Herding breed dogs have many strengths, which is why so many of us love them. But they have unique traits and needs, and it's important to understand what you are getting into before taking on animals with these particular characteristics!
Border Collies are beautiful dogs, known for their intelligence and obedience -- and made popular by movies like "Babe" and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills." But they are much more difficult as pets than their reputation would indicate. Most Border Collies have been bred to work: that is, to focus on and move livestock around. They sleep less than other dogs, become obsessive about anything they are "working" (including, sometimes, the family cat) and require a great deal of physical exercise and mental stimulation in order to be happy. They don't like disorder, and will often act like the scolding schoolmarm, disciplining anyone (human, canine or feline) who seems to be acting disruptively. An unhappy, bored Border Collie will find a way to express her frustration -- herding your children, chasing cars, spinning compulsively. . . .
DO NOT adopt a Border Collie unless you are committed to giving it the daily exercise and stimulation that it needs. This varies from dog to dog, but count on an hour a day of strenuous activity. You should also plan to be with your dog a lot: herding breeds are designed to work closely with the shepherd, and do poorly if left alone for long periods. Bottom line: if you want a couch potato, or a backyard dog to sit around under a tree, herding breeds are not for you!
Australian Shepherds are less compulsive than Border Collies, which is why many people prefer them as pets. However, they also need a good deal of exercise and companionship. They can also be more vocal, so prepare for a dog that barks to express itself.
Australian Cattle Dogs (also known as Blue or Red or Queensland Heelers) are similar to Border Collies in their energy level. They tend to be less obsessive and driven to impose order on the world -- in fact, they often have great senses of humor and love a bit of chaos that they can jump into! But what they lack in obsessiveness they make up for in hard-headedness! Dogs that can herd 1000 lbs of cow are not intimidated by much, so they can be fierce and willful, and sometimes more aggressive than most people would like. If you get a cattle dog, prepare to assert your will if need be!
Bottom line: herding breeds are not for everyone. If the above traits seem too much for you, consider a mix -- there are a lot of great mixed breeds that have the strengths of the above breeds, softened by the characteristics of other breeds. Shelters are full of these mixes, and they often make wonderful companion animals.