How To Train A Herding Dog (How To Train Your Dog To Herd)

Whether you have a herding dog breed, or you want your dog to unlock some of its natural herding instincts and behaviors, you will want to train them to herd.

A herding dog can be incredibly helpful, especially if they are a working dog, or if you own a farm with livestock. Herding dogs have been bred specifically for this purpose, and have been assisting their humans for centuries in their roles.

As a result, these dogs are naturally very intelligent and eager to learn and please. They are therefore simple to train and will actively enjoy being taught new things, and using their newfound skills.

So, what exactly is a herding dog, and how can you get your dog to herd? 

How To Train A Herding Dog (How To Train Your Dog To Herd)

What Is A Herding Dog?

A herding dog is also referred to as a stock dog. These kinds of dogs are often working dog breeds, shepherd dogs or sheepdogs. A herding dog is often trained or bred to help farmers, shepherds and others herd livestock for agricultural purposes. 

Herding dogs are therefore bred and trained with modified predatory behavior through selective breeding, so that the dog’s natural instinct to treat livestock as their prey is instead used to herd and round them up. 

The dog’s hunting skills to stalk prey are therefore used instead to herd the animals, and they do not harm the livestock, but instead chase them to herd them in a particular direction, such as an alternative grazing field or paddock. 

Herding breeds will often be trained to go for, nip or mouth at the heels of livestock without hurting themselves or the livestock, in order to get them to move somewhere.

These types of herding dogs are often referred to as heelers, whereas other breeds like Border Collies will instead stand in front of the animals, and stare them down with a strong eye to encourage them to move.

They will consistently stand in the way of the animals to get them to go in the direction that they want.

What Breeds Are Herding Dogs?

Dog breeds can be split up into various groups from working dogs, herding dogs, gun dogs, terriers, sporting dogs, toy dogs and more. The American Kennel Club states that a herding breed is one that ‘shares an instinctual ability to control the movement of other animals.

These breeds were developed to gather, herd and protect livestock’ according to their website. Herding dogs therefore are known to gently herd their owners, in particular they will herd smaller children of the family to guide them into safety.

These dogs are such good companions because they are bred to serve their families and therefore respond very well to training exercises due to their high intelligence and desire to please.

Breeds of herding dogs can be:

  • Australian Cattle Dog
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Bearded Collie
  • Beauceron
  • Belgian Laekenois
  • Belgian Malinois
  • Belgian Sheepdog
  • Belgian Tervuren
  • Bergamasco Sheepdog
  • Berger Picard
  • Border Collie
  • Canaan Dog
  • Welsh Corgi
  • Collie
  • Mountain Dog
  • Finnish Lapphund
  • German Shepherd
  • Icelandic Sheepdog
  • Old English Sheepdog
  • Polish Lowland Sheepdog
  • Pyrenean Shepherd
  • Shetland Sheepdog
  • Swedish Vallhund 

From this list alone, you can gather that the majority of these breeds are herding dogs just by their name.

If they are a cattle dog, sheepdog, shepherd or some sort of mountain dog where agricultural work would be needed, then they are probably useful for herding livestock and they will have a set of herding behaviors and instincts. 

What Are Herding Behaviors?

Herding dogs are bred to work, and will have a lot of energy in abundance. These kinds of dogs need a lot of excessive exercise to burn off their energy because they are bred to work all day.

If your herding dog is under exercised, then you may notice that they have a desire to pace, spin or circle around you. These dogs often want to run circles around you and have so much energy and playtime to give. 

Your herding dog may show herding behaviors by running around other animals, creatures and even people. They may try to round up your other dogs, pets or even kids.

These types of dogs may often display destructive behaviors if they are not properly trained or stimulated.  As these dogs are so intelligent, they require a lot of mental stimulation as well as physical stimulation to keep them happy.

This means lots of interesting toys, treats, obedience training and agility is needed for a herding dog to thrive. 

How To Train A Herding Dog

One of the most recommended ways to train a herding dog to herd is to use the long leash method. This involves having your dog on a long leash, and we mean long! You’ll need a leash that is at least 20 to 30 feet long such as this

Then, you’ll need to encourage your dog to walk up to the herd, or a flock of birds if you do not have the herd. Do this with a walk up command. Now, your dog will probably be excited around other animals, especially if they haven’t been around them before. 

So, allow your dog to explore, or be curious, and then reward your dog with praise and treats when they have calmed down. You may have to be patient during this step for your dog to calm down fully and grow accustomed and used to being around the animals. 

Next, keep your dog on the shorter leash, and walk your dog around the herd. Your dog should do this instinctively if it is a natural herding breed. Your dog should walk calmly around the herd without fussing or bothering them.

When your dog does this, again, reward with treats and praise. Then, it’s time to teach commands for directions. Walk your dog on the longer leash around the livestock in circles using the commands away and come bye to get them used to the directions.

When your dog does this successfully, reward them. Repeat this many times, until your dog seems to understand which commands refer to which way they should run around and herd them.

Practice again, but each time they are successful, give your dog more leash distance. 

Once you’re confident in your dog’s herding skills, remove the leash and stand back. Practice the commands again, and reward when your dog acts appropriately.

Keep doing this until your dog is able to herd according to your instructions without fail. 

Summary

To summarize, herding dogs have been bred for generations to work with specific animals such as livestock to herd and round them up.

As a result, these dogs have lots of natural herding and working instincts to handle these animals such as sheep, cattle, horses, goats and other types of livestock. 

Luckily, herding dogs are easily trained because they are so active, intelligent and eager to please. They also have a lot of energy to burn, which will make them much more interested and focused on you, and ready to work and train all day long!

Daniel Johnson
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