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

ribbon-method-1
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

ribbon-method-2
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

ribbon-method-3
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?
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Written by Laurie Haggart

Published: 11/30/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Samson
Australian Shepherd
6 Months
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Question
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Samson
Australian Shepherd
6 Months

I got my pup at 7 weekd old and he did ok at first at not wanting to herd or bother the farm animals, goats and chickens. But then he learned he could herd them and I can't get him to stop unless he's leashed. So I need to teach him basically how to leave them alone.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Ariana, Because pup is a herding breed the behavior is likely instinctual, meaning that they will probably never stop wanting to herd the animals and feel that drive. Because of this you will need to teach a strong avoidance of the animals altogether, or work on training the herding behavior so that pup is still given a herding outlet but will respond to your direction around the animals. If you wish to work on managing the behavior through herding training, I recommend looking for a local club or training group in your area to help you get started. If you want to teach pup to avoid the animals entirely that will mean that pup won't be able to be used for herding purposes later, so keep that in mind in your decision. Check out James Penrith from taketheleaddogtraining on youtube. He works with livestock chasing and killing dogs to teach off leash obedience and avoiding livestock. 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 Mild cat issue - teaching impulse control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWF2Ohik8iM Moderate cat issue - teaching impulse control using corrections and rewards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dPIC3Jtn0E https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buaZctWLWR0 Come: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-to-come-when-called/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtJxSXu4rfs&t=909s While pup is still in training, in order for the training to be effective pup will need to be kept on leash so they can't practice chasing the animals when you can't enforce rules. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Coco
Australian Shepherd
2 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Coco
Australian Shepherd
2 Years

He herds and injures our goat’s legs ONLY when humans are not present. Injuries have killed one goat. When humans are present, he follows commands and does not present with herding nature.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Acacia, I recommend hiring a professional trainer who is experiences with behavior issues, avoidance training, and low level remote collar training. Check out the videos linked below. It sounds like pup needs to be taught an avoidance of the goat. Teaching pup with you present first, then setting up scenarios where you hide while pup is wearing the collar and correct when pup begins pestering the goats - so that the correction is associated with the goats and not your presence. 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

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Question
Winnie
Sheepadoodle
9 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Winnie
Sheepadoodle
9 Months

How do I get Winnie to stop chasing cars and squirrels on walks?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Elizabeth, Check out the video linked below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buaZctWLWR0 First, I suggest laying a good foundation of communication by practicing commands like Leave It, Watch Me, Out, and Heel. Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Heel - Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Come: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-to-come-when-called/ Work on teaching those commands first, since pup needs to know what you are asking of them before they can be expected to comply, have the skills to remain self-controlled, or understand why they are being rewarded or corrected. If the animal and car chasing is happening while pup is on a leash walking with you, I suggest working on the structure of your walk first. You want pup to be working during the walk - having to stay behind you, focus on you, perform commands periodically, and not have her mind on scanning the area in search of other dogs. The walk should start with her having to exit your home very calmly, performing obedience commands at the door if she isn't calm. She should wait for permission ("Okay" or "Free" or "Let's Go") before going through the door instead of bolting through if that's an issue. When you walk she should be in the heel position - with her head behind your leg. That position decreases her arousal. It prevents her from scanning for other animals, and ignoring you behind her. It also requires her to be in a more submissive, structured, focused, calmer mindset - which has a direct effect on how aroused she is. Additionally, when you do pass other animals/cars, as soon as she starts staring them down, interrupt her. Remind her with a gentle correction that you are leading the walk and she is not allowed to break her heel or stare at another animal. It is far easier to deal with reactivity when you interrupt a dog early in the process - before they are highly aroused and full of adrenaline and cortisol, and to keep the dog in a less aroused/calmer state to begin with. This also makes the walk more pleasant for her in the long-run because there are less stress hormones building. Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel The below videos are of dog reactive dogs - but they are good examples of keeping a dog calmer on the walk through structure and obedience exercises - to build focus on the handler and teach pup to ignore distractions. Reactive dog - example of interruptions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY8s_MlqDNE Example of interrupting an aroused dog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Once pup is focusing on you regularly and ignoring distractions - at that point, you can also begin rewarding pup with small treats, further increasing their attention on you. You will need pup to be in a calmer mindset first though - so that you are rewarding the focused, calm attitude and not the aroused, predatory state. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Nova
Border Collie/ australian shepard
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Nova
Border Collie/ australian shepard
1 Year

Tries to herd other dogs ends up in a fight

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

Hello, there are great tips here on encouraging your dog to not herd: https://wagwalking.com/training/stop-trying-to-herd. Along with that make sure that you take Nova to obedience classes so that he gets used to other dogs in a controlled setting and also learns to follow your lead. To get started: https://wagwalking.com/training/obedience-train-a-whippet Also, work on the Leave It Method that will come in handy in many situations: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite. A rock solid recall is essential as well: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-come-back. You have lots of reading to do here, but excellent tips for training Nova. Practice 10-20 minutes a day and always end on a high note. As well, Nova is a high energy dog that will need lots of exercise. Long walks every day, and even runs, will be necessary. Good luck and enjoy!

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Question
Manuel
Huntaway
6 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Manuel
Huntaway
6 Months

Very active/fit 6 month old puppy. Strong urge to herd, recently becoming problematic as he tries to herd another dog which has issues and bothers her as well as an unfortunate herding livestock incident today when he couldn't be called off. He did round the sheep up very effectively but he has previously walked through livestock without any issue unrestrained. Should I train him to herd as a preventive measure against unwanted hearing or teach avoidance strategies?

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

Hi there. I would work on his recall in the setting where he struggled with it. If you train him to be responsive while in that environment, his responses to you will improve. So you will have to set time aside to go into that setting with him for about 20 minutes daily if time allows. Since he has been herding successfully, it will be REALLY difficult to teach the avoidance. You may as well work with what he has going on, but just fine tune his behavior a bit.

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