As a girl growing up in rural Lancashire I often saw Lancashire Heelers nipping at the heels of black and white dairy cattle as they headed home for milking. It was well understood by us children that these were working dogs and tiny though they were, they were not pets. These small, solid and sometimes fine boned black and tan dogs were tough and they weren’t above nipping human heels if they didn’t like the look of you as you passed by.

The cattle knew that these dogs would move them on and although they were tiny compared to the cattle around them, the dogs took no prisoners. Either working alone or more usually with collies and a cattleman, these dogs were used for moving cattle along lanes and in yards. They seldom rounded cattle up in big open spaces as the collies did; they were simply too small for that sort of task, but in confined areas they were super for the job. Being so close to the heels of the cattle sometimes meant that Heelers did occasionally get kicked and injured, but in the main, they were agile enough to get out of the way.

Traditionally used as drover’s dog the Lancashire Heeler stands no more than 12 inches high. When not working he is a biddable little fellow and makes a good burglar alarm due to his sharp bark. He has a short dense silky coat that is easy to keep looking good and he is generally pleasant to have around. He has sharp brown button eyes and keen prick ears. He is a powerful small canine, eager to join in with anything that is going on and is inquisitive in nature.

Completely different in looks but capable of doing a similar job of moving cattle is the Welsh Corgi. The Corgi comes in two versions, the Cardigan and the Pembroke. Of the two it is the Pembroke that is the more easily recognisable; he’s usually red and white and is the one beloved by the Royal family. Low to the ground the Corgi is a country dog. His long thick set body belies his agility and he’s quite capable of nipping in behind cattle to move them from place to place. His relatively thick coat repels snow and keeps him warm when the wind whips up. A quick shake and he can throw off rain too although he does benefit from towelling dry if he’s excessively wet or muddy.

Of the two Corgis the Pembroke would seem to be the faster on his feet, particularly useful when in amongst beasts. He’s also alert to most situations and is capable of working out what’s going on; he seldom misses a trick and is able to double back to sort out an errant beast that has ideas of its own. The Cardigan is slightly less nimble and may prefer the fireside a little more than his more alert cousin, but is none the worse for that. Both make friendly additions to the household and the temperamental problems that have in the past beset the Pembroke have now largely been addressed.

The Shetland sheepdog is another herding dog and although larger than both the Corgi and Heeler, he is rather smaller than most other sheepdogs you’ll come across. The Sheltie as he is sometimes known is a breed derived from the Shetland Isles, where in common with Shetland ponies, cattle and sheep, small was preferred within the breed. Although only around 14 inches tall this is a dog that once worked as hard as any small farm or crofting dog could. He was used for all manner of herding jobs around the crofts of his native isles. Bringing sheep in to the more sheltered areas around the croft house was his usual task, but he could also drive them along the road back to their grazing grounds with ease.

His cheerful, biddable nature also made him a good dog to have around the croft. He was often playmate to the children and companion to the lady of the house when she was the only one at home. His attachment to the family also meant that he would guard them well if strangers approached and would alert neighbours on crofts further away when something was amiss with his incessant and persistent barking.

An active little dog the Shetland sheepdog also has a thick coat that requires care and grooming to keep it looking good. The coat comes in several colours including tri-colour and has a soft undercoat underneath the top tougher layer.

Much bigger than the three breeds already mentioned is the Bullmastiff and a completely different type of dog. This is a dog that is massive by comparison. He’s also extremely strong and not for the fainthearted. Although biddable the Bullmastiff can be assertive and needs to know who is master. His original and often forgotten role was as a gamekeeper’s dog and for that reason he makes an excellent guard dog.

In times of old his main duty was to aid his master in repelling poachers. His size, formidable ‘hold’ and his shoulder charge, which has to be seen to be believed, turned many a poacher white with fear at the mere thought of his presence. A good Bullmastiff was worth his weight in gold for not only would he guard his master the gamekeeper, he would also keep the gamekeeper’s master, the landowner’s estate clear of unwanted visitors and attention.

A big dog standing around 27 inches and weighing anything up to 130lb, the Bullmastiff can move at an impressive speed. Not only that he can turn on a sixpence and change direction at will. He’s solid and a big softie when not working, but when alerted and challenged can be a fearful opponent. His short coat requires little other than a quick brush to keep in good order.

As you’d imagine this is a dog that takes a great deal of feeding. He can also be finicky at times and will also drool while waiting to be fed. He’s best suited to an outdoor life where he can run and have long walks. He’s not a breed for the novice dog owner but will repay your care with total loyalty.

[All rights reserved. Heidi M. Sands. 2017. As featured in Smallholder magazine Christmas 2017.]