How to Train Your Dog to Herd

Medium
3-6 Weeks
Work

Introduction

Adding a new pup to your small hobby farm and want him to learn how to herd? Maybe this is the first time you have a large herd on your farm and you could use a little extra help?  No matter what the reason, teaching your dog to herd can be a great way to give yourself a little extra time, save you from running around the fields after a rogue critter, or to simply stay out of the rain, while he brings in the herd. These are all very good reasons to train your dog to herd.

Of course, there is the other side of the picture. Herding has become a national and international competitive sport. One that can be just as much fun for you as it is for your dog. While some breeds such as Border Collies are more naturally inclined to herd, you can train most breeds to do so. It may take a little longer but is well worth the effort. 

Defining Tasks

The act of herding is when a well-trained dog can be commanded using either hand or whistle signals to move a herd or flock of animals from one place to another on your farm or in competition. No matter whether it is a group of animals, or even people, your dog is quite capable of being trained to herd them around. Bear in mind, that this is a difficult series of commands for your pup to master and that some dogs are better suited to this than others.

Your dog will need to have mastered basic commands before he is ready to move on to complex training such as this. You should also be aware that there is a significant risk of injury in this activity, your dog needs to be a young adult, puppies are not suited to this activity. Also, be sure to have your vet give your pup a complete exam to make sure he is healthy enough for this activity. 

Getting Started

In order to get started training your dog to herd, he must first readily respond to the most basic commands, including 'come', 'sit', 'stay', and 'lie down'. You will also need to teach him the basic herding commands including 'come bye', which means turn the herd to the right and 'away', which means he should turn the herd to the left. The other command he needs to learn is 'walk up' which indicates he should be behind the herd driving the herd towards you. You are also going to need access to a herd or flock you can practice with, plenty of time, and patience. 

The Long Leash Method

Most Recommended
5 Votes
Step
1
Use a long leash
Attach your dog to a long-leash (one that is 20 to 30 feet long) and walk him up towards a small herd of animals or flock of birds while giving him the 'walk-up' command.
Step
2
Be patient
Give your pup plenty of time to get used to being around the herd and reward him with a treat when he calms down.
Step
3
Walk around
Take him for a walk around the herd on a shorter leash. He should walk around them instinctively without trying to bother them. If he does, give him a treat.
Step
4
Reverse directions
Keep using your 'away' and 'come bye' commands as you reverse directions while he is on the leash. Once he has mastered behaving like this on the leash, it's time to let him try his skills.
Step
5
Practice makes perfect
Keep repeating the above until he has mastered the commands and then let the leash pay out as you back off 20 feet or so. Keep practicing the commands with him until you are fully satisfied that he can do as instructed. Keep working until you are all the way at the end of the leash. Once he can herd the animals on the leash, you can take him off the leash and keep practicing.
Recommend training method?

The Keeping It Small Method

Effective
1 Vote
Step
1
Select a herd
The last thing you want is for your herding dog to be scared of your herd, so start out small. Consider using chickens and a small training pen.
Step
2
Add chickens
In a small training pen, place a few of your calmest chickens in the center and bring your pup in on a leash. Have him sit at one edge of the pen.
Step
3
Time to Relax
Give your pup plenty of time to get used to the chickens and once he settles down, give him a treat.
Step
4
Let him meet the chickens
With him still on his leash, walk your dog towards the birds, giving him the 'walk-up' command and stop when you are two feet away. If he stops and doesn't fuss, give him a treat.
Step
5
Around and back
Walk around the flock in circles using the commands 'away' and "'come bye' to get him used to associating them with directions going around the birds. Each time he gets it right, be sure to give him a treat.
Step
6
No more leash
Once he is calm and behaves around the birds, you can take him off the leash. Continue using your commands to have your dog move the flock in the training pen. Keep repeating this training until your dog masters it.
Step
7
Moving out
Now you can move the training outside to work with a bigger flock and bigger animals. Be patient and work with your pup. In time, he will become an excellent herding dog and keep your herds under control for you.
Recommend training method?

The Whistle Method

Least Recommended
1 Vote
Step
1
Sounds and signals
Using a loud whistle, introduce your pup to the sound and treat him when he stops being startled by the sound. The traditional whistle commands are two short blasts for the 'away' command, one short-one long for 'come bye', and a short high/low pair of blasts for 'to me'.
Step
2
Train your dog
Now take these whistle commands and introduce them to your pup as part of several training sessions. Match the command to the whistle and work with your dog until he has mastered them.
Step
3
Back to basics
Start working with these commands with small flock or herd to help reduce any excessive distraction.
Step
4
Practice on-leash
Since you are essentially introducing a new type of behavior to your dog, you need to start this process with your dog back on his leash to protect the flock or herd. Once he has shown you he can follow commands on the leash, it's time to move on to the next level.
Step
5
Back off his leash
Unhook your pup from the leash and keep him close for the first few trials. Have him work with a small flock or herd at first and work his way up to working your entire herd over time. Remember, this is going to take a little time, but be patient and your pup will master the skill.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Hoss
Australian Shepard
1 Year
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Hoss
Australian Shepard
1 Year

Sometimes when on a leash my dog has been barking at other dogs, how do I stop this?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
778 Dog owners recommended

Hello Shyann, How to stop her from barking partially depends on why she is barking. Is she aggressive toward other dogs, fearful of them, or simply excited? If simply excited or even fearful, first, work on teaching the Quiet command. Check out the Quiet method from the article linked below: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Next, work on desensitizing her to other dogs to teach her to be calm around them. Do this by correcting her when she gets worked up to interrupt her, but focus the most on rewarding her when she is calm and quiet or obeys your Quiet command. If she sees another dog and does not bark, calmly praise her and reward her before she has the chance to bark. If she barks before you can reward her quietness, then tell her Quiet. If she does not get quiet, correct to interrupt her barking, then praise and reward when she focuses back on you and is quiet. Pay attention to when she is calm and focused on you - remember to reward that behavior since ultimately that is your goal all the time. When you praise her, keep your tone happy and calm - soft, calm praise tends to be good. It's also important to act calm and confident during walks in general. Practicing heeling in general can help with your own attitude before you run into another dog. Work on her heel, so that she is focused on you and following beside or behind you, with her head no further than your leg. When she walks behind you she is in a following mode and less likely to react to begin with - this can make other training easier to accomplish and help her listen better when you do give her commands or interruptions. Check out the Turns method and the video linked below for Heel; Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Additional Heel video with a more intense dog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

My dog did that one time, and I trained her to heel, maybe you can train him/her, I also got a shorter leash or him/her might just want to protect you. Maybe that will help.

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Question
Luna
Red Queensland heeler border collie mix
3 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Luna
Red Queensland heeler border collie mix
3 Months

I don’t really know how to train my puppy to herd sheep, we are getting sheep soon and I don’t really understand it, please help me train my puppy to herd.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
778 Dog owners recommended

Hello Nicole, Since herding is so hands on, I suggest googling "herding workshop (your city)", "herding test (your state)", herding evaluation (your state)", "herding event (your state)", and variations of those things to either find a trainer who can give you a couple of lessons to help you understand the concepts, or find a workshop (which is like an all day weekend class) on herding. YouTube is also generally a better resource for learning than articles because the herding is a lot of directional commands, body language, and responding in your time, so it is easier to learn by simply doing and by watching others do it. How to herding series: Part 1: https://youtu.be/0oTBfqmIGLA Part 2 https://youtu.be/gLeP_cScV2w Part 3: https://youtu.be/EwWf-Ej5zgE Part 4: https://youtu.be/Wb4cPRXOpiI Review of video series to purchase: https://youtu.be/ZYODEanyncY Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Well I called places near me and they said they can’t do it because they don’t do herding, can you give me some people to call and there numbers and website, that will be great.

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Question
Luna
Red Queensland heeler border collie mix
3 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Luna
Red Queensland heeler border collie mix
3 Months

I go on safari and chrome and I ask everybody but they say that they don’t do herding so if you have any people let me know, and I don’t know how to herd help please

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
778 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sally, What city are you located in? Check out the following websites to find herding events within driving distance of you. These events can be good ways to connect with others who train and own herding dogs, as well as learn more about herding by watching. http://www.ahba-herding.org/MainPage.php?AreaName=EventsCalendar https://m.facebook.com/groups/125705387027/?ref=group_header&view=group https://webapps.akc.org/event-search/#/search If you cannot find a trainer or group to help you, then I suggest puchasing a good herding video series, then joining a Facebook type group or herding forum with others who herd, where you can ask questions if you feel stuck while learning to train using a video series. you can purchase a herding how to video series at the link below. That website also contains blog articles. I suggest starting with the "first steps in border collie sheepdog training". https://www.sheepdog-training.com/product-pcategory/all-shop-items/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Peggy
Collie
12 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Peggy
Collie
12 Months

I have read that there are many techniques to teach a dog to herd a flock. I want to know if you have ever seen/heard a technique known as 'learning from experts', where an 'expert' dog performs herding and the newbie dog will learn by observing these demonstrations.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
778 Dog owners recommended

Hello Clark, Since herding is an instinctual behavior for most dogs, one dog learning from another can be really helpful in helping a puppy grasp the basics of moving a flock effectively, but generally there will still be further training and involvement from the handler needed to teach the dog responsiveness to the handler's commands and directions (so you can tell pup how to move the animals - left, right, to you, away from you, slowly, stop, ect...) and stop unwanted behavior like biting and grabbing and chasing, that can happen during too much excitement and inexperience. Most collies will naturally attempt to gather a flock and fetch them to the person, other breeds will naturally drive livestock away from the person. What's probably being taught by an older dog is how to effectively move and gather the animals so that they do not get away from the dog. What's not often being taught is not to bite or chase, and to listen to the owner's directions to do something different than what the dog naturally what's to do. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Are the definitive guides, manuals, scientific research which explore these herding techniques? I am interested in the different styles and forms of herding.

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Question
Clover
Border Collie
3 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Clover
Border Collie
3 Months

Hello!
i am trying to train my 3 month old puppy to heard sheep, but whenever she gets close to them, she lies down, and stops what she is doing. I can only get her going by either, getting the sheep running (which sets her off as well.) She also just chases them round, and once she gets them trapped in some corner, that's when she lies down. What can i do about this?
This is my first time training a puppy, and she isn't quite fast enough to over take the sheep to get to the front of them yet, so i haven't started properly training her the "come bye" and "away" commands yet. It almost looks like she feels like she has accomplished something when she gets them trapped in a corner, or she is scared to move them out. An answer, and some advice would be amazing! I know she has great potential to be a sheep dog, as she is always eager to do it. (sometimes even forcing her self through the fence!)

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
778 Dog owners recommended

Hello Capri, Pup is actually holding the sheep for you, which is a herding skill. Typically there is driving livestock away from the handler, fetching them to the handler, and holding the herd so that the handler can pick one animal at a time out of the flock - such as during shearing time. By lying down and staring the flock down she is intimidating them to keep them in place. I suggest investing in some herding videos so that you can see different types of training demonstrated and watch a step by step process for teaching things like fetching. https://youtu.be/ZYODEanyncY https://theworkingsheepdog.com/ https://youtu.be/0oTBfqmIGLA I also suggest joining some livestock and dog training forums so that you can read other's experience, how they problem solved random issues that could come up, and can ask questions from other shepherds as well. https://www.workingdogforum.com/vBulletin/f33/#/forums/33?page=1 Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

awesome advice! Thanks so much . i have just invested in some videos from the "working sheepdog" and they are already helping! thanks again.

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Question
Otis and Gizzy
Red Heeler and Blue Heeler
8 Weeks
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Otis and Gizzy
Red Heeler and Blue Heeler
8 Weeks

I was wondering if it is best to start them individually or together on learning commands. And also if individually, should the other look on?

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

Hello! When I am working with multiple dogs in the same household, I typically start them off individually (privately) for a few weeks, so each dog can learn the commands without distractions. Once you feel each dog has the commands down pretty well, you can essentially "start over" with them together. Have them sit in eachothers presence, etc. While there is no "right" way to go with training, as I feel everyone's dynamics are so different from eachothers, this is usually the easiest route to go.

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Question
Floyd
German Shepherd / husky
6 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Floyd
German Shepherd / husky
6 Months

Floyd is Shepherd / husky with some border collie in him. He shows herding behavior when off leash by circling around trying to lead me to a set place. He has stopped this with people but I'm wondering if it would be worth it to teach him herding on some of our livestock? He's very smart and loves learning, his mother ( husky Shepherd) use to herd buffalo up on the farm where I got him.. I know shepherds are good herders and apparently huksys have been great herding dogs for reindeer for centuries.
Thanks!

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

Hello! That is a wonderful idea. My suggestion to any customer regarding a dog displaying herding is to try to put them in a scenario where they can get that outlet. Working breeds often need a release more than just a walk. I haven't seen any negative impacts of people allowing their dogs to herd. And by that I mean, they usually never revert to herding in inappropriate settings.

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Question
Kisch
Border Collie
12 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Kisch
Border Collie
12 Weeks

I want him to reach his full potential as he is pure bred , do you know who or where can I train him at ?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
778 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I do not know where you are located and may not be familiar with your area, depending on where you are, so cannot make specific recommendations for you, but I do suggest checking out the two websites below for information on events, groups, and even possible members or trainers in your area you could look into. http://www.ahba-herding.org/ https://www.ngabhda.org/ Going to some herding trialing events may be a good way to connect with other herders in person in your area, and get some recommendations as well. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Faith
Border Collie
5 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Faith
Border Collie
5 Years

Hello! I have a 5 year old bc and I was wondering how to train her to herd? She doesn’t like other dogs so I don’t want to bring her to a class. I have about 22 sheep and I have taken her to see them and she loved it. She isn’t scared of big herds of sheep and I’m just wondering how to teach her stay, come by, away to me, and that will do.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
778 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sarah, I recommend finding a good step by step video training series, so that you can actually visualize how the herding is done. I would also find a good online herding group, like working or sheepdog forums, or facebook groups with other shepherds, who you can ask questions and talk with as you train pup and things come up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYODEanyncY Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Blue
Collie
2 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Blue
Collie
2 Years

He will come and sit down when there is no live stock about but when I bring him to the sheep he dies his own thing and wont listen. He has a few bad habits which include running around and around the heard, sitting in the way of gates, and not listening. I am in my last straw and Am thinking if getting a new dog, however he seems very intreated so I am willing to give him another go. Any help will be appreciated

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
778 Dog owners recommended

Hello Michael, I recommend working pup on a long line for a while, so that you can enforce commands around the distractions of the sheep, and ease him off of the line as he obeys consistently. If this is your first dog training to herd, I would also either connect with a herding group, either private training or club, purchase some good DVD's showing herding basics (for visual reference), and check out some herding forums online where you can chat with other shepherds about the issues you are having and get some feedback from them along the way too. Look for events or resources near you on sites like this: http://www.ahba-herding.org/ Google your state's stockdog or herding association..."(your state) stockdog association"..."(your state) herding association (or club)". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYODEanyncY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oTBfqmIGLA&t=136s https://boards.bordercollie.org/forum/7-training-discussion/ https://www.homesteadingtoday.com/threads/herding-dogs.461500/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Zeezee
Border Collie
18 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Zeezee
Border Collie
18 Months

Today was the first time she has seen sheep and she loved it. How can I train her when I have no sheep please?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
778 Dog owners recommended

Hello Natasha, Many local clubs or groups like your local herding association will have workshops or classes where you can practice with pup there. Another option is to practice with smaller livestock like flightless ducks. http://www.ahba-herding.org/ At some point you will need access to livestock or ducks for training, even if they are not your animals, but herding is also a lot of off-leash obedience. I would begin working on the commands that will be needed using a long leash. You can even set up large objects like barrels, and teach pup to go toward those objects, go left, go right, get behind them, lie down, come, ect...as if herding to teach certain commands. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Pailette
Pyrenean Shepherd
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Pailette
Pyrenean Shepherd
3 Years

Pyrenean Shepherd what are the difference in training a Aussie and Pyr Shepherd?

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

Hello! From my understanding the Pyrenean Shepherd is more of a guard dog while the Australian Shepherd is more of a herding dog. Both breeds herd, but the instinct is more advanced with the Australian Shepherd. Other than that, they are nearly identical with their temperaments and behaviors.

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Question
Pax
Border Collie
4 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Pax
Border Collie
4 Months

I’m trying to teach my new pup to herd my chickens. However every time I get him close he try’s to nip at them and I’m worried he is going to hurt them. I know nipping is part of herding and it might be fine for larger animals but my chickens could get hurt. How do I teach him to herd my chickens without my chickens getting hurt?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
778 Dog owners recommended

Hello Hazel, The instinct to herd mammals doesn't always transfer well to birds, so I would definitely discourage the nipping - it could be more predatory than herding with birds. I recommend socializing pup to the birds on a long training leash, to that you can gently correct pup for any nipping and chasing for fun. Allow pup to herd when you see it with the long leash as an aid. The herding should look more coordinated and controlled - more staring, moving deliberately around the birds to gather them up, and usually doing it from further away - not getting as close to the birds to attempt a grab or nip - especially for a border collie. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd