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A Herding Primer

Border Collies are often called the “world’ s premier sheepdog.” The presence of a Border Collie on a farm or ranch is often invaluable, but just what is herding and why are Border Collies so good at it?

Herding is not chasing; it is the controlled movement of livestock. It involves shaping the predator/prey instinct. The sheep are the prey and the dog is the predator. The sheep feel pressure from the dog to move in a particular direction. For many Border Collies, this is a natural instinct, they will try to herd almost anything that moves. It is the job of the trainer to direct the instinct properly.

Border Collies have been selectively bred for hundreds of years for hallmark traits such as keenness, alertness, intelligence, independence and biddability. These are all beneficial to the Border Collie when asked to perform its job in the field. However, the same traits often make Border Collies difficult to live with in the absence of livestock or another job to perform. Many Border Collies kept as pets find themselves frustrated if not given enough mental and physical exercise.
Many groups offer chances for owners of herding breed dogs an opportunity to see if their dog has any aptitude for herding. These dogs are considered to be Herding Instinct Certified (HIC) if they do show some natural ability.

Several organizations hold trials that simulate everyday farm work or that test a dog’s ability to perform specific tasks with the sheep on a standard course.

  • There are two types of trials: arena and field.
  • The various sanctioning bodies are the American Kennel Club (AKC), the American Herding Breeds Association (AHBA), the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA), and the United States Border Collie Handlers Association (USBCHA).
  • A dog must be registered with AKC, ASCA or AHBA to compete in their trials.
  • Any dog that is registered with another registry (AKC, UKC, ABCA, NASS) may compete in AHBA and ASCA trials as long as they belong to one of the recognized herding breeds.
  • Dogs must be purebred (with papers) or apply for an ILP (indefinite listing privilege) to compete in events sanctioned by AKC.
  • Dogs requesting ILP numbers must be neutered or spayed.
  • Any dog, including those of mixed or unknown parentage, may compete through AHBA.


  • Courses are designed to include all of these elements and the dogs are judged on the naturalness and smoothness of the work they perform.
  • All stock dog work, at a trial or on the farm, should be performed with an emphasis on natural, controlled movement of the stock. It should always be remembered that the sheep or cattle or ducks are living creatures that don’t deserve to be harassed.


Outrun – When a Border Collie goes around the sheep.

Lift – When a Border Collie first sets the sheep in motion.

Fetch – When a Border Collie moves the sheep towards the handler.

Drive – When a Border Collie moves the sheep away from the handler often through gates or panels.

Wear – When a Border Collie moves sheep by moving back and forth behind the herd.

Pen – A fenced area where the dog and handler put sheep.

Shed – When the dog and handler separate and sort specific sheep from the group.