Friday, November 19, 2010

Of Herders and Heelers

  I am taking an initiative to understand the nature of my dog Broos herding instinct.  It was evidant from the day I met Broo and his litter they were natural herders.  Being half Aussie, half border collie/blue heeler it was a given.  I was taken aback the day I met Broo, his brothers and sisters were herding chickens and ducks at just 8 weeks old.  It was clearly out of pure instinct.  Then I got to thinking, just where does that instinct come from?

  I knew the herding trait benefited us humans and there is an obvious connection, but the missing link is what is in it for the dogs?  Do they get satisfaction from chasing, moving, and directing these animals?  Do they want to chase them, kill them, eat them?  With a little research I quickly realized the will comes from the drive to please US.  The owners, masters, head honcho of their pack. 

  I learned that the herding instinct was a trait, which was selectively bred into herding breeds.  Dogs which were naturally talented hunters, but not as likely to kill their prey and were more trainable were bred to create the herding breeds.  Dogs that the instinct on how to hunt, without the instinct to injure or kill.  Over the years working with humans has developed the many herding breeds into trainable, successful working dogs. 

  The dogs are not herding with the goal of a kill as their ancestor predatory herders, their goal is praise from their owner.  I have learned that a strong bond with ones master creates a stronger chance of a successful herding dog.  From years of dogs and humans working together, we have molded many breeds to be useful tools in our every day farm and competitive life.
  I have owned many dogs in my short life, but only recently a herding breed.  My Mini Aussie Zoe was the first of her kind in our family, however she didn't quite have that herding instinct that Broo has.   My parents also have a mutt who we think is an Aussie/Blue Heeler which is another herder.  After researching about the different types of herding dogs it's interesting to see where ours fit in.  There is typical "heeler" type which fall behind and push the herd forward, often nipping when the herd becomes stubborn and won't move.  There are the type that come from the side, pushing the herd  with their bodies so to influence their direction by physical contact and intimidation.  Finally there is the "header" type, which forge ahead of the heard, often becoming still and staring with "the eye", to intimidate and sort of what seems like a mind control tactic.
  My Mini Aussie did none of these.  Gavin, my parents dog is most time a side swindler.  He is always by our sides, seemingly herding us no matter where we are.  He follows us into any stall and guides us towards the horse.  Why?  I still haven't figured that one out.  He does get locked in a stall constantly because of this though.  He is very quiet when he is behind you lol. 

  Broo on the other hand, has all three styles.  He used to sit in the tack room door (more like squat) in the stalker position and stare our Catahoula Gwen down.  He would be still like a statue and it was the only time in my life I saw Gwen in a position of being dominated.  She knew he was doing it and she would stand still but pretend to not be looking at him meanwhile waiting for him to cave.  They would end up stuck for 10 to 15 minutes like until someone came along and called one of them over.  Truly a battle of herding will.  When he is in the house however, he takes on the pushy trait.  Herding the other dogs from their sides, cutting them off and trying to intimidate them into the position he wants them in.  When the horses involved, he becomes an obnoxious heeler. 
  I am on a mission to stave off the heeler in Broo. 

When I ride Broo is in the arena with me whole time.  He follows me most of time, or just runs around in circles chasing imaginary butterflies.  However, once I start the exciting canter work...there is Broo....chasing, barking, and god forbid - nipping at my guys heels.  An absolute no-no in my world.  The last thing I want my horse to be worried about when I'm riding is my dog running up behind him attacking him.  My method of attack is pulling up when he starts, asking him to sit, lay down.  If he listens - good.  He usually does, however, sometimes he starts back up as soon as I pick up the canter again.  If it happens more than a couple of times then it is not only allowing his bad behaviour, but is greatly effecting my ride.  I then get off and tie him up where he lies quietly for the rest of my school.  It seems to be working, as the last few rides he hasn't attempted to herd my horse once.

  I did pick up a video from the Salvation Amy about a year ago on how to train your border collie to herd.  Maybe it's time I take it out and put it to use.


  1. this is the exact same issue my mom is having with her aussie/lab right now.

    we too never had a "herding" breed until him.

    he actually goes into a panic/excited mode when he sees us tacking up now. He LOVES to follow around behind when we ride - great on trails, horrible for ring work.
    we've tried tieing him up but he starts frantic barking, even locking him in a stall in the barn sends him into a panic. He feels the need to "help".

    probably if we had known better about this breed, he should have been put in the tackroom everytime we went to ride, but as a puppy we allowed it.

    now my mom has been working on clicker training him to stay on a mat (or his place) at home. slowly she's transitioning it to the farm, so when riding time comes he knows to go to his place. she's also been working on rewarding a calm state of mind in him when it comes time to tack up the ponies. there is improvement, but he has a long way to go. not sure if we'll ever stop the behavior as it's instinct.

    we're thinking about taking him to a local trainer to teach him to herd sheep/chickens/ducks. we thought maybe if we get some chickens it will give him an outlet to use his herding instinct in a productive way. not sure if that's a good idea or not??

    we'll see how it goes! although I was successful in training my "barking dog" the dachshund not to bark while at work with me using clicker training. Dachshunds are known to be bad to me this was a huge accomplishment!

    good luck with ur pup!

  2. Training your dog not to bark is one of the most difficult things to train too so that is impressive. I think the clicker training will work, and probably letting him herd also, as long as he is being trained with commands. Then she should be able to use the commands on horseback. I would think anyways never know with those crazy aussies!

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