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Today we are used to seeing the German Shepherd as a guard dog, police K-9, bomb dog, and family friend. What many people are not aware of is that these beautiful dogs were originally bred to herd sheep and cattle. They make wonderful guard dogs and will give their all to protect their family and their herd.
Shepherds are exceptionally intelligent, willing to please, and ready to learn new tasks. They are very powerful and fast, making them the perfect choice to help with herding your cattle. Keep in mind that when working with cattle, there is always the risk of an accident resulting in your dog being injured. Keep a close eye on your pup until he learns how to keep himself out of harm's way.
Your Shepherd is a working dog and is at his happiest when he has something to do. Working is in his blood and, of course, so is herding cattle. But, despite this natural instinct, your pup really has no idea how to put it to work. It is up to you to choose a training method and then continue working with your pooch until he masters the skills.
He should easily learn the four basic herding commands within 6 months. But, it can take several years if you want your pup to master the complete list of competition maneuvers if you wish to take him that far. Take your time, keep working each step of your chosen training method and in time, you will have one of the best herding assistants you could ask for.
Your pooch will reach his herding best between the age of 4 and 8 years. However, if you want your pup to become a "master" herder, you need to start as soon as your vet clears him to work around cattle. Typically, this means when he has reached an age where his bones have started to fully harden, this will reduce the risk of injury. Your fuzzy friend must also have mastered the four basic commands, 'come', 'sit', 'stay', and 'stop' before you start working on herding.
You will also need:
- Small animal pen
- Small herd of cattle
On top of all of this, you need an ample supply of time to work with your pup and the patience to keep working with him until he gets it right.
The Toy Method
Spend plenty of time on the basics
Before you think about starting to train your four-legged assistant to herd cattle, you need to spend plenty of time making sure he has mastered the basics. These include, 'come', 'sit', 'stay', 'down', and 'stop'. Along with these basics, you should also train him 'down' and recall from a distance.
Basic herding commands
The basic herding commands are 'walk-up', 'to me', 'come by', and 'away' or 'away to me'. They represent approach the herd, push the herd to me from behind, move the herd to the left, and move the herd to the right, respectively.
Take one of your pooch's favorites and head out into the yard with him. Throw the toy out in front of you. With your dog on his leash, give the 'walk-up' command and walk him up to about two feet from the toy. Stop, make him sit and if he has complied, praise him and give him a treat. Work on this for several weeks until he has mastered it.
Repeat for each command
This time toss the toy off to the left and give him the 'come by' command as you walk him up to the toy. Again, repeat this for several weeks along with the walk-up command. Do this for the other two commands as well. It will take time, but learning the basics before you turn your Shepherd loose on the cattle, he can learn in a safer environment.
Bring in a small herd
Start out with a small herd of six or less cattle. Bring your pup up to them using the 'walk-up' command and then walk him around them for a few minutes to allow them to get used to each other. Start using the rest of the commands to get your pooch used to working with cattle.
This is the time to introduce your dog to the full herd and put him to work. Be prepared-- the whole process can take several months for both you and your dog to master the skills required to enable him to successfully work with your cattle.
The Going in Circles Method
Bring your own herd
Start out by putting a small number (6 or less) of your cattle in a training pen. Be sure the pen is big enough to allow your Shepherd to move the herd around it, but not so large they can break into a run. Try to use cattle that are already used to being herded by a dog.
Who let the dog in?
Bring your pup into the training pen on his leash. Take him to within a couple of feet of the herd and have him sit. Give both the cattle and your pooch time to get used to each other. Even if your cattle are used to being around a dog, that's okay because your pup needs to get used to being around them.
I'm running around in circles
Put your pup on a leash and take him up to the herd using the appropriate command. When you reach the two-foot distance, start walking your dog in circles around the herd. Every time you complete 360 degrees, stop, reverse directions and as you take off, give your pup the appropriate directional command. Repeat this over the course of several weeks until he will turn around when you give him the right command.
Slip the leash
Slip the leash off your dog's collar and work with him using all of the commands you have taught him to move the herd around the training pen.
On with the show
Finally, once your pup has mastered moving the smaller herd around the pen, it's time to take him out and put him to the real test: working with your full herd. Take your time, let him get used to the larger herd and keep working with him. It will take several months for him to master the basics, so be patient.
The Whistle Blast Method
It all starts with a whistle
And not just any whistle, you need a proper herding whistle that is designed to let you create a variety of whistle sound combinations and tones. You can buy them online or in some farm stores.
Whistle while you play
Use the whistle all over the house, out in the yard, anywhere your pooch can hear it. This lets him get used the sound so that when you use it for training and work the sound doesn't startle him.
Train with no cattle first
Start working with your pup learning each command using both the verbal and whistle cues. You can create your own whistles or use the standard ones used in herding competitions. When your pup will move in the right direction every time, he is ready for the next step.
Add a few cows
Separate a few of your more docile cattle out of the main herd and then have your pup move them around the pen or yard using both verbal and whistle commands and then by whistle command only. This will take some time, but keep working with him until he masters the skills needed to herd the cattle around.
He is ready
Once he has reached this point, your pup is ready for the final test, working the whole herd. It should be no different than working the smaller herd. Just be patient and keep working with him until he is ready to go to work helping you out around the farm.
By PB Getz
Published: 03/07/2018, edited: 01/08/2021