Dogster is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

New Zealand Heading Dog: Pictures, Traits, Care Guide & More

Written by: Keri-Beth Clur

Last Updated on April 4, 2024 by Dogster Team

New Zealand Heading Dog: Pictures, Traits, Care Guide & More

The New Zealand Heading Dog is an all-purpose dog that is vital for farm life and getting things done! They were bred from Scottish Border Collies and carry many of the same traits, such as their incredible herding skills and quick reactions. Without these dogs, the cost of farming sheep would be much higher in New Zealand.

There is more to these big dogs than just working, though, as they are also loving, affectionate, and gentle with their family members.

Breed Overview


20–24 inches


55–66 pounds


12–15 years


Black, white, fawn

Suitable for:

Active families, people who live and work on sheep or cattle farms


Sensitive, affectionate, active, intelligent

Despite their popularity in New Zealand, this purebred dog has never been recognized as an official breed by any kennel club. However, due to their skill and intelligence, they have been allowed to register as a non-pedigree working dog and can perform in dog sports. They are judged on their abilities as opposed to their appearance.

The New Zealand Heading Dog is a true companion, eager to spend their whole day with their owners as they move from task to task. They do require a lot of attention both mentally and physically and will struggle without it. However, these little athletes are easy to maintain as their grooming needs are relatively low.

New Zealand Heading Characteristics

High-energy dogs will need a lot of mental and physical stimulation to stay happy and healthy, while low-energy dogs require minimal physical activity. It’s important when choosing a dog to make sure their energy levels match your lifestyle or vice versa.
Easy-to-train dogs are more skilled at learning prompts and actions quickly with minimal training. Dogs that are harder to train will require a bit more patience and practice.
Some breeds, due to their size or their breeds potential genetic health issues, have shorter lifespans than others. Proper exercise, nutrition, and hygiene also play an important role in the lifespan of your pet.
Some dog breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, and some more than others. This doesn’t mean that every dog will have these issues, but they have an increased risk, so it’s important to understand and prepare for any additional needs they may require.
Some dog breeds are more social than others, both towards humans and other dogs. More social dogs have a tendency to run up to strangers for pets and scratches, while less social dogs shy away and are more cautious, even potentially aggressive. No matter the breed, it’s important to socialize your dog and expose them to lots of different situations.

Dogster_Website dividers_v1_Jan 18 2024-03

New Zealand Heading Puppies

If you’ve seen a New Zealand Heading pup, you’re one of the lucky ones, as these dogs are hard to find, especially in countries other than New Zealand. However, if you’re determined to see one for yourself, you’re most likely to spot one competing in a dog show. Due to their rarity, the low number of New Zealand Heading Dog breeders, and the lack of these dogs in shelters, these pups can be sold at a high price.

The pups are adorable and full of energy—a characteristic they carry with them into adulthood. As sweet-natured as these pups are, they are sensitive and need to be socialized early to combat their shyness.

Temperament & Intelligence of the New Zealand Heading Dog

New Zealand Heading Dogs live to please their owners and have brilliant minds, which makes them easy to train. They respond best to positive reinforcement, consistency, and a strong leader. They tend to be strong-willed and may challenge authority, but if you’re patient in your training and establish your dominance early on, you can curb any undesirable behavior.

They’re active dogs that never seem to run out of energy, even after a long day. This makes them ideal for farm life. They are born herders and do so instinctively. If they don’t have any sheep to herd, they will herd you and your family. They are fast, energetic, and have quick responses. They use these qualities along with their eyes to control the flock around them and get them moving in the direction they want them.

This breed is loving, affectionate, and joyful. If you give them the exercise, training, and attention they need, you will have a content and obedient dog on your hands. They’re always looking for something to do, so bring your dog along with you on outings and activities.

Are These Dogs Good for Families?

New Zealand Heading Dogs love all the activity that comes along with a big family and adapt well to it. They love their owners and are loyal and affectionate to them. They also get on well with children as they’re able to keep up with their energy. However, because of their strong instinct to herd, they may try to nip at their heels and round them up. This is not done out of aggression, and you are able to train this undesired behavior out of them.

These dogs also do well with single people who are highly active. However, they are not a good option for elderly people, inactive people, or first-time dog owners. They need plenty of exercise and, due to their strong-willed natures, need owners who know how to manage this breed. Unfortunately, if these dogs are allowed to take over and haven’t received the necessary training, they may become reactive and unpredictable, creating an environment that is not conducive to children.

Does This Breed Get Along with Other Pets?

These dogs get on well with other dogs and can even learn to live alongside cats. However, they aren’t great with smaller, non-canine species, such as birds or rodents, and it would be best to separate them from these animals. As with children, New Zealand Heading Dogs will try and herd smaller pets, too.

As with all dogs, it is necessary to socialize these pups early and expose them to people, pets, children, and new environments. When bringing a new pet home, take the introduction slowly, and don’t leave your dog unsupervised with them until they are all comfortable and relaxed with each other. The large size of a New Zealand Heading Dog can also pose a threat to smaller pets, so supervised play is recommended.

Dogster_Website dividers_v1_Jan 18 2024-03

Things to Know When Owning a New Zealand Heading Dog:

Food & Diet Requirements

New Zealand Heading Dogs burn energy fast because they are always active, which means that they are going to have big appetites. They love food and don’t know when to stop eating, so never leave large quantities of food out but rather give them several meals throughout the day. How much food you need to give your dog depends on their age, weight, health issues, and activity levels, so it is important to read the recommendations on the packaging. However, these dogs do well on high-quality dog food that is age-appropriate.

High-calorie dog food that is high in animal proteins is essential for this type of dog. The whole meat or meat meal ingredients should be listed first on the dog food packaging. New Zealand Heading Dogs also need fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in their food, but on a much smaller scale than the protein.

Water is another daily essential for New Zealand Heading Dogs. Working in the heat and maintaining their stamina can dehydrate them quickly, so water should always be available and nearby.


Exercise is an important part of every New Zealand Heading Dog’s life. They do well on around 120 minutes of activity per day. You can break this exercise time up by doing various activities with them throughout the day, such as running, hiking, swimming, or walking. Even playing a game of fetch or tug of war will exert some of their energy. Taking them to run at dog parks or dog-friendly beaches is another great option if you aren’t a highly active person.

Exercise isn’t only important to burn off some energy. It also builds muscle, maintains a healthy weight, builds confidence, contributes to overall health, improves sleep, and reduces behavioral issues. If you do not have the time or mobility to provide your dog with the amount of exercise they need, consider hiring a dog walker to take your dog out for you.

Without rigorous exercise, a New Zealand Heading Dog will become bored and frustrated. To release their energy, they’ll start to dig, bark excessively, and chew clothes and furniture. Not only will they become destructive, but they may even become neurotic, making them a very difficult pet to have in your home.


New Zealand Heading Dogs need strong leadership, which will be established through training. They are intelligent and fast learners, which makes them easy to train and a great competitor in dog shows. As puppies, it is a good idea to expose this breed to other dogs, as early socialization is a must. This can be done by going to dog parks or joining a puppy school.

Training also stimulates New Zealand Heading Dogs mentally, which reduces boredom. Therefore, training never reaches an end with this breed and should be done regularly. You can also stimulate these dogs mentally through searching games and food puzzles.

Grooming ✂️

This breed is highly needy physically but requires low maintenance when it comes to their coat. They have a medium-length coat that is straight and not too dense. They only require weekly brushings, and their coat does best with a pin brush, slicker brush, and de-shedder. You can bathe a New Zealand Heading Dog three to four times a year or more regularly if necessary.

With all the exercise these dogs do, their nails tend to stay short. However, if they get too long, you can cut them with a dog-friendly nail clipper. Always check their eyes and ears for signs of infection and brush their teeth to prevent gum disease. Look out for dog-friendly toothpaste toothbrushes, as human options are not suitable for your dog.

Health and Conditions

tired New Zealand Heading Dog
Image Credit: janecat, Shutterstock

New Zealand Heading Dogs are a fairly healthy and hardy breed. Some can struggle with bloat as well as elbow and hip dysplasia. Bloat can be very serious, especially if it is not treated quickly. It’s a condition whereby the stomach is stretched to the point of pain. It can stretch so much that it can block off the blood flow to the stomach. It has several causes but eating or drinking too quickly is believed to be one of them.

New Zealand Heading Dogs are also susceptible to eye problems. Eye and ear infections are common, as with most breeds, but due to their Border Collie ancestry, they are at risk for progressive retinal atrophy, which can slowly lead to blindness. The good news is that it is not painful, but the bad news is that there is no treatment for it.

It is important to clean your dog’s eyes and ears often and take them to the vet if you see any signs of discomfort or inflammation. But it is just as necessary to take them for regular eye examinations to look for early signs of progressive retinal atrophy. Although nothing can be done to stop the progression, catching it early will help you prepare yourself and your home to best care for your dog.

Minor Conditions
  • Ear and eye infections
  • Cataracts

Serious Conditions
  • Bloat
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Progressive retinal atrophy

Male vs Female

Male and female New Zealand Heading Dogs share many of the same features, so there isn’t much that sets them apart. However, males tend to be a bit larger and weigh more. Unneutered females will go on heat and, if mated with, will produce a litter size of between 3–5 puppies.

3 Little-Known Facts About the New Zealand Heading Dog

1. They Vary in Appearance

New Zealand Heading Dogs vary slightly from one dog to the next because they weren’t bred for their looks but rather for their abilities. However, they are usually black and white and can have tan areas too. They have long legs, a long snout, and ears that sit up straight on their heads.

2. They Aren’t Big Barkers

This dog doesn’t need a big bark to get their sheep moving where they want them. In fact, the New Zealand Heading Dog isn’t much of a barker at all. They may bark if they sense something is off, to sound an alarm, out of boredom or separation anxiety, or because they want attention. New Zealand Heading Dogs aren’t great guarding dogs because they’re not highly territorial.

3. They’re Smarter Than Most Dogs

Just like the Border Collie, the New Zealand Heading Dog is an intelligent breed and can understand and memorize an above-average number of commands. They learn quickly and love challenges to solve. They also enjoy all the attention they receive when they do something correctly.

Dogster_Website dividers_v1_Jan 18 2024-03

Final Thoughts

Although not registered with any kennel club, the New Zealand Heading Dog contributes greatly to the success of New Zealand’s sheep farming industry. They are bred from Border Collies and have many similarities with them, mainly their desire to work and their high energy. These pups are hard to find in countries other than their place of origin but are sometimes seen at dog shows, where they compete well. They’re intelligent, easy to train, and well-natured dogs that are affectionate and wonderful companions.

The New Zealand Heading Dog is not suitable for first-time dog owners, people who travel a lot for work, and the elderly, as they need a lot of exercise and attention to thrive. They do best in families with other dogs and with active single people.

Featured Image Credit: Young New Zealand Heading dog (Image Credit: GrimGee, Wikimedia Commons CC 4.0 International)

Get Dogster in your inbox!

Stay informed! Get tips and exclusive deals.
Dogster Editors Choice Badge
Shopping Cart


© Pangolia Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved.