How to Train Your Border Collie Dog to Herd Cattle

Hard
3-6 Months
Work

Introduction

Your Border Collie loves to work; this breed has been used as herding animals and working dogs since time immemorial. But, just because a certain breed has been bred to herd other animals, this doesn’t mean he is born automatically knowing the herding commands and how to obey them. He still must be properly trained before he truly knows what to do. It is up to you to train him properly.

In order to be a good herding dog, your pup must have the intelligence, agility, and drive to do so. Herding does take advantage of the Border Collie's natural instincts by enhancing them with the proper training. Just remember, especially with cattle, there is a very high potential for injury to your pup. Be sure to keep an eye on your dog until he is used to being around the cattle and has learned to master the herding commands. 

Defining Tasks

A good herding dog can be of incredible value to your farm. He can help move the entire herd as needed or go out and bring a straggler or wandering cow back to the herd. However, you do need to know up front that it takes a long time to train the perfect herding dog. One that is not properly trained can be more of a liability than a benefit so be sure your pup has mastered at least the four basic herding commands before you turn him loose on the herd.

Your pup's safety is in your hands as it is very easy for him to get stepped on or head-butted by one or more of your cattle. Pay close attention to your pup's every move during the early stages of training, at least until he has mastered the commands and learned how to stay away from the cattle. Bear in mind, he does not need to get underfoot (under hoof?) to move the herd, but he will soon learn where his working position is with the herd. 

Getting Started

The best age for your pup to be a master herder is between the ages of four and eight years. However, the younger he is when you start training him to herd your cattle, the better. The younger you start, the easier it will be for your pup to get used to being around the cattle. However, before you start the training, you should have your vet confirm your pup is physically capable of doing the job. Typically, you should be able to start training your pup around the age of 8 to 12 months. 

The Basics First Method

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Step
1
Practice the basics
In order for your pup to learn how to herd, he must first have mastered the basic commands of 'come', 'stay', 'sit', and 'down'. He should have also mastered the distance recall. You can be working on these commands while you wait for your pup to physically mature enough to learn to herd.
Step
2
Teach him the herding basics
The four basic herding commands are 'walk up' – approach the herd, 'to me' – push the herd to you from behind, 'away to me' – move the herd to the right, and 'come by' – move the herd to the left. The best way to do teach these is to put him on a leash and use them to have him move a big ball around the yard. Learning these is going to take a lot of practice and a fair amount of time, so be patient. Start with the left and right commands.
Step
3
Approach the ball
Place the ball on the ground and give your pup both the 'sit' and 'stay' commands. Go to the opposite side of the ball and back off a few steps. Now encourage your pup to use his nose to push the ball towards you using the 'to me' command. You can use treats at first to help him get the idea and lots of praise when he gets it right.
Step
4
Bring me the ball
Using the ball and the 'to me' command, work with your pup until he will push the ball to you. This one can be a bit harder to teach him so again be patient. Keep repeating this training until you can give your pup the 'to me' command and he pushes the ball to you every time.
Step
5
Move the ball
The only thing left is to use the same method to teach your pup to move the ball to the right or left using the appropriate commands. You can use treats to encourage your dog to make the right moves. Once he can move the ball all around the yard using your verbal commands, you can take the next step.
Step
6
Bring on the herd
Introduce your dog to a small herd of cattle at first and give him a little time to get used to them. Then use the commands your pup has just learned to move them around. Practice daily with a small herd until your dog will not only move them around but seems comfortable doing so. Then you can move him on to working with bigger herds.
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The Small Herd, Small Pen Method

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Step
1
Gather the herd
Start out by putting half a dozen cattle into a small training pen. You need one that has room for your pup to move the herd around in, but not so big that it makes it easy for your cattle to gather speed. If you have cattle that are used to being around dogs, use these.
Step
2
Add one dog
Time to add your pup to the mix. Bring your pup into the pen on his leash and bring him to within a couple feet of the cattle. Give him the 'sit' command and the give him plenty of time to get used the sight, sound, and smell of the cattle.
Step
3
Going in circles
With your pup on his leash, start walking him around the herd, about two feet from them. Each time you make a complete circle, stop, give the appropriate direction command and reverse directions. You may have to practice this for a few days before he gets the picture, but stick with it.
Step
4
No more leash
Time to let your pup off the leash and put him through his paces, working the small herd by moving them around the pen.
Step
5
The final test
The final test: take your pup out and start working him with larger herds until he can manage the herd by your command.
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The Scale Up Method

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Step
1
Start with the basic commands
Work with your pup, to ensure he has a strong mastery of the four basic commands, 'sit', 'stay', 'come', and 'down'. You should also teach your dog the recall from a distance and down from a distance commands.
Step
2
Teach the basic herding commands
Grab one of your pup's favorite toys and head out into the yard with him. Toss the toy directly out in front of you and, with your pup on his leash, give the 'walk up' command while walking him straight to the toy. Stop two feet away, give the 'sit' command and reward your pup with a treat and praise. When he masters this, try tossing the toy off to one side or the other and repeat the process above using the appropriate commands.
Step
3
Time to solidify the commands
Spend several weeks working with your pup until he automatically goes exactly where you tell him to, without hesitation. This is important as he who hesitates is lost or in this case, may be run over by one of your cattle.
Step
4
Bring in the cows
There has to be cows, but start out with a small herd at first to give your dog time to get used to moving live animals around. Give him plenty of time to get used to working with live cattle. Here again, you should work your pup with a small herd of cattle for several more weeks until he appears to be comfortable with his new job.
Step
5
On to the herd
Only after you are sure that your pup can manage the small herd safely and accurately, should you move on to a larger herd. The rest is all about taking the time to work with your pup until he joins the rest of your farm as a successful working dog.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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