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Herding Dogs: How to Keep Your High-Energy Shepherd or Cattle Dog Active When They're Not Working

Behavior and Training  •   Richard Rowlands  •   Feb 16, 2022

 

Herding dogs like Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, and Belgian Malinois are renowned for their high energy levels. They need lots of exercise – both physical and mental – or they can become destructive and difficult to manage.

The herding breeds were not bred to live the life of an ordinary pet, so when you have one of these dogs, it's up to you to meet their remarkable needs. Keep reading to learn what you can do to keep your herding dog as healthy and happy as possible.

What Are Herding Dogs?

Herding dogs were originally bred to help move livestock from one place to another. Today, some herding dogs are still used for this purpose. They work on farms and ranches herding and protecting sheep, cows, goats, and other animals. Herding breeds are some of the most energetic and intelligent dogs in the world. They also tend to be loyal, affectionate, and easy to train.

These days, many herding dogs are kept as pets. And while they have lots of great character traits that make them wonderful companions, their strong herding instinct and high energy levels often prove challenging for those who aren't prepared for them.

What Is the Herding Instinct in Dogs?

Since herding dogs were initially bred to round up livestock, it's only natural that they have a strong herding instinct. This means that they have an instinctual drive to move animals around. That's right, herding behavior has become hardwired in these dogs through years of selective breeding.

Herding dogs will often attempt to direct other pets or even people by nipping at their heels. This happens when movement triggers the dog's natural herding instinct. Many pet owners struggle with this herding behavior, especially when it comes to young children. But keeping herding dogs physically and mentally stimulated can help to prevent this instinctual behavior from becoming a problem.

How to Keep Your Herding Dog Mentally and Physically Stimulated

Working on a farm with an abundance of livestock is the perfect environment for most herding dogs. So, if you live in an urban setting, you'll need to get creative when it comes to engaging your high-energy herding dog. Here are some tips to help you succeed:

Outdoor Activities for Herding Dogs

Providing your herding dog with plenty of outdoor exercise will give them an outlet for their energy and help prevent unwanted behaviors. These dogs need at least 60-90 minutes a day of high-intensity exercise. When they're not in the field with livestock, herding dogs need to run and play hard.

Help your herding dog burn off energy by taking them on long walks, runs, bike rides, and hikes. It's also a great idea to take them to an off-leash dog park as often as possible so they can run and play with other dogs.

Games like fetch, tug, and backyard football are also fantastic exercises for herding dogs. Just be sure to teach them the rules of the game and always use positive reinforcement when they're playing.

To give your herding dog the ultimate workout, consider enrolling them in an agility, rally obedience, or flyball class. Treibball is another great option that's specially designed to help dogs redirect their herding instinct. Herding breeds are quick learners and love to play, so these types of activities are perfect for them.

Indoor Activities for Herding Dogs

Make sure to provide your herding dog with plenty of indoor activities to keep their brain and body active. These high-energy pups get bored easily, so it's up to you to make sure they never run out of things to do – even if you're stuck inside!

Interactive toys and games can provide your herding dog with hours of fun. For example, treat-dispensing toys and puzzle feeders are perfect for herding dogs that have a voracious appetite and love to work for their food.

Activities like obedience training and scent work are also excellent indoor activities for herding dogs. So, why not teach some new commands or set up a treat treasure hunt in your home? You could even teach your canine companion some new tricks to keep them active.

Finally, try playing some fun and engaging indoor games like hide-and-seek or tug-of-war with your herding dog. These smart, active dogs love to show off their skills and are eager to learn new games.

Stay Active

Herding dogs are high-energy, intelligent animals that have a natural instinct to herd. If you're struggling with herding behavior or finding it difficult to keep your dog busy, use these tips to help keep your canine companion mentally and physically stimulated.

It's a good idea to consider getting your dog involved in activities like agility training or rally obedience classes. These fun activities will help you channel your herding dog's energy and keep them happy and healthy.

Remember, herding dogs make excellent working dogs and fantastic companions, but they're not designed to live a sedentary lifestyle. So, please make sure to keep your four-legged friend active and engaged in lots of fun and productive activities.

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