"Keeping herding dogs happy
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"Keeping herding dogs happy

Dogs of all breeds and types can be divided into one of a range of type groupings, consisting of different dogs that share similar care requirements and personality types. One of the most distinctive and challenging of these is the herding dog type, consisting of dogs that were historically or are currently used for working with livestock, helping to herd flocks and groups of animals to assist their farmers and handlers.

Herding dogs are outgoing, highly intelligent and very energetic dogs, which make them a popular choice for people seeking a domestic pet as well as for people who intend to work their dogs. However, the tenacity and intelligence of these dogs and their heightened requirement for long periods of energetic exercise means that they can also pose challenging to keep within a home environment and meet all of their needs. The natural traits and requirements of this type involves spending most of their days outside in all weathers and running around using both physical and mental energy to undertake their duties.

If you wish to learn more about how to keep herding dogs happy within the home or find out if a herding dog might be the right pet for you, read on to learn more about how to identify a herding dog and keep it happy.

What is a herding dog?

Herding dogs are dogs that have a superior ability to understand and take on board a wide range of often-complex training commands, as well as having plenty of stamina and desire to exercise. Due to their long history of being bred, trained and selected to work with livestock and communicate closely with their trainers, these dogs are at their happiest when outdoors, working their minds and bodies together. They are renowned for the range of skills and duties that they can undertake, and have even been featured on TV shows such as “One Man and his Dog” demonstrating just what the herding dog is truly capable of. Herding dogs are the ultimate working dogs, utilising a modified form of hunting behaviour to herd and direct livestock rather than hunting it down!

A huge amount of dog breeds from all corners of the world are classed as herding dogs, and just a small selection of some of those commonly seen within the UK include...

  • Bearded Collie
  • Belgian Shepherd Dog
  • Border collie
  • English Shepherd
  • Farm Collie
  • Lancashire Heeler
  • Old English Sheepdog
  • Puli
  • Rough Collie
  • Scotch Collie
  • Shetland Sheepdog
  • Smooth Collie
  • Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
  • Welsh Corgi (Pembroke and Cardigan)
  • Welsh Sheepdog
  • Any other Collie breed
  • Any other Sheepdog breed

Plus many other dogs besides!

How to tell if your dog is a herding dog

Almost 100 dog breeds from all over the world are classed as herding dogs, and of course, many mixed breed and cross breed dogs may share some common ancestry with one or more of these dogs, even if their owners do not realise it! To be classed as a herding dog, the dog in question does not have to be a specific dog from the herding dog pedigree list, but must share the traits of the other herding dogs, including a high level of intelligence and trainability, superior stamina, a desire to run for long periods of time, great concentration, and high energy levels!

Herding dogs and dogs with herding ancestry will often naturally display herding behaviour even within the domestic environment and without any training, such as running in circles around their handler or family when outside, or trying to herd other pets and animals!

Exercise requirements for herding dogs

It would be hard to overstate exactly how much exercise herding dog breeds actually need to be happy. Overfed and under exercised herding dogs will naturally become overweight and less interested in running and playing than fitter dogs, but even so, they will still have an innate desire to run and exercise. Herding dogs are naturally used to being outside and running off the lead for long periods of time, and so herding dogs kept as pets will require several long and enthusiastic walks per day in order to thrive.

Herding dogs take naturally to games and activities that require them to use their brains as well as their legs, such as games of catch, group play with other dogs, team canine sports, and events such as agility and herding competitions. It is important to make provision for a natural outlet for the herding dog’s mental and physical energy, and not just expect them to run about and entertain themselves.

Feeding requirements for herding dogs

Herding dogs that lead the active lifestyle that they are intended to require a significant amount of high-energy food that is nutritionally complete and designed to release energy gradually to allow for the superior stamina of these dogs.

Herding dogs that are not adequately exercised will soon become unfit and overweight, and managing the weight of herding dogs within a domestic environment can be challenging. Herding dogs can be trained easily with treats and positive reinforcement, but are not as food-motivated as some other dogs, such as those within the gundog grouping.

Bonding and communication with herding dogs

Herding dogs are used to working very closely with their handlers, looking to them for commands and direction, which often builds a much stronger bond between dog and handler than is possible with other types of dogs. Herding dogs become easily bored, however, and require their handlers to provide plenty of stimulation and mental activity for them, enabling their need for both physical and mental exercise.

Herding dogs are generally outgoing and friendly, and live happily in families with children that are keen to play with them. They can be rather one track minded, however, and will often fixate on the ball being thrown for them or the game they are playing more than the person playing with them!

Herding dogs often form strong emotional bonds with their main handler, and may become depressed if they are separated from them. It is important to socialise herding dogs well with other people, to ensure that the dog will be happy being handled by and taking commands from someone else.

Some herding dogs also have strong guarding instincts, and will often view their homes and families as part of their territory, protecting them from intruders and sometimes even guests! Good training and socialisation is important from this point of view as well, in order to teach the dogs about correct behaviour within the home.

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