How to Train Your Australian Shepherd Dog to Herd

Medium
3-6 Months
Work

Introduction

Despite the fact Australian Shepherd dogs have been bred as herding dogs, this doesn't automatically mean your pup knows what to do. What it does mean, is that most Aussies have a natural instinct to herd, but even then, your pup must still be trained to ensure he knows what is expected of him and how to follow your commands and cues.

Herding involves more than simply moving the herd around, it also involves allowing your pup to think on his own in certain circumstances such as when one animal wanders off. With Aussies, the training can be very easy, or it can be quite challenging. It just depends on your dog's personality. It also depends heavily on your training skills and the amount of time and effort you put into the training. 

Defining Tasks

Using dogs to herd every imaginable type of domesticated animal from chickens to ostriches has been going on farther back than records exist. A properly trained herd dog will know how to do his job and follow verbal, whistle, and hand-signal commands.  He should be able to move the herd from one place to another on your property or even in competition if you feel the two of you are up to it.

However, before you can start training your Aussie to herd, he must first know the basic commands. These are 'come', 'sit', 'stay', and 'down'. This is very important as not only will your pup be learning new commands to follow as part of his new skill, he will also be using several of the basics at the same time. Note, there is a significant risk of serious injury to your dog and livestock, your dog needs to be at least 1 year old before you start this training. 

Getting Started

Because herding is a high-energy activity, you should take your pup to see his vet to make sure he is ready to take on this challenge. You will also need to choose your new herding commands, including "walk up" for bringing the herd to you from behind them, "away" for being on the left side of the herd to drive them to the right, and "come bye" for going on the right side to drive the herd to the left.

You also need:

  • A herd: You need to have a small herd of animals to work with.
  • Treats: For rewards.
  • Leash: Both long line and short types.
  • A training enclosure: Some type of pen or corral where you can work with your pup and a small herd in a controlled environment.

The rest is all about time and patience on your part and cooperation on the part of your dog and the herd he is working with. 

The Smaller is Better Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Start out small
Even if you plan to use your Aussie to herd cattle, you are much better off starting his training using smaller animals such as a small flock of chickens. Chickens are generally very calm and will allow a dog to herd them without too much fuss. Using smaller animals is less likely to scare your dog than starting out with cattle might.
Step
2
In the pen
Bring a small flock of chickens into your training pen and put them in the middle with a nice big pile of feed. Then bring in your Aussie on his leash. Stop at the edge of the pen and have your pup sit.
Step
3
Time to calm down
Give your pup time to get used to the chickens and calm down. When he does, praise him and give him a treat.
Step
4
Meet and greet time
Slowly walk with your pup on his leash towards the chickens while giving him the "walk up" command. When you get to a point about 2 feet from the chickens, stop and if your pup stops with you without fussing, give him a treat.
Step
5
To the side
Walk your pup around the birds clockwise and give him the commands "away" and "come by" to help him associate them with which side he needs to be on. Repeat this two or three times a day for several days. When he gets it right, give him a treat when he doesn't, keep practicing until he does.
Step
6
Going off-leash
When you feel your pup understands the commands while he is on his leash, it's time to take him off-leash and see what he can do. Work him through all the commands by having him move the flock around the training pen.
Step
7
Going out in the world
Time to put all that training to work and take your dog out where he can work with a bigger flock of chickens before moving on to bigger animals. Just remember to be patient, consistent, and reward with both words and treats and your Aussie will master the art of herding.
Recommend training method?

The Long-Leash Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Start with the leash
Start out by clipping your dog on a long-leash, one that is between 20 and 30 feet long. Give him the walk-up command and let him walk towards your training flock or herd.
Step
2
Meet the herd
Come to a stop about 2 to 3 feet away from the flock, have your dog sit, and give him plenty of time to get used to the animals. At the same time, the flock or herd will have time to get used to him. Once he is calm and relaxed, be sure to praise him and give him a treat.
Step
3
Around the herd
Take your Aussie for a walk around the herd while he is still on a shortened leash. Give him time to get used to walking around them without trying to bother them. Give him a treat when he can walk around the herd without disturbing them.
Step
4
The switch
Keep changing directions using the "come bye" and "away" commands, each time you stop and change directions, be sure to give him plenty of praise and a treat.
Step
5
From the leash further on
When you feel comfortable with the way your dog is handling the commands on the leash, it's time to try it with a longer leash. Let the leash extend out to about 20 feet or so and keep working with him until you are confident he understands the commands and what is expected of him. The only thing left, is to try it out off-leash herding your animals around the farm.
Recommend training method?

The Whistle Command Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Know your commands
Since you are going to be training your dog to respond to whistle commands, you need to decide which commands you will use. Traditional commands are 2 short blasts for "away", 1 short blast for "come bye", and a short high-low blast for "to me". There are many others, but we are only working on the basic commands here.
Step
2
Introduce the whistle
Start getting your pup used to the sound of the whistle by blowing it around the house. This will help keep your pup from being startled by the noise until he will simply listen to it and expect it to mean a command.
Step
3
The basics
Working with a small flock or herd, introduce the whistle commands along with your verbal commands.
Step
4
The leash
Yes, at this point you should put your pup back on his leash during the early stages to reduce the risk of injury to your pup or your livestock. Only when he has demonstrated that he can follow both verbal and whistle commands and then whistle only commands should you try it him without being on a leash.
Step
5
Off the leash again
Unclip the leash and start your pup out working with a small herd or flock and then work with increasingly larger groups until you are using him to help move the entire herd around your farm. Just keep in mind, this will take time so be patient.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

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