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Border Collies have a natural herding instinct. This is why they are the most common dog of choice as modern sheepdogs and, to this day, the most popular method used by farmers to move their livestock. You may have a herd of horses that can sometimes be tricky to move from one field to the other and feel you could do with a little help. This is where your loyal and eager companion comes in to help you out.
Your Border Collie can learn to work as a team with you to herd your horses and will adore the chance to please you. You will be able to tell if your Border Collie has the instinct he needs to herd by his desire to play fetch. If this comes naturally to him, the next step is to teach him to obey your commands and focus on his work.
Although Border Collies are naturals when it comes to herding, it does not mean training will be easy. You may want to start training your Border Collie when he is around 10 – 12 months, as he needs to be mature enough to withstand the cognitive effort this training will take from him. You will need to have mastered some basic obedience commands with your dog before you start training such as 'lie down', 'sit' and 'stay'. It usually it takes around 4 to 6 months for your dog to get to grips with herding as it takes a lot of concentration and he will need regular breaks to relax and wind down.
Training him to herd will be fun and exciting and once you start seeing your Border Collie transform into an expert herder, you will be glad you put in the hard work.
Before you can begin training, you will need to source a few key things. You will need a leash, preferably, an extending one so that you can alter the length of it. You will also need a generous supply of tasty treats to reward your Border Collie when he has performed well.
For the herd of horses, preferably start with around 3 – 5 so that it’s not too challenging for your dog. A lead rope and halter will be required for the first method in order to tie the horse up.
The Introduce the Horses Method
It is important that you Border Collie does not harm one of your horses or get himself injured. You will need to introduce your dog to horses in a calm and nonthreatening situation. Try to use your calmest horse that won’t be frightened by your dog.
Tie up the horse
Take one of your horses out of the field and tie them up, preferably in a yard or somewhere you can have them stand calmly.
Introduce from the front
Have your Border Collie on a leash and walk calmly and slowly up to the front of the horse. You don’t want to approach the horse from behind or you will risk starting the horse and it may kick.
Stand a couple of feet away from the horse to begin and ask your dog to sit. Stay here for a couple of minutes to get the horse and dog comfortable with each other.
If you feel it is safe to do so, you can let the dog get closer to the horse. Be sure to give him a treat and reward him if you are happy with his behavior.
The Circling Left And Right Method
Find a small area
One of the most important things your Border Collie needs to grasp is which direction to chase the herd. You will need to use a small enclosed area at first, such as a round pen, so that it’s not too tricky for him.
Approach on leash
Have your dog on a short leash so that you can walk up to the herd under control and guide him around the horses. Border Collies will have a natural instinct to circle round livestock
You will need to teach him vocal commands for circling left and right. The command for sending the herd right and with your dog going clockwise around the herd is “come by”. The command to send the herd to the left with your dog circling anticlockwise is “away”.
Circling the herd
Once that you start to see your dog circling the herd naturally, you can let go of the leash a little more.
Keep practicing step 4, giving your Border Collie a little more leash each time. Don’t expect too much from your dog at the start and be patient with him, he will eventually pick it up.
The Herding Method
Put to the test
Now its time to put your dog's skills to the test off the leash. Again, you may want to start off in a smaller enclosed pen where you will have more control over him and the herd.
Take your dog into the field where the horses are and ask him to lie down.
You now need to decide on a direction that you want to push the horses in. You will need to use your commands “come by” and “away” for pushing them left and right.
Your dog may become really excited when he starts to work with livestock and may not listen. Make sure you are using a deep assertive tone of voice when calling to him and ask him to stop and lie down whenever you feel is needed.
Keep practicing pushing the herd in different directions. Once your Border Collie is an expert at herding horses in a small area, you can then move on to bigger areas or start to move horses from one field to the other.
By Lola Hobbs
Published: 02/16/2018, edited: 01/08/2021