Training Herding Dogs: SugarFree Facts
Concept 1: Your dog must have the instinct to herd.
Only dogs that are born with the instinct to herd will be able to do so. Training a herding dog is not teaching it to herd. Training a herding dog is teaching it to do what it's instincts are telling it to do in an orderly manner. The "training" involves putting those instincts into action in the way you want it done. Therefore, if your dog was not born with adequate instinct for the job you need it to perform, there is nothing a trainer can do to correct that. Instinct is dictated by nature, not trainers. This is why breeders work very hard to produce the best working dogs that nature can provide. This is also why purchasing a well-bred herding dog is a wise investment prior to spending money on training.
Concept 2: Herding is work.
Herding is not the same as chasing. Herding is work. Chasing is play. Dogs who are playing will quit when it ceases to be fun. Work is not fun, it is work. It can be enjoyable and dogs that have the instinct to work will prefer to work above all else. Dogs that have some instinct, but not enough instinct to stick with it when the going gets tough, will quit working when the trainer asks more and more of the dog. This is sometimes not seen until the dog reaches that point in its training when the trainer begins to ask for more (called putting on pressure). For this reason, owners should realize that their dog may be able to herd up to a point, but does not have the ability to go beyond that individual limitation. So, money can be spent to train a dog for months only to discover that the dog reached its limit before the desired level of performance was obtained. For example, an owner wanting to work cattle, may find that his dog reached its limit with sheep or goats.
Concept 3: Cattle are harder to work than sheep.
If a dog has adequate herding instinct to begin training, it will be started on sheep regardless of the type of livestock (poultry, sheep, goats, cattle, etc.) the owner needs the dog to work. This is because the dog cannot concentrate on learning commands and skills when it is having to deal with difficult livestock. Once the dog is performing well on sheep, it can be moved to goats, then to cattle, etc. Each time the dog is moved to more difficult livestock, there is the potential for discovering that the dog is unable to handle that type of livestock...it has reached its limit. So, even though a dog can work sheep, it does not mean that it can work goats. If a dog can work goats, it doesn't mean it can work cattle.
Concept 4: Each dog is an individual.
Like people, dogs are individuals. No two dogs are exactly alike. Even among littermates, dogs can be as diverse as two children from the same household. Some dogs will "turn on" to livestock as young puppies while others turn on as near adults. Neither is better than the other...only different. Some dogs will develop their herding abilities with training. Others will simply learn how to control the abilities that have already developed naturally. Some will show herding ability until it becomes "work" and then loose interest. This individuality makes it a "best guess" situation when judging the potential of young dogs. Dogs from working parents have a better chance of working.
Concept 5: Horses can kill a dog.
Dogs pretty much never get hurt working poultry. They only rarely are hurt working sheep...usually pulled tendons, etc. They can be hurt working goats, especially large bucks, but if the dog is tough these instances are few. Dogs can and most likely will be hurt working cattle. For this reason, dogs that do not have the desire to work cattle should not be forced. The owner should accept the dog's limitations and work them on the type of livestock for which that individual dog is best suited. Because of the way horses kick, especially horses wearing iron shoes, many dogs have lost their lives to horses when trying to work them. In addition, dogs that are taught to work horses will not recognize the difference between working in the pasture and working the horses when they are carrying riders. This can be very dangerous to dog, horse, and rider. For this reason, we do not train dogs to work horses.
Concept 6: Pets are not working dogs most of the time.
Pet dogs (which includes farm dogs) are not the same as working dogs. Even dogs of the "herding" breeds are not always able to be working dogs. If a dog was purchased as a pet, it was most likely bred and/or raised to be a pet. Just because a farmer owns a herding breed of dog does not mean that this dog will automatically be able to work. Most pets will lack instinct, focus, work ethic, natural stock sense, and many other innate (born with it) traits that are necessary in a working farm dog. If your pet is descended from anything other than good working parents, then chances are it won't work the way you desire. Don't assume that your dog will be able to be trained to be a working herding dog. Only training, livestock experience, and time will tell.
Concept 7: Working Dogs can be loved by families.
A working dog needs to be first and foremost a worker, but this doesn't mean it cannot be loved, live in the house when not working, and enjoy other activities. However, when working dogs are living in the house, enjoying the family attention, and engaging in other activities (like hiking, playing frizbee, etc.) they should be taught herding first and discipline must be maintained even during play and relaxation time.