This month, we’re talking about herding. Dog Herding is an age-old pastoral practice of wrangling livestock. Some popular herding breeds include corgis, border collies, cattle dogs, Jack Russell Terriers, and Australian Shepherds.
Animal behavioralist John Bradshaw puts it succinctly: “The collie who herds sheep is the shepherd’s best friend; the pet collie who tries to herd children and chases bicycles is an owner’s nightmare.”
We’ve domesticated dogs to do what we want them to. However, that doesn’t mean their evolutionary cycle is caught up with our cultural standards. Dogs do still have hereditary instincts, so people have found ways to engage those instincts through herding sports.
What is Dog Herding?
For thousands of years, dogs have been used to herd livestock on farms. Through generations of being trained to corral animals, many breeds now have a strong urge to herd other creatures around them. Common herding breeds include border collies, cattle dogs, and corgis.
The act of herding is when a dog runs big circles around groups of people or animals in order to round everyone up. Dogs engage their problem-solving skills while participating in herding activities, which creates a smarter and happier dog. Herders will bark, nip, and stare down other animals they want to get the attention of. Similar to a clingy ex, herding dogs will do anything to get your attention and wrangle you into their energy.
Herding dogs who come to Fitdog love to run big, fast circles around the yard. We believe it’s to try and wrangle the other dogs and staff members. Our daycare member Newton, a border collie, can run in fast circles for several minute bouts. Newton loves puzzle-solving and playing fetch, and we love seeing the moments where he really gets to exercise his intelligence through games and problem-solving. Oh, and he gives the best hugs.
Herding Sports, Activities, and More
Herding isn’t just for the farm! Trainers and owners agree that herding sports are a proactive way to engage your dog’s instincts, and this kind of sport is both mentally and physically challenging. Several organizations have been formed for dogs competing in professional-level herding sports competitions, but herding sports are recreational, too!
Treibball is a game that involves a “herd” of pilates balls which your dog must figure out how to wrangle. By directing your dog to move around the balls, you’re strengthening your team-building and reinforcing their problem-solving skills. Unlike agility, which requires owners to run around with their dogs, Treibball requires no physical stress for humans. Find out more about organized Treibball here!
Frisbee is an activity that herding dogs tend to excel at because of the physically challenging pace of the sport. This is a great activity if you’re looking to get a workout with your dog, and it’s also super low-cost. For more serious competitors, there are disc dog competitions that host teams from all around the world.
Agility is a fun and gratifying sport for herding dogs
Fitdog offers a Fun + Fit Agility Class during which dogs learn to navigate obstacle courses quickly and flawlessly in exchange for rewards. Dogs get a big mental workout from taking agility class, which is very important for all dogs, but especially so for super-smart herding breeds. Some of the activities your dog might do during an agility class include hoop-jumping, tunnel navigating, and walking along a balance beam or A-frame.
If your dog loves to herd, taking them to a park where they can practice any of the aforementioned activities can be a fun and interactive form of exercise. The mental stimulation dogs get from herding is worth just as much as their physical exercise. All dogs, but especially working dogs, highly benefit from mental exercise. Happy herding, everyone!
Cover photo: Dawid Sobolewski