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How to train a border collie to herd cattle

Updated July 20, 2017

Do you have a border collie you want to train to herd cattle but aren't sure what to do? While there are trainers who specialise in working with dogs, it can be expensive and unnecessary. With practice and patience, it's possible for you alone to train your border collie to herd cattle.

Determine if your dog is a "herder" or a "chaser." This will allow you to tell how much and how long training will be required. A hypnotic stare, crouched stance and snakelike moves characterise herders. Chasers lack these traits and simply like to chase and nip at the herd to get it to move into formation. Your job is easier if your border collie is a herder because a herder is largely guided by instinct. If not, be prepared to be patient and to work a little harder. The amount of coaching needed will depend on your dog's natural ability and intelligence, and your command as its trainer.

Familiarise yourself with training terms. The specific commands used in herding are:

Flank

Outrun

Fetch

Driving

Pen

Shed

Go/Come bye

Away to me

Steady on

Get up

There

Take time

Listen

Get back

You can also use your own terms or phrases.

Begin training by allowing your dog to flank (or get behind) the cattle and move them into a group. Don't rush your dog but observe it to be sure it's not hurting the animals and that it's trying to approximate the distance between it and the herd.

Teach your dog to pace in clockwise and counterclockwise directions (or "come bye" and "away"). This teaches it how to move the herd and how the animals react to being herded.

Practice with your dog in order for it to learn the proper pace and distance needed to bring the cattle into a group and move them to the desired destination. Should your border collie need correcting, use a physical command instead of a verbal one. Physical corrections will be remembered faster than verbal corrections.

Be firm with commands and with your dog. Border collies are intelligent and won't respond to weak commands. Use a strong, firm but nonthreatening voice. Your dog must get used to you as a training coach and feel confident in coming back to you without being punished for making the wrong moves.

Tip

Be patient and use praise.

Warning

Don't punish your dog for coming back to you; this will confuse it. Don't let your frustration show.

Things You'll Need

  • Border collie
  • Cattle
  • List of training commands
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About the Author

Mary M. Kolar-DeNunzio is a native of northeast Ohio currently living in Cleveland. A freelance writer since 2007, her articles have appeared in "Ancestry," "Body & Soul," "Feis America" and "Irish Dance and Culture" magazines, as well as online at More.com. Kolar-DeNunzio holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Youngstown State University.