Dancing Hearts Blog

A Fun Game to Satisfy Your Herding Dog’s “Herding Instinct” When You Don’t Have Sheep to Work.

no sheep?

One of the things that get herding breed dogs into trouble is not having a REAL job to do every day.

A real job like grazing the sheep. Or bringing the cows home. Or putting the chickens and ducks to bed each night.

You might be doing a great job of providing plenty of exercise to your herding dog … but if you’re not also providing MENTAL work … you’re not meeting the needs of your herding dog.

Herding dogs not only require serious physical activity every single day, but they need serious mental activity too. Thinking is one of the things herding dogs are great at, and they’re not truly happy without daily mental exercise.

So, if you don’t have sheep, cows or chickens, what to do?

Play interesting games that provide physical AND mental exercise!

What provides mental exercise for a smart herding dog, you might be wondering.

Games that include these important life skills are perfect for exercising herding dogs AND they utilize their natural herding instincts and qualities:

  • Taking Turns (Learning Patience)
  • Staying Focused (Learning Impulse Control)
  • Being Attentive (Learning to be Responsive to You)
  • Search/Find (Learning Dedication to Complete a Task)
  • Retrieve (Learning to Bring YOU Valuable Things)

You can be creative with inventing games that include these skills … one of my favorites is Fetch.

I teach my dogs to retrieve, and we have a blast with a soft frisbee. A ball will work just a well…mix it up! When played with the intention of incorporating important life skills, fetch is a super way to provide physical and mental exercise and to engage in social time with your herding dog.

Playing frisbee with two or more dogs makes it really interesting for you and your dogs.

Click the play button to watch a video demonstrating some serious learning, and mental exercise while I play with two of my border collies.


You’ll notice that my dogs are not ‘frenzied’ or freakishly/obsessively offering behaviors they think I might want. They are alert, eager, fast, fun, calm, mindful, attentive and fully understand their jobs.

Can you imagine how this ‘way of being’ would be useful in anything you do with your herding dogs? Not just in every day life and play…but for herding, agility, obedience, rally, conformation…anything you do where you need an eager, attentive dog. That’s all the time, right? 🙂

CLICK HERE for Herding Dog, No Sheep? Part 2.


Call to action text in case your image doesn't load.


21 Responses

  1. I was really happy to find this because I have been having so many problems with my sheltie that it’s become more of a nightmare than a blessing. I’m hoping with these videos maybe I can figure out how to start working him back to being the dog I used to know and the Mr. Hyde he has become.

    1. Ashley, I so understand how frustrating that can be! The videos will give you some great tips, and get you pointed in the right direction for sure! Let me know if you need more help. Thanks!

      1. Kathy I’ve just started herding. I own a Pumi and she is very soft. The instructor is constantly throwing things at her and wanting me to hit her. Do you know anyone in Texas who can train herding without the drama? Do you have a herding workshop?

        1. Patti, I’m so sorry that you are experiencing that type of ‘training’. First, I would stop going there, like now.

          I don’t have a referral for you, but if you find out where there is a local herding trial and go to watch for a day … observe the handlers who are calm and kind to their dogs during the runs and outside the working areas. When you find one that you like, approach them and inquire. If they don’t offer lessons, they may be able to refer you to a like-minded trainer.

          I do have an online herding academy, that will be really helpful for you to learn the art of herding. You can learn more at https://cognitivedogtrainingonline.com/hpa-membership

  2. I have shelties, too. We’ve gotten involved with rally and agility classes at our local dog club. It’s been great meeting other dog-friendly people and having fun with our dogs.

    1. sounds like you and your shelties are having lots of fun! that’s awesome! Thanks for stopping by…are you enjoying the videos in the mini-class?

  3. Greetings! I was going to recommend watching your sessions to some clients with herding breeds. Can you let me know if you employ any dominance techniques or are strictly force-free training? Thanks!

    1. Hi Catrina! No force, no dominance, no alpha, no e-collars, no prong collars, no corrections. Have a look at the videos…they speak for themselves!! I prefer not to use the term “force-free” (and I wish other positive trainers would stop using it) for a couple of reasons…the biggest reason is that trainers who use e-collars and/or follow Milan’s methods often call themselves ‘force-free’. The other big reason is that it’s always more effective (from a natural law perspective) to speak and think in terms of what we want to create, rather than what we don’t want to create. The term ‘force-free’ does not meet that criteria, since it’s focusing on the ‘force’. Although, that reminds me of Luke Skywalker and “use the force”. lol. The force I advocate using is the energy of a heart-connection…love! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  4. I do some of these things already with my current group but have a young BC pup that doesn’t want to retrieve. This is a first for me…how do you teach a dog to want to retrieve a toy? He will chase it but half the time will not pick it up or will pick it up and then drop it a few feet farther away….any advice?

  5. I have a Mini Am Shep puppy (Mini Aussie) who is very different from Cardigans. No job= trouble. We learn lots of tricks, rally and freestyle moves, and of course agility. He is exhausting tho!

  6. I so hope I can find resources to help with my little Rascal. He’s a blue-eyed mix of some kind, DEFFINITELY a herding breed mix. Yes, he’s about 4 months old and tries to herd me, the neighbor’s dog, and my cat.
    Somebody put him out just up from our house on the road, maybe because he was too nippy and high energy for them to handle. I took him home, cleaned him up and started working with him. He is a handful and I work full time. AND we have nothing for him to herd. He also seems to have some abandonment issues.
    I want to make it work out for him and me. Maybe structuring the time I am home with him will help. Wish me luck.

  7. I can’t get my 5 month border collie to actually brig her balls or toys all the way back to me? I’ve tried clicker training treats etc

    1. Melissa, try running backwards, away from your pup as she turns back toward you with the ball. That will encourage her to run toward you.

      She may drop the ball as she runs back to you at first, but that’s ok. Make it fun to run back and forth with/for the ball…the rest will develop as she learns that the sooner you have the ball, the sooner you can throw it for her again.

  8. My 14 month old male Australian Labradoodle is demonstrating what I think is herding instinct when he runs on the beach with other dogs and it’s becoming a problem. He will choose a dog to play and run with and then begins barking continuously and nipping while running at and with the other dog. It’s almost becoming aggressive behavior and I cannot control it. He is not a barker and has a sweet and mellow personality except for this and I have to control this behavior. He will not respond to “leave it” or no, and the other dog owners are not happy. Any suggestions?

    1. Hey Michael! Sounds like your dog is getting over-stimulated at the beach, and isn’t prepared to be able to behave there. I suggest taking him to the beach when there are none or few other dogs there to start with…that may mean at dawn on a weekday. Then, It would be best if you could find one other dog that he can play well with…so that you can manage the situation better. There’s so much more than I can answer in a blog comment, but you will need to teach him some impulse control, and to form a better bond with him over time…so that he is more willing to respond to you.

      It’s always best if you never ask your dog to do something they won’t do…that means don’t ask him to stop or come to you when you’re at the beach right now, because he just can’t do it…he can’t even hear you, really. And, since that’s not practical (you NEED your dog to stop/come at the beach), I would avoid the beach until you have worked on this in less stimulating environments.

  9. We have a corgi and play fetch and ball with her all the time and she is still bored and almost nervous a lot! any other ideas?

  10. I have a GSD that is obsessed with his tail so bad it has a sore on it and bleeds. When I take him out in the am to feed our mini horses he is out of control. I can’t even let him in with them or he try’s to bite them. Help please!!

  11. Hi there, i have a blind from birth BC, she spins and gets frustrated, what would you suggest for games to play with her. we play ‘find me’ but she is scared of any ball which makes a noise so fetch is a non starter. any suggestions would be a god send thanks

  12. Hi, My ACD will not fetch. When we throw the ball he will play with it, throw it for himself, or shake it vigorously and chew it. However when he is done and wants it thrown again he just sits next to it and waits. We have NEVER had a dog that wouldn’t fetch before, and don’t know what to do. My husband wants to get him into flyball for the exercise, but if all he will do is play with the ball & chew it that won’t work.

  13. I have a dog who is half herding breed. When she’s very excited playing in the yard, she will sometimes body slam me. It hurts!

    I watched your frisbee video and would love to use this to focus her energy and improve obedience. But she is not interested in retrieving; she only likes to chase. Any tips for getting her to “bring it back”? It’s obviously not fun or fruitful to do a one-way frisbee throw. Also, any general tips to stop body slamming? I have been saying stop and turning away but then I can get surprised with a hit.

  14. Hi, glad I found your page! mabey we dont have to get city by-laws changed and get goats! But still would enjoy. Anyways not to sure what to do with 3 boys 6,8 and 12 and beautiful 11 week old Australian shepard. in regards to “nipping at ankles”. When the children run in the yard should I calmly put the puppy in a pen to avoid this? We have been playing the games you suggest. My boys are wonderful to her and she is a great dog!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *