A farmer may purchase and use a quad bike to herd livestock animals, but nothing beats the hard work and company of a sheepdog assistant. Not all canines have the characteristics fit for herding, but with good training, a sheepdog may give you a decade or more of excellent service.
What age can you train a sheepdog? Ages between six and twelve months can already be introduced to sheepdog training. A well-trained sheepdog should be able to veer a flock of sheep in several directions.
The shepherd’s dog
One of the most popular herding dog breeds is the border collie due to its high intelligence and ability to comprehend and respond to many commands. In fact, this is a well-deserved breed to be included on the top list as one of the easily trained dog breeds. They have adeptness as gatherers rather than tenders or drovers. They should be sensitive to commands spoken by their handlers. With a skilled trainer, they will be able to respond to different variations of whistle command tones.
Read: Dog Whistle Training
‘If the handler or the shepherd has ‘sheep sense’ and can understand what the sheep are going to do—and the dog has it too—it can become a remarkable partnership,’ mentioned Mr. Ewen MachKinnon, the national president of the International Sheepdog Society.
Apart from the border collie, there are also several other dog breeds with strong instincts to herd:
- Australian cattle dog
- Australian shepherd
- Bearded collie
- Belgian sheepdog
- Cardigan Welsh corgi
- German shepherd
- Old English sheepdog
- Pembroke Welsh corgi
- Shetland sheepdog
The above-mentioned breeds share the following common traits:
- Alert and active
- Ability to work well with humans
Preparing sheepdog training
Training starts with simple obedience training. With that, you will be able to tell how much the pooch is responding to training. This soon helps you to determine whether he is ready to start learning how to herd.
Introduce basic training commands
A regular canine can be easily taught how to sit, stay, come, and lie down. It is important to teach him to be obedient at all times especially off-leash. Train him to be able to focus on tasks despite environmental distractions. Without the mastery of the said skills, training to herd will be more challenging.
Observe his behaviour
A dog moving around in a circular motion either around you or other animals is one sign of a dog with strong herding instincts.
Play fetch with him
Use balls or other toys for him to retrieve. Fetch game helps him practise the use of basic obedience as well as developing his instincts to chase under your command.
Exercise his herding instincts
Whether you are raising herding breeds as a family companion or a sheepdog, it is important to keep them mentally and physically healthy. You may start simple with long walks; however, there are some that seek for more activities. Consider introducing some dog sports appropriate for a herding breed:
Agility courses are designed to let canines encounter different sets of obstacles such as tunnels, jumps, weave poles, and others.
Leaping from a dock into a pool is another form of exercise most herding dogs do enjoy. Just ensure that your pooch enjoys playing with water.
If you want to further encourage him with his natural herding instincts, you may want to seek help from a sheepdog handler expert. He/she may be able to introduce to your dog the easiest to hard commands.
Establishing sheepdog–sheep relationship
Introducing sheepdog training should be done with the goal of encouraging the dog’s interest in sheep. Let your sheepdog get accustomed to the company of the stock.
Sheep are known to shy around movements even from puppies. Use this as an opportunity to boost your puppy’s confidence with his power over the flock. The discipline may be introduced later. However, do not let him play around livestock unsupervised. Be wary of the threat of having an aggressive sheep that may chase the puppy away, causing him to lose his confidence around other animals.
On the other hand, there are dogs that may act aggressively when first introduced to sheep. Refrain yourself from punishing him for such initial behaviour; after all, this is what he is bred for—to chase. But this specific dog behaviour should not be encouraged.
The following video tackles a few behaviours that dog owners/trainers can likely encounter during the first introduction of sheepdogs to sheep. Watch now:
Sheepdog training commands
How do I teach my dog to herd? Give him time to get acclimated around a flock of livestock animals. Give him running sessions around the sheep with your close supervision. Start with basic commands such as ‘lie down,’ ‘come bye,’ or ‘go on’. ‘Lie down’ command establishes a definitive reminder. Dogs are often carried over the novelty of chasing. The said command may serve as a way of making sure that you still have his attention. It should be followed by a command to resume chasing.
Here are some of the common sheepdog commands:
- Away to me – Go right of the stock
- Come bye – Go left of the stock
- Steady – Slow down
- Lie down – Stop and lie down
- Stand – Stop
- Get out – Turn away from the stock
- Cast – Gather the flock into a group
- Hold – Make the flock stay in the same position
- Bark – Bark at the flock
- Walk up – Go closer to the flock
- That’ll do – Come back command
- Look Back – Go for the stray animal