Livestock Herders



Your dog is this type if he:
Is very energetic, loves long walks, eagerly watches and chases anything that moves, and has a great willingness to retrieve 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 easily and quickly.

Exercise and play

 Livestock Herding Dogs love the great outdoors and generally have a lot of stamina, having been bred for working very long hours out in fields, mountains and hillsides in all weathers. They are not put off by wet or cold weather, so fair-weather walkers or couch potatoes should probably consider a dog from another group. 

Although long walks are appreciated, mental exercise is equally important for Livestock Protection Dogs. Walking the same boring route day after day will leave them barely exercised and bored, but the concentration and focused activity of a challenging half-hour of training and learning new tricks can leave them tired and happy. Variety is very important to Livestock Herding Dogs so be ready to vary walks and go to as many different environments as possible, including beaches, woodland, open fields, hills, riversides and so on.

Given these dogs’ natural propsensity for chasing and herding, a reliable recall is also essential to keep them away from any hazards, such as chasing a squirrel towards a road, or if you encounter livestock on a country walk.

Sports that combine mind and body exercise are ideal, including agility (an obstacle course for dogs), competitive obedience, heelwork to music (dancing with your dog), rally-O (a fun obedience course), sheepdog trials, working trials (a mixture of obedience and agility, trained to a high standard), treibball (‘herding’ gym balls) or flyball (a relay race over jumps, triggering and catching a tennis ball and returning back to the start for the next dog to start the run). Size is a factor, of course: a Corgi is unlikely to manage scaling the obstacles required in working trials, but would enjoy rally-O and agility; a German Shepherd, however, is ideally suited to working trials.

Independent play

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 on their own with nothing to amuse themselves, 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; and once they know what gets your attention, you may start to be manipulated into providing more regular attention than you perhaps intended.

Suitable independent games include puzzle toys where he has to figure out how to move the correct covers or blocks on a board to reveal treats. You can also fill treat-dispensing toys (the ball-type and bouncing varities are particularly enjoyed by this group, as they enjoy chasing) and hide them so he can play ‘hunt the toy’. Once he has found them, he can then rise to the challenge and occupy his mind and exercise his physical dexterity at removing the treats from the toys. Hiding the treats in small cereal boxes is a cheaper and easy alternative to buying commercially manufactured treat-toys.

Livestock Herding Dogs – particularly Collies – love chasing after balls and returning them to be thrown again and again, but for the owner that wants a rest, ball-throwing machines are now available and scoop toys will help you throw the ball further and less often. You should always be on hand to supervise these often highly energetic and active games to ensure your dog’s safety.

Playing with the owner

This group love to work and play with their human family and they are quite time-intensive dogs, needing a good deal of occupation and stimulation each day to compensate for not working full-time with cattle or sheep.

On slower off-lead walks, German Shepherd Dogs, for example, 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 run off to find them and encourage them back to the group. Children love this game. Many Livestock Herding Dogs don’t need to be taught this game, but if yours needs a helping paw there are training instructions elsewhere on this page.

The ‘fetch’ game is another activity that many herding dogs do naturally; some Border Collies will bring you a tennis ball or a frisbee to throw endlessly.

Don’t expect him to stop when he is tired: he will just keep on until you stop, so be careful not to go beyond his limits. Excessive jumping for Frisbees can cause joint problems, and injuries can occur if he lands awkwardly or stops suddenly.

Training together in a dog sport is a great idea, but if you don’t have the time for regular classes and competitions, take a short taster course and buy some agility equipment – a couple of jumps, a tunnel, some weave poles etc - for some fun games in the garden. These items can easily be improvised if you don’t want to purchase any equipment, although agility sets are usually quite affordable. Older children in the family will enjoy running a course with the dog.

Livestock Herding Dogs are bright dogs and are quick to learn with reward-based training. Train them at any opportunity throughout the day – while the kettle is boiling, during a TV ad break, etc. These ‘little-and-often’ sessions will keep their brains ticking over far more effectively than long, less frequent sessions. However, do not over-stimulate them with endless new experiences and 24/7 entertainment – they need down-time to relax and switch off for best performance and maximum enjoyment later.

Hide-and-seek in five easy steps

You will need: a willing friend and a ‘smelly’ treat, such as dried tripe or small piece of strong cheese

• In your home, ask a friend or family member to hold your dog. Then, armed with a smelly treat, hide somewhere in another room – maybe behind the sofa or a door.
• Call your hound’s name and say your recall word (e.g. “Come”), at which point your friend should release the dog, so that he can come and find you.
• It won’t take him very long at all to track down the smelly treat – and you with it – at which point, you should give him lots of praise and a piece of the treat.
• Repeat the game and, over time, make it increasingly harder for your dog to find you by, for example, going outside to hide in the garden where there may be more distractions, and then hiding on walks in places where it is safe for your dog to be off the lead.
• If the dog needs help finding you, make a sound such as “Lalalalalalala.” Don’t use his name or your “Come” request – say it only once at the beginning of each search.

Emotional bonding

Dogs of this type sometimes bond strongly with one person, but can enjoy the company of all members of their human family even if they have a particular soft spot for one. 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, with early socialisation and training, with cats as well, especially those who are used to dogs, less likely to run and therefore less likely to be chased.

Livestock Herding Dogs dogs are generally well-tuned to their owners’ moods so they tend to be best with a consistent, laid-back owner who signals their intentions clearly. For example, if there is a loud, unexpected noise, your dog will instantly look to you and assess your reaction – if you are calm, they will be reassured that there is nothing amiss; if you look anxious, or make a fuss of them in an attempt to comfort them, they are more likely to become anxious themselves.

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 you 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 and about with you to visit dog-friendly cafés, gardens, pubs or 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 getting the occasional stroke. Physical contact is important to these dogs, so he may put his head on your feet or lap or 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 picked up, 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 anxiety. Accustom him 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 comfy den-like indoor kennel (sometimes called a crate) or a cosy bed in a dog-proofed room where he can snooze or chew a 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 become pests in their attempts to solicit endless attention and many learn to nudge you for a pat and then not leave you alone. 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 nature and intensity of the bond you enjoy with your dog, as he won’t develop expectations for attention that are then frustrated; and, from your point of view, he won’t become a nuisance with his demands for attention. He’ll get just as much attention as you want to give him, but not be dependent on it for his happiness.

The dogs in this group that have strong, natural guarding instincts – such as the German and Belgian Shepherd Dogs – will 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 you should ensure that it is ongoing 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 relentlessly at every noise. Livestock Herding Dogs dogs are also more likely to become possessive over toys, food, beds and other resources (including you!) if they feel threatened, which is another reason why early socialisation is a must. Training him to ‘give’ up his toys or indeed any objects on request is quite easy if you can offer an even better item, such as a treat, in return. See our Guarding Dogs [link] article for more information.  

Nutrition and health

Most Livestock Herding dogs aren’t as food-obsessed as other types. Food rewards, particularly high-value treats, usually work well for learning new exercises when training, but if your herder isn’t especially food-motivated, try verbal praise to reinforce his behaviour – your pride in him will make him very happy! 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.

About a quarter of his daily dry food allowance can be used as training rewards (if he is food motivated). Another quarter can be used in mobile treat-dispensing toys for him to play with throughout the day, indoors and out, and another quarter can be scattered around the garden for him to hunt – feeding this way makes him work harder than just wandering over to the food bowl twice a day and eating all his food in minutes. The remaining amount of his daily ration should be fed in two meals every day (morning and evening) so that he will always see you as a ‘parental’ food provider. Get all family members to take on this role on a rota basis.

Train your dog to bring you his bowl at feeding times (assuming he hasn’t trained you to feed him by bringing you his bowl first). You can often go a step further and train him to put his washed bowl away in the cupboard afterwards.

Seek professional advice from your vet or a qualified behaviourist if he becomes over-protective of his toys, food bowls etc, especially if you have a large breed with natural guarding instincts like a German or Belgian Shepherd Dog. With pups, this type of problem is easily prevented by training him to bring you items on request to be swapped for something more desirable. If he feels he is upgrading from a chew toy, for example, to one filled with treats, then he will be a willing participant and the learning can soon be generalised to other items that he may pick up, such as shoes, handbags etc. All members of the family should play these early games with the pup, even children under supervision. Some breeds in this group share certain behavioural similarities with Guarding Dogs.

Key Facts: Livestock Herders

Your dog is this type if he:
Is very energetic, loves long walks, eagerly watches and chases anything that moves, and has a great willingness to retrieve 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 easily and quickly.

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