Herding dogs originally worked alongside humans and were bred for the sole purpose of assisting with livestock. This means that many of the qualities and instincts required for the job are innate within herding breeds. As many societies progressed away from agrarian lifestyles, many began to keep herding dogs for their companionship, rather than for their herding ability. Even though the strong instinct to herd that was passed down to them by their ancestors remains, these breeds still require proper training in order to put their natural abilities to use.
AKC Definition of a Herding Breed
The American Kennel Club officially recognizes 25 breeds in its Herding Group. They vary in size, appearance and country of origin, but all of them have one thing in common: the trait of being able to successfully shepherd animals much larger or quite different than themselves.
The Herding Instinct
Herding breeds are born with the instinct to herd. Obviously, this is the result of generations of their ancestors working as herders. However, many more dogs are companions now, and fewer dogs work than in times past. As a result, your herding dog, regardless of the breed, may never have come into contact with livestock in his life. His instincts may lead him to herd playing children, but he may never have been trained to herd livestock and therefore might not know how.
Herding dogs can and do need to be trained to herd on command. According to Animal Planet, you can begin this training yourself by teaching him to stay when you throw a toy instead of fetching it, and then training him to chase it on command. From there, a visit to a farm or ranch will introduce him to livestock if he has never seen it before. You can then see how he reacts to herds. Also, the AKC offers a herding instinct test that can indicate your dog's ability to be trained. It can also be applied to other breeds, as non-herding breeds can be trained to herd as well. Dogs can also take part in events called herding trials. Trainers and online classes are also available.
Happiness Without Herding
Herding breeds do not have to herd to be happy, but they do need exercise. Some breeds, like the border collie, have stronger herding instincts than others. They are likely to be high-energy pets who thrive on exercise, activity and stimulation. Being unable to herd will not make them destructive or unhappy. You will simply need to replace this very physical and challenging activity with equally challenging activities and exercise.
By Leslie Carver
About the Author
Leslie Carver has been a professional author since 2009. Her work appears on multiple websites. She has an associate's degree in English with progress toward her bachelor's at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She has been awarded an Outstanding Student Award in English and twice nominated for creative writing awards.