Herding dogs are a different kind of dog. They’re full of energy and love to be out and about, versus finding themselves at home in a small backyard or living room. They like to learn and play games and expect a bit more than your typical house dog — okay, maybe a lot more.
The job of herding dogs like Australian shepherds is simple: to move livestock for their owners. However, they’re quickly gaining in popularity as family pets, and many breeds make great ones because they’re easy to train, plus loyal, attentive and friendly.
It’s essential, however, that herding dogs receive proper training and care to help keep them happy and fulfilled because any lack of physical or mental stimulation will affect them significantly. Read on for five training and care tips to integrate into your herding dog’s life:
1. Shake up Their Exercise Routine
Most dogs enjoy a walk or two every day to keep them excited and curious about the world around them, but if you have a herding dog, they will expect much more. Apart from their typical day of herding livestock with you, make time to explore the outdoors with your dog and take them on hikes or walks.
Keep it interesting for your dog, and change up their exercise routine now and then. Try out new environments and activities to keep them mentally stimulated by the new sights and smells around them.
2. Properly Groom Them
Herding dogs will often need a set of reliable equipment and grooming tools that include a slicker brush, a de-shedding tool with long teeth, a large comb, plier-style nail clippers and a dependable pair of clippers.
To groom your herding dog, you’ll need to de-shed their lower half, but be gentle, in case they have mats from being outdoors. Clean your dog’s ears with cotton balls and ear cleaner next, and carefully clip their nails so that you don’t hit a vein — only trim the white part of the toenail as a precaution.
Massage gentle shampoo throughout their coat, and pay attention to their rear, feet and belly area. Rinse and repeat the shampoo before applying conditioner. This step is essential to counteract the outdoor dog smell so that it doesn’t quickly return.
If a trim or shave is needed around their face or on their body, determine which clippers are best for your dog. There are cordless clippers that are convenient and helpful when it comes to hard-to-reach places, variable speed clippers that are great for more intense shaves and variable blades that are adjustable, versatile and excellent for thicker coats.
3. Encourage Their Independence
Herding dogs can be demanding when it comes to attention. Teach your dog independence early so that they don’t have separation-related problems later on — it’ll increase their confidence too.
Start at an early age, and leave your puppy in a designated area of your house while you fold laundry in the other room or cook dinner in the kitchen. Feel free to leave a treat-filled toy with them to keep them occupied.
4. Address Their Bad Habits Early
It isn’t unusual for herding dogs to have breed-specific habits or behaviors that aren’t desirable. Learn to recognize these habits, like nipping, chasing, poking, circling and barking.
You don’t want your dog to nip at your heels, poke you with their nose constantly, chase everything they see or annoy friends and family members by circling them while they try to walk. Barking is an especially common habit amongst herding dogs, and you should address it immediately — while it’s okay for your dog to bark while herding, they shouldn't make it a habit outside of that time.
Work with a dog trainer to manage your dog’s barking from an early age, that way you won’t have to work through breaking the habit later on.
5. Give Them Lots of Play Time
Herding dogs love to play with their human families. Since they need lots of stimulation during the day, they naturally want to keep busy. Play a game of hide and seek with your dog to give them a chance to herd you back together. You won’t even need to teach them this game since herding already comes naturally to them. Your dog will especially love playing this game with children.
Fetch is another favorite game of herding dogs. Use a tennis ball or frisbee, and throw it as far as you can, but be careful that you don’t wear out your dog, as they won’t stop playing until you end the game – even if they are exhausted. Avoid using sticks because they can cause injuries.
Herding dogs love training, so teach your dog a new trick now and then to keep their brain stimulated. Remember to reward them with a special treat or toy during this process. These dogs thrive on reward-based training, and it can lead to an excellent experience for both you and your dog.
While herding dogs have become favorite family pets, it’s important to know and understand that these energetic and intelligent dogs need and expect a different kind of lifestyle than your typical family pet. With the right training and care, your herding dog will live a happy and fulfilled life, and so will you with these loyal companions.
About the author:
Emily is a sustainability writer and avid gardener. You can read more of her work on her site, Conservation Folks, where she writes about helping tomorrow’s planet today.