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

Question
Whiskey
Australian Shepherd
11 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
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
463 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
463 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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