HERDING INSTINCT EVALUATION 101
By Claudia J. Frank

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Traditionally, a Border Collie grew up in a working situation, gradually being introduced to and gaining experience with livestock. While this is still most desirable, today for many Border Collies an organized herding test or a private arrangement with a trainer will constitute the first experience. Whether at a test or in a private situation, the first introduction to livestock must be carefully supervised.

Contact your nearest herding group for information on Herding Instinct Tests which may be held in or near your area. The April Issue of the AKC COMING EVENTS book lists the AKC herding clubs. The stockdog publications also list stockdog clubs which may offer tests. The BCSA allows private testing by qualified testers using the BCSA Evaluation Form and following the "BCSA Herding Instinct Guidelines". The American Herding Breeds Association uses a herding instinct test as the first leg of their Herding Capability Title. Information about this organization, their testing procedures and evaluating forms can be found at http://www.ahba-herding.org/

When you complete the evaluation you will receive a copy of your evaluation sheet. This will give you an overview regarding your dog's performance and will indicate whether you pass or fail. Upon receiving a qualifying score and mailing a copy of the evaluation form to BCSA Herding Chairman Claudia Frank you will receive a BCSA Herding Instinct Certificate, a congratulatory letter and the owner and dog's names will appear in the BCSA publication "Borderlines." BCSA herding instinct evaluations done at the National provides the participant with a certificate for passing at the time of the evaluation with publication of passing owners and their dog's in the following "Borderlines" magazine.

When first introduced to stock, the reaction of the Border Collie will vary greatly. Some may quickly show strong interest, attempt to circle the stock, move it toward the handler, hold it in a corner, lay and watch it or follow it. They may even show a combination. There may be aggressive pursuit, uncertainty, or disinterest, or the dog may settle in well. Some dogs may test well but lose interest or become very hard to control in training situations. Some dogs become so excited at the first experiences that it obscures their basic tendencies which come to the fore with more experience and training.

In addition to basic herding behaviors, dogs are observed for other qualities that contribute toward making a capable working dog such as confidence, willingness to accept training and adaptability. There may be some very basic training involved but the dog is allowed to demonstrate its natural manner of working with emphasis on particular behaviors to come later in training.

As part of the evaluation, it is important for the evaluator to educate the owner and spectators about the evaluation and herding and about the behaviors exhibited by the Border Collie being evaluated. They should provide suggestions for follow up experiences and training.

Some preparatory steps can be taken to help in the introduction of livestock. Foremost in importance is that the dog has a good recall and a good sit or down. These must be practiced away from stock, in many situations and with distractions. By doing this preliminary work, the Border Collie probably will not at first obey the recall and stop perfectly when the introduction takes place but progress will be quicker. Through the use of the "sit" or "Down" command (whichever is easiest for that particular dog), the handler can take pressure off the stock. The stock will then be more likely to settle into position more smoothly, and this in turn will help settle the dog. With the stock and dog more settled, the novice handler can better learn positioning and handling, which in turn helps the dog learn more easily and quickly, which lessens stress on stock, dog and handler. Unlike other herding commands, the moving stop can be practiced at home, away from stock, so it is feasible work for the person who does not have stock of their own.

Herding instinct is an important part of a herding breed's heritage. It is what defines the Border Collie. It is only apparent in certain circumstances and can too easily be lost in breeding. It is difficult to train a dog mechanically to herd which has little herding ability. The instinct has to be there, to be refined and guided by training.

Herding evaluations provide a starting place, but their scope is VERY limited. They may give some picture of possibilities but they do NOT make a Border Collie a proven working dog and they are no substitute for the long-term gradual introduction of dogs to stock and work. Passing an evaluation CANNOT be taken as proof of a Border Collie's herding abilities. Such misuse of the intent of herding evaluations does a disservice to the dog and to the Border Collie breed. Only time, training and experience will provide a clear picture of a dog's abilities.

After the initial introduction to stock, the owner must carefully consider several factors. Herding, while a fascinating undertaking, must be taken seriously. It is not something to be viewed as a weekend sport or occasional hobby, a way to obtain ribbons and titles, or a "fun way to exercise the dog." With a dog that is mature enough to begin training, owners who are not in a position to take their dogs to stock a couple times a week, should not put their dog into actual herding training, but should continue to learn about herding through other means until such time as they can practice with their dog more regularly. If the owner cannot foresee a time when this will come about, then he or she should be satisfied with the knowledge that their dog does have potential, but stockdog training is not a possibility at this time. It is unfair to "tease" the Border Collie, in effect with stock, for instead of being confronted with a more settled dog, each time they will be subjected to an over-excited dog which will remain strange and frightened to them.

A lot of groundwork, time and education are required to produce a skilled working Border Collie. For those who continue with stockdog training, aiming for higher levels of skills, there is much to learn, not only about Border Collies and their training, but just as important about livestock behavior and care. Guidance can be obtained through lessons with trainers and attendance at clinics, and books, magazines and videos on stockdog training are available.


Copyright Agreement: The BCSA grants permission to re-print this information in paper form for educational purposes. Users should include the BCSA URL address (http://www.bordercolliesociety.com) and acknowledge the BCSA on all distributed copies. The BCSA does not grant permission for the material to be displayed on any websites and retains its status as the brochure’s original author and publisher.  More herding related articles can be found at the BCSA web site's Programs/Herding.

Page Updated 09/19/2010

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