Jobs for a herding breed?

Dog Agility Trials
An Australian shepherd at an agility trial. Source: Flickr user oxherder

As you probably know by now, I’m very fond of the herding breeds. My top three choices for a dog right now would be a German shepherd, an Australian shepherd, or a rough collie. These are all very intelligent breeds with a well-deserved reputation for being high-maintenance dogs. Not high maintenance like a pampered Maltese, though. These dogs are high maintenance because they were bred for their considerable intelligence and their overpowering drive to work.

If left to their own devices, GSDs, Aussies, and collies become difficult, destructive, and occasionally dangerous dogs. In all of my reading and my interaction with these breeds, I’ve come to learn this full well. I know that most herding dogs come with a caveat emptor.

The standard advice for someone planning to get a high energy dog is to be sure to have “a job” for the dog to perform. I’ve heard this a lot and I often repeat it to other people, but if I’m honest, I don’t always know what that means. Since I don’t have a flock of sheep handy, what qualifies as a “job” for my future herding dog?

Here are some of the little “jobs” that I’ve been contemplating teaching our future dog, in the absence of actual herding:

  • Agility, if the dog is so inclined. There are a number of agility classes around here. I know that Aussies often excel at agility, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a GSD or a collie in an agility trial.
  • Rally obedience.
  • Retrieving games. So long as the dog enjoys retrieving, we will have him retrieve everything: Tennis balls, toys by name, his leash, our slippers, etc.
  • Obedience trials. This might not qualify as a job, but regular and ritualized obedience training would at least give his mind something to do.
  • Trick training.
  • Therapy work. I would love to be able to train a dog to visit schools or nursing homes.

Does your household (non-working) dog perform any jobs? If so, what are they? Any you would recommend? I’m all ears!

3 thoughts on “Jobs for a herding breed?

  1. The German Shepherd is a dog you need to know the breeder. They tend to have tremendous problems with hip dysplasia, and were over-bred in the 20th century. They make good seeing-eye or mine-cleaning dogs because of their in-bred obedience (some mine cleaners mistook this as stupidity). As it was a “fashion dog” (like, alas, the Labrador and the Golden Retriever now), many herding characteristics were bred out in favour of guarding characteristics.

    The Aussi has the reputation of tremendous intelligence, solving integral equasions in its free time and doubling as a temporary replacement for primary school teachers. His other hobbies are reputed to be geometrics, quantum physics and the herding of by-passing joggers and small cars into their coral. In contrast to the German Shepherd, who can be trained to starve if you don’t give the correct command for him to eat, the Aussi is very active and autonomous.

    I think both those breeds are opposites in their characters.

  2. Growing up, our GSD’s job was to protect my brother and I.
    The Aussie I had gave himself a job of protecting the house. He would bark at anything he could see (this included air space). If you train your dog properly, (which we did not), this is actually a pretty good job for them to have. However, everytime the dog barks to warn you of something, you have to go look. If its a guy with a chain saw across the street, you pet the dog and say “good dog” (cause really, don’t you always want to know if someone is running around with a chain saw), if its a flock of birds in the middle of the road, you use tone of voice and body language to indicate unconcern and disinterest. The dog will eventually learn what you want to know about and what you don’t.
    Any dog can be trained to do agility and have fun with it, even if they don’t end up competing.
    Another fun activity is Fly Ball, especially if the dog turns out to be ball motivated.

    read about my dogs at:

  3. I’ve seen both GSD and border collies do agility, and they seem to love it! GSD are good searchers, mabe you could train it to find certain objects (as the police do, though you might want to focus on your car keys rather that drugs ;))

    Freestyle, dancing with the dog: here are some pictures:, and here’s a nice blog

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