Training Your Border Collie to Herd Like a Pro: The Complete 10-Step Guide
Training Your Border Collie to Herd to display their innate herding abilities is an extremely rewarding process. Their heritage as working sheepdogs leaves them bursting with natural talent just waiting to be shaped by your guidance. Follow this 10 step guide to tap into your Border Collie’s instincts and train them to herd skillfully.
Training Your Border Collie to Herd Step 1: Ensure Your Border Collie has Strong Herding Instincts
While herding comes naturally to most Border Collies, some show little interest or aptitude. Gauge your individual dog’s drive by their response to toys or treats moved in a circular pattern. Does your dog intensely stare, stalk and attempt to control the movement? If so, their obsession indicates strong potential.
Puppies can be tested for herding instincts as early as 7 weeks of age. Dogs lacking “eye” and the right intensity are poor candidates for herding work. Your Border Collie should exhibit focus, intensity, and determination in their response to potential “prey”.
Training Your Border Collie to Herd Step 2: Manage Your Border Collie’s Environment
Eliminate rehearsal of inappropriate herding behaviors from the start. Never allow chasing or nipping at people, cars, pets, etc. Redirect obsessive staring at objects like shadows or lights rotating from fans. Managed environments prevent bad habits.
Provide outlets like toys that mimic herding. Balls, oval discs, or stuffed prey on ropes allow your Border Collie to exercise their herding style. Reward circling, staring, and stalking of appropriate objects. Manage the environment so these skills only get practiced on toys during training.
Training Your Border Collie to Herd Step 3: Master Obedience Commands
Solid obedience is crucial to apply their herding skills appropriately. Train and proof commands like “sit”, “down”, “stay”, “that’ll do” and “come” in both low and high distraction environments. They must respond to your cues, not just act on their own instincts.
Hand signals should also be taught, as verbal commands may go unheard from a distance in large herding spaces. A long training lead provides control until your Border Collie is reliable off-leash. Obedience is the foundation upon which herding skills are built.
Training Your Border Collie to Herd Step 4: Introduce Livestock
Find a herding training clinic or mentor. Begin by letting your Border Collie quietly observe calm livestock like sheep or ducks from outside a pen – reward neutral behavior. Allow brief, structured introductions on lead, praising gentle investigation. Let their interest build slowly.
Avoid flooding your Border Collie suddenly with too much stimuli. Give them time to gain confidence reading livestock body language and sounds. Rushing this foundation work can make some dogs reactive or fearful. Build their bond with stock gradually using positive associations.
Training Your Border Collie to Herd Step 5: Practice Herding Commands
As your Border Collie’s introduction to stock progresses, put obedience commands to use in the herding context. With lead on, walk perimeter and reward stopping on command when focused on livestock.
Teach directional commands like “come-bye” (go right) and “away to me” (go left). Link known commands to desired herding behaviors until your dog associates them with controlling stock. Develop an instructional vocabulary tailored to your needs.
Training Your Border Collie to Herd Step 6: Let Instincts Emerge
As your Border Collie’s confidence grows, allow them brief, successful off-lead interactions to display their natural herding abilities like gathering, driving, and circling stock. Avoid too much pressure at first that may cause scattering the livestock. Keep early sessions short, structured and positive.
Praise natural stalking, circling wide, and staying behind stock. Allow their eye, orientation and balance instincts to emerge while maintaining control with your commands. Let livestock respond before reprimanding incorrect actions like gripping. Build successes.
Training Your Border Collie to Herd Step 7: Correct Unwanted Behaviors
Apply fair corrections for unwanted herding behaviors like excessive nipping, fixation, or forcing stock. Quickly interrupt undesirable conduct with commands like “leave it”. Remove your dog from the situation for a brief timeout when needed. Some pressure on stock may be appropriate but monitor closely.
Reward only calm, controlled herding behavior in line with your cues. Untrained Border Collies often become over-stimulated and exhibit poor conduct like constant nipping. Corrections are a normal part of shaping their raw abilities into controlled skills. Keep communication clear and fair.
Training Your Border Collie to Herd Step 8: Increase Difficulty Incrementally
Gradually increase challenges like working larger groups, obstinate stock, longer sessions, distractions, or unfamiliar locations. Vary training to build skill and avoid boredom. Occasional setbacks are normal. Keep a record of successes to highlight progress over time.
Achieving well-rounded competence requires exposing your Border Collie to diverse herding situations. But difficulty should be raised in small increments, not giant leaps. Make challenges slight extensions of previously mastered work. Their skills will develop steadily with varied experience.
Training Your Border Collie to Herd Step 9: Encourage Instinctive Moves
While applying obedience, allow room for your Border Collie’s good instincts to come forward. Less direction from you allows greater expression of their natural style. Provide opportunities for them to show intuitive “power”, “fetching”, gathering, driving, and olfflanking without micromanaging constantly.
With a foundation of training, your input simply hones their genetic abilities. Let your commands support their herding talents rather than restrict them. Carl Jung said, “The mother of intuition is experience.” Trust yours to guide your Border Collie’s inherent skills.
Training Your Border Collie to Herd Step 10: Proof Commands in Distraction Environments
Test your training by periodically working in high distraction settings like unfamiliar locations with sizable crowds present. Ensure your Border Collie responds reliably to commands despite heavy disruption. Solid proofing cements their training for real work applications.
Avoid relying on physical corrections even in high stimulation environments. Use clear communication, praise, and the removal of livestock pressure as rewards for compliant behavior. Aim for a harmonious partnership directing your Border Collie’s amazing instincts toward productive work.
FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions About Training Border Collies to Herd)
Training a Border Collie to herd using positive, structured methods taps into their deepest instincts in a fulfilling way. Here are answers to some common questions about developing your dog’s innate talents:
At what age can Border Collies start herding training?
Preliminary introduction to livestock can start as young as 8-12 weeks to lay a foundation. But formal training does not begin until 6-10 months once basic obedience is trained and impulse control has improved. Until maturity, sessions are short and structured.
How long does it take to train a Border Collie to herd well?
It often takes 1-2 years of regular lessons and practice to develop useful herding skills. Some dogs show remarkable early aptitude. Others progress slowly for the first year before their maturity and experience kick in. Be patient and focus on incremental achievements.
What livestock are best for novice herding dogs?
Beginner Border Collies are often introduced to docile livestock like ducks, sheep, or even larger livestock wearing protective contact gear. Cattle allow learning defensive maneuvering. Chickens teach dexterous movement. Sheep are good all-around starter stock.
Is herding training worth it for just a pet?
Absolutely! Herding taps into key mental and physical needs even for pet Border Collies. It provides vital stimulation and an appropriate outlet for their instincts. Trained dogs exhibit more self-control and connection with their owner. Herding exercises a Border Collie’s mind and body in irreplaceable ways.
How do I correct excessive nipping during herding?
Carry a slip lead to swiftly but gently check your Border Collie if they become over-zealous. Given their vocal nature, a sharp verbal “ehh!” or “no bite!” also works for some dogs. Brief timeout next to the pen helps recalibrate. Nipping should result in immediate loss of livestock pressure and praise when stopped.
For Border Collies, herding training is about bringing their incredible genetic talents under the guidance of your leadership. Used ethically and paired with reward-based methods, it taps into their deepest instincts in a healthy way.
Have realistic expectations, celebrate small successes, and keep a sense of humor. The journey will strengthen the bond with your Border Collie in a profoundly satisfying way for you both. Pursue herding training as a recreational outlet and you may just discover the next herding champion!