Training A Dog To Herd

People who train dogs to herd have years of experience and have to adapt the training to the individual personality of each dog. That’s why you find more general information and anecdotal stories than scientific training manuals when it comes to this, online.

Key points one should know when proceeding to train a dog to herd are:

  • Herding training usually starts when the puppies are a few weeks old. They don’t have to do any work at that age, but they have to be socialized with the animals they’re supposed to herd. If you want your dog to herd ducks, it has to be familiar with ducks as “friends” as opposed to “prey”.
  • The puppies are taught basic commands like “sit” and “stay” with positive reinforcement (reward wanted behavior, ignore unwanted behavior).
  • Once they know the basic commands, they’re taught more complex commands for herding like “go left / right”, “go further away” and “come closer”, again with positive reinforcement. Most people use whistles instead of spoken commands and use different commands for each dog.
  • The young dogs are often taken to the herds to watch adult dogs herding. They are given very short and simple tasks at first. Herding is a very strenuous activity, both physically and mentally, and the young dogs have to adapt to more complex tasks slowly.

The dogs must be absolutely obedient before each further step in the training. They become the remote control tool of the shepherd, but the shepherd cannot control the herd if they cannot control their dog/s.

The training must be done regularly (at least twice a week) for a long time (At least half a year, probably longer). That’s one of the reasons why many shepherds buy trained herding dogs instead of training them themselves and why those trained dogs are extremely expensive.

Positive reinforcement (only rewarding good behavior and ignoring wrong behavior) generally works better than negative reinforcement (punishing wrong behavior) because the dogs need to have fun while doing their job. If a dog is afraid of punishment, it’ll rather do nothing than risk doing the wrong thing

How can I get my herding dog to not bark and chase after skateboarders, bikers, and runners?

First, start on leash. When you see a skateboarder coming, have HIGH VALUE treats (not the regular old treats, something amazing and unique to what they normally get). Give constant treats for quiet to begin with.

Then, when your dog is staying quiet while the skateboarder, you can start expecting more. When you see the skateboarder passes, ask your dog to sit. Give constant reward as your dog is staying in a sit while the skateboarder is passing.

When you have mastered that, ask for eye contact as the skateboarder passes. Once your dog is able to give solid eye contact while the skateboarder is passing, then start to walk past while asking for eye contact. Everything you do, you need to go slowly. Take it at the pace that your dog is ready for.

Only once your dog is PERFECT on leash, should you attempt off leash. Apply the same exact plan to off leash as on leash. Ensure that you have 110% control over your dog, because even if he is just herding those nips can hurt.

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