Ah, herding dogs. Even when your dog is a Standard Poodle (like our question-asker this week), you’re at risk of some herding when you live with a dog.
In today’s “Ask a Behavior Consultant,” we’re tackling dogs that herd their people.
How do I teach my dog to NOT herd us on the way back to the house after a long run around the
meadow.She starts circling us, barking aggressively, and even jumps up and nips our arms or thighs.
– Herded Like a Sheep
What a frustrating problem! It sounds like their dog is having a ton of fun, but the humans… less so.
Step 1: Teach Your Dog Some Impulse Control
We love impulse control games. I think this dog could particularly benefit from #11 on this list, “Ready, Set, DOWN!” as well as #12, Nosework.
Playing these games with your dog outside of the meadow will help teach your dog to think through her own excitement.
These games will also help teach your dog that the fun doesn’t end just because you leave the meadow. This herding behavior could be related to your dog trying to stop you from leaving the park, because she doesn’t want to go home. It does sound frustration-based.
The Ready, Set, DOWN!
Nosework is an incredible calming tool that is exhausting for high-energy dogs. You might want to consider hiding treats and playing
Step 2: Give Your Dog Other Outlets
Treibball has another benefit for stopping dogs from herding. As part of the sport, you’ll also teach your dog cues that you can use to interrupt her behavior. Once you can control the herding behaviors, it’s a lot less nasty!
Going along with what we said above, it’s also important to make sure that daily romps in the meadow aren’t the only exciting part of your dog’s day. Feeding puzzle toys in an Easter egg hunt (as described in step 2 of this article) can do wonders for giving your dog more to look forward to.
Mental stimulation will help your dog “cool it” elsewhere.
Step 3: Teach Alternative Behaviors
Does your dog know a few basic cues already? If so, great! You can actually use those to interrupt the barking, nipping, and herding behaviors.
I like using hand targets, but sit or down will work as well. Start practicing the “Can You Listen When…?” game. Once your dog is really successful with the game in other situations, you can start introducing it to the meadow.
If your dog is sitting, lying down, or hand targeting, she can’t also be herding you obnoxiously.
Step 4: Triage as Needed
For now, while you work on all of these other interventions, it’s time for triage (also known as management in dog training).
Put your dog on a leash and use your defensive leash handling skills to avoid getting nipped at while you go home.
You can also scatter treats in the grass to distract your dog. This is called a “find it.” Sniffing through the grass will help calm her down. If she’s too excited to eat, you might need to take a break from the meadow.
The more that she practices this unwanted herding behavior without intervention, the harder that habit will be to break!
Kayla grew up in northern Wisconsin and studied ecology and animal behavior at Colorado College. She founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She’s an avid adventurer and has driven much of the Pan-American Highway with her border collie Barley. She now travels the US in a 2006 Sprinter with her two border collies, Barley and Niffler. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams.