How to Train Your Dog to Herd

Hard
3-8 Weeks
Work

Introduction

Looking for a hobby and always fancied yourself as a small-time farmer with some unusual backyard pets? Or perhaps you run a large, successful commercial farm? Either way, an invaluable addition to your full-time occupation or part-time hobby would be a clever dog that knows how to herd, whether on a small or large scale. Imagine the hours you would save yourself on a miserable wet day, running around a field after renegade sheep, cows, chickens or even alpacas, if your furry friend could do all this for you, while you comfortably put your feet up in your tractor and sip a cup of tea. Not only would this save you the stress of getting wet and soaked in mud while exhausting yourself, but it would free up time so you could get round to doing those jobs on the farm or around the house that you never get to do.

Defining Tasks

Herding is the act in which your pooch will be able to round up a group of livestock such as chickens, ducks, llamas, alpacas, sheep, cattle and goats in an organized manner. Or even a group of people if you would like to use it as a party trick! You will be amazed at the animals your dog is capable of herding. However this is a difficult command to learn, and as such your furry friend needs to be suited to it. He or she should already have basic training such as an ability to come back on command flawlessly, for example, to avoid injury, especially when working with larger animals. Certain breeds are more likely to have success with this command such as the sheepdog breeds, for example, any type of Collie and German shepherds, due to their natural herding instincts. As this command is quite high tech and there is risk of injury if not undertaken correctly, puppies are therefore unsuitable. However, a young adult dog would be the ideal, before any bad habits are picked up.

Getting Started

Your pooch needs to have the right genetics and will need to show instinctual herding behavior around farm animals, such as circling, if the herding command is to be successful. He will need to already know how to sit, fetch and understand directions such as right, known in herding terms as ‘come bye’ and left, which is known as ‘away’. It is important that he can also ‘lie down’, so have a peek at that training guide first if he does not already know that one; this is for when you want him to stop herding the animals. Importantly, you will need access to livestock, whether these are your own or that of an association that assists in dog training. And most importantly of all, you will need patience. This is a complicated command with many parts to it, which relies on previous basic training.

The Basic Herding Method

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Step
1
Approaching livestock
Before you think about getting your pooch to herd properly, you need to introduce him to livestock in a non-pressurized, controlled environment. Have your pooch on a lead and see how he responds to smaller livestock such as ducks and chickens belonging to yourself or that of a dog herding association.
Step
2
Small scale herding
To begin with, use just the one animal, with the small farm animal and your pooch in a confined area such as a large kennel. Try practicing the ‘away’ command for left and ‘come by’ for right, praising your pooch and giving lots of treats when he gets it right. ‘Lie down’ is also important to practice, especially when he gets a bit too close to the animal for comfort. This will be needed to discipline your pooch and stop him from going too far.
Step
3
Going further afield
Next try herding with your fluffy friend in a larger area, for example a small field or part of the field sectioned off. Also, use more animals, but still keep the herd small at this stage. Again, practice the previous commands and see if your dog is showing natural aptitude for herding such as circling the herd and keeping his tail down, meaning he is thinking.
Step
4
Herding behavior
If your pooch is not showing the behavior described in the previous step, then it is possible that he is not suited to herding. In this instance, it might be best to try another command as it would be unfair to continue the training if he still shows no natural interest in the livestock.
Step
5
Ask a professional
Although the previous steps should be sufficient to teach basic herding skills, it would be sensible at this point to enlist the help of a professional dog trainer. They will be able to fine tune your pooches ability to herd and teach more complicated herding approaches such as getting the flock under control, getting the flock to follow your dogs directions, and getting your furry friend to move the flock back towards you.
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The Whistling Method

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How the whistle works
As sheep dog training can be frustrating, purchasing and using a special dog whistle can take the emotion out of directing your dog back to you when he is playing up during herding.
Step
2
Make the whistle fun
If your dog associates the whistle with lovely experiences such as getting his dinner, tasty treats, or belly rubs he is much more likely to come back to you.
Step
3
Use the Whistle Around the House
To begin with, use the whistle in a familiar environment such as around the house where there are fewer distractions or in the backyard, praising your fluffy friend to the high heavens when he comes back to you.
Step
4
Whistle while on a walk
This will test your pooch's true commitment to coming back to you upon whistling. Make sure you take some tasty treats with you and give plenty of praise when he comes back.
Step
5
Save your voice, whistle while herding
When herding livestock your dog will likely cover some large distances. Although ‘come by’ and ‘away’ will still be necessary for directing the dog, and as a consequence the herd, left and right, making sure to point in the correct direction while doing so. Tip- a stick is useful for pointing. The whistle will now be an invaluable tool in herding for getting your pooch to come straight back to you, to either herd the flock in your direction or to stop him from being naughty.
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The Behavior Based Herding Method

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Start young
A 10-12 month old dog is the best place to start, although this can vary on an individual’s maturity. If the dog is struggling at 10 months, give him a few weeks and try again, he might just need to grow up a little more.
Step
2
Solid recall and lying down
Before getting your almost grown pup out to the field with the livestock, make sure he comes back to you in all situations and knows how to lie down in an instant. This will put him at an advantage with herding, as you can stop him misbehaving with these commands.
Step
3
Teach him to fetch
Although more basic, fetching incorporates a lot of the same disciplines that will be used in herding. It is good practice to have a dog that already knows how to bring objects back to you on command.
Step
4
Choose your livestock carefully
As mentioned before, smaller livestock are better. The last thing you want is to scare your dog off of herding. An alternative, however, is to use sheep, for example, that have already been worked for years by a previous sheep dog, as they are more likely to obey your pooch.
Step
5
Stress-free first lesson
The first time you get your pooch to interact with the stock, make it fun and games, so long as both stock and dog are safe. Make it a game for your pooch so that he enjoys it and wants to go again. Be sure to use encouraging commands, in a friendly tone.
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6
Pens and harnesses
You can tie a long thick string or rope to your dog’s collar to give yourself control at a greater distance and see how he reacts to being in a pen with the stock. Giving him a yank back if he tries to run straight in the middle and encouraging him if he naturally circles them.
Step
7
Assess behavior
Again, assess your pooch's behavior. If his tail is up he’s playing and not taking it seriously, but if it’s down he’s thinking and will be a better herder. Encourage your pooch when he naturally circles the livestock and try to introduce commands such as ‘come by’ to go right, pointing right and encouraging clockwise herding. Introduce ‘away’ for an anticlockwise movement of the herd, while pointing left.
Step
8
Short but sweet
At the beginning, be sure not to overload your pooch and keep the lessons short and as fun as possible. Work on one skill at a time, such as lying down when the herd has been moved far enough or learning ‘come by’ and ‘away’.
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9
More advanced training
Once these basics have been learned, more advanced training is recommended--taking the dog to appropriate local classes is often the best choice. However, if you’re determined to go it alone, make sure you enlist the help of appropriate books, guides and DVDs.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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