Herding Dogs

After a ton of research yesterday and this morning, I’ve deduced, what many have already suggested both here and while out walking Bella, that she is part herding dog. More specifically, I believe she is part border collie. Her quirks, behavior at the park, behavior while we’re out walking—the way she acts is very common among border collies and other herding dogs.

One example: whenever we’re out and we see another dog approaching, she will crouch down in a stalking position, almost like a lion. It never amounts to any sort of aggression, and once the dog approaches, she stands up, wags her tail and begins to play (or sniff its ass, naturally). This is very common, I am told, with border collies.

We know she is at least a small part corgi, so I will research those dogs as well. But her personality seems to be more border collie-like and I think that will help me train her.

I’m writing (AGAIN!) today to ask for any assistance. Do you have a herding dog? Do you have a border collie? If so, maybe you can give me some pointers or send me some links to books that worked for you. Today I plan on immersing myself in information about border collies and other herding dogs. I think if I can approach her in a way she understands, we’ll attain success at a much quicker rate.

However, if you think I’m crazy, do let me know. I’m ok with that as well. :]

Lastly, thanks for calming me down yesterday. Her behavior, if she is indeed a herding dog (and I really think she is), makes much more sense to me today. I think she sees Em as her sheep. If I can teach her that he is not indeed livestock, we will be able to move from there. However, she also plays with him more than any of us, and seems to like him the most so maybe I’m wrong about how she sees him. I’m learning!

(It just now occurs to me, that I am becoming a “Doggie Blogger”? But that’s just because it’s all so new to me, much like being a mom used to be. I will return to some cat nonsense shortly. Because Murray USED THE TOILET Y’ALL! ON HIS OWN ACCORD! I MUST SHARE.)


  1. Yay for herding dogs! I started to comment yesterday, but was interrupted by my own 7 month old herder (an Aussie).

    Herding dogs are smart, funny, loyal, and active–they can be great dogs or they can be awful dogs depending on how much exercise and mental stimulation they get (the more the better). Make Bella your new running partner and she will be the best dog in the world! You also will want to work on basic obedience with her if you haven’t done so already. Do short bursts (5-10 minutes) of obedience a few times a day to get her mind thinking. There are some great trainers on the web who post videos–look for positive training methods like clicker training. I like Kikopup: http://kikopup.com/Dogmantics/Home.html
    and Zak George: http://www.youtube.com/zakgeorge

    Books to read include The Culture Clash: http://www.amazon.com/Culture-Clash-Revolutionary-Understanding-ebook/dp/B005F5UA8M/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1347805346&sr=8-5&keywords=culture+clash
    The Other End of the Leash: http://www.amazon.com/The-Other-End-Leash-ebook/dp/B000SEFCD8/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1
    and anything on clicker training by Karen Pryor.

    Just remember, if she starts to get nippy or mouthy or herdy, tell the boys to stand very still and quiet with their arms crossed over their chest and keep their backs to her. That should calm her down. Running and screaming will make her think they are trying to escape the herd and she will go after them to get them back where they belong. Sometimes this is really hard for kids because they get scared, but she isn’t going to hurt them. Herding dogs are mouthy, but it is pushiness, not aggression.


  2. Hm…I’ll think about this and get back to you. I didn’t get a chance to comment yesterday, but our dog is 3/4 border collie 1/4 Australian shepherd, so total sheep herding dog, and that’s immediately what I thought about your dog when I read your post. It’s frustrating sometimes b/c of that herding instinct, but it’s not being done maliciously, remember that. They just have a ton of energy, need a lot of exercise, and a lot of time training so that when they’re getting too riled and you can tell he’s about to “herd,” you can say a command he and he HEARS you and OBEYS IMMEDIATELY. Those are hard things to teach, but worth it once you do. :) Caeser Milan (the Dog Whisperer) is amazing – we’ve used his teachings a lot.


  3. I grew up with a Border Collie – so smart!!

    From your descriptions I do not think this is an agression problem, I think this is a puppy problem. He thinks he is playing with another puppy, so acts accordingly. All the pups are supposed to stay together. The comment above about turning your back (Em) and ignoring bad behavior is the key here.

    When Bob was around crawling babies, he did not like them to leave the room, so he would hold onto their ankles and they would crawl in place. He was a nervous wreck about babies….

    If you start seeing it as aggressive behavior, a few small tricks that will work, and to show Em as the more dominate member of the family, is to have Em give him the treats, call him for dinner. When you open the door, do not let the dog enter before you, you and Em enter first. Omega dog is last, you are the alpha.

    Mostly herding dogs have a lot of energy, making them the perfect companion for a young boy. This is puppy behavior, and I think everything is fine, you are just fine tuning the behaviour now.


  4. Go get your free training session. Right now, please. If the trainer is worth her salt you’ll go away with plenty of tips and techniques to keep you working intelligently for the months ahead as you get to know each other. The amount of relief and excitement I got from having concrete lessons to work on was immeasurable and totally paid off. Sure, you can do this entirely on your own but if you’ve got the offer of something free to boost your success take it as soon as possible! Please do not watch The Dog Whisperer. A trainer I trust with my (and my dog’s) life just posted another example of how completely out of touch he is with how the dog brain works. It’s awful. And dangerous. And so sad for the dogs he’s bullying.

    I’m sure that Bella sees Em as another puppy and that nipping with pups is normal. I would think that, under supervision, it’s actually pretty smart to have them both at the dog park because she’ll learn that he’s on the people side of the spectrum, not the dog side. It does require extra eyes and reflexes, though, because you don’t know how the other dogs in the park will deal with a kid or with your dog or with the way your kid and your dog play. You’ll get a feel for it and it’ll be OK.

    The thing about herding dogs, and border collies in particular, that no one seems to have said yet is they’re smart. SUPER smart usually. Like morse coding a message to let you know that Timmy fell down a well but it’s OK because she rigged a pulley system with the well bucket and got him out kind of smart. Smart is awesome because it means they’ll catch on to training even when we humans wobble a little. Smart is hard work, though, because tiring out their brains is as important a step in the everyday routine as tiring out their bodies. My dog is uber smart and often uses his powers for evil when he’s bored. So I teach him tricks and play hide and seek games with him and vary his routine as much as I can so that his brain is working as hard (usually harder) than his body. It means I have to spend a lot of my brain energy, too, though, and sometimes that’s hard for me but it’s also super fun to show random kids on the street (or random adults) that my dog can do a hand stand.


  5. You may want to ask Heather of dooce – she has Coco, who I believe is a herding dog.


  6. I reckon Heather is too busy right now, but that’s a good idea. (I love Heather!) Maybe I’ll visit her site and see if she mentions anything about training Coco.

    Thanks, everyone! Things are going well. She is WICKED smart. We’ve taught her to fetch and she’s learning “paw”. It’s been great.

    Sadly, the free class I was to get isn’t going to happen as the trainer is on maternity leave. :[ So I am going to have to go this alone.


  7. Hey, I checked with a trainer I know and, if you’re interested, he agreed to give you a free session since your BARC one got hosed. I’m going to email you details with We Love Bella in the subject line.


  8. are you sure its a stalking position? every time henry sees another dog on leash, he drops down to the ground and ‘lays a trap’ trying to make other dogs think he’s sweet and innocent.

    sweet, yes. innocent? the second they come close, he springs up and starts licking them.


    1. She does both. One where she gets really low, like a cat, and slowly inches near. Another where she’ll just crouch and not move. More like what you describe. It’s cute! Both. But some folks don’t like it. But others do! And so we will play with them. :)


  9. We have a 1 1/2 yr old dog that we were told was Australian Shepherd but we think might be half, the other half we think is rhodesian ridgeback.

    She’s definitely a herder. She definitely tries to “herd” my 6 yr old. She’s always nudging her and jumping her like she’s trying to get her into a special place.

    I won’t lie, the first 8 months or so that we had her I was beside myself. She drove me insane with the amount of energy and curiousity she had. They are definitely high energy dogs, they need to move, move, move.

    Last winter we started putting her in this doggie day camp that the Petsmart by us had, and it helped soo much. The more socialized she became the easier she became to deal with. The easier it was to train her.

    Over the summer she became best friends with a friend’s dog and now they have weekly playdates where they hang in the friends backyard all day and just chase and play with toys. It’s funny to watch them because they play tug of war with rope toys, and last week my friend and I witnessed them play a game of “roll the crabapple”. It was like catch but with a crabapple. It was really funny. Because of these playdates she’s mellowed out something fierce.

    So I definitely recommend getting her socialized with other dogs A LOT. It really helps

    Oh and the crouching thing? Yup. Ours does this mainly with our cats. She wants to play with them but they seem to have zero interest, or so they try to act. One of our cats will come sit on the stairwell and wait for her to come in, doesn’t budge until she’s on his tail. Then they chase up & down the stairs. When he’s downstairs he just sits there staring and growling as she does this little crouch and dance thing. She crouches with her front legs then jumps backwards. This goes on and on and on until the cat gives up, smacks her good and takes off.

    Oh and I taught her to do high fives and high tens. She’ll stand up with two paws up when she wants a treat. She also shakes her head no if you offer her something she doesn’t want. The little stinker.


    1. Jen! I LOVE this comment. You’re making me really excited about having a dog.


  10. My less-than-2 cents, but Corgis are also innate herding dogs and can be quite fierce about – they often surprise people. With training and socialization though they can make great pets, too, but can be similarly high-energy to collies.


    1. I wondered that! Even started searching about corgis. I’m not surprised. Thank you for the information!


  11. We had a Pembroke Corgi who loved to herd the kids. It was hilarious. She never touched them, just ran circles around them and barked until she could get them to move. She was never rough with them either.


  12. We had an adopted herding dog – a purebred collie. It took us awhile to adapt to her because she was an adult when we adopted her, but herding behaviors are very strong. We found we could not change her behaviors by saying, “No!”, so we sought to understand them and control them with our behaviors. For example, she herded the kids, who at that time were 4 and 7 years old. Herding meant running around them (even if they were on bikes!) until they were in a small area. She would achieve her goal by nipping at their legs or rear ends and it hurt! We needed to show her that the kids were not her pups or her flock, but that they were superior to her. To that end, the kids would feed her, walk through a doorway before her, and do all sorts of small acts that showed they were dominant. The herding behavior toward them did diminish markedly. Understanding your dog and working respectfully with her inborn traits is key, e.g., using positive rewards rather than punishment. Herding dogs are generally very smart and need an outlet for their energy, so lots of visits to the dog park, or do some agility training to focus her mentally. Keep teaching her tricks and have your kid teach her tricks, not only will that give her some mental stimulation, but it will also reinforce your dominance. Herding dogs are wonderful companions, but they need work to do in order to feel settled.


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