How to Train Your Herding Dog to Not Herd

Hard
2-4 Months
Behavior

Introduction

So you have a herding dog, like a Collie or Blue Heeler,  and your neighbor down the road has a herd of prize-winning Angus cattle. It's spring, the field is icy, the cows are very pregnant with expected calves, and your herding dog thinks it would be good entertainment to go for a visit and chase the herd of cows around. Big problem! Frightened cows trying to get away from an aggressive herding dog could slip on the ice, and a pregnant cow could lose her calf from a fall. 

Most farmers will not tolerate this with their valuable livestock at risk, nor should they. Dogs must learn not to herd livestock when they are not supposed to, or they are at risk of being destroyed by producers protecting their livestock!  So if you have a herding dog, you will need to make sure he does not try to herd other people's livestock, or your own, when he is not required or directed to do so.

Defining Tasks

While herding dogs have been bred for generations to want to herd livestock naturally, and this is a great talent that can be harnessed and very useful to farmers, a dog that herds when it is not supposed to is a danger to livestock and himself. Not only can frightened livestock be injured if they fall or are chased through an obstacle or across rough terrain, but the dog is in danger of being destroyed as a nuisance animal or injured by large livestock trying to protect themselves. Herding dogs that are not exposed to livestock may try to herd small animals or children or even adults!  Ironically, teaching your dog to herd on command and giving them an outlet for such behavior may be a good way of controlling it, by teaching the dog that they only herd when directed. Other methods of controlling instinctive herding involve teaching your dog a different association and behavior with livestock, such as the 'leave it' command or an alternative behavior so that a dog exposed to livestock, small animals, or children ignores them, backs away, or performs other behavior to receive reinforcement.

Getting Started

You will need lots of treats to teach 'leave it', and alternative behaviors to dogs that are motivated to herd. You will need to contain your dog during training to ensure they do not inadvertently try to run livestock. which is a self-rewarding behavior and will make the habit harder to break. Training to put herding on command is another alternative strategy that will require exposure to livestock, such as sheep that can be herded. Both will take a significant time investment and involve controlling your dog to prevent unsupervised herding, which could result in injury to your dog or to livestock.

The Leave It Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Present treat
Hold a treat in your hand and present it to your dog. When he reaches for the treat, close your hand and say "leave it."
Step
2
Reinforce 'leave it'
Your dog will continue to investigate your hand. When he stops, provide him with an alternate treat of higher value or play time. Repeat.
Step
3
Increase temptation
Start leaving treats around the house and yard. Command your dog to 'leave it'. If he leaves treats, reward with higher value treat.
Step
4
Expose to targets
Introduce your dog to livestock or small animals that he wants to herd, like other pets or chickens. When your dog approaches them to herd, command him to 'leave it'.
Step
5
Establish 'leave it'
If your dog leaves off herding, reward, if your dog proceeds to herd, recall, reprimand, and repeat the 'leave it' command. Reinforce 'leave it' until your dog responds appropriately.
Recommend training method?

The Train to Herd Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Teach herding commands
Teach your dog herding commands like 'come bye', 'away to me', 'stop', 'back', etc. using a ball or toy.
Step
2
Introduce livestock
Introduce your dog to small livestock such as sheep or chickens.
Step
3
Apply commands
Use commands to direct your dog to gather livestock and direct them. Work on teaching 'back' and 'stop' commands.
Step
4
Restrict herding
Practice often. Exercise your dog daily when not herding so that excess energy is burned off. Keep your dog contained when not herding on command.
Step
5
Associate herding with direction only
Dogs that are trained to herd on command will learn not to herd when not being directed, as they come to associate herding with directed work and handlers being present and establish leaving off of livestock when not being directed.
Recommend training method?

The Alternate Behavior Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Watch
Observe your dog around the object of his herding behavior, children, pets, livestock, etc.
Step
2
Get attention
When you see your dog make eye contact and lower his stance into a herding posture, call or distract him with a noise.
Step
3
Direct alternate behavior
Provide the command for an alternate behavior such as 'sit-stay', 'look at me', or even a trick, like 'roll over' or 'beg'.
Step
4
Reward
When your dog performs the behavior, give him a high value reward such as meat, or play time with favorite toy.
Step
5
Establish association
Repeat until the alternative behavior is established when your dog is exposed to the object of his herding focus.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Whiskey
Australian Shepherd
11 Months
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Question
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Whiskey
Australian Shepherd
11 Months

Whiskey lunges at cars. She is very strong and fixated on the car. I am a woman 70 yrs old and have had her since she was 8 wks. I do not have the strength to hold her back. I’m working with a pinch collar and short leash now. Recently a trainer told me that this is something that the dog can not be trained to stop, it’s herding instinct fixation. We live in town, no fencing allowed and she is on a leash every time outside. Any suggestions. She is not dog aggressive, lovable and can be trained except this.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
706 Dog owners recommended

Hello MP, Car chasing often can be helped but it typically requires e-collar training, the type of training you would use to stop livestock chasing and killing. I highly suggest finding a trainer who is very experienced with remote collar training and does 'working level" e-collar training. A good e-collar trainer will know what a dog's working level is - if they don't, don't hire them. They might also use something called an 'act of god" training - which is when an e-collar is paired with a certain thing when the person is not around - at a higher level than their working level, so that the dog learns to leave that thing alone even without the person around. I would never trust your dog completely off-leash around cars, but good e-collar training will often make the issue very manageable. Check out the video linked below for examples of how this is done - in the examples the issue is livestock chasing. In your case you would substitute the livestock for cars and do very similar training. Day 1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgNbWCK9lFc Day 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kpf5Bn-MNko&t=14s Day 3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xj3nMvvHhwQ Day 4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxrGQ-AZylY Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

I believe this is good advice, havin had a number of very high drive dogs. (Jack Russels, Malinois and now a super high drive Border Collie. I was trained how to use e collars while assisting in rattlesnake aversion trainings where we trained hundreds of dogs over the course of a weekend. And in your case, a dog that chases cars can cause serious or fatal injury to you, itself and possibly the driver of a car. It literally is life and death and that, IMHO justifies use of an ecollar if all else fails. Find an expert. Sadly most people and even many trainers do not understand how to properly employ and ecollar and expect to get a ton of criticism good luck.

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Question
Kobe
Border Collie/ Mini Australian Sheppard
9 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Kobe
Border Collie/ Mini Australian Sheppard
9 Months

He tries to heard anything that moves, I know that naturally, he doesn't know otherwise, but he bites dogs ankles anytime they move, he bites their faces when they're just standing still, and its rusticating because the dogs we are around don't mind, they just keep playing. But it's not pleasant to watch, he looks mean when he does it even though I know that he's not intentionally being mean, at least i dont think so. When I tell no he doesn't even listen. He'll stop and then the moment he sees i'm no longer looking at him, he charges at the dog again and literally bites their face. i dont think this is just a coincidence, but anything i tell him no to, he seems to do it again, like he's intentionally doing it because i said no to it. Do you think i've taught him no and he misunderstands the no, or?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
706 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brittany, What may have happened is you told him no and stopped him but then got distracted or didn't back up your no any further (backing it up by: giving him something else to do and rewarding that instead, making him leave the area, restricting his access to other dogs, or another consequence directly related to the behavior). This may have happened every time you said no so he learned that no means leave the dogs alone for a minute, then go back to herding in a minute. During that minute leaving them alone, all he is probably thinking about is that he'll be able to go back to herding, so he is fixated on it the entire time he is not doing it...instead of actually leaving it alone physically AND mentally. Following through more consistently should help. Instead of simply telling him no, teach him an "Out" command, then reward him when he obeys it (Out also means you can't return to the area you get out of until told okay), and have a consequence for him if he disobeys it that you enforce. Practicing Out on a long leash is one way to enforce it because you can reel him in if he ignores you, which is enforcing your command. Once he gets to you, he needs something else to do though. The instinct won't go away. Instead he needs something else to focus on, and to get good at "Out" so that he stops when you tell him to. To teach him an 'Out' command, 1. First call him over to you, then toss a treat several feet away from yourself while pointing to the area where you are tossing the treat to with the finger of your treat tossing hand and saying 'Out' at the same time. 2. Repeat this until he will go over to the area where you point when you say 'Out' before you have tossed a treat. 3. When he will do that, then whenever you tell him "Out" and he does not go to where you are pointing, walk toward him and herd him out of the area with your body. Your attitude should be calm and patient but very firm and business-like when you do this. 4. When you get to where you were pointing to, then stop and wait until he either goes away or stops trying to go back to the area where you made him leave before. 5. When he is no longer trying to get past you, then slowly walk backwards to where you were before. If he follows you, then tell him "Out" again and quickly walk toward him until he is back to where he was a moment ago - out of the area. 6. Repeat this until he will stay several feet away from where you were when you told him 'Out' originally. 7. When you are ready for him to come back, then tell him 'OK' in an up beat tone of voice. 8. Practice this training until he will consistently leave the area when you tell him 'Out'. 9. When he will consistently leave, then practice the training with other areas that you would like for him to leave, such as the kitchen when you are preparing food, a person's space when he is being pushy, an area with a plant that he is trying to dig up, or somewhere with something in your home that he should not be bothering. 10. Work on all of this without other dogs around first. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Rosie
Border Collie Black Lab
5 Years
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Question
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Rosie
Border Collie Black Lab
5 Years

We have a 5 year old border collie-black lab mix which we adopted from a shelter about 3 years ago. She is an extremely smart, obedient and loving dog. About a year after we got her we discovered that she tries to herd small children by nipping them in the butt or ankles, which we later found out is instinctual of border collies. This past week she nipped our 7 year old nephew in the leg and he required a stitch. The 'herd on command' way of resolving this issue seems like the best option, however we do not own any livestock to train her with. Any suggestions on what to do?

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
92 Dog owners recommended

Thank you for the cute picture of Rosie. You are right, this behavior cannot continue. Perhaps go on a Border Collie forum online and ask for recommendations first-hand. As well, training her not to nip at all is an option. The Obedience Refresher Method and the Channel Aggression Method are two excellent options. Ideally, you will give the command to stop before she has the chance to injure anyone and that is where reinforcing her knowledge comes in. As well, distracting her to an activity that is more fun (and more rewarding) should prove to be an attractive option for Rosie. Kids move fast, make quick movements and can be noisy. Rosie wants to join in on the fun but you will have to keep a strict eye on her until she stops the behavior. Good luck!

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Question
Boone
Australian Shepherd
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Boone
Australian Shepherd
3 Years

Our male Australian Sheppard used to go to the dog park/bar and run around with other dogs and play just fine. About a month ago we took him to the dog bar near us and he would get snappy with a couple of the other dogs there when they wouldn’t leave him alone. Today, we went back and noticed that he chases, barks at, and nips at other dogs when they’re playing. Is there a way to fix this behavior? It’s like he changed all of a sudden and doesn’t behave the way he used to. Please let me know if I need to clarify anything.

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Question
Louie
Border Springer
9 Weeks
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Question
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Louie
Border Springer
9 Weeks

Hi there,

We have welcomed our beautiful pup into our home, and he is great. Very intelligent, friendly and sociable. He has already grasped sit, lie down and stay, all in his first week with us.
He is obviously in the very nippy puppy stage, which we understand is normal puppy behaviour, and will go on for some time.
The main issue is that he constantly runs at our heels and tries to nip them whenever we walk a few steps. We use toys to divert his attention, which usually works, and we stop walking in our tracks if he starts nipping, this sometimes works. If he continues to nip we try the yelping method to let him know that he has hurt us in the process of nipping, this worked in the beginning but now he is not responding to the yelping at all. If all of that fails and he is overexcited and continuing to nip, we put him in his pen to calm down.
In the last 2 days, as he has become more confident in the household, I have noticed that he is constantly trying to herd me every time we are in the garden. He is already doing the stare down and crouch, and then he runs at me, going for my legs or feet - again I don't move from my spot, although sometimes I turn my back on him and ignore him - sometimes I slowly lift my foot away as the nipping is quite sore - he drew blood this morning when he got my leg!
I think some of his behaviour is general puppy behaviour, but I am already seeing a very strong desire to herd.
Although he is a mixed breed, and his father is a Springer Spaniel, I am seeing more Border Collie traits in him - his mother is a Border Collie working dog on a farm.
I should mention also that he is with us all day, engaging in play, naps, training. We can't take him out for walks yet, as his second vaccine is in 3 weeks time, and he is not allowed out apart from the garden until then - which is a real shame, because he has lots of energy to burn!!

Does his behaviour indicate that he has a particularly strong instinct to herd as he is starting so early? Also, as much as possible we want to nip this in the bud early on. Please advise on effective training strategies we could try to direct our pup onto activities other than herding.

Thank you very much for your help!

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
131 Dog owners recommended

Hi there! It sounds like you are off to a great start. Continue doing what you are doing already. I am going to provide some more tips. And hopefully with everything together, you can slowly wean him off of this behavior. Because this behavior is instinctual, it will take some time. So be prepared to work on this until about 4-5 months of age. The first two parts of what I am sending you is probably a little remedial, so just read past it. I like to send all of the info though because maybe it contains something you haven't addressed yet. Until your dog learns not to herd in inappropriate situations, don’t encourage the behavior by placing your dog in the very situation that draws out the herding instinct (unless you are actively working with your dog). If it is a person that is being herded by your dog, that person should not react to the dog by yelling and running away as this will only encourage the dog to partake in this very fun event. Work on your dog’s attention skills. This ultimately means your dog will be responsive to you, regardless of what may appear to be more exciting. An attentive dog will understand that he needs to look at you, listen to what you say, and follow your direction in a timely manner – YOU become his main focus. You can’t teach a dog anything if he will not look at you! Get your dog started by dropping a treat on the floor and letting him eat it. He will probably look up at you because he wants more (if he doesn’t right away, that’s fine, just wait until he does). When he does, praise him and drop another treat. Continue doing this each time he looks at you. Gradually increase the required amount of time your dog must look at you before he will be rewarded with a treat. Be sure to only reward when he is calm, and looking at you (not at the treat). You will want to move the treat away from your face to ensure your dog learns that it is YOU that he needs to focus on, not the treat. You can also add a command, such as your dog’s name and “look”, so that your dog understands that this command means to look at you. Work on this for a few minutes daily (not longer than 3-4 minutes or your dog will get bored and lose interest). You will eventually want to expose your dog to situations where there are distractions. For example, you can let you dog see you toss an object far away, and then use the command of your dog’s name and “look”. Praise and treat your dog when he looks at you. You may need to start this activity out using a leash. ALWAYS praise your dog when he naturally looks at you (without any type of command) as this shows he is mastering his attentiveness skill! Teach your dog self-control. This means practicing patience, working on impulse control, and staying focused instead of frenzied, or hyper. Herding dogs love to chase things that move, so a great example of a self-control game would be throwing a ball or Frisbee, but prior to throwing it have your dog be calm, and then wait for a cue from you before being allowed to chase it. You will need a leash in the beginning to ensure your dog doesn’t run off before allowed. Work on recall. This means teaching your dog the “come!” command. This will ensure that in the event your dog inappropriately herds, you can use the “come!” command to call your dog off. As luck would have it, herding breeds tend to want to stay close by their humans so teaching recall can oftentimes be a breeze. Every dog is different though, and there are exceptions, so be patient if your dog isn’t a natural at this. Also, recall can be a lot tougher where distractions exist (e.g. moving objects/people). Ideally you want to use “come!” as your command, and you want it to be interchangeable with words like “wonderful!” and “fun!” In other words, you want your dog to associate the command with “good” things. If you are currently, or have in the past, used the “come!” command where it was related to anything negative, then you will need to use a different command. Place your dog on a leash and start walking with him by your side. now start to run, and say, “come!” But don’t yell or sound harsh, you must sound cheerful so that you don’t taint the word and have your dog relate it to any negativity what-so-ever. Stop running and immediately give your dog his favorite treat. Or, you can use a favorite toy, and stop to play for a moment. The idea is to associate the word “come!” with wonderful things. Practice the above step for a few days, and then change things up by letting your dog be several feet away from you (but still on a leash) and say, “come!”, and run away. Your dog should run after you whereby you can then stop and drop a few of your dog’s very favorite treats on the ground. While your dog is eating the treats walk to the end of the leash, and repeat the process. You are associating, “come!” with a wonderful, fun time! Remember, you can also use a favorite toy as the reward, but it’s best to use whatever your dog loves most of all. This should be practiced daily for a few weeks. When your dog masters the above step, start using the, “come!” command off-leash. This can be done indoors or outdoors, but don’t set your dog up for failure by calling him when you think he may not listen (when there are too many distractions). If he doesn’t listen once, he’s bound to learn that he only needs to listen when he feels like it. Remember to still run, to make it fun, and reward with only the best of treats. If he doesn’t come to you when called, get his attention by calling his name and using the, “look” command. Once you have his attention, you can proceed with the “come!” command. Ideally, you want to work up to off-leash recalls at longer distances, provided you have a safe place where your dog can be off-leash. Also, when your dog gets really good at the, “come!” command you should add the, “sit!” command once he reaches you. This will ensure that he doesn’t grab his treat and run. You want him to come, look at you attentively, and do a well-mannered sit. Avoid any rough collar-grabbing when your dog reaches you as this will certainly put you back to square one. While you are still practicing, you will want to do a mix of sometimes gently grabbing your dog’s collar, and sometimes not, since attaching a leash to your dog’s collar may at times be the point of calling him. But, always keep it cheerful, and when in the practicing phase NEVER stop rewarding your dog for a job well done. If you work with your dog consistently, always being sure to praise and reward, then eventually the behaviors you teach will become a strong default behavior in all situations. That being said, when your dog is herding inappropriately, you will be able to call your dog away, and he will listen because he will possess the skills of being attentive to you, showing self-control, and coming when called. You may be saying to yourself that the above steps are difficult, and will take a long time to achieve, and you’re probably looking for quick results. But, work on these skills every day, being patient and persistent, and I guarantee you’ll be able to better direct your dog in stopping the inappropriate herding. Remember, being consistent in training is where most people fail. Don’t let all your hard work fall by the wayside! Once you have these basic skills down things will be so much easier! Dog trainers offer classes in these areas that can kick start your training should you find you need some help getting started. I already mentioned that herding dogs need an outlet that caters to what they do naturally (herd), and to work off their high energy. The below activities are sports in which herding dogs excel, and in some form closely resemble herding itself. Treibball (also known as push ball, or drive ball) – This game originated in Europe and is played with large inflatable exercise or yoga balls. The object of the game is for your dog to gather and move the “flock” of balls into a large soccer-like net. This is similar to herding livestock, where you and your dog form a partnership and you take an active part in instructing your dog. Look for Treibball in your area. If you can’t find anywhere that offers it, I would suggest watching a how-to video, so you can teach your dog to play on your own. Even if you were to use less than the required amount of balls, or didn’t have the awesomeness of a large net, you could improvise with just one or two balls and an area in which your dog would be expected to push the ball/s. Herding dogs are naturals when it comes to agility courses. You may be able to find a center in, or near, the town you live that offers dog agility, which means agility equipment would be readily available. If you prefer doing agility at home, you can either purchase agility equipment, or create your own agility course using things you have around the house. Your dog won’t need anything fancy he will have fun either way! Some of the most common agility activities include jumping over hurdles (use a broomstick, or hula-hoop), weave poles (use cones, or tall laundry baskets set up in a row), and tunnels (use a child’s play tunnel, or two chairs facing each other with a blanket tossed over the seats to climb under), you get the idea, anything you think up will do. If your dog gets good at this, some cities offer organized “disc dog” competitions. A disc that is made specifically for dogs is best as they are flexible and can stand up to sharp teeth. Start out throwing the disc low and at your dog’s level. You can gradually start to throw the disc higher, and further, as your dog improves. It will take practice for your dog to become good at this sport. Three rules: 1) Don’t allow your dog to jump on you in a frenzy while waiting for you to throw the disc; make sure he shows self-control by waiting patiently. 2) Praise your dog when he runs to chase the disc. 3) Make sure you teach your dog to return the disc to you; don’t let him run off with it. Upon return of the disc offer praise, and treats if you feel it’s necessary in order for him to learn that returning it is “good”. Remember, although the above activities are great for herding breeds, really any kind of exercise, or mental stimulation is good for your dog. Some great ways to exercise high energy breeds are long walks/runs, letting your dog run off-leash (if possible, and safe), bike riding, and swimming. If you find that walking your dog doesn’t seem to ward off all that high energy, and you’re not a runner, many dog walking companies now offer running with your dog, not just walking. For a little extra mental stimulation, when you go somewhere, consider taking your dog along with you, once he has his vaccines finished of course. But this will provide more mental stimulation.

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