Working With Herding Dogs On a Homestead

The herding dog has evolved over many centuries into the various breeds now associated with herding livestock. Border Collie, Australian Cattle Dog and Australian Kelpie are a few of the breeds of commonly found herding dogs on homesteads, although less commonly thought of breeds such as the Poodle, Wheaten Terrier, Keeshond and Samoyed also have herding ability. Many mixed breed dogs will show herding instinct and therefore make a suitable herding dog.

They herd livestock for many reasons. The homesteader may want to move animals many miles from winter grazing areas to summer pastures to control the area grazed within a very large field. The homesteader may only want to move the animals into the barn or pen at night. Depending on your homestead, an appropriate dog can usually be found.

Early exposure to the job and proper training is important for all dogs trained to help people. Experienced people with herding dogs may feel comfortable training their new dog. For inexperienced homesteaders there are many trainers available to give instruction on proper training and handling of a herding dog. Trained dogs are also widely available. A guardian dog is often left alone for most of the day on the homestead. A herding dog/handler relationship must be well-established before they can work effectively as a team. The homesteader must also possess a good knowledge of the livestock's behavior and what they require of them and the dog(s) during the routine herding of their animals.

Once trained, a dog can work off a leash and respond to your voice, whistle or hand commands. Constant reinforcement of training and exposure to livestock is necessary to maintain a high level of herding control.

Small homesteads may find that they only need a dog to help move the livestock in the morning and at night. In this situation a fully trained herding dog may not be justified. My experience with sheep has been that they will respond to many pure and mixed breed dogs. They can use a dog on a long line or leash to move the sheep. They make the job of moving sheep easier for the homesteader. Provided the homesteader gives the sheep a place to move or escape from the dog, the sheep will often go. Difficult sheep may challenge the untrained dog and need additional persuasion to move. A trained herding dog would have learned how to deal with these sheep. The homesteader can help the untrained dog to get the animals moving.

Moving livestock is as much about patience as technique. A calm patient dog (and handler) will move animals better than one that runs around berserk. The homesteader should avoid running the livestock (which could cause injury or lower livestock productivity) or apply needless pressure or stress to the animals when herding. Watching dogs herding, whether it is at a herding trial or a neighbor's homestead, will provide valuable insight on how they practice the art of herding.