Working Cattle with Dogs: Expert Tips & Techniques for Success

dog herding cattle

Working cattle with dogs is an age-old practice that remains essential in modern livestock management. As a seasoned cattle herder, you know that working with well-trained dogs can make your work significantly easier. But what are the best practices for working cattle with dogs? In this article, we will explore expert tips and techniques that will help improve your cattle herding experience.

Key Takeaways:

  • Working cattle with dogs requires training for both the dog and the handler.
  • Effective communication between dog, handler, and cattle is crucial for success.
  • Cattle herding techniques can range from gathering and driving to advanced methods like penning and roping.

The Importance of Working Dogs in Cattle Herding

Working dogs have always been an integral part of cattle herding, and for good reason. They bring a range of benefits to the process, including increased efficiency, improved control, and reduced stress for both the cattle and the handlers.

There are several breeds of dogs that are commonly used for herding cattle, including Australian Cattle Dogs, Border Collies, and Kelpies. These dogs are known for their intelligence, energy, and natural herding instincts, making them well-suited for the task.

However, simply having a dog that is predisposed to herding is not enough. Proper training is crucial to ensure that the dog is able to effectively work with cattle. This involves teaching them to respond to a range of commands and to read the body language of both the handler and the cattle.

The Training Process

Cattle dog training typically involves a combination of obedience training, socialization, and specific herding exercises. Puppies are usually introduced to basic obedience commands such as “sit,” “stay,” and “come” at a young age before being gradually introduced to more complex commands.

Socialization is another important aspect of training, as it helps dogs adjust to working in different environments and around unfamiliar people and animals. Exposure to a range of stimuli, including cars, crowds, and other animals, is key to ensuring that the dog is able to remain calm and focused while herding cattle.

Specific herding exercises are also an essential part of the training process, as they enable dogs to develop and refine their herding instincts and teach them to respond to a range of commands. This may involve tasks such as gathering and driving, as well as more advanced techniques such as penning and sorting.

Overall, working dogs play a crucial role in the cattle herding process, and their importance cannot be overstated. With the right training and a deep understanding of their role, these dogs can help make cattle herding a more efficient, productive, and enjoyable experience for all involved.

Understanding Cattle Herding Commands

When working cattle with dogs, it’s essential to know and understand the various commands used in the process. These commands play a significant role in communication between the handler, dog, and cattle, and training the dog to respond accurately is crucial for effective herding.

Here are some common commands used in cattle herding:

“Come By”Directs the dog to move clockwise around the herd, heading for the handler’s position on the opposite side.
“Away”Directs the dog to move counterclockwise around the herd, heading away from the handler’s position.
“Walk Up”Directs the dog to move toward the herd at a walking pace.
“Get Out”Directs the dog to move away from the herd and towards the boundary line.
“Steady”Tells the dog to hold its position and not move the herd.

It’s important to note that dogs can learn and respond to a wide range of commands. Still, these are some of the most basic and commonly used ones in cattle herding.

Handlers must be consistent with their commands to ensure that the dog understands what is expected of it. It’s also essential to use the right tone of voice and body language when giving commands to avoid any confusion or misinterpretation by the dog.

Pro Tip: When working cattle with dogs, it’s helpful to use a combination of verbal and whistle commands to communicate with the dog effectively.

Selecting the Right Dog Breed for Cattle Herding

Choosing the right breed of dog is crucial for successful cattle herding. While there are several breeds of dogs that are known for their herding abilities, not all of them are suited for working with cattle. It is important to consider the specific characteristics and traits of each breed when making a selection.

Here are some of the most common breeds used for cattle herding:

Australian Cattle DogIntelligent, athletic, and agile. Known for their stamina and endurance. Require firm and consistent training.
Border CollieHighly intelligent, obedient, and trainable. Known for their intense focus and work ethic. Require daily exercise and mental stimulation.
Blue HeelerTough, hard-working, and loyal. Known for their endurance and ability to withstand harsh environments. Require early socialization and consistent training.
Red HeelerCourageous, alert, and protective. Known for their agility and strength. Require an experienced handler and consistent training.
English ShepherdIntelligent, obedient, and loyal. Known for their versatility and adaptability. Require early socialization and training.

Considerations when selecting a breed:

  • Temperament: Look for a breed that is calm, confident, and trainable.
  • Size: A medium to large-sized dog is usually best suited for cattle herding.
  • Energy Level: Working with cattle can be a strenuous activity, so a breed with high energy levels and stamina is essential.
  • Trainability: Cattle herding requires a high level of obedience and trainability, so look for a breed that is easily trained and responsive to commands.

Training Techniques for Cattle Herding Dogs

Training a dog to work with cattle is an involved process that requires both time and patience. While each dog has its own unique personality and learning style, there are a few general techniques that can be used to train a dog for cattle herding.

Obedience Training: One of the first steps in training a dog for cattle herding is ensuring they have a solid foundation of basic obedience training. This includes commands such as sit, stay, come, and heel. A dog that is well-versed in obedience training is easier to control and will respond better to commands when working with cattle.

Introducing Cattle: Once a dog has a strong foundation in obedience training, they can begin to be introduced to cattle. Gradual exposure is key, starting with the dog simply being in the same space as the cattle, and progressing to more hands-on interactions. It is important to monitor the dog’s behavior and progress during the exposure process.

Tip:When introducing a dog to cattle, it is recommended to use a smaller, more docile calf for the first few interactions. This not only reduces the risk of injury, but also helps build the dog’s confidence and comfort level around cattle.

Discouraging Bad Behavior: It is important to discourage any bad behavior in a cattle herding dog, such as biting or chasing the cattle. This can be achieved through verbal corrections, such as saying “no” or “leave it”, or through negative reinforcement, such as a time-out or removal of a reward. Consistency is key in discouraging bad behavior.

Socialization: While working cattle with a dog can be a solitary activity, it is still important to ensure that the dog is properly socialized, both with humans and other dogs. This can prevent unwanted behaviors, such as aggression or fear, and can also help the dog build confidence in its work.

Practice Makes Perfect: Finally, like any skill, practice makes perfect. Consistently working with a dog on cattle herding techniques and commands will help them develop their skills and instincts. Continued training and reinforcement will ensure that the dog is a valuable asset in working cattle.

cattle herding dog training

Tools and Equipment for Working Cattle with Dogs

When it comes to working cattle with dogs, having the right tools and equipment can significantly improve efficiency and safety. Here are some commonly used items:

Cattle ProdUsed to encourage cattle to move in a certain direction, this tool should be used sparingly and with caution.
RopeHelpful for capturing and restraining cattle for medical procedures or transportation.
WhistleAn effective tool for communicating with dogs over long distances, especially in noisy or windy environments.
Leather GlovesProtect hands from rope burns and other injuries while handling cattle.

It’s important to note that the use of tools and equipment should never replace good herding techniques or proper dog training. They should be used as aids in managing and directing cattle during herding activities.

cattle herding tools

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Basic Cattle Herding Techniques

When working with cattle, it’s important to understand the different techniques that can be employed to manage and direct them. Here, we will explore some fundamental cattle herding techniques that can be used with the assistance of trained working dogs.


Gathering involves bringing scattered cattle together into a group. It’s a critical first step in many herding tasks and is typically achieved by walking pastures or ranges with the aid of trained dogs. Dogs can be used to encourage cattle to move in a certain direction, cutting off any that try to stray.

cattle herding techniques


Driving is the process of moving cattle from one location to another. It can involve moving them short or long distances and is frequently used to bring cattle to pasture or to the market. Dogs can be trained to drive cattle by walking behind them or by moving in a zigzag pattern to encourage forward movement.


Sorting is used to separate specific cattle from a group based on certain criteria. It can be used to identify and remove sick animals or to separate cows from calves. Dogs can be trained to help with sorting by following specific commands to direct cattle into different areas.

Advanced Cattle Herding Techniques

Building upon the foundational techniques, advanced cattle herding techniques require a higher level of training and skill from both the handler and dog. With the help of a skilled working dog, these techniques can be executed with precision and efficiency, making them invaluable in various herding scenarios.


The circling technique involves a dog running in a wide circle around a group of cattle to control their movement. The dog should maintain a consistent distance from the cattle and gradually decrease the size of the circle to guide them in the desired direction.


Backing is a technique used to move cattle into a specific area, such as a pen or chute. The dog should position itself behind the cattle and apply pressure, causing them to move forward. The dog should then circle around to prevent any cattle from backing up or escaping.


Flanking is a technique used to direct cattle to the left or right. The dog should move to one side of the herd and apply pressure, causing the cattle to move away from the dog and in the desired direction. The dog should then circle around to prevent any strays from returning to the original position.

cattle dog herding

“These advanced techniques require a high level of trust and communication between the handler and dog. It is essential to ensure that the dog is well-trained and can execute these techniques safely and effectively.”

Improving Communication Between Dogs, Handlers, and Cattle

Effective communication is crucial when working cattle with dogs. The handler, dog, and cattle must work together seamlessly to ensure a successful outcome. Communication between the three parties can be enhanced through various strategies.

Body Language

Body language is an essential component of communication between dogs and cattle. Dogs use their body language to signal their intentions to the cattle, and the cattle can respond in kind. As a handler, it is essential to recognize and understand the body language of both the dog and the cattle. This way, you can step in and redirect the dog or cattle if necessary.

For instance, when a dog moves too aggressively toward the cattle, they may become agitated and begin to move away. At this point, it’s up to the handler to recognize the dog’s behavior and instruct them to back off. Alternatively, if the cattle become too nervous and start to panic, the handler can also use their body language to calm them down and prevent a stampede.

Voice Commands

Voice commands are another critical aspect of communication between dogs, handlers, and cattle. The handler must use clear and concise voice commands that the dog can understand, and the cattle can respond to. When training a dog, it’s essential to use consistent voice commands so that they become accustomed to them, and over time, they can respond to them more instinctively. Additionally, voice commands can also be used to reinforce positive behavior and discourage negative behavior.


Consistency is key when working cattle with dogs. The handler must be consistent both in their behavior and their communication. Using the same body language and voice commands repeatedly will help the cattle and the dog learn what is expected of them and what to anticipate. Additionally, consistent training will help the dog develop good habits, which can translate into more effective communication during cattle herding activities.

working cattle with dogs

“Effective communication is crucial when working cattle with dogs.”

Safety Considerations in Working Cattle with Dogs

Working with cattle can be a potentially hazardous endeavor, and the use of dogs in this process adds an extra layer of complexity. Ensuring safety should always be a top priority when working cattle with dogs, and it is crucial that handlers take necessary precautions to mitigate any potential risks.

Here are some key safety considerations to keep in mind:

  • Proper training: Both the handler and dog should be properly trained and prepared for the tasks at hand. This includes understanding basic safety procedures, such as how to approach and move cattle, as well as familiarity with all equipment being used.
  • Protective gear: Protective gear, such as gloves and boots, should be worn by handlers to reduce the risk of injury from kicks, bites, or other sudden movements by the cattle. Dogs should also be outfitted with protective gear if necessary.
  • Controlled environment: Cattle should be worked in a controlled environment to minimize the risk of escape or injury. Fences and gates should be inspected and maintained for any damage or potential weaknesses.
  • Supervision: Cattle herding activities should always be supervised by experienced handlers, who can recognize and address any potential safety issues that arise.
  • Effective communication: Effective communication between the handler, dog, and cattle can reduce the risk of accidents. Handlers should ensure that dogs are trained to respond to commands in a predictable manner, and that cues are clear and consistent.
  • Emergency plan: In the event of an emergency, handlers should have an emergency plan in place. This includes having a first aid kit on hand and knowing how to respond in the event of an injury or other incident.
cattle herding safety

By following these safety considerations, handlers can ensure a safe and productive working environment for both themselves, their dogs, and the cattle they work with. Remember, safety should always be a top priority when working with animals, and taking precautionary measures can go a long way in preventing accidents and injuries.

The Benefits of Working Cattle with Dogs

Working cattle with dogs is a time-honored tradition that offers numerous benefits to both farmers and their animals. If you’re considering using working dogs for cattle herding, here are some of the advantages to keep in mind:

  • Increased Efficiency: With trained dogs at their side, farmers can more easily manage and direct cattle, cutting down on the time and energy required to complete necessary tasks.
  • Reduced Stress: Working cattle with dogs can help reduce the stress on both humans and animals. Dogs are able to read and respond to cattle behavior in a way that reduces fear and anxiety.
  • Better Quality of Life: Cattle that are herded by dogs tend to have a better quality of life. Dogs are able to handle cattle more gently and with less force than humans, which can result in a calmer and happier herd.
  • Cost-Effective: Investing in working dogs can be a cost-effective solution for managing cattle herds. The cost of maintaining a dog is relatively low compared to the cost of hiring additional labor or investing in expensive equipment.
  • Improved Safety: Working with cattle can be dangerous, but trained working dogs can help increase safety by keeping cattle under control and reducing the risk of injury to both animals and humans.

Clearly, there are numerous benefits to working cattle with dogs. If you’re looking to improve your cattle herding practices, consider investing in trained working dogs. With the right training, tools, and techniques, you can create a more efficient, safe, and harmonious working environment for both humans and animals.

cattle herding dogs


Working cattle with dogs can be a highly rewarding and efficient practice, but it requires expert knowledge and techniques to ensure success. By implementing the tips and strategies outlined in this article, you can improve your cattle herding practices and create a safer and more harmonious working environment.

Remember, selecting the right breed, providing proper training, and employing effective communication and safety measures are all essential components to working cattle with dogs. By utilizing these tools and techniques, you can increase productivity, reduce stress, and create a more efficient and enjoyable herding experience.

At the end of the day, working cattle with dogs is not just about getting the job done, but also about fostering a strong bond between human and animal. By respecting and working together with your dog and cattle, you can create a mutually beneficial partnership that enhances the overall quality of life and work.


Q: What is the importance of working dogs in cattle herding?

A: Working dogs play a crucial role in cattle herding as they help to manage and control the movement of the cattle. They assist in gathering, driving, and sorting the cattle, making the herding process more efficient and effective.

Q: What are some common cattle herding commands?

A: Common cattle herding commands include “come-by” (clockwise direction), “away to me” (counter-clockwise direction), “steady” (maintain pace), and “lie down” (stop and lie down). These commands are essential for effective communication between the handler, dog, and cattle.

Q: Which dog breeds are best suited for cattle herding?

A: Several dog breeds excel in working with cattle, such as Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and Australian Cattle Dogs. These breeds have the necessary characteristics and instincts to perform herding tasks effectively.

Q: What training techniques are used for cattle herding dogs?

A: Training techniques for cattle herding dogs include obedience training, socialization, and specific exercises that enhance their herding skills. These techniques help to develop the dog’s abilities and ensure they can perform their herding duties effectively.

Q: What tools and equipment are commonly used when working cattle with dogs?

A: Common tools and equipment used when working cattle with dogs include stock sticks, whistles, and collars. These tools aid in managing and directing the cattle during herding activities, ensuring a smooth and controlled process.

Q: What are some basic cattle herding techniques?

A: Basic cattle herding techniques include gathering, driving, and sorting. Dogs assist in these activities by moving the cattle in the desired direction, maintaining control, and separating them as needed.

Q: What are some advanced cattle herding techniques?

A: Advanced cattle herding techniques include penning, roping, and flanking. Dogs play a crucial role in executing these techniques, helping to corral the cattle, secure them, and guide them to specific areas.

Q: How can communication be improved between dogs, handlers, and cattle?

A: Communication between dogs, handlers, and cattle can be improved through understanding and utilizing body language, voice commands, and consistent training. Clear and effective communication ensures smooth coordination during herding activities.

Q: What safety considerations should be taken when working cattle with dogs?

A: When working cattle with dogs, it is important to prioritize safety. Handlers should be mindful of potential risks, such as aggressive cattle or hazards in the environment, and take necessary precautions. Proper training and safety protocols can mitigate these risks.

Q: What are the benefits of working cattle with dogs?

A: Working cattle with dogs offers numerous benefits, including increased productivity, reduced stress on both humans and animals, and a more efficient working environment. Dogs help to streamline the herding process and ensure the smooth movement of the cattle.

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