German shepherd Herding dogs

German Shepherds as herding dogs

herding dogs
Herding dogs


Herding Dogs

German Shepherds originated from the German herding varieties used by local German shepherds for the guarding and herding dogs of sheep. There was a focused attempt to standardize the breed in Europe during the 1800’s. In local communities throughout Germany, shepherds bred dogs that displayed the necessary traits for sheep herding, such as strength, intelligence, loyalty, and speed. There are of course several breeds suitable for developing herding dogs such as the Border Collie and Australian shepherd among others. Herding dogs were all adept at the herding of sheep, but they varied greatly in ability and appearance. See below for a sample  training video of a German shepherd herding dog.

Brief History of the German shepherd

Max von Stephanitz is credited with standardizing the German Shepherd breed. Von Stephanitz ran across a dog named Hektor at a dog show in 1899. Hektor displayed all of the attributes von Stephanitz believed herding dogs should have. Taken aback by Hector’s beauty, strength, intelligence, and loyalty, he purchased Hektor on the spot and changed his name to Horand von Grafrath. Horand became the first registered German shepherd and went on to sire hundreds of pups.

German shepherd herding dogs have been specifically bred for obedience in order to view and help the shepherd as pack leader. Thus, they have a strong pack pride, and if training methods are used that do not consider this inherent drive, the German shepherd will not be capable of working independently, whether it’s herding dogs or any other kind of working dog. Thus, proper training is essential in establishing strong herding dogs, regardless of its breeding. For more on the German shepherd dog history visit German Shepherd dog history.

Shepherds use German shepherd herding dogs to contain and control large flocks of sheep or groups of livestock like cattle. These animals must be contained in specific grazing areas and kept from neighboring crops. German shepherds use boundary control and flock containment in order to keep a shepherd’s flock from damaging crops among the many jobs of herding dogs.

Selecting the Best German shepherd for herding 

When training a German shepherds for herding dogs, it is necessary to spend as much time with it as possible from the day it is born. This allows the pups to become familiar with the tones of your voice, which is crucial. The following tests should begin being performed when the pups are around three weeks old in order to determine which ones can become competent herding dogs:

Start out by putting a pan of food in with the litter. When the puppies place their full attention on the food, go somewhere where they cannot see you and make a loud noise. Do this multiple times and take note of the ones that pay no attention to the noise.

Training the young German shepherd 

When the pups are 4-6 weeks old, see which puppies come to you when you call them. Take note of the ones that show the greatest interest and attraction to you.

Also during this period, put a lamb, or any other livestock they will be herding, in with the litter every other day. You want to start with a young lamb or other animal and increase the size as the puppies grow. Repeat the process every other day for three weeks and see which puppies show and maintain a keen interest in the animal. These have the best potential as herding dogs.

After the potential herding dogs are seven weeks old, put an appropriate sized lamb or calf in with the litter and notice which puppies grip the animal in the top of the neck, above the hock, and the ribs, as these are the three places allowed for gripping. Any puppies that grip the animals not in these three places should be eliminated as potential herding dogs.

herding dog
GSD Herding dogs

More puppy testing for herding potential

Also during this seven-week period, constantly watch the potential herding dogs puppies and see how each one reacts to your presence and responds to the tones of your voice. This will be important when training the chosen dogs in the field as potential herding dogs.

Methods of testing puppies 

This allows you to accurately select German Shepherds with a strong drive for natural prey that is essential for self-confidence, acceptance of the shepherd as the leader of the pack, and sheep herding. Only select puppies for potential herding dogs that fully meet this criteria. However, even if a puppy does not seem to meet the criteria within this time frame, there is still hope, because a dog’s character and potential for work is not fully developed until it is three years old.

These testing standards are extremely high and more than likely not suitable for a hobbyist. A working shepherd must be much more demanding of his dogs than someone pursuing shepherding as a hobby. A working shepherd must have a dog that will maintain its concentration all day long, day in and day out. This level of intense concentration can only be achieved by a German shepherd with the highest degree of natural instinct and attraction to sheep or livestock and make excellent herding dogs.

herding dogs

Cornerstone training for herding dogs

The cornerstone of training for a German shepherd herding dog is the dog’s acceptance of the shepherd as the leader of the pack and its understanding of voice commands. This is the reason why it is necessary to expose puppies to the subtleties and variations of your voice from birth, both the pleased voice and the sharp, displeased voice. Similarly to how puppies learn from their mother’s tone of voice, your voice must be recognized as the means of correction and praise when training potential shepherd herding dogs. Please view the training video below

There should be no reason for physical correction if you establish confidence and trust as the pack leader from the beginning, and the German shepherd herding dog has been properly conditioned to understand the meaning behind the tones of your voice.

herding dogs
German shepherd herding dog

Important traits in herding dogs in early training

During early training in the field, the German shepherd should be restricted on a leash, but the leash should only be used to guide the dog, not punish it. The German shepherd should only be taken off of the leash when it has begun to view the sheep or livestock as subservient members of the pack. The dog must feel it necessary to defend the flock and keep it order. This comes with the dog’s understanding of boundaries and to put sheep that stray outside the boundaries back in place.

Potential in herding dogs

When training potential herding dogs such as the shepherd dog, there is no place for punishment or forced training. This only weakens or completely destroys a dog’s self-confidence and its willingness to trust and follow its own instincts, which ultimately affects the ability of the dog to work on its own. These are qualities that every shepherd dog must possess. This goes back to testing a dog’s instincts. If a dog wants to a help a shepherd and has the instinct and attraction to the sheep, then the dog’s natural instincts only need to be harnessed and directed. Force training only suppresses these natural qualities in potential herding dogs.

During a German shepherd’s first year, obedience work should consist of establishing voice communication and play training. Early on, the aim of play training should be to build the dog’s confidence and establish a trusting and respectful bond between the shepherd and the dog. The dog should be praised when it does something right, but it should never be punished for doing the wrong thing. This is because all dogs have a desire to please the pack leader, and they will correct themselves in order to gain praise. Therefore, only voice corrections should be made, and you should always give the German shepherd the opportunity to correct itself. After the dog is one year of age, then serious training can begin, but only after the dog displays that it is ready.


Herding Dogs
Herding Dogs

Do not confuse sheep herding for obedience training!

Herding training should not be construed as obedience training. Rather, it is the symbiotic relationship between shepherds and his herding dogs. The German shepherd should be encouraged to work according to its own instincts more than the commands of the shepherd. The stronger a dog’s instincts, the better suited the German shepherd will be for working with sheep and livestock, and the less it will need to rely upon commands and become one of the many great herding dogs. To learn more about therapy dogs which many compare to herding dogs visit Therapy dogs. To view HGH world  championship herding view our video of HGH Championship herding dogs.

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