Herding / Stock Dog

Photo courtesy of Coultrain Rottweilers


General Information

Herding livestock is one of the oldest jobs for dogs. There are many breeds of herding dogs as well as many different types of herding. For example, the Border Collie uses what is called "the eye" to work — a glare which asserts their dominance over the sheep. Others are well known for their ability to dart in and nip the heels of cattle. Most of the herding breeds are known as "loose-eyed", unlike the Border Collie and some Kelpies.

The British Herding dogs, such as Border Collies, Bearded Collies, English Sheepdogs, Rough and Smooth Collies, and Shetlands, are involved in all kinds of herding work. One of which is known as "fetching" or "gathering", where the dogs work over large areas of land with their primary function being to fetch the sheep. By far the most popular of the herding dogs is the Border Collie, well known for his ability to run fast and wide to gather large groups and creep up slowly so as not to spook the sheep. He is also known for his amazing response to whistle commands, sometimes from as far as a mile away.

Continental Herding Dogs include the German Shepherds, Bouviers des Flandres, Belgian Sheepdogs, and others. In Germany and some central European areas, sheep are raised on small farms and graze in pastures right next to crop fields. In these situations, the herding dog's job is to patrol the boundaries, protecting the crops from the sheep. Another function for these dogs is to protect the sheep from predators. This style of herding is commonly called boundary work. Like the British herding dogs, however, the Continental breeds are also involved in all types of herding — driving, fetching, driving, etc.

Cattle dogs, of many different breeds, are used all over the world to help move a herd. They drive the herd, biting on the heels if necessary, and move them until they settle. Cattle dogs generally work the livestock by "heeling", by moving them from behind. These dogs are also very protective of their master and property. A cattle herding dog is very intelligent, courageous, trustworthy and has a strong desire to work. One good example of a cattle dog is the Australian Cattle Dog which has been bred for over 160 years specifically to work cattle.

Livestock guarding breeds include the Anatolian Shepherd, Akbash, Great Pyrenees, Komondor, and Maremma. These dogs all originated in Europe and Asia and have been used for centuries to protect livestock from predators like wolves and bears. The Guarding dog's primary function is to protect and not to herd the livestock. These dogs stay with their flock all the time and will aggressively guard them at any cost. With an instinct to protect motivating them to do their job, they work quite independently of humans. It has been said that the Guarding dog "adopts" his flock as though they were family members.


Herding Instinct Test

The first step taken for most dogs and their handlers is to participate in a Herding Instinct Test. This test, as the name suggests, tests the dog's instinct to herd. It allows you to see how your dog works, his drives, style, strengths, and weaknesses. During the test, a qualified tester will assess the dog and give you helpful information, tips, and strategies on how to work with your dog.

The Instinct Test is usually done in a round pen. This is to ensure that the sheep don't hold up in a corner, making it more difficult for an inexperienced dog to move them. — Occasionally, however, a larger space is more suitable for some dogs who appear pressured in the small round pen. The dog is brought in on leash with the evaluator or tester taking the dog and introducing him to the sheep. The evaluator observes how the dog and sheep react to one another and will determine if and when the leash should be removed. The dog is encouraged to move to and among the sheep as the evaluator judges the dog's actions.

During the Instinct Test, the evaluator is watching to see if the dog is non-aggressive, watching the stock, and controlling or trying to control the sheep's movements. The tester evaluates whether the dog is "gathering" the sheep or trying to "drive" them. The tester will also watch the way the dog approaches the sheep; whether the dog likes to work wide or close; whether he barks or works quietly; if the dog is easily distracted or adjusts well to direction; how responsive the dog is to the evaluator; whether the dog groups the sheep or tries to split them up; and whether the dog has a natural "balance" on sheep.

Another variation of the Herding Instinct Test involves the use of five or six ducks as opposed to sheep. In this situation, the tester takes the dog on leash behind the flock and tries to encourage the dog to keep the flock together and move them at a slow, steady pace around the enclosure. Depending on the dog's response, the exercise may be attempted off-leash as well.

Once a dog has had his instinct tested and has shown evidence of herding instinct, the next step is to find a facility and trainer. The trainer will provide individual instruction and attention to both the handler and the dog, and the training facility should have stock suitable for beginners as well as those who are more advanced.

The Herding Instinct Test is not a CKC recognized test and is open to all breeds, registered as well as non-registered.


Herding Trials — CKC Herding Level Requirements

The Canadian Kennel Club Herding Trials are open only to registered CKC dogs.

Judges determine the order of obstacles for each course. All trial levels require three qualifying legs under two judges and a core of 75 points, as well as the successful completion of each exercise. Handlers may not walk around any fenceline obstacles in these tests.

Herding Tested — HT (non-competitive class)

Two qualifying legs are required under two judges. Sheep are in the arena where the dog must pick them up in a calm, controlled manner. Once the dog has brought the sheep to the handler, the handler can walk around each obstacle, with the dog working steadily to keep the sheep gathered as they move around the course. The dog must demonstrate a brief pause, stop or down somewhere along the way. At the end of the course, the sheep are re-penned. The judge is in the arena and may walk with the handler or stand to one side. Judges may make suggestions, but may not handle the dog. No points are awarded.

Herding Started — HS

Handlers demonstrate their dogs' skills in controlling the sheep on a fenceline and stopping when asked, even if "off-balance," and their ability to take livestock out of a pen. There are three obstacles that the handler cannot walk through, and one chute that the handler can. The dog has to demonstrate a hold at the exhaust pen and then help re-pen the sheep.

Herding Intermediate — HI

The dog must take the flock from the pen, then dog and handler must wait until the judge feels the sheep have settled sufficiently, the dog is called off the stock, calmly and under complete control of the handler. Next, the dog is placed approximately 50 feet from the sheep to perform an "outrun," where the dog leaves the handler and runs in a wide arc toward and behind the flock, to get the sheep moving toward the handler. The "lift" occurs when the sheep begin to move calmly toward the handler, with the dog moving in a straight line and at a steady pace. Obstacle work follows, after which there is a small drive using the fenceline to help control the stock as the dog moves them ahead of the handler in a straight line. Finally, the sheep are herded through a freestanding chute, held in place next to the exhaust pen, then driven into the pen to complete the test.

Herding Advanced — HA

There is a "take" pen, a drive and settle, a 150-foot outrun, lift, fetch, three fenceline obstacles, a free-standing obstacle and an exhaust pen. There is a handler's line, which must run through the centre point of the arena in any direction. At certain parts of the test, the handler cannot cross this line but must direct the dog from the centre of the arena as the dog herds the stock around obstacles at the far end of the arena. When working close to the dog, the handler cannot walk through any obstacle. Dogs must work calmly and leave calmly when called off the stock.


The American Kennel Club Test/Trial Program

This AKC program offers test, pre-trial and trial classes. Titles are earned with two passing runs for the test (HT) and pre-trial (PT) levels. For the trial level, three qualifying scores under different judges must be earned for each of the three classes — Started (HS), Intermediate (HI) and advanced (HX (Herding Excellent)). Once the HX title has been completed, a herding trial championship (HCh.) can be earned.

There are three different types of trial courses: "A", "B" and "C"). Titles are not differentiated by type of stock or course. The "A" course takes place in an arena and requires working livestock through obstacles and into a pen. The "B" course is a modified Border Collie course requiring an outrun, lift, fetch, wear/drive, pen and, in the advanced class, a shed. The "C" course reflects herding as done in Europe with large flocks in unfenced areas, although recently the course has been changed to reflect more specifically German trial practices. Ducks, sheep or cattle may be used on certain of the courses.

All AKC Herding Group breeds, plus Samoyeds and Rottweilers, are eligible.


AHBA Trial/Test Herding Programs

The American Herding Breed Association (AHBA) herding program includes two trial classes, each with three levels, as well as a test program with two levels.

Herding Trial Dog (HTD) — Levels I, II, and III and Herding Ranch Dog (HRD) — Levels I, II, III

Requires two qualifying scores under two different judges. The titles are earned separately based on the type of course and type of stock. Stock used may be sheep, goats, ducks, geese, or cattle (except that HRD classes may not use ducks). A small initial after the title indicates the type of stock on which the title was earned. Trials are open to all breeds.

The HTD classes take place on a standard course and all levels include an outrun, lift, fetch, wear and/or drive, and pen which may be on the fence for the started level but is free-standing for the higher levels. At level I, the outrun is short and the handler may accompany the dog and sheep throughout the course. At Level II, the outrun is longer and the handler may accompany the dog only partway. At Level III, the outrun is longer still and the handler remains at the handler's post until time to pen, in addition, after the pen, there is an additional exercise of removing a ribbon from a marked sheep.

HTD trials are designed to be held in large fields, however, may be held in arenas with special permission.

The HRD classes take place on courses which very in detail with specified requirements. Levels are differentiated by such things as the position of the handler, variation in tasks or addition of tasks. Exercises include a gather, fetch/drive work, pen work, sorting work (required for Level III), and various elements such as chutes, bridges, holding the stock in place, etc.

HRD trials may use a combination of open fields, arenas, and pens.

Herding Trial Championship (HTCh.)

The HTCh. title is earned by obtaining 10 additional qualifying scores of 80 or above in the advanced classes, after the completion of an HTD III or HRD III title. These scores may be earned on either or both HTD and HRD courses, and may be earned on one type of stock or on any combination of types of stock, with up to 3 scores allowed on ducks.

Herding Capability Test (HCT) and Junior Herding Dog Test (JHD)

The HCT and JHD is done on a pass/non-pass basis and requires two passing runs under different judges. The events are open to all herding breeds. Tests may be held on sheep, goats, ducks, geese, or, with special approval, cattle; unlike the trial titles, legs earned on different types of stock may count toward a single title.

For the HCT, the first leg may consist of a basic instinct test in a small arena with the tester allowed to handle the dog. The second leg requires an initial pause, some simple, controlled movement of the stock back and forth across the small arena, a stop, and a recall; for the second leg, the handler, not the tester, must handle the dog, although the tester may give advice.

The JHD test is held in a larger arena and the dog is handled by the handler, although the tester may give advice. There is a simple course through which the stock is taken, consisting of two corner panel obstacles and a free-standing panel obstacle in the center of the arena, ending with the sheep being put into a fence-line pen. The handler may accompany the sheep and dog throughout the course.


ASCA Stock Dog Program

The Australian Shepherd Club of America Stock Dog Program was established to preserve and promote the inherited herding instinct of the Australian Shepherd as well as to stimulate interest in the natural working ability of the breed through the use of certification programs and rigorous trial competitions.

Three levels of training are offered: The Started Division with a title of STD earned, Open with a title of OTD, and Advanced earning a title of ATD. The dogs progress from started through open and advanced on three classes of stock (cattle, sheep, and ducks). Small letters after the title indicate the stock for which the title was earned.

Dogs who have earned an ATD in all classes earn the title of Working Trial Chamion (WTCH). A post advanced title is the PATD. There are also trials offered for Novice Handlers and Juniors.

The Ranch Dog (RD) title is earned by a ranch dog who demonstrates an ability to be of great assistance to their owners. Ranch Trials are also offered where dogs can earn the title of RTD.

The ASCA stock dog trials are open to all breeds.


USBCHA Sanctioned Trials

The United States Border Collie Handlers' Association, Inc. (USBCHA) is the sanctioning body for sheepdog trials throughout the United States and Canada. The trials follow the pattern of the trial in Great Britain's International Sheep Dog Society, the original registry for Border Collies. Specific requirements may vary from trial to trial, as may the name of the class. Titles are not given in connection with these trials.


Summary of Titles

HIC Herding Instinct Certificate  
HT Herding Tested CKC / AKC
PT Pre-Trial AKC
HS Herding Started CKC / AKC
HI Herding Intermediate CKC / AKC
HA Herding Advanced CKC
HX Herding Excellent AKC
HCh. Herding Trial Champion AKC
HCT Herding Dog Capability Test AHBA
JHD Junior Herding Dog Test AHBA
HTD (Levels I, II and III) Herding Trial Dog AHBA
HRD (Levels I, II and III) Herding Ranch Dog AHBA
HTCh. Herding Trial Championship AHBA
PT Pre-Trial AKC
STD Started Trial Dog ASCA
OTD Open TrialDog ASCA
ATD Advanced Trial Dog ASCA
PATD Post Advanced Trial Dog ASCA
WTCH Working Trial Champion ASCA
RD Ranch Dog ASCA
RTD Ranch Trial Dog ASCA


References and Additional Information


Books and Videos

  • Herding — Excellent selection of books and videos available from Dogwise.com — all on the subject of training and working with the herding breeds.