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How to stop dog from herding people

Thursday March 31st, 2011

By Leigh Siegfried

Question:

My herding dog "herds" guests in our home by nipping at their heels. How can I break her of this habit?

answered by Leigh Siegfried

Answer:

It's not shocking to hear of a Corgi nipping at the heels of people any more than I'd be shocked to hear about a German Shepherd that may be barking at strangers. We certainly have to take into account that our dogs have been selectively bred to do many "hard wired" behaviors for thousands of years. That being said, I can understand your frustration and concern.

Ok, the first thing is, get that it's a normal and natural response. And the more people react to being herded--by running, yelling, etc.--the more likely the dog will be thinking of this as a fun, entertaining game! So first, take a look at how you or others have been reacting to being herded. You may be adding fuel to the fire.

Second thing, prevention and management are key. Until a dog has learned "not" to do this in certain contexts (with people, for example), you want to avoid putting the dog in situations where they can practice this. Practice makes perfect.

Lastly, give you dog LOTS of appropriate out lets for herding, nipping, biting and mouthing: Tugging is a great game that can teach a lot of self control with a dog's mouth. I don't know many herding breeds that wouldn't join you in a game of tug.

Also ask yourself: what kind of activity is this dog getting? Increasing exercise and enrichment and giving any dog (especially working breeds) more mental activity is so key to their success in a home. There is an "Enrichment & Chewies" e-book on www.missiondog.com that may help give you lots of ideas to entertain your pup.

And of course, training. What can we do? I'd try management (putting the dog on a leash) and teaching the dog self control. Basically, if we know that this is a dog that is hard wired to want to chase things that move--great!

  • Anytime you play ball or engage in an activity where the dog gets to do this, make him/her work! Wait for a calm response (standing, sitting, lying down) before you toss that ball to fetch and in between tosses. That way, you are your dog to practice self control.
  • Build the foundation: Work on attention--that is, getting a dog to look back at you, away from moving objects. This can be done by having the dog on leash and tossing objects far, far away. Then call your dog's name and tell him, "look!" And when the dog does check in with you (and yes, you may have to wait), you praise/reward. Then, begin to expose the dog at very low levels to the stuff that arouses them, such as people moving, bikes, scooters, a rolling ball. Make sure they are set up for success by practicing at a safe distance where they are interested, but not "losing it."

If you can initiate lots of self control games, increase enrichment, work a few skills, and manage the dog in the meantime, you are well on your way to decreasing the herding of humans!

Leigh Siegfried is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, owner of Opportunity Barks Behavior & Training ™,  and Co-founder of Mission Dog ™, a company committed to enriching the lives of dogs through educating humans. 

Read more about Leigh Siegfried in the DogTime expert center...
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