How to Train a canine to Herd

Herding dogs are well-known for their intense drive and their instinctive work with livestock. This short article will give you a basic idea on how to train a canine to herd.

Herding dogs have been used to care for sheep, cattle and other animals for centuries. some of the common herding breeds are shepherds, collies and, of course, sheepdogs. The AKC writes, “herding breeds share an instinctual ability to control the movement of other animals” including at times their owners.While numerous dogs possess the herding instinct, training a professional herding canine takes time, experience and trust.

“There’s a real charm in taking something that is kind of raw which is their instinctive work and getting it to work for you,” discusses Amanda Milliken, owner of a sheep farm and several champion border collies.

Jump ahead to:

How to Train a canine to Herd

Training a canine to Herd – getting Started

Commands to instruct Your Herding Dog

Variety of Herding canine training Styles

Herding canine Breeds

Choosing a Herding canine Puppy

Herding canine trials and Competitions

Skills evaluated at Herding canine Trials

It’s All about Bonding With Your Dog

Have you ever viewed a herding canine trial?

What is your experience with herding canine breeds?

How to Train a canine to Herd

Herding success is rooted in a dog’s relationship with the animals it is herding and its handler. A relationship that Amanda describes as “complicated and fun.”

“You build and build a complicated language between a handler and a dog,” she explains.

“A canine has to count on you to be a good co-partner so if they think that you make intelligent decisions about the sheep their count on gets built up over time…. and soon they start to do things that you want them to do when you want them to do it instead of when they feel driven to do it.”

One of the hallmarks of a terrific handler-dog pair is two-way communication. By its attitude, speed and body language a canine can tell the handler how the livestock are responding and how best to relocation them. A handler can then respond accordingly.

Says Amanda, “In a terrific run there’s much more of a conversation on the go than there is of a handler bossing a canine around.”

Border collie herding a sheep

Training a canine to Herd – getting Started

Amanda gave us some insight on how to train a canine to herd. training typically starts when dogs are about a year old. prior to that Amanda’s focus has been on building her relationship with the puppies, helping them to understand the difference between best and wrong and establishing a working vocabulary by talking to them.

At 9 to 12 months, dogs have hopefully developed an interest in herding and they also are fast enough that they can outrun sheep, cattle or other animals. simply chasing after livestock is not herding.

Daily training is important, so this typically implies living on a farm and caring for livestock.

“You have to organize your training situation so you can walk out your door to a dozen sheep and work your dogs for 20 minutes a day. otherwise you never develop that language and rapport with them,” says Amanda, who keeps 150 sheep.

Amanda Milliken with her border collie Dorey

Commands to instruct Your Herding Dog

There are four basic herding commands: left, right, walk up and lie down.

Training starts with voice commands, but handlers typically transition to whistles fairly quickly. Whistles can be heard much more easily over long distances, like 700-800 yards. Amanda also notes that you can be much more accurate with a whistle than with a voice command.

Based on the pitch or emphasis of a whistle a canine will know what the handler wants it to do. For example a big turn to the left may be communicated with a big long whistle versus a short soft whistle that implies just step to the left. Or a small stop versus a full stop.

As with any training, it’s essential to go slowly and not push dogs too hard. short intense training sessions are better than going out for an hour at a time and exhausting your dog. Herding is as much a mental exercise as a physical one, so over-training can exhaust a dog’s mind, which could decrease their enthusiasm. You ought to end the session with a canine that wants more.

Variety of Herding canine training Styles

Amanda strives to have a “lyrical” approach, where her canine can be fluid and responsive to the sheep. “I like to see somebody totally free their canine up on the front line. Not just a stop and go,” she says.

She also emphasizes that herding is about managing the stock and is not an obedience exercise.

“Often peoplego to trials and they say, “Oh that person said lie down and the canine didn’t lie down.” No, but it hitched… up its pace and slowed down and took the sheep at a slower pace and that was really the point of the command.”

Herding canine Breeds

Herding dogs are very specialized. They have been bred for generations for the particular qualities needed to gather, herd and safeguard livestock. and different breeds are much more suited to different types of stock. For example, border collies reign supreme when it concerns herding sheep.

Just a few of the numerous herding canine breeds include:

Border collie
Australian cattle canine (heeler)
Old English sheepdog
Belgian shepherd
German shepherd
Australian keplie

Note that there are dozens much more herding breeds. This is just a short list of some of the popular herding breeds around the world.

Also, just because a canine is classified as a “herding breed” doesn’t imply it will be a herding dog. just like there are some Labradors who don’t like water and won’t fetch a thing.

Border collie puppy with a wolfhound

Choosing a Herding canine Puppy

Amanda notes that it is very challenging to judge puppies. She advises people to look at the working records and styles of the parents.

Then she says, “You have to get a pup up to about a year old and then work it out with the stock and see how it pans out for you. Every canine has a different work style.”

As a handler becomes much more experienced, they come to understand their own style and what type of canine works best for them.

“Suddenly you start seeing different traits in dogs that appeal to you and things that work maybe with your character a little better,” says Amanda.

Another option is to adopt an older canine who has experience with herding.

Amanda explains, “A handler might get to a place where they have some good very talented young dogs coming up. They know they don’t have too much time left for an older canine and they might sell it on to the best home… It will really help bring you along as a handler.”

Herding canine trials and Competitions

Handlers and dogs put their herding skills to the test at sheepdog trials. trials take place across North America.

At a trial, a canine and handler relocation a small herd of sheep (usually three to six animals) around a pre-determined course.

Amanda Milliken with her border collie Howell after winning Meeker Sheepdog Trial

Competition levels include novice (for less experienced dogs), pro-novice (an experienced handler with a young canine or an inexperienced handler with an experienced dog) and open (for everyone). Each level requires different skills.

Skills evaluated at Herding canine Trials

Some of the skills evaluated in trials are below (The working Sheepdog site has a valuable glossary):

Gathering: begins with the outrun where the handler sends the canine to pick up the sheep. When the sheep begin to relocation under the influence of the dog, this is called the “lift.” The fetch is when the canine brings the sheep through the course toward the handler.

Driving: The canine takes the sheep or cattle away from the handler. The working Sheepdog site notes, “Driving has a credibility for being challenging to instruct because a dog’s natural reaction is to bring the stock to the handler rather than push them away.”

Penning: The canine moves the sheep into a pen.

Singling: separating one or two sheep away from the main group.

The livestock are the big wildcard in any competition. Amanda explains, “It’s actually harder for dogs to work small groups [of sheep] than it is to work 150 because those are separated from their peers and they’re nervous and pull different directions. Whereas if they’re in a group they’re very relaxed.”

She notes that the breed of sheep used at trials varies by location. Western sheep tend to be much more wily and difficult. “They always blow the minds of the dogs,” she says.

“What your training amounts to is preparing you for the things that happen on a trial field and you can’t predict what those are going to be,” she explains.

“You have to become incredibly flexible and deal with the problem as it presents itself to you on the field. and it’s your job to take those sheep around the course no matter what they’re like. learning to be flexible is very important.”

It’s All about Bonding With Your Dog

Over the course of her career, Amanda has won various competitions, including the us national finals in 2005 and the Canadian championships seven times. but for her, the relationship with her dogs and the lifestyle she has built are many rewarding.

“These are very sophisticated partnerships that you get choosing these dogs. They have an agenda and they want something to do… It creates a different character in that young dog. They’re happy of what they do.”

She concludes, “This lifestyle is worth it. It’s such a stunning thing to do. It gives you such moments of amazing clarity and charm and concentration.”

Have you ever viewed a herding canine trial?

What is your experience with herding canine breeds?

Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to know about your herding dog!

Related articles:

Livestock guardian dogs
How canine agility training applies to all training
Best breeds for running
Therapy canine training

Julia Preston writes for That Mutt about canine behavior and training, working dogs and life on her farm in Ontario, Canada. She has a sweet, laid-back boxer mix named Baxter. She is also a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and diy renovating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Post