Tips, Tricks & Toys for Owning a Herding Dog
Updated: Mar 9
I am back today with a post on all the tips, tricks and fun interactive toys that I have found out about while owning a Border Collie/ Husky for the past year!
First off let's start with the traits of a herding dog and some of the breads fall within that category:
Australian Cattle Dog; Australian Shepherd; Bearded Collie; Beauceron; Belgian Malinois; Belgian Sheepdog; Belgian Tervuren; Bergamasco; Berger Picard; Bernese Mountain Dog; Boerboel; Border Collie; Bouviers des Flandres; Boxers; Briard; Canaan Dog; Cardigan Welsh Corgi; Collie; Entlebucher Mountain Dog; Finnish Lapphund; German Shepherd Dog; Giant Schnauzer; Great Swiss Mountain Dog; Icelandic Sheepdog; Kerry Blue Terrier; Miniature American Shepherd; Norwegian Buhund; Norwegian Elkhound (April 1, 2017); Old English Sheepdog; Pembroke Welsh Corgi; Polish Lowland Sheepdog; Puli; Pumi; Pyrenean Shepherd; Rottweiler; Samoyed; Shetland Sheepdog; Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier; Spanish Water Dog; Standard Schnauzer; Swedish Vallhund.
Herding dogs are known for their intellect, quick footwork, and yes, occasionally an eager bark. Whether you have adopted a purebred herding doggo, or have a shelter mutt you suspect may be part shepherd or collie, one thing’s for sure: herding dogs keep you on your toes but can be trained to be very loving and loyal companions if done the right way early on. Therefore, socialization and getting them comfortable with being handled i.e. touching in between their toes and wiping legs or bum area if needed...ect will save you headache later on in life.
Some common traits of herding dogs include:
Active and alert (at times even anxious)
Very high energy
Loyal and work well with humans (Fun Fact: the term “velcro dogs” was invented for herding breeds because they tend to always follow you around and never leave you side once you have gained their trust!)
Herding breeds tend to always need to stay busy. Their brains and athleticism mean they need a mix of both mental as well as physical exercise to keep them content. Otherwise, herding dogs can get bored, and boredom may lead to bad habits such as digging, barking, and chewing.
Mental stimulation is especially important for these type of dogs. For a brain workout beyond basic training such as sit, stay, leave it...ect move on to advanced obedience classes, scent training or agility training. Long hikes or walks offer mental exercise when weather permits.
When it comes to physical activity, even if your dog never sees a real-live cow, they can exercise their herding instincts with hikes, runs, and mind games or games of fetch. A good work-out will leave your herding dog col, calm and collected at the end of each day.
One exercise my dog and I love to do is going to a fenced tennis court or baseball diamond (he is not the greatest off leash yet) and tossing a ball around. Simple enough right...? The one tip I do have is to buy an LED ball, as we have tried the glow in the dark one's and unless you are somewhere where it is pitch dark, they don't work as well. I am linking the one we use now from Amazon! (<--click here)
Moving on to some toys that I have found very helpful in keeping our pup both busy and mentally stimulated. Some ways in which you can mentally stimulate your dog include but are not limited to: having your dog work for their food, sniff therapy and nose work games, obstacle courses...ect.
I will start off by dividing these toys into three different categories:
Kibble Dispensing toys;
Treat Dispensing Toys;
Fill with anything soft type toys;
Some of my favorite toys that can be used with their kibble are mostly by the brand Kong. I will stop at this point and put it out there that our dog's toys are all either made out of rubber or plastic as he tears every stuffy apart that we have given him. Moving on to the toys... The best part about the toys below is that they are all very affordable (around the $20..00 CAD mark) and easy to buy at your local pet store or online.
Kong Gyro Ball Dog Toy (<--click here)
Gunner absolutely loves this toy. I use it with his regular kibble and it is a great way to "hand feed" your dog while he still gets all the mental stimulus he needs!
Kong Spiral Ring Dog Toy (<--click here)
Kong Wobbler Treat Dispensing Dog Toy (<--click here)
Kong Spin It Dog Toy- Treat Dispensing (<--click here)
These toys are all very similar to the first one in the sense that they are all to be used with kibble instead of bigger treats!
In the same category, but meant to be used more with bigger treats or veggies, here are some other toys that can keep your pup stay mentally stimulated and happy!
Kong Genius Mike Interactive Treat Dispensing Dog Toy (<--click here)
What I love to do with these last two is to fill them with kibble and freeze them for a nice, long and refreshing snack!
Kong Stuff-A-Ball Treat Dispensing Dog Toy (<--click here)
Kong classic Dog Toy (<--click here)
Comes in different sizes depending on if you own a puppy or adult dog..
Steps to stuffing and freezing Kongs:
In a bowl, grab a couple handfuls of kibble and soak them in some sort of broth;
Chop up some veggies such as zucchini, pumpkin or squash, or peppers and stuff some at the bottom of the Kong;
After the kibble has expanded a bit, stuff the Kong full;
Top the whole off with some peanut butter so that the insides do not spill out;
* I tend to do these steps to 4-5 Kongs that we have and out them all in a plastic bag in the freezer overnight for yummy treats for the week to come.
*You also don't need to use Kong toys, basically any toy that can be stuffed with food will work for this trick!
The only other toys that are similar to all of the above ones, are toys where you can sneak a treat in and it will still be challenging enough for your dog to figure out. here are two of Gunner's favorites!
Kong Goodie Bone Treat Dispensing Dog Toy (<--click here)
Kong Tire Dog Toy (<--click here)
Comes in different sizes
Moving right along to separation anxiety. This is a very across the board trait for herding dogs. As mentioned before, they do not like being left alone and love to be with their human helping them along. One thing that we have found has helped a big with Gunner is to get him to wear a Thundershirt (<--click here) when we notice that he gets anxious.
If you would like to read more about Thundershits and their mission, I am linking the website here!
*And yes Gunner's Thundershirt is pink because we got it for free at our local dog shelter!
Last but not least we have to take a look at physical exercise. Herding dogs on average are said to need about 2 hours of physical exercise a day which if you are a full time worker like myself, you need to work smarter not harder!
Last summer I purchased this gadget off Amazon (<--click here) and it has come in very handy for days where I may not have the time to do a super long walk with Gunner!
What you do with this gadget is that you attach it to your bike where you normally sit with you bum and it will allow you dog to run alongside you without getting caught in your tires if they are first just learning!
Disclaimer: Be careful if you have a larger dog that gets easily distracted and loves chasing other animals or cars as they can rip you off your bike...speaking from experience unfortunately!
Owning a herding dog breed can be the biggest challenge from my point of view but it can also be very rewarding. Our dog was rescued from our local dog shelter (blog post here) but as we have had him the past year he has developed some fear aggression and reactivity. We have worked a little with a behavior trainer however I do find that if his mental and physical needs are met on a daily basis, his anxiety reduces significantly. He also is on anxiety medication prescribed by his vet and it has made him be able to concentrate better at the task at hand and at my commands!
Unfortunately nothing is a quick fix as anything in life however what you put in is what you get out of owning a pet!
Thank you so much for the support and stopping by for the read:)