Examples of some typical breeds in this group: Border Collie, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Bearded Collie, Belgian Shepherd Dogs, German Shepherd Dog (see also Guarding Dogs)
Your dog is this type if he:
Is very energetic, loves long walks, eagerly watches and chases anything that moves, and enjoys retrieving balls and other thrown toys. He is very attentive to you and your signals and generally likes to keep you in his line of sight. He thrives on reward-based training and can learn many new responses and tricks quickly and easily.
Exercise and play
Originally bred for long working hours in all weathers out in the fields, mountains and hillsides, Livestock Herding Dogs love the great outdoors and are known for their stamina. They are not put off by wet or cold weather, so make sure you’re prepared to walk them in all seasons.
Although they love the physical exertion of long walks, mental exercise is equally important for Livestock Herding Dogs. Walking the same route day after day will leave them bored, but the concentration and focus required for half an hour of learning new things in new environments and how to perform tricks can leave them happy and fulfilled. Variety is very important to Livestock Herding Dogs so be ready to go to as many different environments for walks as possible, including beaches, woodland, open fields, hills, riversides etc.
Given these dogs’ natural propsensity for chasing and herding, a reliable recall is also essential to keep them safely by your side, and will come in particularly useful if you encounter livestock or they start chasing wildlife when out on walks. [Link to recall training article]
Dogs in this group are bright and can learn to work independently of their owner, but usually prefer to keep you - their ‘shepherd’ - in sight. For example, if you are working in the garden and are not able to throw balls for them to fetch, they are often happy to play independently and move the ball around for themselves. If left alone with nothing to amuse them, they will often devise their own activities – be it herding the family cat, chasing their own tail or barking to call you back to play with them! However, once they know what to do to get your attention, the behaviour will be repeated and can become problematic.
Playing with you
This group love to work and play with their human family and are quite time-intensive dogs, needing a good deal of stimulation each day to compensate for not working full-time with cattle or sheep.
On slower, off-lead walks these dogs will often circle their family group, naturally herding everyone to ensure there are no stragglers. Hide-and-seek is a great game for them; if one of your group hides, your herder will quickly notice their absence, and will run off to find them. Children often love this game, and many Livestock Herding Dogs don’t need to be taught how to play it as searching and herding comes so naturally to them.
The ‘fetch’ game is another activity that many herding dogs do almost naturally; and some Border Collies especially will bring you a tennis ball or a frisbee to throw endlessly. Don’t expect your dog to stop playing when he is tired: he will just keep on until you stop, so be careful not to go beyond his limits. Excessive jumping to catch frisbees can cause joint problems, and injuries can occur if he lands awkwardly or stops suddenly, so be aware of your dog’s age, fitness and capabilities. Never throw sticks for your dog, as they can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening injuries.
Livestock Herding Dogs are bright dogs and are quick to learn with reward-based training. Train them at any opportunity throughout the day as ‘little-and-often’ sessions will keep their brains ticking over far more effectively than longer, less frequent sessions. However, do not over-stimulate them with endless new experiences – they need down-time to relax and switch off for best performance and maximum enjoyment later.
Dogs of this type sometimes bond strongly with one person, but can enjoy the company of all members of their human family. It is a good idea to ensure that all family members play with them and feed them, but especially train and exercise them, so that they don’t become reliant on one person. Livestock Herding Dogs can also form great bonds with other dogs in the home and, given enough early socialisation and training, with cats as well.
Livestock Herding Dogs are generally well-attuned to their owners’ moods, and tend to respond well to a calm owner who signals their intentions clearly. For example, if there is a loud, unexpected noise, your dog will probably look to you and assess your reaction. If you are calm, he will be reassured that there is nothing amiss; but if you look anxious, or make a fuss of him in an attempt to comfort him, he is more likely to become anxious in future.
Making your dog part of your everyday life is important – he will love pottering around the house and garden with you, ‘helping’ where he can. Give him little jobs, such as putting his toys away in a box at the end of a play session, or fetching named items (slippers, his grooming brush, his lead, the post) as he is highly trainable and very willing to work for you. Being well-socialised and well-trained, he will also be a pleasure to take out on visits to dog-friendly cafés,gardens, pubs and friends.
At the end of a busy day, your Livestock Herding Dog will like nothing better than to lie at your feet or beside you on the sofa, snoozing and enjoying the occasional stroke. Physical contact is important to this type of dog, so he may put his head on your feet or lap or often simply lean against you if you stand still. Return the compliment by grooming and massaging him regularly. Not only will daily grooming ensure that any debris picked up from forays into the countryside is removed, and any skin and coat health issues detected early, it will also be a relaxing, bonding experience for you both.
It is important that your dog is taught self-reliance from an early age so that he doesn’t become over-dependent on your constant physical presence, as this can lead to separation-related problems. Get him used to short periods of being on his own from as early an age as possible, separating yourself from him in another room from time to time even when you are in the house. Provide a comfortable den-like indoor kennel (sometimes called a crate) or a cosy dog bed in a quiet room where he can snooze or chew a safe favoutrite toy on his own. Exercise him before you need to leave him alone in the house, so that he is toileted and ready to relax, and hide a treat-filled chew-toy for him to find and then work on to keep himself busy.
Some Livestock Herding Dogs – particularly the Collie breeds – can be persistent in their attempts to solicit attention. Training periods of ‘non-contact’ can teach your dog that no attention will be given when a certain visual marker is provided, such as a scarf hanging over a doorknob or a particular ornament sitting on a table. This really helps with managing the bond you enjoy with your dog, as he won’t expect attention and then be frustrated when you cannot give it. From your point of view, he won’t become a nuisance with his demands for attention. He’ll get just as much as you want to give him, but won’t be dependent on it for his happiness.
Dogs of this type that have strong, natural guarding instincts – such as the German and Belgian Shepherd Dogs – will often patrol their boundaries in the garden and will be alert to any noise, indoors and outdoors. Thorough socialisation with people when young is important and throughout his life so that he happily accepts visitors.
Teaching him to ‘Shush’ on request after a knock at the door will stop him barking excessively at every noise. Livestock Herding Dogs may become possessive over toys, food, beds and other resources (including you) if they feel threatened, which is another reason why early socialisation is of great importance. Training him to ‘give’ his toys - or indeed any object on request - is quite easy if you can offer an even better item, such as a treat, in return. See our page on Guarding Dogs for more information.
Most Livestock Herding Dogs aren’t as food-obsessed as other dog types, but food rewards, particularly high-value treats (tasty rewards that are given rarely), usually work well when teaching new training exercises. However, if your herder isn’t especially food-motivated, try simple verbal praise to reinforce his behaviour. Alternatively, some herders will work very hard to learn new tricks in return for a game with their favourite tug toy or ball. Experiment and see what works best for your dog, and try to use a variety of different rewards to keep his interest up.
If feeding dry food, about a quarter of his daily allowance can be used as training rewards if he is food-motivated. Another quarter can be offered in safe treat-dispensing toys for him to play with throughout the day, indoors and out. A further quarter can be scattered around the garden for him to seek out on dry days. Feeding this way makes your dog work for his food and occupies him for longer. The remaining amount of his daily allowance should be fed in two meals every day (morning and evening) so that he will always see you as a ‘parental’ food provider. Ask all family members to take on this role on a rota basis, so they can all benefit from the resulting strengthened bond with your dog.
If feeding wet food, use other more convenient treats as rewards in training, but be careful to include them when calculating your dog’s daily food requirements. You’ll need to feed him at least two meals per day, but only one of these needs to be a large main meal. Half of half his allowance can be split up into smaller portions for more active feeding that requires him to make an effort to seek them out. Train your dog to bring you his bowl at these feeding times (unless it is ceramic and therefore too heavy). You can even go a step further with many herding dogs and train them to put washed bowls away in the cupboard afterwards!
As long as you are following daily feeding guidelines (see dog food packaging) overall each day and monitoring your dog’s weight to keep him in ideal body condition [link to body condition video], don’t worry if the resulting amount you put in his bowl looks small, and certainly don’t add more. Provided he has had his daily food allocation and you are feeding a complete diet, he will have all the nutrients and energy he needs to help him stay happy and healthy.