As farming declines, dogs bred for herding are more commonly found as family companions rather than working farm dogs. Is the art of herding going to be lost forever? No! A dedicated group of herding dog owners keep it alive by participating in herding competitions. You and your dog can enjoy the traditions of his or her ancestors without owning a farm and or livestock by training for and competing in herding trials.
What Is Herding?
Herding dogs transport and manage livestock, most often ducks, sheep, or cattle, by running around them to encourage them to go in a certain direction. This is facilitated by a handler or shepherd, making it a team effort.
Why Participate In Herding?
Since the majority of dog owners do not have livestock, or even access to live stock, the herding instincts of most herding breeds are not often utilized. Training for and competing in herding events gives these intelligent and charismatic dogs the opportunity to let their natural instincts shine.
Since these dogs were bred to work on a farm alongside their owners, they are high energy and have a need for exercise and mental stimulation that other breeds do not have. Participating in herding is a great way to give these dogs a job that satisfies them and tires them out. Remember the old saying, “a tired dog is a happy dog”? Owners of herding breeds who herded all day know it is absolutely true!
What Dogs Are Eligible To Herd?
While this may seem rather exclusive considering how many breeds of dogs there are, it is this way for a reason; to enjoy participating in herding, a dog must have the necessary instincts. The Herding Group breeds were bred to have those instincts, and most dogs in other groups of breeds do not have these instincts.
The herding instinct is quite different than the prey drive; virtually all dogs have prey drive on some level. A dog with a prey drive does not necessarily have an instinct to herd animals together; just to chase after an animal they consider to be prey. The best herding dogs have a prey drive that translates to herding their prey.
The other qualifications to be eligible to participate in herding competitions are:
- Dogs of these eligible breeds may participate in instinct tests at 6 months of age and competitions at 9 months of age.
- Dogs must be spayed or neutered.
- Females may be in heat.
- Dogs must be registered with the AKC via one of the following registration methods: Limited Registration, Purebred Alternative Listing Program (PAL), Indefinite Listing Privilege or Conditional Registration.
How To Get Started In Herding
Unlike other canine sports, herding is not as easy to begin with at home unless you have access to live stock. That said, getting started is still not difficult.
To get started in herding, you should perform the following tasks:
- Review the American Kennel Club (AKC) Herding Regulations Book here to determine if you and your dog would be a good fit for herding.
- Finding a Herding Club by using the American Kennel Club (AKC) club search here. These organizations are filled with experienced dog owners and handlers who can help you get started.
- Finding a herding trainer to do an informal instinct test to see if your dog has the right instincts to be successful in herding. If your dog passes the instinct test, the trainer will likely be able to help you get started. For example, Keepstone Farm offers herding instinct evaluations, and subsequent lessons for dogs who pass the test.
What Is The Herding Instinct Test?
Before training for competitions, you will begin by testing your dog’s herding instincts with a Herding Instinct Test. This is not considered a competition; dogs are graded pass or fail, with the dogs that pass pursuing competitive herding with their owners if they so chose.
To see how dogs are evaluated in these instinct tests, review the Herding Instinct Test Evaluation Form here. If your dog passes, the evaluation form can guide you with what to work on in training sessions.
If your dog fails the herding instinct test, he or she would not enjoy participating in or succeed in competitive herding. However, that does not mean that the road ends there! There is a competitive sport for everyone. Other sports to consider would be agility, fly ball, AKC rally or obedience.
What Are The Different Herding Titles?
The titles the American Kennel Club (AKC) awards in Herding competitions, further detailed on page 32 of the AKC Herding Regulations Book, are as follows:
- The Herding Started title certificate is awarded to dogs who earn 3 qualifying scores from 2 individual judges in the Started class. These scores must be earned using the same course and type of livestock.
- The Herding Started Master title is awarded to dogs who earned 8 other qualifying scores on the same course and with the same type of livestock.
- The Herding Intermediate title is awarded to dogs who have earned 3 qualifying scores from 2 individual judges in the Intermediate class, on the same course and with the same type of livestock.
- The Herding Intermediate Master title is awarded to dogs who have earned 8 other qualifying scores on the same course and with the same type of livestock.
- The Herding Excellent title is awarded to dogs who have earned 3 qualifying scores from 2 individual judges in the Advanced class, on the same course and with the same type of livestock.
- The Herding Excellent Master title is awarded to dogs who have earned 8 other qualifying scores on the same course and with the same type of livestock.
- The Herding Champion title is awarded to dogs who have achieved an HX title, 15 championship points in Advanced classes, and 2 first places in Advanced classes which carry championship points.
There is some paperwork and record keeping involved in achieving these titles. As dogs achieve higher titles, owners must complete forms and submit them to the American Kennel Club (AKC) to receive the next title their dog qualifies for.
What Is A City Dog To Do?
Urban herding dog owners who would have to drive for hours to find livestock to work with have discovered an alternative to traditional herding that utilizes their dog’s herding instincts called Treibball. In this sport, dogs herd exercise balls instead of livestock. Also, some dogs who fail the herding instinct test may excel at this sport. The American Treibball Association (ATA) describes the sport in this way:
“It’s fun for any dog that loves to play chase games, to herd, or just use their amazing, problem-solving ability. Competing in Agility takes special equipment, the ability to run with your dog and direct him through each obstacle. Treibball promotes the same kind of teamwork and communication, but does not put any physical stress on the handler. It also builds confidence for the shy dog, and helps reactive dogs with impulse control.”
To learn more about this sport, visit the American Treibball Association website here.
Herding is not only a great outlet for high energy herding dogs, but it is also very enjoyable for them and offers a great bonding opportunity for dogs and owners. Whether your dog excels at herding ducks, sheep, or cattle, or if you herd exercise balls in the city, your high energy herder will just be happy to be working with you and using their instincts.