If you’ve ever passed by a farm that kept sheep or cattle, it’s hard to imagine such a farm without a means to keep the sheep from wandering too far. While in some cases, it may be a farmhand’s job to maintain the sheep while they graze, more often than not, the job is given to the farmer’s ever mindful dog who accompanies the livestock on their journey to and from the pasture. The most common breed that is selected for this job is none other than the incredibly intelligent Border Collie, normally representing their breed in a blaze of black and white fur as they round the sheep up and drive them in the direction the farmer would like them to go.
Developed near the Anglo-Scottish border in the 19th century, the Border Collie has lived up to the role of loyal sheepdog and the ideal working companion. For modern-day farmers, the breed remains just as popular to drive sheep, though training such a behavior to be reliable takes an invested and committed owner.
While Border Collies may be born with the instinct to herd, it’s not always as easy as letting them loose and hoping they pick up on what you want them to do. There is much work to be done with a puppy who has had his job picked out for him since birth if he is to be an ideal working dog. Not only must he master basic obedience, but also the specific tasks that come with the handling and directing of livestock.
Training for a sheepdog must start early, normally within the range of puppyhood, and can take months before he is prepared to be let loose with your sheep. A dog with an inappropriate or aggressive temperament will almost always struggle, if not wash out entirely, and it’s important to determine what sort of temperament your dog has before asking this much of him. It’s also important to consider consulting an experienced herding trainer for assistance.
First, ensure that your dog has had a full checkup by a veterinarian to determine that he is ready to start training to herd. A dog that is sick, disabled, or injured may not be suitable for this work. If your vet gives him a clean bill of health, ensure that he has the appropriate temperament. An ideal herding Border Collie should be eager to please, excited to learn, and be motivated easily by rewards like treats or toys.
Make sure you have access to animals like ducks, sheep, or other types of livestock for your dog to adjust to their look and presence. Without access to these animals, this training may not be successful. A herding Border Collie should also have a good grasp of basic obedience skills like ‘come’, ‘down’, ‘sit’, and ‘stay’.
Lastly, get together a leash for handling control, and some treats or toys for rewards as your dog learns.