If you own a dog with herding heritage, you don't need sheep or cattle to find out if he possesses the aptitude of his ancestors. Herding breed associations and other organizations offer introductions. If your dog takes to it like a duck to water -- or a border collie to sheep -- you have a new activity to explore together.
The American Kennel Club and other breed organizations offer testing and trials for herding dogs. A herding dog's purpose consists of moving livestock from one place to another, acting upon the master's commands. While the dog must keep the animals moving, it cannot attack or harm them. Breeds with intense herding instinct and work ethic, such as border collies, might start nudging people around if not given another outlet. Get started by attending herding trials and obtaining recommendations for good trainers who also have access to livestock.
Before introducing your dog to herding, make sure he's well-schooled in basic obedience. He must listen and obey your commands. Your dog should reliably sit, stay, lay down, heel and, most importantly, come when called. Keep working with your dog until he comes back to you without hesitation. Even if it turns out that you and your dog aren't keen on herding, this is invaluable training.
The AKC's initial foray for herding and certain other breeds is the instinct test. The AKC recommends introducing your dog to the presence of livestock prior to the test. While it shouldn't be the first time he's ever encountered sheep, it might be the first time your dog has ever been permitted to try to herd or drive them. You, the judge or an experienced handler may oversee the dog. The judge looks for the dog's innate ability to move the animals If your dog doesn't appear too interested at this primary stage, he probably won't work out as a herding canine.
Herding Capability Testing
National groups, such as the American Herding Breeds Association, offer similar basic tests to discern a particular dog's herding ability. Trials are held throughout the country, so it's likely you can find an annual event in your state or region. Besides instinct testing, there's also a basic herding test consisting of "an initial pause, some simple controlled movement of the stock back and forth across the small arena, a stop, and a recall," according to the AHBA. This second section tests the owner or handler as well as the dog. If your dog shows enthusiasm and both of you pass the tests, you may consider proceeding through the training and testing ranks.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.