Farm Dog
Great Pyrenees as a Livestock Guardian
Choosing a Farm Dog: Which Breed is Best for Your Country Homestead?
7 Tips for Success with a Farm Dog

About the Author: Stephen Edson operates Great Oak Acres Farm in Seymour, Missouri with his mother, Chris. He was born and raised in the Missouri Ozarks, homeschooled K-12, and is a lifelong animal lover. Great Oak Acres Farm has a growing herd of dairy goats which includes Alpines, Nubians, Experimentals, and Minis. The farm also boasts a wide variety of poultry and several hard-working herding and livestock guardian dogs that run the farm!

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1 thought on “Corgis: Herding on the Homestead”

  1. Awesome article and knowing this farm for a very long time means that you can have great certainty about what was written.


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