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

ribbon-method-1
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

ribbon-method-2
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

ribbon-method-3
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?
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Written by Amy Caldwell

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

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Shilo
Blue Heeler
6 Months
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Question
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Shilo
Blue Heeler
6 Months

We are wanting to train our baby for cattle herding. Not only for work, but to hopefully attend shows as well. What age range is best to start training? And is it best to try and do it myself, or having someone else who is more qualified to do it? Thank You !! Amy Boyte

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
961 Dog owners recommended

Hello Amy, Who trains pup depends a lot on personal preference, your skills as a handler and your desire to learn about training and working with your dog. Personally, since you are wanting to attend shows too, I would work with a trainer who will teach you how to work with pup (but not send pup away where you can't participate). With that route you are still putting in the work, learning how to train pup, and building that bond with pup for future shows and work together, but since it sounds like this is your first time doing this, a qualified trainer can teach you how to train without you having to sift through all the training information out there just to get started. That will give you a good foundation to later build upon if you want to do more of it on your own in the future. With shows there is a competitive element where you are working with pup to increase their skills, opposed to having just enough under your belt for pup to perform some basic herding functions at home with you, so there will be an amount of ongoing training happening if you want to compete. For that you will want to know how to work with pup yourself; whereas if you just wanted pup to know basics to help with work, you could send pup away for more of the training. I would start some less strenuous training now. I would go ahead and work on teaching pup many of the commands needed later for work without too many animals around, to lay the foundation of communication, working up to pup obeying them around day to day distractions on the farm. I would also at the same time work on getting pup socialized with the animals they will need to be around on a long training leash so that pup isn't fearful of those animals later. Once pup has some socialization and obedience in place, I would seek out a good trainer in your area and ask them what age they would ideally like to start a dog. Some will say six months, others closer to a year, depending on their training style. With a younger dog you will often find that the dog is less patient, pushes a lot of boundaries, more excitable and more fearful, which can be frustrating, but if you can train through those obstacles in the end you often get a dog who learned what to do from the start, instead of having a chance to develop bad habits that you needed to undo in your training efforts. Training a teenage dog can be frustrating but if you can stick with it when it doesn't seem productive, it will start paying off. For those with less patience, an older dog can be less trying of your patience, but you may have to deal with some unwanted behavior issues that need addressing too. I personally like starting younger, but I keep it more light-hearted before a year. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Misty
Australian Cattle Dog
1 Year
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Question
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Misty
Australian Cattle Dog
1 Year

How can I provide enough stimulation for her development?
She has taken to taking shoes & chews them up.
She tries to herd our horses. This resulted in her getting kicked.I think that we arearen't giving her things to do, so she makes thints herself.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
961 Dog owners recommended

Hello Ian, Feeding pup her meals in interactive toys can help - things like knog wobbles, classic kongs, puzzle toys, and other durable things that treats can be safely hidden in. Having 30-60 minutes of training throughout the day in the form of training sessions where pup is taught new things, works on slightly more challenging versions of things she already knows, and there is a bit of variety. Part of that time can also be incorporating training into pup's day, like Sit before you open a door to go outside, Wait before feeding, Down before tossing a toy, having pup practice obedience during walks - like a structured heel with turns and changes in pace, Sit-Stay at curbs, Down-Stay periodically, Watch Me, ect...obedience with fetch - Down, Wait, Fetch, Come, Drop It, Hold, ect... If pup is wanting more still, come up with jobs for pup to do and train those jobs. I taught my Border Collie to put his toys into a basket, close doors and drawers on command, bring me object I pointed to, turn the lights off, and bring tissues when I sneeze. Some people teach their dog how to fetch slippers, bring them a water bottle from an easy access location, carry things on walks, ect...Zak George on Youtube has a lot of great trick training videos. You may find there are commands you could teach that would let pup help, instead of getting in the way pestering other animals. Know that chewing shoes at this age probably isn't just boredom. Pup probably needs to work on a Leave It command, and to have more supervision or be confined when not supervised until they are past the chewing age - which is a combination of 12-18 years of age and proactively teaching things like Leave It while pup is supervised. Check out this chewing article for a few more tips also. Chewing: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-not-to-chew/ I would also work on some off leash obedience, like Come and Out and Leave It, using a long training leash to enforce until pup is reliable, for directing pup away from the horses outside. Reel In method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall Out: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Odin and Freya
Blue Heeler
8 Weeks
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Question
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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
961 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

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Question
Rooster
Australian Cattle Dog
3 Months
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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
244 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!

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Question
Bo
Australian Cattle Dog
3 Years
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Question
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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
961 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

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Sketch of smiling australian shepherd