This is the story of my very first herding adventures with Chelsea, way back in 1983. It's the story of an ignorant beginning handler with a tremendously talented dog, and it reflects my state of limited knowledge at an early stage of our career. I present the article unaltered from the way I first wrote it in 1984. I am very grateful to my first teacher , Bob Carrillo, for giving me a good grounding in the basic basics of starting a herding dog and handling one with good "fetching" / "gathering" instincts. Further information is derived from "The Farmer's Dog" by John Holmes.



by Pam Green, © 1984

Part I : background

( mostly from "The Farmer's Dog" by John Holmes )


The domestic dog's instinct to herd Is essentially similar to the ancestral wolf's instinct to hunt in packs. In the "gathering" style of herding, the dog runs out beyond the stock to head them off and turn them back towards the herdsman. In one of the wolfpack's favorite methods of hunting large prey, the faster wolves run out around the fleeing quarry to head it off and turn It back towards the slower wolves; once surrounded by wolves, the prey may be killed with relative ease.

So the good news Is that a dog which has inherited an adequate -amount of herding instinct will enjoy herding Immensely. The activity provides its own reward, a far more powerful reward than anything the handler could provide. It "feels good to his genes."

The bad news is that a dog which has inherited an adequate herding instinct will also enjoy such closely related and highly undesirable behavior as chasing stock, harassing stock, and killing stock.

The crucial difference between the valuable stock-herding dog and the destructive stock-killing dog is that the herding dog acts under the control and leadership of the herdsman. The herdsman must be the packleader and the dog or dogs must be subordinates, obeying the leader's commands and carrying out his policies even when out of sight and out of reach. This is not to say that the dog is a robot; on the contrary he must have the Initiative to make moment to moment tactical decisions. Controlled aggressiveness is the central fact of herding.


A young pup must be selected on the basis of the herding behavior displayed by his parents or adult siblings, as his own desire to hunt/herd will not develop until late puppyhood, usually between 6 months and 12 months.

Selecting within the litter, give preference to a pup with strong prey-chasing response. The older puppy or adult should be selected on the basis of trying him out with stock, testing with the same species that you wish to herd.


The upbringing of a Bouvier for herding is essentially similar to the rearing of the future protection dog, future search and rescue dog, future guide dog or of a maximally marvellous companion dog. Take advantage of that golden period of learning and bonding between 5 weeks and 6 to 8 months to teach the pup to regard you as his beloved, trusted, and respected leader, by teaching him as much basic education as you possibly can. At this age, "soft" methods, i.e. praise and petting, are especially effective, reducing the need for heavy handed-corrections to a minimum. If the occasions when you really have to get tough are rare, they will be more memorable. Teach your pup the puppy kindergarten version of basic obedience and teach and enforce your household rules, car manners, bathtub manners etc. Teach appropriate hand-arm signals too, especially those to send the pup out in the direction of a pleasant goal (eg into the house or car) or towards a favorite toy. Some handlers find hand-arm gestures very useful in getting their meaning across to the dog in a herding situation; others find their voice more useful.

Do NOT allow your puppy (or adult) to have unfenced and unsupervised access to livestock. It is too easy for him to teach himself bad habits. But DO encourage any display of Interest by the pup in any livestock on your place; at the least, give him the sorts of socializing exposure that prevents shyness around stock. Keep your own stock well fenced and don't let the pup run off to the neighbors to bother their livestock and get shot DEAD.


Whether you are dealing with a pup or an adult, he must be really as fool-proof as you can make him In responding to "Come" and "Down", including under conditions of high excitement. Teach him to "Down" to a whistle (preferably high pitched) as well as to your voice; a whistle carries further and penetrates an excited mind better. He should also have good leash manners, i.e. no pulling or lungeing, especially when excited. A sloppy off-leash heel is helpful. A "Whoa", i.e. standing halt, and a "Slow" (or "easy", "cool it" etc) are also very helpful. "Wait" or "Stay" is essential. 'Down" plus "wait" allow you to interrupt the action before a mildly unglued situation turns into a complete catastrophe.


From now on this article is based on the personal experience of myself and my dog. Most of our experience took place under expert guidence. The methods I describe are not the only way of doing it. They are one way.

My dog Is "Chelsea de Caelichyth, T.T., C.D.X., TD. . She is a spayed Bouvier bitch, and was a bit under 2 years old when we began herding a year ago. At that time, she had only one Open leg, tracked reliably at the TD level, and was in the process of learning to cart (with driver riding), and to do police-style agility and box search. She was bred strictly for breed ring qualities and with no apparent regard to working qualities. Temperamentally, she is socially dominant, self-confident, likes rough body-contact sports, and displays strong prey drive. She is the first dog I have trained beyond CD equivalency.

Now, I'm not telling you this as a commercial for Chels or for myself. The message is: if we can do it, you can do it !


Our first proper herding experience was to participate in a Herding Instinct Certification Test. About 15 dogs of several breeds participated, with Bearded Collies and Belgian Tervuren in the majority since their national breed clubs have an official herding promotion program. The judge and instructor was Mr. Robert Carrillo of Sebastopol, California, an experienced trainer and herding judge, and breeder of Kelpies, Border Collies, and Australian Shepherds.

The purpose of testing is to determine whether or not the dog has a sustained interest In attempting to herd the stock and, if so, to see what his natural style of herding is, thus got an idea what types of tasks and what types of stock he would be most suited to handle. To be considered suitable, a dog must be neither afraid of the stock nor excessively or uncontrollably aggressive towards them. A dog which repeatedly splits the flock and singles out one for attack, or a dog which repeatedly grabs for the throat or tries to hamstring stock is definitely unsuitable. The two basic styles of herding are the "gathering" or "fetch" style, in which the dog tries to keep the group together and bring the group towards the handler, and the "driving" style. in which the dog follows or chases the stock, taking them away from the handler. A natural gathering dog can be used an ducks, sheep cattle, or swine and can be trained to drive when necessary. A natural driving dog cannot be taught to gather, and gathering is an essential skill for sheep herding. Other aspects af style worth assessing are degree of "eye', whether the dog runs close or wide, whether he barks, and whether he Is forceful (aggressive and self-confident) or "weak". "Eye" refers to the stalking behavior is characteristic of Border Collies and, to a lesser degree, Kelpies.

The test procedure is simple. With the dog off-leash or with the leash trailing, dog and handler enter a small arena in which there are an appropriate number of heads of stock eg 10 to 20 sheep. For a dog known or suspected to be of aggressive temperament (i.e. for most Bouviers), it is best to introduce the dog calmly: the handler should act very casual and ho-hum and not try to get the sheep or the dog revved up. Give the dog a minute or so to adjust himself and decide what to make of the situation. Some dogs turn on Immediately and begin to round up sheep. Some appear disinterested, then suddenly turn on. The handler can quietly encourage the dog by walking up to a sheep and Dotting it or encouraging the dog to sniff or touch the sheep. A sheep can be turned and held in the shearing position, and the dog brought into body contact. A small dog, such as -a Sheltie or a Corgi, can be placed on a sheep's back. Getting the sheep to move about a little will often awaken a dog's chase/herd instinct. If a little movement doesn't work, try a lot of movement, perhaps with the help of a second, very turned on dog. If that doesn't work, give up for the day. Often the same dog will turn on when re-tested at a later date with a different species of livestock.

In getting the dog to turn on for the first time, the philosophy is "anything that works'" ! The first turn on in herding is something like the first real bite in protection work; it often requires the dog to break through an inhibition or taboo resulting from previous experiences in which the dog was discouraged from chasing livestock. Such inhibited dogs may take awhile to grasp that you not only tolerate but highly approve of the dog "giving into temptation". Sometimes the handler must be very self-effacing or even letting someone else handle the dog. Once turned an the dog will tend to stay turned on, or at least be easier and easier to turn on in succeeding lessons.

If the dog turns on, the testing becomes a lesson. The goal is to help the dog discover that he enjoys being on the side of the flock opposite to the handler, i.e. about 180 degrees -apart, so that the sheep are enclosed between dog and handler. You are not "teaching" in the same way you teach obedience or carting; rather, as in tracking or protection, you are structuring a situation so as to provoke the dog's natural instincts to create a desirable response. As the dog arrives at 180 degrees opposite to the handler, the handler should both back away and begin to circle the flock in the direction opposite to that of the dog. A dog with a really strong instinct for the "point of balance" will respond by moving towards the sheep and changing direction of circling so that the dog again brings himself 180 degrees across from the handler. The dog can be helped to discover the change of direction by the handler using a shepherd's crook or, better yet, 3 10 to 20 foot bamboo pole to simply block the dog from continuing In the previous direction, this crude procedure will begin to smooth out into the "pulling" procedure in which the handler backs away and the dog brings the sheep along by "wearing" behind the sheep with a zig-zag or pendulum swing of longer or shorter arc. Once a dog and handler can "pull" reliably, they can move the enclosed flock along a route chosen by the handler. This fundamental "pull" technique is enough to enable the dog and herdsman to accomplish some practical ranch tasks.

End the lesson with "down", "that'll do" , and lots of praise.

Chelsea was the last dog of the day. We introduced her to the sheep very calmly, and the momment they began to move, she turned on and from that point on presented a "textbook case" of an ideal beginning herding dog. Her "balance" on stock was superb, and her response to direction was excellent. It was a truly magical experience, and it left us both wanting more more more.


Five of us from the Instinct test decided to "vanpool" to "Casa Carrillo" for a series of eight weekly lessons, with visions of "Lassie" a-dance in our heads.

There are several ways of starting a herding dog. Mr.Carrillo's way emphasized developing the dog's natural style and training by natural methods. Some trainers prefer to teach many of the commands "dry"( the absence of stock), thus by comparatively artificial means. Both the natural method and the artificial method can achieve excellent results.

At this point you and your great big fluffy dog may be asking, "Why sheep? Where's the beef?" While "bouvier" means cowherd rather than shepherd, it is both easier and safer to establish basic herding skills with sheep instead of cattle. "School sheep" make learning easier for dog and handler. All sheep have a lesser or greater decree of flocking instinct: when approached by a potential predator, ie. a dog, the sheep protect themselves by banding together and, as a group, moving away from the predator. (A solitary sheep or the mother of a newborn lamb, however, may very well stand and fight. Avoid such situations). It is easier for the dog to learn if the sheep have a strong flocking instinct and are neither too wild and spooky nor too stubborn and belligerent. Mr. Carrillo makes It ever easier by using "trained sheep": sheep which have been taught to flee to the herdsman in order to get away from the dog.-This is a great help In teaching the dog to "pull".

The first few lessons were spent "pulling" sheep around a small oval arena. The first object is to steady the dog in pulling and adjusting his position to that of the handler. Of equal importance is learning to avoid splitting the flock. At the same time, the directional commands for the dog to go clockwise or counterclockwise are taught.

The directional commands are taught by word association: when the handler has set the situation up so that the desired response is about to happen, he quickly Inserts the word of command. While doing the basic pulling exercise, the handler changes directions and simultaneously speaks the command for the new direction, using the long pole if necessary to block off the old direction- The conventional commands are "come by" or "go by" for clockwise and "way to me" for counterclockwise. The Australians use "behind" and "here" respectively instead. You can use any commands you like, so be sure to choose ones you can remember and use consistently. Write the word on your hand if necessary. Of equal importance In these lessons is to prevent the dog from splitting the herd, or at least prevent him from learning to split and then chose after the minority. Remember the wolf's split, chase, kill! A really experienced herdsman can usually see an Impending split and then adjust himself and the dog to prevent It. Bob kept exhorting us "Don't let it happen!" When a split does occur, use the command "DOWN" to prevent the dog from chasing the minority. Don't be surprised if your dog, who drops like a ton of bricks to a single soft-spoken 'down' at home and obedience trials requires three or four absolutely bellowed "DOWN!!"s to make him drop like molasses in herding. This is normal and should improve when the initial extreme ecstatic excitement of herding dulls, through familiarity, to mere avid enthusiasm. Preventing chasing by use of the down is better than scolding, which risks turning the dog off again. After the dog has been down a few moments, let him up and continue to work the majority portion of the flock. Very often the split off minority will quickly notice that they are alone and rush back to rejoin the majority. If not, then handler and dog should pull the majority over to rejoin the minority. This may appear inefficient, but it avoids allowing the dog to learn ruinously bad habits. Again, the school motto is "Don't let it happen!" Gradually the dog will somehow figure out far himself that keeping them together is the name of the game, and the dog will begin to prevent impending splits. Chels got to be much sharper at spotting and correcting potential splits than I ever could be.

During these early lessons, you want to be very careful not to discourage the dog or turn him off. Although he knows that he enjoys this, he may not yet be sure that you really approve.So, the only sin that would be seriously rebuked is biting.In sheep work, no form of biting is really approved, except for a light nip on the nose as a last resort to force a stubborn belligerent sheep to turn and move. For light wool pulling, a verbal snarl rebuke; for a real bite, add a whack with the bamboo pole, preferably without the dog realizing where the whack came from. If you see it coming, don't let it happen!

In the Instinct test we used 20 sheep; in class we first used ',O, then 5, then 3. Smaller numbers are harder to keep together.

The next step Is to move to a much larger arena. Were it will be more difficult for the dog to maintain control of the sheep and keep them up to the handler. It will be much harder to recapture them if they get away. The dog can be sent only a short distance to turn and fetch a group of sheep. This distance increases slowly through training.

Once the dog has regained in the large arena the same facility he had achieved in the small arena, it is time to begin taking the sheep through a course of obstacles. The handler walks the course and the dog pulls the sheep along with him. That sounds very simple, and it really is simple as long as the sheep are school sheep. The hardest part for everybody was to avoid tripping over the sheep, as most of the dogs held the sheep very close to us. Everyone took a fall sooner or later. Everyone learned to wear sturdy shoes; sheep have sharp feet!

Along with going through the course, we also began to work for smoother, more efficient working style. The ideal is to take the stock along slowly and CALMLY, i.e. with a minimum Of stress. The better the skill of the handler, the more direct the route to and through the various gates and chutes, thus the less work for everybody.

At the end of the 8 weeks, most of the dogs would have been regarded as "started" dogs, i.e. knowing the basics but utterly lacking in refinement. Out of the nine or ten dogs, one developed a fear of sheep through losing several head to head confrontations (the moral, help your dog win!) and one never did develop more than a sporadic interest in working. The rest of us were very pleased with ourselves and our dogs.


The end of school was followed by a series of 3 Herding Trials run under Australian Shepherd Club rules. ASCA rules Specify 3 levels of difficulty, "Started", "Open", and 'Advanced" and grants to Australian Shepherds corresponding titles. The relative degree of difficulty is similar to that of the three AKC obedience levels. At present, most ASCA herding trials would not draw enough entries to cover costs if entries were restricted to Australian Shepherds, so the clubs are really glad to have other breeds enter. So, Bouvie owners, now is the time to got in on the ground floor!

Well, herding trials are different from Obedience, Tracking and Schutzhund!! the difference is that you can't be sure you are adequately prepared because you can't begin to know how the stock are likely to behave and you can't know what sort of work the judge most admires.

Our first trial was a wonderful experience! Chels did a good job and we had the great luck that this particular judge greatly admired her high-initiative and very determined way of working. We actually managed to get really wild, spooky sheep through the first gate. We not only earned a qualifying score, but actually placed 5th in a started class of 19 dogs.

For us that was a real achievement: a big step for one Bouvier and a small step for the Bouvier breed!


site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 1984 posted 8/17/03
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