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How to Train Your Australian Cattle Dog to Herd

How to Train Your Australian Cattle Dog to Herd
Hard difficulty iconHard
Time icon12-48 Months
Work training category iconWork

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Controlled Exposure Method

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Controlled Exposure method for How to Train Your Australian Cattle Dog to Herd
1

Basic Commands

Make sure that your cattle dog knows “come” and “lie down” like the back of their paw.

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.

3

Manage

Use a long rope to let the dog get close to the animals without full freedom. Walk around the whole herd.

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.

The Practice Ducks Method

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Practice Ducks method for How to Train Your Australian Cattle Dog to Herd
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.

2

Provide a "herd"

Gather some waterfowl and let them run free in the yard.

3

Practice

Let your pup run loose and try out each command. Make the dog take a break, then get right back out there.

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.

The Livestock Method

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Livestock method for How to Train Your Australian Cattle Dog to Herd
1

Commands

Make sure your pup has his commands down pat.

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.

3

Set the stage

Remove corners in your pen or purchase one that is round.

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.

Written by Amy Caldwell

Veterinary reviewed by:

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

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

Dog nametag icon

Gus

Dog breed icon

Blue Heeler, Australian Shepard

Dog age icon

Eight Weeks

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Question

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I just got my puppy 4 days ago. When I put him in his crate at night, should he be isolated from us downstairs or near my bed upstairs? When should I start training him to herd our cattle? How do I get him to stop chewing on the furniture and start chewing on his toys?

July 31, 2023

Gus's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, There are pros and cons to having him sleep near you or apart from you. A dog who gets used to sleeping further away can adapt better to not sleeping with you later, but to properly potty train you will need to hear pup cry during the night to take them outside a couple of times during the night at this age. I would recommend purchasing an audio baby monitor to use to listen for that crying to ensure potty needs are met, or having pup sleep where you can hear them and move the crate once they are old enough to sleep through the night consistently without needing a potty trip - knowing that there will probably be a week of crying again at first when you make that transition later. Do whichever option you prefer. Six months is generally when more formal training happens; however you can begin desensitizing him to the cattle by carrying him around them, keeping a safe distance, giving treats for calmness and good responses around them just to avoid fear of them later. You can also start teaching obedience commands that will later be used around the cattle. I would reach out to your local herding clubs and seek their advice as well. There are often multiple ways to go about training. You will find that certain methods work better with certain dogs and their readiness, and what you feel able to teach, and others aren't for you. It can be very helpful to connect with others who have gone before you on this and learn from them in person. For the chewing, I recommend combining a few things, and to let you know that it's developmentally normal and will take time to outgrow. The main goal is to protect your home and prevent this from becoming a long term habit instead of something puppies grow out of. First, teach the Leave It command. Second, use sprays like bitter apple or bitter melon on objects pup returns to again and again, limit freedom to times when you can supervise and enforce commands like leave it, and give pup hollow chew toys that you can fill with treats, to teach pup to prefer those due to the food, over household objects. When you crate pup that can be a great time to give a dog food stuffed kong so pup only has that as an option to chew and finds it rewarding due to the food, which helps build a habit of chewing their own toys and preferring those over your objects. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Aug. 3, 2023

Dog nametag icon

Luna

Dog breed icon

Australian Cattle Dog (Blue Heeler)

Dog age icon

1 Year

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Question

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I have her around horses and she seems to think that she should be herding from their heads not tails. How do I change that? She also gets distracted easily by squirrels and doesn't listen until she is ready to.

Jan. 20, 2022

Luna's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Victoria, I would go back to using a long training leash to direct her during training practice for a while, then you can enforce commands when she gets distracted. I would also teach a Come Bye and Away To commands, using the long leash to direct her, when she chooses herd from the front instead of behind. She may be doing that to avoid a kick from behind. Many dogs will go to the front of the animal to stop the animal and possibly turn the animal another way. Once the animal is turned, she should learn to be at their side or behind though, leaving enough space to avoid a kick. Pup might also need a There and Get Back command if pup is working too close or you need pup to basically just perform half of a come bye or away to command to get pup behind the animals. https://herding-dog-training-border-collie-sheepdog-dvd.com/sheepdog-terminology-and-training-commands/ When training this, I would choose a well trained, patient horse when you have pup on lead. One that won't spook or kick easily. If you have other livestock pup is being trained on that are gentler, you may want to start by practicing on the smaller livestock before transitioning practice to the horses. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Jan. 20, 2022


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