How to Train Your Herding Dog
If you have a lot of land that you need help maintaining, a herding dog may be the answer. But it’s not always easy to train a dog to herd.
We’ve put together some information on how to train your herding dog. Not only can a well-trained dog help you round up animals on your land, but herding has become a fun and fascinating competitive sport.
Getting the Hang of Commands
If you’re considering training your dog for herding, the most important thing to remember is that your dog has to be well trained already. Herding commands are an extension of obedience training. Your dog needs to be a good listener and trust you to master herding commands.
Herding is a succession of different tasks for your dog to accomplish. If your dog can’t do regular commands, how are they maintain control of other animals? A well-trained and disciplined dog is going to be your best bet for a successful herder, so start with the basics first.
Herding is also a task for dogs that are a bit more mature. Because of this, it’s not usually a recommended activity for very young dogs. Though, you can start a puppy down the road of herding by starting with simple tasks.
Work with your dog to learn basic commands. The most useful commands for any dog to know are usually:
- Lie Down
These simple commands are great for all dogs to know. In normal circumstances where your dog might be meeting new people or in an unsafe situation, these commands can come in very useful. As your dog gets older and is able to handle more complex commands, they may be ready to start herding training.
Different Herding Methods
There are a few different ways that people recommend training their herders. Take a look below and see which method you would be most comfortable with.
Long Leash Method
This method starts with what you would expect: a long leash. A leash that is about twenty to thirty feet long is best. Tell your dog to ‘walk-up’ and walk with them toward a small herd or flock of birds. At first, your dog will likely be very excited. Once they get used to being around the other animals, they’ll calm down. When they do calm down, be sure to reward them with a nice treat.
Next, you can try having your dog walk around the herd. Get a shorter leash and walk with your dog around the herd. If he does so without bothering the herd, he earns another reward.
You can now start to teach him the commands ‘away’ and ‘come bye.” Away means to turn the herd to the left. Come bye means to turn the herd to the right. Walk around the herd while giving the appropriate command to your dog. Once he is able to start the action with just the command, give a reward. If your dog is doing well with the commands, you can start letting out the leash a bit until you feel they are ready to go off-leash.
Just remember that practice makes perfect. Rewarding your dog for a job well done is going to be the best way for the training to stick too. Keep going and you’ll have a master herder in no time.
Start Small Method
Starting small is literally when you have a very small herd of very small animals. You can start with very calm chickens who are in a small pen. You can then have your dog on leash and sit near one side of the pen. Let your dog get used to the birds and when he seems to have calmed down, give him a treat.
Now you can start to walk your dog nearer to the birds. As you do so, give the ‘walk up’ command. Stop just before reaching the birds. If your dog handles this well without fussing, give him a treat. Walk your dog around the flock using the commands ‘away’ and ‘come bye’ so he can learn the direction each command means. Each time your dog gets it right, you can treat him.
Once your dog seems calm around the birds, you can take him off-leash. Keep practicing the commands and rewarding when your dog does them correctly. Eventually, you’ll be able to move on to larger flocks and larger animals as well. This method is great for dogs that might be a bit skittish at first. They will quickly learn that they can control the other animals. Once this method is working well for your dog, you can remove them from the pen and let them practice on unconstrained animals.
Blow a loud whistle and treat your dog when they stop being startled by the sound. You can use either of the previous methods but when you give a verbal command you should blow the whistle as well. Normally, one short blow is for ‘come bye.’ two short blasts are for ‘away.’
Most dogs will need several training sessions before they understand the whistle. Just keep at it, and be sure to give your dog the verbal command at the same time you blow the whistle. Also, be sure to treat your dog when they follow your commands. The whistle method is very popular because a whistle can carry much farther than your voice would. Just keep practicing and treating your dog and they’ll eventually master herding.
Whichever method you choose should work for you and your dog. Every animal is a little different, but sticking with your training will eventually reward you with a great herding dog.