Co-Habitating with a Herding Dog?
I loaded 3 kids and 3 dogs into the truck and headed 8 hours towards home. My youngest, a Dutch Shepherd is 8 months old and I watched her jump from the back seat to the front seat with eyes dilated and open wide. With intensity, she began to stare at the cars approaching and with passion she turned around and ogled them as they disappeared in the distance.
I have been a professional dog trainer for almost 20 years, and I knew what was going on in her pea brain. Her herding instincts were becoming over stimulated by watching the cars pass. And for a great video series that shows you how to deal with impulsive behavior click here.
Living with a herding dog can be a bit of a challenge. I first noticed the malfunctioning herding instinct on Thanksgiving Day as I watched the Eukanuba Dog Show on TV and she began to pace and do what looked like a rain dance in my living room. At first, although admittedly I know better, I thought it was a bit funny. But as time progressed she grew more and more out of control, and humor dissipated as I envisioned the TV crashing down on her head as she leaped toward it.
I have 3 herding dogs, 2 Belgian Malinois and my new Dutch Shepherd and both breeds are known for their enthusiasm and difficulty to train and handle. That is why I like them, they are a challenge for my finely honed doggy skills.
But, I think one of the things that sets me apart as a trainer is that I understand the way they think and process information. For my little girl, accurately named “Fury”, there she was in the privacy of her own home when it was invaded by other dogs. Not only did they come into her home, but they consistently ignored her pleadings to play. Playfulness then turned toward anger, a complete lack of understanding and total frustration.
It is not like I had never watched pet related television programs until Thanksgiving, but at 7 months my pup is starting toward more adult type behavior that will undoubtedly increase for several months until she is about a year and a half to two years old.
Understanding is the first matter of business. Why is she all of a sudden displaying naughty behavior?
- First, as we discussed is her age. She is inching toward sexual maturity and with that comes behavior changes. Even dogs that are spayed and neutered still go through these changes, although often to a lesser degree.
- Second and possibly the most important factor, is that I was not meeting her exercise, and mental needs. I had spent the day before Thanksgiving and that morning preparing the upcoming feast. If she had been tired, if her needs had been met; the odds of her noticing the television and caring what was going on would have been significantly less!
- Third, SHE IS A HERDING DOG!! And as such she has instincts that have been developed and bred to be enhanced for my pleasure hundreds of years. As the owner of a herding dog I need to familiarize myself with the traits of the category of dog, and her breed individually.
The herding behavior is modified from the predatory instinct, to hunt and prey on other animals. Through selective breeding man has been able to inhibit the dogs’ desire to kill while maintaining and controlling the ability to chase and herd.
Herding dogs are also known for their abilities to guard to keep their flocks safe therefore their vision and hearing is exemplary, and they are often very vocal.
Due to their beauty, intelligence and size, herding dogs are often chosen for family pets; however they need to be active physically and challenged mentally in order to be successful pets.
Instincts don’t go away, and if their needs aren’t met they can show up in inappropriate places. They may often nip at their people’s (especially children) heels in an effort to “herd” them. They may vocalize at any visual change in their environment (someone left the toilet seat up instead of its usual down position) or any sounds that they are unfamiliar with.
Sometimes this over stimulation of instinctual behaviors, if not dealt with, can get completely out of control and is increasingly difficult to deal with and repair.
I have occasionally even seen dogs who’s instincts completely malfunction and can quickly lead to severe aggression.
As the owner of dogs often used in the police and secret service field, I also understand my dogs’ abilities and aptitude to become over protective both toward dogs and people they don’t know. Their herding instincts are often channeled to bite people on command, so I must understand that power.
Thankfully, because I am a trainer and I know and love herding dogs I have already begun to mold her instincts to serve me and we often work on obedience.
When she popped up like a gopher in the truck and started hunting for cars to mentally start giving the “stink eye” too, I could command her to lay down which inhibited her ability to see outside. If she could look out the window normally she could have that privilege, but as soon as her demeanor changed she lost the privilege and had to adhere to obedience.
I like sculpting her instincts to fulfill my own needs and to give her added momentum and enthusiasm when we later compete in obedience trials. The important thing is that I understand her, I know what she was bred for and I understand what she wants and what she is thinking most of the time. And, I know when her behavior breaks down, it is probably because I am not stimulating her mentally and physically as she requires!
Do you have a Herding Dog? Herding Dogs are natural athletes, after you have mastered obedience, try an agility class, or teach your dog to use his instinct in a herding, or tracking class! But most of all have fun spending quality time together!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.