As the name implies, herding dogs have a strong natural instinct to herd livestock, a task for which they were originally bred. Unfortunately, there probably aren't any sheep in your backyard for Shep to gather, leading to behavioral issues in your hardworking, active pup. Prevent your pooch from herding your favorite shoes, children or other pets by engaging him in games that play to his natural herding instinct.
Luckily for pups born to herd, a game called treibball exists just for them. Giant fitness balls of different colors and sizes serve as a flock for your shepherd to "herd" into a soccer goal. This competitive team sport was designed in Germany specifically for herding dogs to provide mental and physical stimulation. Typically, in training sessions and games, eight dogs can play, all trying to herd the balls into a goal within 10 minutes. If you don't want to join a local treibball group to compete, you can simply play this game with your pup one on one in your back yard. Set up a soccer goal and teach your pooch to herd fitness balls into it on your command.
Fetch and Flyball
Part of a herding dog's behavior is finding moving things or animals and gathering them to a certain space. Playing into this behavior, a rousing game of fetch provides the fun moving object, although not a farm animal, and lets your pup bring the object back to you, in effect "herding" it to you. Fetch doesn't have to be boring, with your pooch constantly chasing after the same old tennis ball or toy and bringing it back to you -- spice it up a bit by substituting a flying disc for him to catch and retrieve. You can also try flyball, a competitive sport that combines fetch and agility. The game involves your pup chasing a tennis ball as part of an agility course that he must complete in a certain amount of time.
Many herding breeds perform well when it comes to search and rescue because of their ancestors’ ability to gather stray animals on a farm. Take advantage of this by teaching your pooch to play hide-and-seek with people and toys. Tell your pup to stay in one room while you "hide" in another and call for him. When he finds you, reward him with tasty treats and praise. Amp up the difficulty during successive games by hiding under covers or behind furniture, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends. You can also have your pup find his favorite toys, letting your pooch smell a toy and placing in a spot that's easy for him to find. Praise and treat him when he does, and make each successive time more challenging for him.
Agility Work and Herding
Herding dogs such as border collies, German shepherds and various types of sheepdogs are highly intelligent and hardworking. But if you don't engage them in activities, they'll take their natural instincts and apply them in destructive ways. That's why you must play games daily with these high-energy pups to keep them out of trouble. Consider entering your herding dog in professional agility competitions with complex courses to navigate. Training for agility competitions allows you to work on obedience while giving your herder an outlet for his play energy. Another option is to enroll him in herding tests and trials offered by your local herding club or national breed club. You can find this information through the American Kennel Club 's website. This way, your urban or suburban pup can herd those farm animals just like his ancestors did.
By Susan Paretts
About the Author
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, crafts, television, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared in "The Southern California Anthology" and on Epinions. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.