Herding dogs were bred to work and work hard. They are a high energy and highly intelligent dog. They are also bred to work for a handler.
This means they are very active, their minds are constantly switched on and they need human interaction.
That is fine if they are a working dog. However, if you have a herding dog breed as a pet these traits can lead to severe problem behavior. It is crucial that you are able to cater to these needs. As an owner of a herding dog breed, you will need to make a time and energy commitment.
Herding dog behavior issues
- Boredom and failing to meet a herding dog breed’s physical and mental stimulation needs can result in various destructive and nuisance behaviors. This includes, destructive behavior, chewing, digging and nuisance barking.
- Herding behavior can be an issue. You may find your herding dog likes to herd the children, you or other pets in the home. To them, this is quite normal and they are just doing what seems natural to them. Herding people can be one of the most annoying behaviors of this type of dog.
- Nipping behavior. Herding breeds that were bred to work with cattle can quite often exhibit nipping behavior. When herding cows or cattle they will nip the hock of the animal to get them moving. However, if they are nipping you or family members it can be quite painful and leave a nasty bruise.
- Chasing behavior. Quite often a herding breed dog may form the habit of chasing things such as cars, bikes or skateboarders. Obviously, this can be very dangerous for your dog and people.
Dealing with herding dog behavior problems
It is impossible to remove a herding breeds natural herding behavior, but it is possible to redirect it into healthier outlets.
The first thing to do when your dog tries to herd you is to ignore it. If you react to your dog’s herding it will make them think it is a fun and entertaining game. Ignoring them will remove the fun from it.
Practice good obedience training and give them a sit, stay command or leave command when they try to herd you. A good recall or come command is essential so you can call them if they are herding other people. Redirect them by using games or toys.
There are three main categories of dog toy: Chew toys, interactive and puzzle toys and plush toys. If you understand the three main categories of dog toy you can develop a strategy to use the various toys to develop your relationship, teach important skills and behaviors and help to make your dog calm, balanced and happy. Read “Not all dog toys are created equal” to learn about how to use their toys to teach wanted behavior.
It is also crucial to provide plenty of physical and mental exercise. Herding behavior often occurs when they are bored or have too much energy. For ideas on how to tire your dog read “How to tire a hyper high energy dog” and “How to tire a dog quickly“.
Don’t underestimate the importance of providing mental enrichment and stimulation. Mental exercise can tire a dog just as much as physical exercise. Learn about the six types of enrichment for your dog by reading “Mental stimulation for Border Collies and herding dogs”
Again, nipping is a natural instinct for cattle dogs and can be impossible to remove. This behavior needs to be redirected. If your dog nips correct the behavior with a verbal correction. Then redirect them with a toy or game. This comes down to obedience training and having consistent rules and boundaries.
Obviously chasing cars and bikes can be quite dangerous. The key is prevention. Avoid putting your dog in a situation where they can do this by having them on a lead.
Try to catch it early. If you notice that they are about to start a chase redirect their attention back to you or a toy, or put them on a leash. Once they go into this chase state of mind it can be hard to stop them. Work on developing a strong recall command so you can call them off if they set off on a chase.
Boredom related behaviors
With all these behaviors it is crucial to provide the physical and mental exercise they need. A herding dog breed needs a least one to two hours a day of physical exercise. In addition, it is important to stimulate their minds with toys and games. A tire and fulfilled dog is less likely to be bored and act up.
Herding balls for dogs
Herding balls are an excellent way for herding dog breeds to burn off energy while catering to their natural herding instinct. It is like sheep herding without the sheep and is similar to the herding dog sport Treiball (see below).
As these breeds were bred to chase and control moving objects. Teaching your dog to play herding games will actually reduce their desire to herd people and other dogs as herding breeds often do.
This is a review of two of the best herding balls for dogs. These balls are virtually indestructible and because they are made of hard plastic or rubber your dog is unable to bite them, so they have to push them instead.
The Jolly Ball was the original herding ball for dogs and is inexpensive. It is made from hard plastic and is virtually indestructible. However, some dogs are able to scratch the surface with their teeth or claws which can leave sharp ridges on the toy. Can also be filled with water or sand to add weight to give more resistance to the workout.
View Jolly Balls on Amazon
The Jolly ball also comes in a range of sizes from 4 1/2 inches to 14 inches so you can choose the size that is best suited to your particular dog. A further option is the Jolly Soccer Ball if you want to be able to kick it yourself. This ball floats on water and will not puncture.
Virtually Indestructible Ball
The Virtually Indestructible Ball is super tough and is slightly more expensive. It also comes in a range of sizes to suit your particular dog.
View Virtually Indestructible Balls on Amazon
Herding dog games and toys
A dog sport that was created specifically for herding breeds is called Treiball or Push Ball and originated from Germany. This is like sheep herding without the sheep and uses large balls, similar to a Swiss ball used by people to exercise. To learn more about this fascinating sport check out the video below. See Treiball equipment on Amazon.
Other dog sports
Consider involving your dog in one of the many dog sports available such as agility, lure coursing, dock diving and many more. It is not necessary to compete as a serious competitor to reap the benefits for your dog. Alternatively, you can do these activities yourself with your herding dog in the backyard. Read “Dog sports you may not know” for more ideas.
Set up an agility or obstacle circuit in your backyard
You can set up obstacles such as tunnels and jumps and when you have a spare five to ten minutes to run them through the course a few times. See dog agility equipment on Amazon.
Alternatively, try Urban agility. This is when you use natural obstacles you come across on your walk. This may be things like jumping up and then off of a park bench. Or jumping a fence or climbing up on a large rock.
Play with other dogs
Provide the opportunity to socialize and play with other dogs whenever possible. This not only helps to release physical energy, but it also provides socialization and a mental release for your dog. Of course, don’t let them herd the other dogs.
Teach new commands and tricks
Learning new commands and tricks is an excellent way to challenge and stimulate a dog’s mind. It also provides quality time with your dog and helps build and strengthen your bond.
Providing for your dog’s physical health through exercise is good and very necessary, but channeling your dog’s mind is equally as important.
Read Mental stimulation for Border Collies and herding breeds for more on this and to learn about the six types of mental enrichment and mind stimulation.
Two of the best ways to provide mental enrichment is through toys including puzzle and interactive toys (see “Top Puzzle Toys for Dogs“) and thorough scenting and nose games. (See “12 Scenting and Tacking Nose Games” for more)
Kong toys are an essential tool for all dogs, especially the highly intelligent herding dog. See “How to use a Kong for dogs” to learn more.
Dog toys that move on their own
There are many dog toys that actually move that would cater well to a herding dog’s natural instincts. Read “Dog toys that move on their own” to find out more.
Throw a ball or toy a dozen or so times when you have a spare minute. To increase the intensity throw down a hill or stairs. Fetch is a game that a herding breed dog can play for a long time. Consider getting an automatic ball launcher so they can play fetch with themselves. Read “Automatic ball launchers for dogs” to learn more
A flirt pole is like a big cat tickler with a stick, rope and a lure or toy attached to the end. Move the lure around in circles or in all directions along the ground and your dog will chase it. Works with the dog’s natural prey instinct so will provide plenty of mental stimulation too.
View Flirt Poles on Amazon
Tug of War
Play a game of Tug of War with your dog. Make them crouch and pull back using extra energy.
Over exercised dog symptoms
Is it possible to over-exercise your herding dog? Over-exercising any dog can have severe consequences such as muscle, tendon and joint injury, overheating and heatstroke and even collapse. It is important for a dog owner to know the signs to watch for to prevent over exercising their dog. Read “Over exercised dog symptoms” to learn more about this.
To avoid behavior problems resulting from their natural drives and boredom provide plenty of physical and mental exercise as well as the opportunity for social interaction. This will give you a calm, happy and well-mannered pet.
How to exercise a Blue Heeler or Cattle Dog
50 Boredom Busters and games for dogs
How much exercise does a Border Collie Need
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