Activities For Herding Dogs

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Introduction

Herding dogs like the Border Collie, the German Shepherd, and the Australian Shepherd are known for their ability to solve problems quickly and effectively, their intense work drive, and their loyalty and ability to cooperate with their human family. Without enough physical and mental activity, however, they are also known for hyperactivity, destructive behaviors, and for obsessive barking. Fortunately, there are a number of activities that these intelligent and easily trained dogs not only enjoy but excel at. 

Round up the Toys

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Any Day
Free
Easy
5 - 45 min
Items needed
Toys
Clicker
Toybox
Activity description

Rounding things up is something that comes naturally to most breeds of herding dog, and in many cases, your dog may not be particularly picky about what exactly it is that they are choosing to collect. If not given direction, some herding dogs may be prone to rounding up loose socks, unpaired shoes, or random unidentifiable objects from around the house or yard. Instead of spending your day picking up dog toys and searching for hidden shoes, teach your dog how to help out around the house by rounding up their own toys and putting them in a specified place, like a toybox. 

Step
1
Introducing the clicker
A clicker is a small hand-held training tool that is designed to make a distinct and easily heard clicking sound when it is pressed, and it is used to let your dog know that they have done something right. In order for the clicker to be effective, your dog must be taught that the sound it makes means a reward, in most cases, a high-value treat. This is easily accomplished simply by clicking the clicker and immediately giving your dog a treat either several times in a row each day, or several times throughout the day.
Step
2
Picking up
In order to teach this step, you will start by tossing one of the toys you want them to pick up and giving the command you have chosen. Short, easily distinguishable words should be used for this command, something like fetch, get it, or even just the word toy. When your dog naturally picks the toy up off the ground, click the clicker to mark the response, and give your dog a treat. Once your dog is reliably responding to your command, you can introduce the toybox.
Step
3
Toybox time
Once your dog is able to reliably demonstrate the first skill, you will want to bring out the toy box and position yourself on the opposite side of the toybox from your dog. Have them pick up a toy, which they will then bring over to you, in order to get their treat. When they stretch their head over the toybox in order to hand the item to you, give them the command to drop the item in the box such as clean up, box, or pick up, then click the clicker. Most dogs will then drop the toy into the box, at which point you will again click and treat. Eventually, you should be able to give the command from a different area of the room or even a different room and get the same response.
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Sign Language Training

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Any Day
Free
Normal
5 - 45 min
Items needed
Treats or Rewards
Activity description

Dogs in the herding category, particularly those with merle genetics, have a slightly higher chance than average to be born deaf or to lose their hearing as their get older. Teaching your dog to follow hand signals, also known as deaf dog sign language, may help to ease confusion if your dog’s hearing begins to diminish in later life. Visual cues that are taught to your herding dog will benefit them in the event that their hearing is impaired at some point in life.

Step
1
The new clicker
Dogs who are fully deaf are unable to hear the clicker and will need a visual cue that works the same way. Many pet parents of deaf canines successfully use the flash of an open palm to signify the sound of a clicker to their dogs. To train your dog to that visual cue, you would pair the action of flashing the palm with a reward the same way you would when training a dog to the clicker itself.
Step
2
Starting simple
Simple commands like sit, lie down, and stay are usually taught by default with basic hand signals. Initially, you can start by using both the hand signal and the verbal command, later extinguishing the use of the verbal command and just use the hand signal. These simple commands can help you to have better control if your dog loses their hearing, or if you just lose your voice for a few days.
Step
3
Adding complexity
Most of the herding breeds are known for their intelligence and trainability, so it may not be very long until they are ready for more complex commands and tricks. Deaf dogs can learn just about any trick or command that a hearing dog can as long as they are able to see their trainer or handler and the trainer is able to come up with a clear enough visual command. In many cases, owners choose to add practical hand signals that are taken directly from American Sign Language, such as the signs for into, useful for getting them to go into their crate, timeout or stop for when you need a bit of a break, or signs that refer to objects in the dog’s life such as ball, bed, or treat.
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Treibball

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Sunny Day
Cheap
Hard
30 - 120 min
Items needed
Treibball balls or equivalent
Activity description

Treibball is a sport originally developed to allow herding dogs in Germany with no access to sheep or other livestock to find an outlet for their often intense herding instincts, but instead of herding livestock, they are guiding large, inflated balls to a specified goal based on a combination of voice and hand commands that are used to convey instructions to your dog. This activity works both the mind and body of the herding dog as well as encouraging improved communication between you and your canine companion. While there are many venues in which your dog can participate in Treibball competitively, it is also an activity that you can practice right in your own backyard. 

Step
1
Learn the rules
While the overall idea of the game is easy to understand, get the dog to move as many of the treibballs into the goal as possible within the fifteen minutes, there are some rules that both you and your canine companion must follow for the game to be played correctly. You can find the full up-to-date rules as sanctioned by the American Treibball Association on their official website.
Step
2
Train your dog
A real game of treibball is not played by simply throwing the treibballs out on the lawn and hoping that the pup will figure out how to move the objects to their goals all on their own. They have to first learn to ignore the targets until you have given them the command, then they can begin to learn the commands, both verbal and visual, and how to roll the ball to the specified target without biting or breaking the ball that they are working with
Step
3
Up the anté
Once you and your dog have the basics of this game down, you can start making it more challenging. You can add twists and challenges to the game, like shortening the time allowed, placing obstacles in the path, or even requiring that the balls be driven into the goal in a specific order.
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More Fun Ideas...

Herding

Not having any sheep to herd no longer has to be an obstacle to allowing your dog to fully experience the joy of doing what they were bred to do. There are now several places like Fido’s Farm in Olympia WA or Magic’s Legacy in Genoa City WI where you can pay to let your dog learn how to herd all sorts of animals, from geese to cows. 

Canine Freestyle Dance

Herding dogs have a natural tendency to watch their owner closely for cues about how to behave. This tendency, combined with their ability to respond to changes quickly and the agility that most of these breeds have, makes them ideal candidates to enjoy and excel at the sport of canine freestyle dance. 

Flyball

Flyball is a high-intensity competitive sport in which groups of dogs race relay-style to catch and retrieve a ball over a specially designed obstacle course. The agility, quick mind, and ability to problem solve that is typically found among the herding breeds make them well-suited to this activity.  

Conclusion

Herding dogs are typically very high-energy dogs with a high work drive, and in most cases, they require a great deal of exercise and mental stimulation each day in order to maintain proper physical and mental health. Fortunately, most herding dogs are active, intelligent, and ready to work, making them particularly well-suited to not only herding related activities but also to most other activities that require the ability to think quickly, use their natural problem-solving abilities, and switch directions on the fly.