Australian cattle dogs, the official name for both red and blue heelers, are hardy, fastidious working dogs. Originally developed in the outback of Australia by crossing imported farm dogs with native dingoes, red heelers will work large herds of cattle for hours with little rest. Heelers have a wealth of herding instinct and natural drive but do require training to learn how to channel that drive and move cattle correctly.
Start working with your red heeler on simple obedience commands as soon as you bring the dog home. Teach the puppy the meaning of "sit," "lay down," "come" and "stay." Work the puppy in five-minute sessions three or four times a day. Keep a collar and leash on the dog during all training sessions to keep the dog close at hand. Red heelers are very focused and may ignore you in the field if they do not have a good obedience foundation.
Teach your dog specific herding commands, including "come bye," "walk on" and "away." To teach "come bye," hold the stock stick in your hand and point the tip off to the left. Tell the dog "come bye," walking your heeler in a wide arc to the left. Treat the dog to a small snack when it moves to the left consistently when you say "come bye."
Reverse the process and move the dog to the right to teach the heeler "away." For the "walk on" exercise, walk forward with the dog, holding the stock stick in front of you. Loosen your grip on the leash, encouraging the dog to walk forward in front of you, telling the dog to "lay down" when it walks out approximately 20 feet in front of you. Call the dog back and praise with a treat.
Move the dog to a small, enclosed yard and let a few ducks or geese loose in the yard. Drop the leash and tell the dog to "walk on," moving the ducks forward. If they stray left or right, call out "come bye" or "away" accordingly. Once the dog has pushed the ducks around the yard for five minutes, call the dog to you.
Instruct the dog to lie down for a few minutes to rest, and then command the dog to "walk on" and work the ducks again. Red heelers are very determined and will herd the ducks incessantly, so work the animals for no more than 20 minutes to prevent burnout. Repeat the duck herding exercises daily until your red heeler is consistently moving the ducks according to your commands.
Swap the ducks for cattle once the dog is confident moving smaller animals. Turn two or three cows loose in a small corral, and walk the dog into the pen, closing the gate securely behind you. Make the dog lie down in the center of the pen and walk toward the cows, calling the dog to "walk on" once you are within 10 feet of the cattle.
Point the stock stick at the cattle, firmly giving the "away" and "come bye" commands to keep the cattle moving. As soon as your red heeler is confidently moving this small herd, let the rest of the herd free to build your dog's confidence and experience herding cattle.
Never encourage your dog to bite livestock. They may be called heelers, but excessive nipping is dangerous to both cattle and dogs.
Red heelers often bark when excited, so don't be surprised if your dog howls, barks and growls while herding.
If your dog is having trouble staying focused or you lack confidence in your training skills, contact an experienced herding trainer. A good mentor is an invaluable resource.
Items You Will Need
- Collar and leash
- Stock stick
- Ducks or geese