How to Train Your Australian Cattle Dog to Herd

Hard
12-48 Months
Work

Introduction

If you own droves of cattle, you need to get your hands on a good heeler! And by far, the best beast for the job is an Australian Cattle Dog. This pooch is part Highland Collie, part Dalmatian, part Kelpie and surprisingly, part dingo! The wild dingo roots help this dog thrive in all types of conditions.

It's been said that a good cattle dog can do the job of three men on horseback. A fully trained Queensland Heeler can take on the largest of cattle. By nipping at the heels, the dog can direct even the most stubborn bovine in the herd to go in the right direction. But the best cattle dogs are able to distinguish which animals need strong guidance, and which only need gentle encouragement.

Defining Tasks

That being said, it can be difficult and expensive to get your hands on a fully trained red heeler. This leaves you having to start from scratch. Australian Cattle puppies do have some strong herding instincts, but what they don't come with is the obedience to get the job done. And instinct alone can spell disaster for both the herd and the canine.

Be prepared to invest years of training to get a quality farm worker. The learning begins as soon as you bring the little furball home. Master all of the basic dog commands during those first few months before even thinking about letting the dog near your livestock.

Getting Started

Being mentally prepared to train your Australian Cattle Dog really is half the battle. Some things that will help along the way are:

  • Knowledge: Talk to farmers and trainers who have successfully trained heelers to do work. Learn the best techniques to teach your dog the skills it will need.
  • The Right Dog: Family matters when it comes to workers. Look for a pooch whose parents are active herders themselves.
  • Some Waterfowl: No really! As you'll learn below, ducks can make excellent practice animals for finessing your dog's herding tactics.

While gentle training can work for basic good-dog behavior, training a cattle dog requires what is known as “respect training”. This means that not only are you going to reward good behavior, you're going to have to dish out negative consequences for disobedience. Any discipline should be controlled and must never harm the dog. However, when your pup will be dealing with creatures that can top a ton, obedience is a matter of life and death!

Below are some of the highest revered methods to take your pooch from basic puppy to professional work dog. As you're going through the steps, if your dog isn't quite getting the point, you may have to postpone training for a few weeks so their maturity level can catch up to the task at hand.

The Controlled Exposure Method

Most Recommended
3 Votes
Controlled Exposure method for Herd
Step
1
Basic Commands
Make sure that your cattle dog knows “come” and “lie down” like the back of their paw.
Step
2
Exposure
Bring your dog around livestock while you go about your daily chores. Ensure that the pooch does not go into any stalls or enclosed areas.
Step
3
Manage
Use a long rope to let the dog get close to the animals without full freedom. Walk around the whole herd.
Step
4
Observe
Look to see if the dog lowers its tail and naturally walks around the livestock. This shows readiness. Keep training sessions short and watch for signs your pup is getting tired.
Recommend training method?

The Practice Ducks Method

Effective
1 Vote
Practice Ducks method for Herd
Step
1
Introduce commands
Work on the commands “come bye”, “walk on” and “away” while your dog is on-leash. This helps them learn the directions you want them to go.
Step
2
Provide a "herd"
Gather some waterfowl and let them run free in the yard.
Step
3
Practice
Let your pup run loose and try out each command. Make the dog take a break, then get right back out there.
Step
4
Increase difficulty
If things are going well, you can try putting your pooch in with a few livestock animals. Let him practice on the mini-herd until he is ready for the real deal.
Recommend training method?

The Livestock Method

Least Recommended
1 Vote
Livestock method for Herd
Step
1
Commands
Make sure your pup has his commands down pat.
Step
2
Choose your herd
Pick out several animals that have been around a herding dog before, but are not much older than a year or two.
Step
3
Set the stage
Remove corners in your pen or purchase one that is round.
Step
4
Practice
Allow your dog to practice herding on these calm specimens. Call quits on the training session soon as the dog does signs of nervousness, exhaustion or stress.
Recommend training method?
author-img

Written by Amy Caldwell

Published: 09/20/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Wylie
Australian Cattle Dog
15 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Wylie
Australian Cattle Dog
15 Months

He has been an amazing dog .. we found him on a ranch road when he about a year and searched and searched for his owner but never found them so we kept him and I feel slightly guilty. He is amazing!!!! But he doesnt have a job .. what is a job I can give him?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
842 Dog owners recommended

Hello Chelynee, A great place to start with Wylie is to simply have training session every day that last as long as a typical walk would, 15-45 minutes each, and teach him obedience skills such as: "Sit", "Down", "Stay", "Come", ect...As well as tricks such as: "Shake", fetching certain objects like your shoes, holding a treat on his nose, rolling over, playing dead, speaking, and so forth. There are limitless things that you can teach him. The goal is to continually build on what he has already learned, improve his mastery of the commands that he already knows, and continually teaching him new things that will challenge his brain. Since Australian Shepherds are an intelligent herding breed they need mental as well as physical stimulation daily. By teaching him tricks and incorporating training into other forms of exercise such as Canine Freestyle dancing, "Fetch" that is structured, and walks where you take training breaks to work on his obedience around distractions, you can also stimulate him mentally. Other fun activities to do with him that will stimulate him are: Agility, including homemade obstacle courses, Obedience competitions, and giving him household chores, like bringing you your shoes, water bottle, or something that you point to, and teaching him to clean up his toys by putting them into a basket, or even turn off the lights for you. Whatever you choose, choose something that you will both enjoy and make sure that it continues to involve learning for him. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Wylie's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Pistol
Australian Shepherd
2 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Pistol
Australian Shepherd
2 Weeks

I am trying to make her into a cattle dog, but she has trouble listening with other dogs and distractions around

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
104 Dog owners recommended

Hello, Pistol is pretty young and has plenty of time for training. Make sure the vet gives the okay for her to be around other dogs (once her vaccines are up to date). Be careful as well, she must be tiny and her bones are still growing and forming. There are great tips here: https://wagwalking.com/training/herd-3. I think it is important to get her basic commands down pat first, and especially the recall:https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall. Heeling is important, too, and will train her to work despite distractions: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel. All of the methods are good. Once Pistol gets used to listening as she heels, you can carry that over to the herding methods in the guide above. But do get the vet's okay first. Have fun and all the best to Pistol!

Add a comment to Pistol's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Bo
Australian Cattle Dog
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Bo
Australian Cattle Dog
3 Years

I am wanting to teach him to herd. He knows to sit, lay down, stay. What else can I teach him and how before bringing him around cows?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
842 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kayla, You will want to teach him directional commands like Come-Bye, Away to Me, fetching (bringing something to you), Walk up, and heeling also. Come bye: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjL5dKa1z8c https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Zb-LTQx-8o https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYODEanyncY&t=8s Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden Commands: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63kEtzehiXo

Add a comment to Bo's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Rooster
Australian Cattle Dog
3 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Rooster
Australian Cattle Dog
3 Months

How to train my dog he is so playful but he make a lot of noises I think he is not dangerous but my husband this that he is agressive I don't know we have 2 different points the point is how can I train my dog so he can be more calm down thank you 🙏

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
227 Dog owners recommended

Hello! Australian Shepherds as you know are working breeds. They need a lot of both physical exercise and mental stimulation. Make sure he is getting plenty of walks and exercise. In addition, here are some indoor activities that can help take the edge off for your hyper dog: Find It Most dogs love to use their noses. Take advantage of this natural talent by teaching yours the “Find It!” game: 1. Start with a handful of pea-sized tasty treats. Toss one to your left and say “Find it!” Then toss one to your other side and say “Find it!” Do this back and forth a half-dozen times. 2. Then have your dog sit and wait or stay, or have someone hold his leash. Walk 10 to 15 feet away and let him see you place a treat on the floor. Walk back to his side, pause, and say “Find it!” encouraging him to go get the treat. Repeat a half-dozen times. 3. Next, have your dog sit and wait or stay, or have someone hold his leash and let him see you “hide” the treat in an easy hiding place: behind a chair leg, under the coffee table, next to the plant stand. Walk back to his side, pause, and say “Find it!” encouraging him to go get the treat. Repeat a half-dozen times. 4. Again, have your dog sit and wait. This time hide several treats in easy places while he’s watching. Return to his side, pause, and say “Find it!” Be sure not to help him out if he doesn’t find them right away. You can repeat the “find it” cue, and indicate the general area, but don’t show him where it is; you want him to have to work to find it. Training Active Dogs to Calm Down 5. Hide the treats in harder and harder places so he really has to look for them: surfaces off the ground; underneath things; and in containers he can easily open. 6. Finally, put him in another room while you hide treats. Bring him back into the room and tell him to “Find it!” and enjoy watching him work his powerful nose to find the goodies. Once you’ve taught him this step of the game you can use it to exercise him by hiding treats in safe places all over the house, and then telling him to “Find it!” Nose work is surprisingly tiring. If you prefer something less challenging, just go back to Step 1 and feed your dog his entire meal by tossing pieces or kibble from one side to the other, farther and farther, with a “Find it!” each time. He’ll get a bunch of exercise just chasing after his dinner!

Add a comment to Rooster's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Odin and Freya
Blue Heeler
8 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Odin and Freya
Blue Heeler
8 Weeks

Trying to teach my 2 heelers to be farm working dogs. Have never trained for this type of training before and need to know where to start, the commands to start with. Etc please and thank you for advice.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
842 Dog owners recommended

Hello Bri, Check out these resources while starting your herding journey. Herding association - a great resource to find trainers, herding events, instinct testing, work shops, and other herdsmen in your area. http://www.ahba-herding.org/ Online forums where you can ask questions of others who have taught their own dogs, and read about their own experiences training. https://www.workingdogforum.com/forums/herding.33/ https://www.homesteadingtoday.com/threads/herding-dogs.461500/ https://www.dogforum.com/threads/herding-breeds-vs-average-house-dog.87033/ Finally, I would highly recommend starting with something like a dvd or video series to actually show you step by step where to begin. I can write things here but herding is pretty in depth and there is more than I can cover here, plus herding is best seen visually for it to make sense. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYODEanyncY https://theworkingsheepdog.com/ Ted Hope: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oTBfqmIGLA&t=157s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLeP_cScV2w https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwWf-Ej5zgE Common commands pup will need are Away to me, fetching, Come Bye, Heel, Down, and walk up. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Odin and Freya's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Book me a walkiee?
Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd