How to Train Your Herding Dog to Not Herd

How to Train Your Herding Dog to Not Herd
Hard difficulty iconHard
Time icon2-4 Months
Behavior training category iconBehavior

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Leave It Method

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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."

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.

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.

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'.

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.

The Train to Herd Method

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1

Teach herding commands

Teach your dog herding commands like 'come bye', 'away to me', 'stop', 'back', etc. using a ball or toy.

2

Introduce livestock

Introduce your dog to small livestock such as sheep or chickens.

3

Apply commands

Use commands to direct your dog to gather livestock and direct them. Work on teaching 'back' and 'stop' commands.

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.

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.

The Alternate Behavior Method

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1

Watch

Observe your dog around the object of his herding behavior, children, pets, livestock, etc.

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.

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'.

4

Reward

When your dog performs the behavior, give him a high value reward such as meat, or play time with favorite toy.

5

Establish association

Repeat until the alternative behavior is established when your dog is exposed to the object of his herding focus.

By Laurie Haggart

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

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Creed

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Border Collie

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16 Weeks

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Question

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High drive stock dog Difficulty getting him to leave cats Livestock I can distract and redirect but the cat especially our indoor cat he’s locked in

July 1, 2022

Creed's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Todd, Check out the videos I have linked below. Since pup is a puppy I would only work on impulse control for now, using the Mild and moderate cat issue videos. I would also crate or confine pup in a room away from the cat when you are away, at least for the first few months until you are confident how they are together at all times. 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 Work on impulse control in general with pup, by teaching things that increase impulse control and calmness - such as a long, Place command around lots of distractions. Practicing the command until you get to the point where pup will stay on Place while you are working with the cat in the same room. I would also recommend back tying pup while they are on place - connecting a long leash attached to pup to something near the Place just in case pup were to try to get off Place before you could intervene. This keeps kitty safe while practicing and reinforces to pup that they can't get off the Place. The leash should be long enough that pup doesn't feel the leash while they are obediently staying on the Place because it has some slack in the leash. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Below are some other commands in general you can practice to help pup develop better impulse skill/self-control - impulse control takes practice for a dog to gain the ability to control herself. Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Leave It: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Out - which means leave the room: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Additional resources if needed: https://www.youtube.com/c/JamiePenrithDogTraining/search?query=cat Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

July 1, 2022

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Junie

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Cattle Collie Dog

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14 Weeks

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I am an owner of both 3 year old Blu Heeler (Penny) and the new addition 14 week old Red Heeler (Junie). They both get along good for the most part except when either/or starts to play with the other it begins to get very aggressive to the point where I have to separate them. Almost like both are herding one another. Penny stops when I command but the puppy continues to get more aggressive. Any tips?

June 13, 2022

Junie's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Renee, I would work on teaching Leave It and Out to both while the are home, and make a rule of them not playing together unless its a structured activity, where arousal will be lower, like going on a hike together, taking turns fetching, where the second dog practices sit stay while the other fetches then they switch - to avoid the competing. Some dogs go from arousal to aggression when playing and they generally need activities that are calmer to avoid developing true aggression. At this point with the adult dog, I would simply create boundaries where interactions are calmer since they are past certain socialization phases. Once the puppy is older, has learned social skills, and is calmer, they might be able to play better. For the puppy, I would look for a puppy class or puppy play group that has time for moderated off-leash play with other puppies. Puppies tend to learn self-control best from moderated play with other puppies. They learn that other puppies will stop playing if the bite is too hard, they don't take turns chasing or being chased or being on top versus bottom while wrestling and how to give breaks. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/puppy-classes-when-to-start/ Puppies tend to be the best teachers for bite inhibition and doggie social skills, since puppies interact with each other differently than an adult dog would interact with a puppy. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

June 14, 2022


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