Complete Guide To Herding With Dogs

dog herding

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Does your dog like to herd you and your family, or perhaps your other pets? Dogs have been used to herd livestock for thousands of years, and herding is probably one of the oldest uses for domestic dogs. Many dogs have a strong herding instinct. Did you know there’s a sport for that? 

What is herding for dogs?

Herding as a behavior is the act of trying to round up a group of animals (or people). Dogs will do this by running large circles around the group, and circling smaller as the group moves in the direction that the dog wants.  Other behaviors include: staring down the animals or people, barking, and nipping at the heels. Some dog breeds do more of one behavior or another, such as eye contact or nipping.  Learn more about your breed on the AKC page (Insert link to AKC page here) 

But herding is also a sport! In the sport of herding, dogs perform the same behaviors to herd livestock (or in some cases, large balls), guided by their owner. You can do it competitively or just for fun. There are several ways to get involved in herding, which we’ll cover below.

Why does herding exist?

Herding as a sport exists because many dogs, especially breeds who were specifically bred for herding, have a strong herding instinct, including the Border Collie, Australian Cattle Dog, Belgian Malinois, , German Shepherd, Belgian Sheepdog, Tervuren, Australian Shepherd, Corgi and the McNab dog. This instinct likely does not get not used much in modern dog life, at least for dogs who live in urban or suburban areas. Herding allows the dog to use this instinct in a satisfying way. ​

The benefits of herding

  • It gives dogs the opportunity to use an instinct they otherwise don’t use
  • It provides mental stimulation for the dog by making them learn new skills and use problem solving
  • It provides physical exercise by letting the dog run big circles around their herd of livestock
  • It can help with some behavior issues in dogs, especially dogs with a high prey drive (meaning they are very motivated to chase anything they see as prey). Herding can be a great outlet for dogs who chase things in everyday life, which can be annoying to their humans. Herding gives them an appropriate place to use the instincts that they might not be allowed to use in the house or even the backyard.
  • Herding is a great way for you to bond with your dog, because it involves training them and spending time together.
  • You get to visit beautiful, wide open spaces, like farms and other rural areas!
black dog herding

Is herding right for me?

Herding might be right for you if you have a dog with a lot of energy, a strong prey drive, and herding instincts. (You’ll know if your dog has herding instincts if they try to “herd” you or your family members, especially small children!) The herding behavior can display itself in a variety of ways. Dogs might try to herd people by physically moving them with their body, by staring them down, or nipping at their heels. It also might be right for you if you’re simply looking for a fun and challenging new activity to try with your dog!

*Some breeds are built for herding: There’s an entire class of dogs called the Herding Group! Dog breeds in the Herding Group, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), share an instinct to herd other animals. These breeds were specifically developed to herd and protect livestock. Herding Group breeds include the Border Collie, the Australian Cattle Dog, the Belgian Malinois, the Border Collie, the German Shepherd, the McNab dog, and many more. The AKC has a comprehensive list of breeds in the Herding Group.

Different kinds of herding

There are lots of different things your dog can herd. Typical herding subjects include:

  • Ducks and geese
  • Sheep and other livestock
  • Treibball: this is a fun kind of herding that does not use animals, but instead uses inflatable balls of various sizes. The dog herds the balls into a net. Treibball is less costly than using live animals, and can also be a better option for people who live in more urban or suburban areas.
treibball

How to get started herding

Spectating: Spectating at a herding event is a fun and unique way to spend a day, and it can give you an idea of whether you’d like to try it yourself. There are a few different resources to find herding events (also called “trials”) near you:

You can also try looking for herding Facebook groups that are specific to your area, or checking sites like MeetUp for herding events. A simple Google search for “dog herding (your city)” will also do the trick!

Participating: Each herding club or association has a different set of rules and regulations for participating dogs. You will most likely have to request a rulebook, and your dog will have to pass a set of tests. The AKC, which has its own herding program, requires participants to obtain their book of regulations and to have prior training and exposure to livestock before they can participate in the program. 

Each program will have different rules and may require a different level of training or prior exposure to livestock. You will have to check the rules of the specific program you choose. Besides the AKC, the biggest herding programs in the United States are the ones referenced in the “spectating” paragraph:

If you want to participate in a trial of a club of your choice, make sure you know their rules before you begin training your dog. While there are plenty of general guides for training your dog to herd, you will need to know what kind of tests your dog will need to pass, and what specific tasks they will be performing in the trial, before you begin your training.

If you live in an urban area: Treibball is a great option for city dwellers. It can be done inside or outside (although you still need a fair amount of space—don’t try it in your apartment). Some dog agility training centers have indoor or outdoor treibball options that can be lots of fun for your dog. Check out the American Treibball Association for more information.

You can also try a DIY version of herding at a Sniffspot! Again, Treibball is the best option for this (as you probably don’t want to cart around a bunch of ducks or livestock for your dog to herd). You’ll need to choose a pretty spacious Sniffspot, and bring your own balls for your dog to play with. Here’s a guide to getting started. All you need is a good-sized Sniffspot, and a willing dog!

Happy herding!

Trainer Review of this Article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by certified, positive-only trainers.  

This is the certified trainer that reviewed this article:

Olivia Peterson, CCS
Owner – Sound Connection Dog Training
WSU Bachelors in Animal Science Business Management
​Northwest School of Canine Studies (NWSCS) Certification

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