Dancing Hearts Blog

How to Start Herding the Right Way

Kathy Kawalec and her border collie LucTo: Fellow Herding Dog Enthusiasts

From: Kathy “learned the hard way” Kawalec

If you have a herding breed dog, you have likely thought about how cool it would be to enjoy a trip out to the farm and give herding a try!

Maybe you have a herding dog who really needs a job and misbehaves without a proper outlet.

Or you’ve been dreaming of starting herding with your dog…the right way.
I had dreams of what it would be like when I started herding with my young border collie, so many years ago.

I imagined beautiful sunny days in green pastures … me and my dog, happily working contented sheep…gracefully collaborating as good partners do…learning and having fun together.

I thought I had a good relationship with my dog, and she already had basic training…we were good to go, I believed.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

What I discovered is that learning Herding is hard…and unless we are prepared in advance: it will bring up ALL the holes in our relationship, our foundation training and in our working partnership.

My own start was rocky, that’s for sure.

My first herding trainer used those common and outdated ‘yell, chase in circles, wield your stick, harsh pressure’ methods to train herding dogs.

Even though I was positive and refused the ‘instructions’ to physically correct my dog, I didn’t realize just how damaging those tactics really were. My poor dog!

And, it breaks my heart that this is STILL common, 20+ years later. These poor dogs!

Well…there is a better way!!

After going from a struggling beginner to 9x national sheepdog finals qualifier (and more) with 5 different dogs, and supporting 100’s of coaching clients and many herding breeds to achieve herding success…

my dream is to share what I’ve learned with everyone who loves herding and herding dogs…

…and wants to have success WITHOUT sacrificing their trusting relationship with their dog.

That’s YOU, right?


Why You Should Do Herding with Your Dog and
How to Start Herding the Right Way

3 Skills you and your herding dog need …
for herding AND for everything you do together:

Skill #1: Herding Dogs Need to Know How to be Mindful.
They need to be attentive and responsive to us. And keen and mindful in their work. This means they are thinking, and they are learning, and they are applying what they learn into the context of the moment.

Skill #2: Herding Dogs Need to Know How to follow your Positive Leadership.
Communication, trust, understanding, role modeling are crucial skills that you and your dog will develop together.

When we know how to effectively communicate with our dogs by understanding their nature and their emotions, and by creating and maintaining a dialog loop, our dogs naturally choose to follow our leadership because they trust us.

Skill #3: Herding Dogs Need to Know How to be Responsible.
Partnership doesn’t happen because your dog is obedient. Partnership happens because your dog understands their responsibility and looks to you for positive leadership.

There’s a formula for that!


Kathy Kawalec and her border collie Sue at a sheepdog competition
Kathy Kawalec and her border collie Sue at a sheepdog competition

Just Imagine…

…your dog: always eager to learn, train and compete with you…happy to be your partner. Stress and tension that causes your dog to misbehave fades away as you become fluent in communicating with your dog in a way that he/she really understands.

…how great it will be when you and your dog are working together, as herding partners. No challenge is too difficult when the two of you solve problems TOGETHER.

…that amazing feeling that happens as you finish a great run. The partnership…the focus…the good handling…the great work your dog did handling those tough sheep. It was an awe-inspiring experience that you FELT and others noticed.


Herding magic happens because of a partnership that is built on trust. A deep trust that comes from learning how to be a good partner…from working TOGETHER with your dog as you learn, as true partners do.


Herding as a life skill.

Herding shows us ALL of our relationship/partnership foundation ‘holes’ in full HD detail. AND it provides a perfect venue to work on our partnership…to bring us to that place of brilliance that we envisioned when we brought home our herding dog.

Herding dogs are so smart, so sensitive and so attuned to their environment and to us … any mistakes we make in raising and training them can’t be disguised … and our herding dogs, with all their sensitivity, can either make us look brilliant or make us look embarrassingly inept. Don’t I know it!

The path that herding dogs take us on requires commitment, consistency and it requires passion. Most importantly, it requires skill.

Many people acknowledge that herding is, by far, the hardest thing they have ever done with their dog. Maybe the hardest thing ever. Period.

Those of us who jump in, get hooked on this life-changing experience we call herding.


To truly enjoy herding as it’s meant to be:

  • You need to develop YOUR skills as your dogs trainer, handler and partner.
  • You need to develop herding-specific skills in you and your dog.
  • You need to have a solid herding foundation that you can build upon as you and your dog progress. Without this foundation, your path will be blocked with frustrations and challenges that stand in the way of your brilliant success.


5 Great Reasons to do Herding with Your Herding Dog:

  1. Dogs that are bred for herding may realize their reason for being.
  2. Enjoy fresh air and open spaces.
  3. A new kind of partnership will blossom between the you and your dog.
  4. Give your dog a real job!
  5. Herding trials are everywhere and fun!
Sue in shedding ring at WWSDA Labor Day trial


Why do herding Kathy’s way?

Most beginners are thrown into a pen with their untrained dog, some sheep, and a tool they are told to use to keep their dog away from the sheep. Chaos ensues, as the uninitiated dog and person frantically try to figure out how to do what the instructor is yelling at them to do as everyone runs around the pen.

It’s crazy. We don’t learn, nor do we teach anything else to our dogs in this manner.

5 Great Reasons to do Herding, Kathy’s Herding Partners way:

  1. Fosters respect for all: sheep, dogs, people.
  2. Accelerates learning for dogs and people.
  3. Establishes a calm, mindful practice of sheep handling.
  4. Allows keenness to emerge in a supportive setting.
  5. Keeps everybody safe.
  6. A bonus reason: it’s way more fun! 🙂


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