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Headers and Huntaways

Pet Road Tests > Others

Breed: New Zealand Huntaway, New Zealand Header
Temperament: intelligent, very trainable
Cost: from $(NZ)250
Lifespan: 12-13 years
Maintenance: low
Recommended for: sheep stations


There are more sheep per head of human population in New Zealand than in any other country on earth, about 45 million sheep. To have that many sheep requires a special type of dog to control them, such as the New Zealand Header and New Zealand Huntaway. The Huntaways tend to bark and chase the sheep away, the Headers bring the sheep back. They're called headers because they will go to the head of the sheep and turn them.

These New Zealand breeds were developed over the last 100 years by cross-breeding the Border Collie with other breeds including the Irish Setter, English Hound, Old English Sheepdog and Labrador. Dogs found on New Zealand stations today are considered purebreds by farmers.


Bigger than the traditional Border Collie working dog, the Huntaway and Header stands an estimated 15 cm (6') taller. They're not particularly attractive dogs, being bred purely for work rather than show. The dogs are usually black/tan or black/brindle and can have either a rough or smooth coat.

Header Huntaway

Temperament and health

The Huntaway and Header are extraordinarily smart, very trainable dogs. They move stock efficiently with and without human commands. Both are hardy working dogs whose breeding has discouraged the occurrence of any genetic illnesses. Unhealthy animals are unsuitable as working dogs and are normally destroyed.


According to breeders, both are easy whelpers with from six to 12 puppies in a litter. Rough and smooth-coated puppies can be found in the same litter. Neither breed is registered with the New Zealand Kennel Clubs and no formal pedigree registration system is in operation. Nonetheless, champion trial dogs are registered so a purchaser will be able to determine if his pup has good breeding or not.


Most farmers feed their dogs fresh meat costing around $NZ10 ($AUD8.60) a week.


Young dogs cost from $NZ200-$NZ350 ($AUD172-$AUD258) with up to $NZ3,000 ($AUD2,587) known to be paid for top working dogs.

House-pet potential

Huntaways and Headers are considered working dogs rather than house-pets. Huntaways in particular can be a noisy breed and neither are really suitable as pets in domestic environments.

Space and exercise

Working dogs don't require any exercise beyond their normal duties. These dogs should be able to work all day in the hilly paddocks of a typical New Zealand sheep station. New Zealand sheepdogs particularly come into their own on those properties which are too hilly for horses or motorbikes.


The preference is towards smooth-coated dogs which do not pick up as many burrs in their coats as the rough-coated varieties. Working dogs are not normally groomed other than when appearing at the show.


An average station shepherd has two Heading dogs and five Huntaways to do most of the long distance work. Huntaways drive the cattle or sheep by barking whilst Heading dogs close-work a mob using its eye to track the sheep. A good Huntaway would be expected to work all day in the station paddocks and can work the mob from a mile (1.6 k) away by whistle and hand signals, barking all day if required.


Training varies depending on the individual dog. Some breeders believe bitches are better toilers and more loyal. The Huntaway is trained to respond to a variety of whistled commands using a small plastic whistle that emits a very high pitched sound. There are many variations of whistle pitch that provide different commands to the dogs

Further information

New Zealand Sheepdogs are not commonly bred in Australia for use as working dogs.

Sheepdog Trial Association of New Zealand
Secretary T.J. Brown, Ngatapa, R.D. 2, Gisborne
Phone: NZ 0011-61-6-863 9815
Fax: NZ 0011-61-6 863 9515

Trevor Albert - Huntaway Breeder
P.O Box RD4 Rotorua, New Zealand
Phone: NZ 0011-64-7 362 0816

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