German Shepherds are natural herders. In fact, the reason why this breed was first discovered was because of its remarkable ability to herd and protect flocks of sheep and make intelligent decisions on the fly, all without needing extensive training.
Although GSDs are among the breeds that will quickly pick up the skills needed to effectively herd livestock, they still need to be taught how to do it.
How To Teach A German Shepherd To Herd?
Herding livestock is an advanced skill that needs to be taught in stages after your German Shepherd has already mastered the basic obedience commands.
It will involve teaching your dog several commands and practicing with toys before introducing them to a small herd.
Then, get them used to the presence of other animals, help them build confidence around them, and continue practicing until they’re ready for a larger herd.
Before long, they’ll be able to manage large groups of animals with minimal supervision.
Why Would Someone Want To Teach Their GSD To Herd?
Although German Shepherds are now considered multipurpose workers, they have a much longer history as herding dogs. It’s always fascinating to see them excel in an activity that’s deeply rooted in their ancestry.
These days, there are several reasons why a German Shepherd is taught how to herd.
For most GSD owners, it would be either to rely on them as working dogs at a farm, to compete in canine sports, or simply to have a challenging yet fun activity to do together.
Herding for Work
Many farmers that raise sheep or cattle for a living still rely on herding dogs to gather, move, and protect their livestock.
Although many different breeds can perform this task, German Shepherds remain among the preferred breeds for this type of work because of their perfect balance of intelligence, trainability, and drive.
Herding For Sport
Herding is one of the most popular canine sports because it’s incredibly competitive as well as fascinating to witness. The American Kennel Club, for example, hosts a herding sporting event in which GSDs unsurprisingly excel.
In these trials, dog-and-handler teams are judged based on adaptability and control as they move livestock, tend to flocks in open areas, or manage animals as they graze.
Herding For Fun
For some people, teaching GSDs to herd is just a fun way to nurture what is already in the dogs’ nature. In fact, those who don’t have access to livestock even develop this skill using balls.
The activity, commonly known as Treibball, is a wonderful way to strengthen your relationship with your dog while also providing them with structured opportunities for physical and mental exercise.
Do German Shepherds Know How To Herd Naturally Or Need Training?
German Shepherds are known to pick up herding skills very quickly but will still need to be taught because they don’t naturally understand the purpose and nature of a herd and how humans want to keep them.
Once GSDs are fully immersed in the task, they are known to display remarkable intelligence as they perform tasks and make decisions on the fly as if knowing exactly what needs to get done and what their role is.
Step-By-Step Instructions On Teaching Your GSD To Herd
There are several ways you can teach a German Shepherd how to herd. Many experienced farmers have their own techniques and will prefer to work with herds of animals right away or let puppies learn from the older herding dogs.
However, if you’re new to herding, it’s best to do it slowly. Start from the basics and keep your dog and animals safe by starting with a toy.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started:
Step 1: Master Obedience Basics
Before you can start with herding, you and your dog should already have a working relationship.
This all starts with teaching your German Shepherd the basic obedience commands and practicing them all often enough so your dog will quickly obey no matter the distance or distraction.
Some of the most important commands include sit, down, stay, come, and stop.
Step 2: Teach The Basic Herding Commands
Once your GSD has mastered the basic obedience commands, they should be ready to start learning herding commands.
Use a toy as a prop rather than live animals in order to make the situation easier to control. You can use either a stuffed animal or a herding ball, depending on your preference.
At this stage, the most important commands to teach your dog are:
- Walk up – Approach the toy
- To me – Push the toy to me from behind
- Come by – Move the toy to the left
- Away – Move the toy to the right
Step 3: Introduce A Small Herd
When your dog can do all the herding commands with your chosen toy, it may be time to introduce them to a small herd.
Try to choose docile animals that are not likely to charge or be too much of a challenge. Then, make sure you get all of them used to each other’s presence first before starting the commands.
Once all the animals are calm in each other’s presence, you can start using the herding commands. It might take some time to get your GSD to shift from a toy to a small herd.
But once they get one command right and you reward them appropriately, they’ll quickly understand that the rest of the commands now apply to the livestock.
Step 4: Increase The Size Of The Herd
When you’re confident in your dog’s abilities, you can start increasing the size of your herd. The commands and concept of herding will be the same, but you’ll need to work harder together to get everyone under your control.
With time and practice, you should be able to get this right no matter the number of animals involved.
Step 5: Practice
As with everything else, plenty of practice is the only way to master each command.
Remember, regardless of how smart your GSD is, the challenge of learning how to herd won’t be a walk in the park and it will definitely take a while to master. But if you persevere, it could be the most rewarding activity you do with your dog.
Other Breeds That Are Good At Herding
Although the German Shepherd is commonly associated with herding, many other breeds excel in this activity.
In fact, the AKC herding group comprises over 30 different dog breeds. Apart from the GSD, here are some of the other breeds that are popularly used as herding dogs:
- Australian Cattle Dog
- Australian Shepherd
- Belgian Malinois
- Border Collie
- Cardigan Welsh Corgi
- Miniature American Shepherd
- Old English Sheepdog
- Pembroke Welsh Corgi
- Shetland Sheepdog
Learning how to herd can be one of the most fulfilling activities for a German Shepherd. It is also an excellent activity to do together. It is not just something challenging and fulfilling but is also something that will help you strengthen your bond as you work as a team.
Herding—whether sheep or balls—is definitely something fun to do with a German Shepherd. If you’re feeling more competitive, participating in trials can be incredibly rewarding.
If you’re merely looking for an activity to do with your GSD but feel like herding might not be your cup of tea, you might also want to look into other canine sports like Dock Diving, Flyball, and Canicross.