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Herding dogs are the greatest allies of breeders, whether they are raising sheep, cattle or any other type of livestock that needs to move a herd.
If they are well trained, herding dogs allow an incredible saving of time for their masters to move, assemble and direct their troops.
Despite the highly developed instinct of specific dogs, especially those specifically selected for their initiative, gathering abilities, etc., it is essential to control the dog and, therefore, to teach him not to listen only to his instinct but also to his master.
Indeed, the control of the dog will allow to anticipate and prevent possible risks, especially when it comes to bovine herds. For example, a blow from a hoof or the charge of a bovine can seriously injure a dog. On the other hand, it is essential to control the movement of the animals to avoid, for example, a dog that cannot impose itself by nipping orbiting the animals to be moved.
Furthermore, having a working dog by your side when choosing the dog in question for its natural “usefulness” (whether for herding, hunting or sledging) allows you to create an extraordinary bond between the master and his dog. Working together adds enormous value to the relationship because real collaboration is born!
The importance of choosing a puppy
To succeed in training a herding dog, the choice of puppy is critical! Three main criteria come into play.
Criterion n°1: genetics
Of course, it will be essential to choose a herding dog from a good working line. If the puppy’s parents were excellent herding dogs, then you have every chance on your side. However, sometimes there are exceptions. My dog, for example, Border Collie descended from a perfect working line, yet he had very little interest in it at first (that’s why I adopted him because his breeder didn’t want him anymore).
Moreover, let’s take the example of the Border Collie: it is one of the very few breeds for which the standard is confirmed only by work and not by beauty. If your puppy is already registered in the LOF (Live des Origines Français) when you adopt him (beware of scams, be sure to ask for all the supporting papers), it means that his parents have confirmed their working abilities in the herd.
In reproduction, + and + do not necessarily make +, this is not always verified, but it turns out that it contributes significantly to having a puppy +++! So, if you want to adopt a herding dog, and have him work on a natural herd regularly with professional stakes behind it, find out about the parents’ abilities and their respective bloodlines.
Criterion n°2: the character
A good herding dog is a dog that knows how to be respected, even by a large herd of cows that are 40 times its weight. You have to choose the most courageous puppy from the litter.
When choosing a “lambda” puppy from a litter, individuals are always advised not to take the puppy that hides, nor the one that comes towards them, because the one that hides will have a temperament that may be too fearful and the one that comes towards them will undoubtedly have a powerful character.
However, when you choose a working dog, he must not be afraid of anything and be at your side at all costs. He must be able to take on challenging situations and not let you down. This may sound a bit harsh, but a working dog is not a cuddly toy or a couch dog: it is a real operating partner in whom the owner must have total confidence.
Thus, in this kind of context, we will choose more the puppy who comes to us spontaneously because it will be, for sure, the dog who will have the most asserted character of its range because despite its very young age, it does not hesitate to go towards the unknown (you) and if it is allowed, moreover, to be manipulated, to pet etc.: jackpot! Jackpot!
Criterion n°3: the development
Then, the development will be significant too. Moreover, for all the puppies, the product is essential because it allows defining in an almost certain way the future and the future reactions of the dog once adult in front of such or such situation.
For example, a puppy that has been separated from its mother too early will not have benefited from the maternal learnings that are essential for the dog’s future balance, such as bite inhibition, star exploration, etc. These learnings allow the puppies to learn the basics of the dog’s behaviour. This training enables the litter’s puppies to know how to control themselves, primarily through the strength of their jaws, and to learn how to discover a new environment in safe conditions.
Suppose this learning process is not started within the first 3 or 4 weeks of the puppy’s life. In that case, he will have difficulties calming down, problems managing new environments/objects/people around him or simply difficulties living serenely.
Moreover, socialization will be crucial during this period of development. As the dog is naturally and instinctively afraid of what he doesn’t know, he must have a maximum of positive experiences in various contexts. The best thing is to familiarize him as much as possible with the situations he will have to face in his adult life. And this work must be started within the kennel, from the first month of the puppy. The choice of the kennel will therefore be decisive.
Clearly, you will have understood: good development is essential! Whether it is for a “lambda” dog or a working dog. But the requirement will be more present for an active dog because we will need him to have an excellent balance to rely on him and work serenely with him.
However, a simple “good development” will not be enough to make a good herding dog. Genuine work and real learning will have to be put in place, and this over several weeks/months, or even years, because the dog learns throughout his life.
The education of the herding dog
At first, it is essential to teach your puppy the basic commands to succeed in controlling him already without necessarily having any environmental stimuli or particular work to accomplish. Therefore, the puppy should not necessarily be introduced directly to the herd.
Moreover, if you go too fast in training, mistakes will be made, and this could “disgust” your dog from work; he would then lose his motivation and desire to work. And you should know that it is much easier to teach something to a dog than to “unlearn” it to teach it again.
Another critical point, the education of a herding dog must be firm but not too strict either because what we are looking for in a good herding dog is his capacity to take initiatives! Thus, the master must teach his herding dog the basic commands, notably the “stop” to control his dog, but he must also let him express himself while stopping him if necessary.
Learning the commands specific to herding
Once the basic commands are acquired (when I say basic commands, they are the ones that you would teach to any puppy: sit, down, stay, recall, etc.), you can then move on to the specific commands for herding.
To do this, it is best to participate in herding courses with experienced breeders who can guide you step by step. Indeed, learning to drive a herd, as much for the dog as his master, cannot be improvised. It is necessary to be patient and to be in total connection with your dog. Some breeders will prefer a work tool that requires less effort, such as a quad bike, for example, because not everyone can train a herding dog.
But let me tell you about my little experience in herding with my Border Collie. I took part in some herding courses (on sheep). We first worked without direct contact with the flock. In other words, some sheep were placed in a fenced circle, and H (my Border Collie) and I were outside.
This first exercise is essential because it allows us to see, in a secure way, the behaviour of the dog towards the herd and mainly, it teaches us to place ourselves. Because yes, the positioning is critical: the master and his dog must always be in front of each other; we call this the “12H – 6H” position.
This is particularly difficult to explain in writing, but it means that the dog must be allowed to run around the circle without ever passing behind you. Basically: he should only make half circles. And this will enable us to teach him the right and left directions.
With a shepherd’s crook (or simply a cane), I would block his path by giving him the direction to take as soon as H came towards me. If he came from my right (so he turned to the left), I would stop him and say “right”.
Then, little by little, the dog could be made to work on a herd in semi-freedom (in a fenced field), and then asked to do more complex exercises such as fetching the pack, separating it into two groups, getting the herd into a cattle truck, etc. Yes, in the beginning, the work consists simply of teaching the dog to keep the pack together (we will make sure that the herd is calm and used to the presence of a dog) and then work on more technical exercises which will be impossible to detail in writing here: the best thing is to see it directly! Because each dog is different and therefore each way of working will also be other.
To conclude, whether it is for professional reasons or to please the herding dog you have adopted, I strongly advise you to participate in herding courses on a more or less regular basis according to your desires and needs, and above all to enrich yourself with the experience of other breeders.
Personally, it was when I went to visit a Welsh breeder in Haute Savoie that I got the idea. He wanted to test my two-year-old dog who had never worked (since he had not “declared himself to the herd”, that is to say, that he did not have the instincts to drive), and he made an extraordinary dog of him. This then gave me the desire to participate in training courses. Unfortunately, our lack of regular training means that the few times we participate in training courses now, the passion and motivation are so present and robust in my dog that he has trouble controlling himself and channelling his energy, which I can not blame him! But it is an activity that allowed me to know my dog better and create a new collaboration!
And if you don’t have herds of herding courses near you, try Treibball! It’s “giant soccer” for dogs that look (almost) like herding, except that it’s more like driving big balls.
In any case, ask around; dogs need to be offered activities that respond to their instincts.


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