Herding Instinct

I have just started to train Marvel, my Border Collie.  He is a year old and works beautifully and I think he could be really good at agility. However, if there is another dog running on the course, he wants to herd it.  I can’t keep his attention focused on me.  If he is not on the lead, he will rush over and try to round it up.  What can I do? Agility enthusiasts love Border Collies because of their herding instinct.  It enables them to work independently and use their initiative on an agility course. But it can also land them in hot water if they decide to round up the children.  Start thinking like a shepherd if you have a sheep dog.  You want to be able to work your dog over hurdles with the same skill and control that a shepherd uses to direct his dog to box and pen a few lambs.

Shepherd’s Crook You don’t need a shepherd’s crook – just a good collar and lead.  Keep Marvel on the lead when you are in class. You don’t want him to interfere with other dogs and it’s not his turn yet! When you are confident that he is waiting for your cue to start work, let him off his lead to perform an exercise.

Shepherd’s hut Train at home where there are no distractions.  Marvel is young and bound to be stimulated and excited by other dogs running around.  Cultivate control, increase his attention span and teach him concentration through basic exercises or tricks.  As Marvel becomes more mature, educated and well mannered, he will become less interested in distractions and more willing to focus on you and his agility.  That’s how he scores brownie points.  Herding other dogs is a real non-starter.

The Sheep In lieu of sheep, buy some tennis balls or other fun toys.  Collies are often obsessed with toys and you can use a ball to keep his attention on you and not the other dogs in his class.  Play with the ball at home and use it as a reward for completing an exercise in class. The more agility you do, the more your dog will not only love the tennis ball but all the equipment, especially tunnels. Treat treating him with his favorite obstacles instead of a ball at the end of a difficult jump sequence.  Many collies are so equipment-orientated that they are oblivious to everything else going on around them!

Honest Shepherd Any honest shepherd will admit to having a few problems training his dog.  So don’t get disheartened.  Marvel is bound to make mistakes and misbehave.  Give him time to learn what is the right place to aim his energy and enthusiasm. Make sure you dish out big rewards when he is offering you his best behavior and really trying to get it right on the agility course.

Be patient and keep training. Make your collie’s herding instinct work for you rather than against you.

Used with permission.
From Questions and Answers on Dog Agility Training, by Mary Ann Nester, T.F.H. Publications
Visit Mary Ann at http://www.aslanagility.com/

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1 Comment on “Herding Instinct

  1. I totally agree. Your dog is young, and with time will learn to focus.
    My dogs are sheepdog herding trial dogs, and I do play around with agility. I have one that is handler focused, and one that is obstacle focused. The obstacle driven dog is not motivated by food at all while on the agility field, toys are good for her.

    If trained correctly, these herding dogs can do both; herd sheep and do agility, and do both well!