Ever have a dog nudge you, not so gently, toward the food bowl? Or maybe they are habitual car chasers along the back yard fence. They may even nip excitedly at the kids when they are running in the yard. Odds are if you see this behavior you may have a herding breed on your hands. This month we want to take a look at healthy ways to channel herding dogs’ instinctive need to round up! After all, you are the pack leader and the last thing you need is one more person in your life telling you what to do, am I right?!?!
With 29 different breeds recognized as herders by the AKC, the herding group has dogs of all sizes, coats and colors that share the same drive to herd. These are working dogs who have been bred for generations to help their human companions manage livestock on ranches and farms all over the world. Known as being smart and loyal dogs with a desire to please, herding dogs are also popular family pets. Today, most herding dogs have traded long hours in the pasture for a cushy spot on the couch. And just like when Grandpa retired and no clue what to do with his new found leisure, your dog is going to want to stay active, even if he doesn’t know just how to channel that energy.
If you are lucky, that need to work will result in your dog choosing a job that makes your life easier like “herding” the kids to the dinner table, bringing in the newspaper or folding laundry. Ok, seriously, if your dog is folding the laundry call us, call America’s Funniest Video, call someone because that is amazing. But more often than not, this instinct to herd leads them to choose “jobs” that are not so helpful, such as car chasing, nipping at kids and guests and constant barking. If this sounds familiar the good news is with a little patience and some training you can redirect their behavior into a positive bonding experience for dog and owner (no, not folding laundry).
The first thing you need to do is make sure your dog is getting enough exercise. A tired dog is a happy, healthy dog (and a happy owner)! Herding breeds are highly energetic by nature. Take your dog with you on a run, train them to run next to your bike, let them enjoy some off-leash time at the local dog park or a daily game of fetch in the back yard. Get them moving and get that energy out!
Secondly, you need to provide herding dogs with mental exercise every day. For the most part, herding dogs are highly trainable. This is why many of them, such as German Shepherds, are used in law enforcement and search and rescue. They crave that mental stimulation and bonding time with their human counterparts. Like having a smart kid who misbehaves in call because he is just bored out of his mind, you have to challenge them. Direct their attention to jobs you want them to do. For example, you can teach your dog to pick up and put away their own toys! (I know parents that would love to teach their kids that trick too!)
Another option would be to look for activities that make the most of their athleticism. For example, the sport of flyball is a favorite pastime for many herding dog owners. This is a dog relay race where a team of 4 dogs speed down a straight track and over hurdles to fetch a ball from a spring loaded box. Many communities have clubs that meet on a regular basis to train and race. Agility courses are also another good choice for these smart and active breeds. Some owners are even seeking out real herding opportunities and rural areas are now hosting “city” dogs for a chance to put their instincts to use with real livestock.
Whatever you choose, if you provide your herding pup with the mental and physical stimulation they need, you will see unwanted behaviors dwindle and man’s best friend shine through. At Smart Dogs we can help you learn advanced training techniques that enrich the lives of canine companions and their owners. Check out our website for more details.
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