How to Entertain a Herding Dog?

Herding dogs are intelligent and hardworking. Herding breeds are problem solvers, helpful and loyal, and physically active. They can become destructive if they don’t get what they need from their environment.

How to entertain a herding dog? Herding dogs need a combination of stimulating games and activities to release energy. Herding dogs were bred for specific purposes. You need to know what your herding dog needs physically, emotionally, and mentally and give it to them.

Is your herding dog is acting out? Look at and alter their daily routine to help them feel their best. Not unlike all dogs, they like to feel connected to their owners and they like to excel at something. This guide will offer you solutions to stop their bad behavior and get your herding dog back on the right track!

Herding Dog Breeds

You may have a herding breed without even realizing it. Herding breeds include the following, to name about half of them:

  • Australian Cattle Dog
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Briard
  • Catalan Sheepdog
  • Border Collie
  • Curs
  • Farm Collies
  • Old Time Farm Shephard
  • Scotch Collie
  • Welsh Collie
  • Welsh Sheepdog
  • Blue Lacy
  • German Shepherd
  • English Shepherd
  • Dutch Shepherd
  • Koolie
  • Kerry Blue Terrier
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Icelandic Sheepdog
  • Malinois
  • Mudis
  • Pomeranian
  • Poodle
  • Rottweiler
  • Samoyed
  • St. Bernard
  • Tibetan Terrier
  • Welsh Corgis
  • White Swiss Shepherd.

That is not all of the herding breeds. If you don’t see your pup’s breed above, check out this comprehensive and official list of herding breeds from the American Kennel Club.

If you want to understand the traits of herding dogs, you can reference the article we wrote here. Or, if you want to know if herding dogs make excellent pets, we’ve also covered this topic on our blog.

How to Entertain a Herding Dog

Herding breeds live to make their owners happy. Their breeding modified predatory behavior.

It’s fascinating that we can breed animals for specific purposes. These pups were made to help their owners herd cattle, sheep, and livestock. Breeding techniques were used to minimize their predatory instincts. It helped these dogs use their hunting skills to herd.

Negating the predatory hunting nature in these dogs has made them so loyal to their owners, and the task at hand.

The techniques herding dogs use to herd could be but aren’t limited to:

  1. Nipping at the livestock’s heels to make them move forward (known as heelers);
  2. Herding them from the front by strong-staring them (known as headers);
  3. Barking at the livestock and acting as a fence; and

Certain breeds like the Border Collie use all three techniques to herd.

how to entertain a herding dog 3
Border Collie staring down as part of their herding technique

If your herding dog isn’t surrounded by livestock, these are the signs you’ll be looking for. These signs are what you will need to address to ‘entertain‘ them. Without livestock, you need to help them have these traits and needs satisfied in other ways.

What An Angry Herding Dog Looks Like

If your herding dog is angry – you’ll know it!

You may find your house torn apart, pillow ripped open, pee on the rug, or other indications that your dog is unhappy.

The chief complaint that owners have against herding dog breeds are that they bark a lot. If your herding dog is not getting what they need, they will bark relentlessly.

The side effects of not getting what they need will include:

  • Incessant barking;
  • Chewing on your cherished items (they don’t know you love them!);
  • Nipping at a human’s heels (makes perfect sense, right? They can’t nip at an animal’s heels, so they’ll start nipping at yours);
  • Herding children (hilarious as this sounds), your pup will literally start to herd the kids for you. It usually won’t be done to the alpha (aka – you), but it’s debatable if the dog herding the kids is a good or a bad thing.); and
  • Chasing behavior (may chase people, bikes, cars, etc.) can be very dangerous for them and you.
Border Collie
Border Collie acting like a fence when herding sheep

I know these side effects sound miserable, right? You can’t let your pet take over your life and think he’s the alpha, right? You need to do something about it. That can’t happen until you understand his reasoning and the ‘why’ behind their behavior.

The Reasons Your Herding Dog is Destructive

You need to address what’s at the root of the issue.

The reasons your canine may be acting out could be:

  • They’re not getting enough physical activity/They have pent up energy/Need more exercise;
  • No mental stimulation;
  • Boredom;
  • Loneliness (many of these breeds get depressed when left unattended for too many hours a week); and
  • The dog is not being utilized for what it was bred for.

Their instincts are running rampant, and their brain is telling them they’re not being fulfilled for their purpose. If they are herding you, do not give in to their bad behaviors or acknowledge them. This will only encourage bad behavior and make them think it’s okay for them to herd you.

Dogs don’t have a way to communicate with words, so they rip apart your favorite shoes and hope you catch the hint!

Give them outlets for their natural abilities, the bad behavior will cease. Now you understand what to look out for and why they’re behaving this way, it’s time to give your pup what they need? Great! Let’s dive in!

Giving a Herding Dog What They Need

Treibball (“Push Ball”)

This is a sport that herding dogs love! It triggers their instinctual pressure points and is a great way to get their energy out.

The game goes something like soccer for humans. Play it with you or many other people, or many other dogs.

You will push the dog around the field, and the herding dog will push the ball around with their nose or head. To get them started, roll the ball to them, and they ought to guide it back to you.

You will want a petite Soccer Ball, around a size 5, to suit their small frames.

Created in Germany, this game recommends 15-minute rounds of playtime. Border Collies and Shepherds love this game.

If they don’t seem to be picking it up right away or rolling the soccer ball back to you, be patient.

Be sure you’re in a wide-open space like a field and introduce them slowly. Kick the ball gently to show them that it rolls and moves forward when touched.

Check out ball-crazy Alfie showing how treibball with a simple soccer ball is done.

It may take a few demonstrations, but their brains will notice your herding technique and try it on for size too.

Here are links to the treibballs we recommend:

Here is a link to some Treibballs made specifically for dogs on Amazon.

Treibball isn’t just a ball game; it’s a competitive dog sport that’s been around since 2008. It’s a high-intensity game offering mental and physical stimulation. You can read more about on the Outdoor Dog Fun blog.

Play herd the humans

This is played outside to keep the context of herding correlated with ‘outside the house.’

This is the best method to break their habit of nipping at your heels if you’re struggling with that one. It’s a simple method of just tapping them on the nose or giving them a small pat (not hard spanking) if they nip at your heels.

The goal is for the dog to chase you around without nipping and then rewarded with a treat after a few rounds. This will enforce the idea that they are doing it properly, and nipping is not necessary.

Have the dog chase you and the family around and have a destination setup that the dog can actually ‘herd’ you into. This will give the dog a goal, and if he nips, you can stop playing to communicate his wrongdoing.

To keep playing, a dog learns that nipping will not be tolerated. This should nip the nipping in the butt (pun intended!).

Added bonus – The kids love being chased by your herding dog, and it tires your little ones too! Win-win!!

Want assistance herding your children into the car for the morning school drop-off? See how dog trainer Zac George gets Border Collie Brenda to do just that.

Jumping Activities

If your dog is acting out, they need a way to deflect from their raw instincts and be more active. An excellent method for this is to get them doing hurdles and jumps.

Some fun ways to set this up are to create a reasonably high hurdle based on your dog’s height (don’t place it too high). This can be measured by starting out low, and if it’s too easy for them, gradually raise the height. You can buy an adjustable dog hurdle set on Amazon.

Set up some obstacles in the yard, and this can be a fun family activity to create as well. You can use trash cans, trash can lids, blocks of wood – let your imagination run wild! Kids are great at coming up with ideas too!

But if you are stuck for ideas, jump onto Amazon for a ready-made agility/obstacle course for dogs.

Herding dogs absolutely adore jumping so they will catch on quickly.

You can hold a treat in front of you to ‘lure’ them over the first hurdles. After this, they will get the hint, and the treat may or may not be necessary. They shouldn’t need much encouragement here, though, because it’s what they love to do.

If the jumps are easy, progressively raise the heights to give them new obstacles.

Enlist your pup in local and regional agility competitions to take jumping to the next level. You could represent the U.S.A at international competitions like Diane and Kathleen and their Shetland Sheepdogs, Demon, and Jenna in the video below.

Teach Them Football

Yep, herding dogs are full of surprises! These unique breeds also have a real knack for American football. If you thought your pup couldn’t play sports, think again.

It won’t be as based on the rules as the traditional sport, but they will be able to chase the ball around and learn some new skills.

This will keep you fit as well, and you can hide the ball from them and duck past, which will engage their herding instincts to follow.

Start with a smaller football, again around a size 5. Even these may be a bit too large for the mouth, so it will be a round of football done through nose and head butts. They may also pick up the skill of batting it around with their paws and have been known to use their hands and feet with the proper toy. 

You can kick the ball, and they will almost certainly chase after it with a big smile on their face, drool flying in the wind, living as a pup ought to!

If this doesn’t make your heart happy, I don’t even know why you have a dog! 

Jigsaw or “Jigs” the Border Collie takes his role as a wide receiver very seriously (see video below). Eventually, you can teach your dog to catch the ball in flight but start with baby steps first.

Teach them new tricks

Most dogs are never too old to learn new tricks. Herding dogs are known as some of the most intelligent dog breeds in the entire world.

This means their brains need exercise just as much as their bodies do. Give them this exercise by teaching them all kinds of new stunts, such as:

  • How to shake hands;
  • Walking backward;
  • Bringing you your paper in the morning;
  • Speaking on command (control the barking!);
  • How to stand up on 2 legs; and
  • How to weave between your legs or around obstacles (build them an obstacle course).

The options are limitless with this one, so get creative!

Best Toys for Your Herding Dog

You can’t be home all the time. So give them options to entertain themselves alone in a non-destructive way.

Here are some of the best dog toys on the market that will make your herding breed incredibly happy.

Chew toys

All dogs love chew toys!

This will keep their mouths busy and help their gums/teeth feel better.

If your herding dog has been chewing furniture or your shoes, they probably need something to clean their teeth with. Looking for the best chew toys? We’ve done all the research for you in this article on the best chew toys you can leave your dog alone with. There are 12 chew toys to choose from, so you are bound to find something of interest for your pup.

Fetching toys

This could include discs, frisbees, rubber balls, and sticks. They may need your participation with these toys. Don’t let them chew on a stick unattended without your supervision.

For the best balls and flying discs, take a look at our extensive list of recommended toys in this article. The best all-rounder toy we recommend for chew, fetch and tug of war on water and land is the Hero Playtime Rubber Kettlebell.

Plush toys

These are fun to chew on but may need supervision to be sure they’re not ripping open and consuming the stuffing.

Here are 3 recommendations for plush toys sourced from our extensive guide to indoor dog toys:

  1. No stuffing plush toy with squeaker
  2. Plush toy with squeaker and stuffing inside
  3. Most comforting plush toy.

Interactive toys

These toys are wonderful for when you’re not around to supply a two-sided game of fetch.

My favorites are the ones that hide food and make them solve a puzzle or use their brilliant minds to unlock a treat. A few of the top-rated interactive toys on the market we recommend are:

These options will help to release that pent-up energy, and they will be more mild-mannered.

Things to Consider When Purchasing Toys

Shopping as an educated dog parent is incredibly important. Choose a toy that is right for your herding dog. They will thank you in cuddles, kisses, and a calmed down nature!

The things you want to keep in mind when shopping for toys (for any dog breed) will be the following.

Size of toy

Be sure it is suited to your dog’s mouth and not something that will easily be swallowed or harmful to your pup. If it can get lodged in your dog’s throat, avoid it.

Chemicals and toxins

In this day and age, almost anyone can make any product without regulation.

Read up on each product review and be sure that there are no harmful toxins or lead that will hurt your dog. These can lead to early cancer or be poisonous. Be sure it doesn’t say ‘stain-guard,’ ‘formaldehyde,’ or any other toxic chemicals.

You want toys that are “phthalate-free” and “BPA free.”

If you are looking for dog toys that are made with non-toxic, safe materials, read our guide on the subject here.

Suction holes

Be sure there is nothing with a suction cup that could hurt your dog’s mouth.

Noisemakers

Anything that squeaks – needs to be closely monitored. Your pup will try to remove the squeaky part, and these are easily swallowed by even petite breeds.

Only give them the squeak toy if you are present to supervise.

Are squeaky toys good or bad for dogs? You can read all about this topic here.

Is your dog a destroyer of toys, especially when it comes to toys with squeakers? Have a read of our 7 expert tips to handle dogs that are toy-destroyers.

Washable

It’s important for you to periodically clean and disinfect your fur-baby’s toys. You can find out how to keep their squeaky toys clean and germ-free by reading this article on our blog.

Avoid bones

Avoid bones unless you will be there to supervise.

Many bones will chip apart and splinter off as a choking hazard.

Many bones are also harmful to your dog’s teeth and can break/chip their choppers. Avoid rib bones, pig bones, and cow hooves.

Dental bones that help their gums are safer and made of non-harmful ingredients. Always read the instructions to ensure your dog can ingest the bone chew bits. And always read what’s inside the dental chews. Dental chews made from organic or natural products are best.

Final Thoughts

If your pup is showing bad-behavior signs, try not to discipline them cruelly or be unfair. They are merely responding to birth-given instincts that will not go away ever. When their needs are not met, bad behavior will show in unfavorable ways.

Meet their needs and show up for them too.

Not only are all of these activities healthy for your pup’s overall well-being – they’re also a way to bond more.

Dogs are very sensitive creatures, and above all else, they need your time. If they’re not getting quality bonding from you they will feel purposeless and depressed.

Dogs make humans significantly happier and healthier. See the psychology on it here if you don’t believe me.

So, take that time to do something good for them and concurrently good for you as well.

Happy herding dog, happy you! And not to mention, happy rested neighbors!

Author - Eileen

Eileen is dog mom to 2 Shetland Sheepdogs - Shellie and her pup Bernie. They enjoy a couple of walks each day plus 2-3 sessions with the frisbee or Chuck-it! She enjoys many road trips with her dogs. She has tent camped all over the U.S. The dogs love exploring new hiking trails. Regardless of the season, Eileen has plenty to share with you about outdoor dog life whether it's in the Rockies in winter, Massachusetts in the summer or Oregon and Minnesota in between. She loves to find new off-leash parks while traveling.

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