Games People Play … With Their Herding Breed Dogs

Games and Activities to Keep Your Herding Breed Dog Mentally and Physically Healthy




If you’re the proud dog-parent of a herding breed dog, you already know about all the wonderful benefits.  Although there are certainly differences among the specific breeds, dogs in this class are generally known to be intelligent, hard working, and lively.  And, of course, loyal.

But all of these wonderful qualities can also be their downfall if the dogs don’t get the stimulation and exercise they need.  Almost any dog will need a certain amount of daily of exercise; it’s good for the body and alleviates boredom.  But by their nature, herding dogs take this to a whole new level.

Doggy boredom is a pet owner’s worst nightmare – especially if that pet is a herding breed.  They need mental stimulation in order to be happy, and an unhappy dog can lead to all sorts of nasty consequences – and household destruction!

Jessica Epley, store manager at Tabby & Jack’s pet store in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, knows a lot about keeping pets healthy and happy – her store specializes in holistic and natural products and services for dogs.  She suggests using puzzles and toys that require dogs to work for their reward – usually a treat.   They’ll need to “unlock” the puzzle to get the treat.

Working hard in figuring out the key to solving the puzzle provides mental stimulation for dogs.  A word of advice – make it easy at first, so your pup will succeed in getting their reward.  That success (and reward) will make them want to try again.  Then increase the difficulty over time.

Here are a few toy options that most dogs seem to enjoy:

  • A Kong
  • Twist ‘n Treat
  • Buster Cube
  • Treat Stik
  • Tricky Treat Ball
  • Atomic Treat Ball
  • Tug-a-Jug

If puzzles just don’t seem like enough of a challenge for your herding breed dog, well, consider this:  when Sue Foster’s Border Collie got the boot from puppy class (for trying to herd the easy-going Labs) she realized her pup was only doing what he was born to do!  So, instead of discouraging this behavior, she decided to nurture his instincts.  She bought her dog some sheep, and then some grazing land.  Soon she had gathered a following among other herding breed dog enthusiasts, who were willing to pay for the opportunity for their dogs to practice their skills on her flock. The object?  Mental stimulation, and well, just plain fun.  “You don’t have to treat the dogs with food,” she explains.  “Their reward is the sheep.”
But if buying sheep sounds a little extreme – or just not in your budget – here’s a look at some other games and activities that will keep you and your dog happy.  They’re just as stimulating – and it’s more fun when you get to play them together.  

Here are a few ideas:

  • Follow the Trail.  Fill a bottle with chicken broth and spray it or drip it to form a trail.   Let the dog smell the broth and then encourage them to follow the scent. If they succeed in reaching the end, a treat (or a little human affection) will be their reward for success.
  • Fetch.  I know.  I know.  This game is as old as the beginning of time.  But guess what?  It works – and not just for “Retrievers”!  It’s as simple (and inexpensive) as it sounds; just toss a ball or Frisbee.   Your herding breed dog will love the exercise, mental stimulation and companionship of bringing it back to you.
  • Agility.  Some dogs are afraid of the unknown, but herding dogs usually take to the idea of exploring and all that it entails - walking through tubes, jumping through hoops and more.  If you don’t have access to the real thing, make your own agility course at home with what you have on hand, such as low fences, chairs, tables, nets or tires.
  • The Dinner Hunt.  Why does dinnertime have to take place in a bowl?  Leave small mounds of kibble in various places around the house and let your dog find it.  It will keep them active and busy, and the reward is the healthy food they were going to eat anyway!
  • Chase It.  Dogs will chase anything!  From water coming out of a hose to tasty bubbles – in canine-inspired scents, such as peanut butter, chicken, or bacon.
  • Hide and Seek.  It works with your kids, so why not your dog?  Have someone hold or distract your dog while you hide in the house or yard.   Once settled, call out to them.  In this game, finding you is reward enough!
  • Taking Turns.  Here’s a “group” variation on Hide and Seek with no hiding involved.  Form a loose circle or line and take turns calling the dog.  Do NOT call them more than once.  Reward them with pets or treats if they come to you.  Then, let another person call to them.  This will help build attentiveness and patience.
  • Classes.  In addition to the Do-It-Yourself activities, there are a lot of organized classes and sports out there that herding dogs are sure to love:
    • Mastering dog tricks
    • Agility training
    • Flyball
    • Frisbee and disc games
    • Herding competitions
    • Tracking skills
    • Outdoor skills
    • “Nose” work
    • Treibball
    • Dock jumping

The main thing is to find ways to keep your dog active, exercised and mentally challenged. The bonus is the quality time you’ll spend together.   Have fun!


Article By:
Sue Sveum

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