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NetPets® Presents - About Livestock Herding Dogs
(Drover's Dogs)

by Bonnie Dalzell, NetPets Staff

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Livestock Herding Dogs are dog's bred to move livestock from place to place under the direction of a herdsman or shepherd. The animals being driven fall into two main categories sheep (which are easily panicked and do not fight back) and other livestock (cattle, pigs, horses, etc) which do fight back.

Livestock herding dogs recognized by the AKC with a scattering of non-AKC breeds.

Sheepdogs [Collies, Chiens de berger, Schäferhunde, Perros de pastor]

Cattle Dogs (Bouviers)

Livestock herding is one of the most specialized sets of behavior selected for in a domestic dog since it involves all of the predatory actions of the hunt except for the final stages of kill, dissection and consumption. For this reason in the breeding of working herding dogs the ability to herd is the most important feature of the animal.

Because of the intense nature of the work for which these dogs are bred there are a number of breed group characteristics that the potential pet owner needs to understand when considering getting a drover's dog as a house pet rather than as a working animal.

  1. They have high energy levels and are capable of staying active for much of the day.
  2. They are quite alert and they are often nervous, reactive dogs because alertness, reactivity and nervousness are of great value in an dog that must keep a flock of sheep or cattle together and move it from place to place.
  3. The have a strong need to engage in herding activities and a natural tendency to use the behaviors that move stock on other animals, humans and moving vehicles. These behaviors include nipping at heels, body slaming, standing at a 3 to 6 foot distance and barking excitedly, then jumping back if the person moves towards them.

The positive side of this personality profile is that they are excellent dogs for a person who wants to engage in obedience, agility, flyball, search and rescue and many other activities that depend up the dog having a high motivation to be active and looking to the handler for guidence and instruction. My personal experience in training them is to find that the alertness combined with their frequent willingness to work for a food reward leaves me with the impression that the dog read an obedience book before I began the training session. Last year we had an Australian Cattle Dog named "Hershey" in for training. This dog focused so eagerly on the handler during her sessions that you had to be careful or you would teach her a hand signal by accident.

"Hershey sit." Scratch you nose absentmindedly while giving the treat - the next time you scratched your nose she would eagerly sit. One of my employees remarked, "Gee if I owned a dog like that to train, it would make me look like a really good dog trainer!".

Despite her marvelous reaction to formal training sessions, for her owner's Hershey was a problem because her need for work and her natural herding instincts caused her to nip at visitors' heels, bark a lot and generally be too active for the busy household with two working adults and 3 children under 10 years of age.

This is an excellent example of the negative side of owning a livestock herding dog: these dogs during their first several years require a large commitment of time on the part of the owner. You do not own a livestock herding dog and go to a few semesters of obedience classes and then have a trained companion that you can regulate to the back yard 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. In the absence of work provided by the owner these dogs will find their own work to do, frequently to the annoyance of your neighbors.

Livestock herding dogs are relatively popular as pets. The upside of this for the prospective pet owner is that there are a lot of people who are experienced in training them, many of the obedience sports are basically designed around their capabilities, almost all the obedience dog training books and videos are produced by people whose primary dog training experience is with one of these dogs and food based positive training methods often work very well with them.

An important step in considering a dog is to get to know a couple of members of the breed, and you will encounter many people who have one of these dogs. Sadly because of their popular image as the perfect pet and as highly intelligent, trainable dogs, it is also common to find them available for adoption through shelters and rescue organizations. Many of the dogs given up for adoption were too active for their owners who may well have failed to train and socialize them. Be sure you have access to an experienced trainer when considering adopting an adult shelter dog. Breed rescue organizations often are a good source of advice even if you have a dog from some other source. After all part of the purpose of a rescue organization is to keep dogs in homes as well as to place them.

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