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Ever heard the expression “stubborn old goat”! Well, that's the problem with herding goats--they are stubborn! Unlike sheep that tend to group together in a flock, making it easier to herd them all together, goats tend to go in every direction, independent of each other. They also fight back, are not easily intimidated, and can go straight up as well as side to side! This makes herding goats with a dog or any other method, extremely challenging. Although having a dog to gather and direct a herd of livestock, including goats, can be extremely useful for farmers who need to bring goats in to provide medical treatment or other handling, not just any dog will do. An experienced herding dog, that is not easily intimidated, will be required to have success herding goats. If you have a lot of goats in an area with difficult terrain, a dog may be required to bring them in, but only a very experienced dog will be up to accomplishing the task and not getting herded themselves by some wily goats!
Herding goats is a complex behavior that involves a dog listening to a handler's directions so that the dog understands what the farmer wants to accomplish and where the goats are needed, and requires the dog to interact with, direct, and anticipate the goats' movements. In addition to paying attention to the handler, the dog needs to pay attention to the goats, directing them, staying away from sharp horns and hoofs, and dealing with an animal that is extremely agile and not often cooperative in being gathered and herded.
Only dogs with very strong herding aptitude are able to herd goats, usually Australian Shepherds and Border Collies are used, although some other herding breeds may be successful if they have the right abilities. A mature and experienced herding dog is required to deal with goats; inexperienced, young dogs could easily be injured or overwhelmed with the task. An experienced goat herding dog will gather goats in a group when directed, and then go to the right or left of the group to herd and direct them towards the goal, usually an enclosure that the handler indicates. This work will save a goat farmer lots of time and allow the goats to get feed, medical treatment and care they require. ut, because goats can be difficult to handle, a lot of experience and training is required by the dog, and assistance in having an efficient handling system setup and additional help directing goats may be required.
Dogs that work with goats will need to be of a strong herding disposition and have no physical limitations. Goat herding dogs will need to be problem solvers, and not timid, as goats can be aggressive to work with. Prior to work with goats, herding dogs should have previous experience with sheep or cattle so they have a strong grasp of herding commands and how to work with livestock. Dogs should know basic obedience commands such as 'come', 'sit', and 'stay' prior to beginning herding work. Herding dogs are often initially taught control around livestock with the use of a long lead line. Having another experienced herding dog to assist with modeling behavior is an asset.
The Modeling Method
Teach herding commands
Teach your dog off-leash herding commands such as 'come by', 'away to me', and 'that’ll do', so your dog is familiar with these commands. Move your dog around you with a leash as he learns to associate these commands with certain directional movements.
Begin sheep work
Transfer these commands to working with sheep in an enclosed area.
Gain herding experience
Give your dog experience working with sheep in larger open areas until he becomes experienced and confident with the sheep work.
Introduce goat herding dog
Introduce an experienced goat herding dog that knows and responds well. Allow the sheep herding dog to observe the goat herding dog at work to get used to the sights and sounds of goat work.
Work with experienced dog
Allow the trainee to work loose in an enclosed area with the experienced dog. If the trainee dog follows the mature dog, praise him, say “good”. Keep sessions short and let your new dog end on a positive note.
Introduce solo work
Eventually, your new dog can start working independently, once he is responding well and understands what is required, how to stay safe, and not get kicked by the goats.
The Start Simpler Method
While your dog is on a leash, give the 'come bye' and 'away to me' commands, moving the dog around your body to the left and right as directed.
Practice 'come bye' and 'away to me' on and off leash.
Teach approach and stop
Throw a toy out and give the command to walk forward. When your dog moves forward to retrieve the toy, praise him. Teach your dog to 'leave' the toy or 'stop' and 'back away'. Practice.
Practice with ducks or fowl
Put ducks or geese in a pen and give your dog the 'walk up' command. When your dog gets within 10 feet of the ducks, say "come bye" or "away to me". If your dog circles the ducks in the correct direction, praise: say "yes" or "good". If the dog continues to approach the ducks directly, say "lie down", "stop", or "back", make him wait, and repeat again.
Practice with sheep
Once your dog is comfortable herding ducks, transfer commands to working with sheep, in an enclosed pen. Give lots of experience working with sheep in different situations.
Once a dog is experienced handling sheep, you can introduce the dog to working with goats.
The Capture Herding Method
Start with sheep
Introduce working with sheep. Use a round pen or corral that has had the corners blocked off with panels, so that the sheep cannot get stuck in the corners.
Introuce sheep work with leadline
Bring your dog into the corral with the sheep, keep your dog on a long lead. If your dog tries to go into the middle of the herd, recall him, guide him back with the lead if necessary.
Associate directional commands
Let your dog get used to going around the sheep. As your dog goes right or left around the herd, provide the correct command, 'come bye' or 'away to me'. Keep sessions short so the dog does not become overtired, or over excited, or nervous.
Associate control commands
Use the lead and direct your dog to 'back off', 'stop', 'bark', or 'hold' when the dog exhibits them, capture the behavior by coupling it with the command. Practice lots, say "good" and praise the dog when they associate commands with behaviors. As the dogs shows confidence and does not bolt into the middle of the herd, you can remove the lead. Continue working with the dog in a controlled environment.
Start directing with commands
Start providing the commands that your dog has associated with his natural herding behavior. Recall the dog if he is does not perform appropriately. Do not punish the dog but take him out of the situation. He will soon learn that he only gets to herd if he listens to and responds to your commands.
Introduce the dog to working with a few goats at a time in a controlled situation, like a corral or pen. Provide commands used for herding sheep.
Gradually introduce more goats and increase the size of the pen.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 10/26/2017, edited: 01/08/2021