How to Teach a Dog to Herd Cattle

Herding breeds are easily trained to work cattle or sheep.
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Herding is instinctive for some dogs. Those breeds that are members of the American Kennel Club's herding group were bred to work livestock such as cattle. With proper training, your dog or puppy can excel at moving cattle in herding trial competition or at the farm.

Obedience Training

Before a dog can herd cattle, he must obey simple commands such as "come," "sit" and "stay." These commands can be taught at home, or you can enroll your dog in a basic obedience course to help lay the groundwork for the commands needed for herding. Puppies can start basic obedience training when they're young in puppy kindergarten classes and move into herding training as they mature. Older puppies and adult dogs can begin training for herding movements once they know basic obedience.

There are 25 dog breeds designated as part of the herding group by the AKC. These breeds are more likely to be good candidates for herding.

Herding Commands

Begin teaching standard herding commands and movements once your dog is well versed in basic obedience. Start by throwing a toy for your dog with the command, "go bye" or "get around" to send your dog out for the toy. "Here," or "come in" commands the dog to return to you. Practice these commands with your dog daily in short sessions until he responds consistently. Treat and praise your dog when he responds correctly.

Directional commands such as "come by," and "way to me" move the dog to the right or left of the herd. These can be started with your dog on leash when you introduce him to cattle.

Add the Cattle

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A herding dog must be closely attuned to you as his handler. Once he is able to respond to you consistently, he can be introduced to a small group of cattle in a pen. Begin with your dog on the leash. The dog should always be outside the herd, on the side. Guide him around the herd, using the directional commands. Practice this regularly until the dog has learned the commands and can begin working off leash.

Is He Ready?

The American Kennel Club offers instinct testing for herding dogs. The testing evaluates the dog's herding and learning ability. The AKC sponsors competitive herding trial programs designed to develop and maintain the instinct in herding breed dogs. Local clubs can help the beginner locate trials and instruction. The AKC also offers a rulebook free to those interested in pursuing the sport.

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