Joys of owning a herding breed

Oh the joys of owning a working breed of dog! I’m remembering how intense the puppy stage can be!

I have an older Border Collie/Aussie mix who was a lot of work as a pup but it’s the perfect family dog now. High energy, freakishly smart but will chill when you say to chill.

Our new puppy is proving to be very similar. He’s a Border Collie/Kelpie heeler mix. So smart. He’s got come, sit, lay down, roll over, drop it nearly all down command wise in two weeks. Just now learned the doggie door (not that I’m confident that potty training isn’t over :lol: .)

But the heeler in him is showing. Nippy as hell if he’s amped up. Anyone with Heelers knows. This isn’t puppy biting or chewing, it’s nipping. He’s also got a stubborn streak to him at times!

We have him in some group puppy classes but they are SO basic that it’s really just socialization at this point. I’m going to do a few private sessions with a dog trainer/behavior specialist to help curb the nipping and the bit of demand barking that he’s wanting to try out. He’s so smart and generally great with my daughter, so I’m hoping we can get control of these behaviors.

My Border Collie Aussie wasn’t ever a huge nipper, more of a herder with no nips. But we easily get that under control so hopefully we can get the pup to know what’s appropriate when and where as well.

Really excited for my daughter to do agility with him later-I think they will both really enjoy it.


I hear you! None of my borders have been nippers. I’ve had a couple of strong herders and fostered a few that showed no inclination to herd. Obedience class is almost a joke for these dogs; they can probably pick up most of it in one session! Agility is a blast! Mine are too old to participate now and I am probably too old to try to keep up with a younger one, haha! Have fun with your new puppy!

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@caryledee yes I really don’t remember my border collie Aussie nipping at all! The new pup mostly does it when he’s really amped up, but it takes a bit more to divert his attention to a new behavior. I think today we’ve made some progress, although I think it will take some time. It’s definitely instinct. Otherwise he’s very sweet when he’s calm.

I’ve never done agility besides teaching my older dog a few obstacles at the dog park. We are excited to give it a try. I think he’ll like it, he seems to like climbing and jumping on things (right now only allowed outdoors!)


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The hard work in agility is not the obstacles, but cueing and receiving directions from the handler. And a lot of agility instructors will take puppies but they won’t allow them to do jumps or weaves - which is fine because they will learn that pretty quickly. See if you can find an agility instructor that will work with puppies because the earlier you start learning how to cue them for things, you can do all kinds of training at home too. I don’t do agility but have some friends that do, very seriously. They work their puppies every day, cueing them to cross in front or behind them when they feed them dinner, when they lead them into a new room, etc. It makes them really very obedient but also ready to really do great things in the ring when they are old enough to train for them.


When you get an ACD you get the heel nipping and high-pitched barking, as well as the intelligence and independence. It’s what they were bred for, and it’s very hard to train out instinct (ask any hound owner who can’t let their dog offleash because they’ll pick up a scent and be gone—recall or no recall.) Keeping their mind and body busy will help, but I wouldn’t expect you to be able to stop the behaviors altogether.

Good luck! My ACD brought my dog-ownership skills to a whole new level, and he was the best friend I’ll ever have!


@chesnutmarebeware yeah I have a friend that has two ACD mixes and she has them both under control with it (and honestly she’s a pretty lazy and unengaged owner.) So I think there is some hope. He’s showing signs of learning to control both the barking and the biting. It’s just a matter of teaching him.

Maybe it’s because he’s not full ACD I don’t know. But I realize he will always have that side to him but he does need to control it since we have a child in the family :slight_smile: at least with nipping. He’s pretty smart which is a pro and a con at times ha ha!

I guess I’m more optimistic because of my border collie/Aussie mix. She wants to herd things but learned easily that she can’t herd us. Although it’s still in there at 10 years old, she controls it and is a wonderful dog.

Why buy a working dog and then totally stress them out by not working them ?

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@Equibrit where did you get any of those ideas?

As in the post, my other dog is also a border mix. No, she doesn’t have a traditional job but she’s very mentally engaged, exercised, happy and a great dog. And I’m confident the new puppy can be that as well. He seems very happy in his new life. He thinks air conditioning is the best thing ever, he was living out of the back of a horse trailer when we bought him.

My other dog is very happy to fetch, do some agility tricks and other tasks. I’m sorry but I disagree that all border collies and mixes need to be in the same situation. They are incredibly smart and driven and can be trained for other tasks other than herding.


How old is the puppy?

I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the dog needs to be herding. It’s more the idea that if you get a heeler, you can’t be annoyed if they nip and “heel” your kids, other animals, etc.

My sporting dogs hunt all.the.time. ALL.THE.TIME. They frequently kill animals like moles and frogs. It would be silly for me to complain about it. But I can direct it; they are whistle and direction trained, and have strong recall. I do let them hunt but I don’t let them do anything they want. And, if I didn’t let them run, they would be unbearable. People say that the only Brittanys they have known were “hyper.” My guess is that they weren’t allowed to run and burn off some of the energy they were bred to have; my breed is supposed to be able to hunt all day long. If they can’t, they are considered defective. So, yes, definitely expect them to be “hyper” - that’s not a bad thing!

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You have a herding breed,not a working breed as per AKC group classifications anyway.

working breeds include Alaskan Malamutes, akitas, well go look.

think you are confusing “ high drive to do what it’s bred to do” with “working” breed

plenty of hounds, terriers, sporting dogs are all dogs who have an intense desire to do what they have been bred to do


@S1969 he’s 12 weeks.

I’m not “annoyed” really, other than the fact that I’m not going to just sit there and let him do it to me all day :yes:

This was more a tongue in cheek, “Gotta love these smart, driven dogs” type post. I love my older Border Collie, although I’m sure she’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But since she’s very well trained, she’s very easy to live with as long as you can look past some ingrained herding behavior. She controls her impulses very well though. Like you said in your post, they can’t do whatever they want. There is a time and a place. I hope I can train the new puppy as well as her. He’s a quick study at least.

He definitely is getting his physical and mental stimulation in. We are going to do agility and scent work with him. If that isn’t enough I suppose we could look into some type of herding behavior.

On another forum someone was telling me about a “herding ball” that they taught their heeler to push around and “herd.” She said they’ve been able to focus his behavior on that ball, including barking. So that’s an idea to try.

My puppy is still young so mostly just being a puppy. He’s just a determined little guy:lol:

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@Houndhill ah my apologies, you are correct. I’m so far from the AKC world right now that I’m definitely not aware of correct classifications. I’ll change my title.

My dad had heelers all of his life so I grew up with them. They nip, period. It’s not something you will be able to stop. They are stubborn as all get out and not far removed from their dingo ancestors. They tend to be one-person dogs although loyal to the family in general. Very protective. None of my dad’s went after cats like a terrier will do. None of my dad’s dogs were barkers. Ours were ranch dogs, so constantly on the job. My dad used to send me out on horseback in the spring to look at new calves with a shotgun and two heeler dogs for protection.

If you want a barker, get a Corgi. I’ve had them all my life and love them to death. But they usually have a lot to say and aren’t afraid if everyone hears it.


Oh, I understood your intent. I was curious about the age because it makes a difference in how I feel about the behavior. 12 weeks is very young; still learning self-control. I would correct it when it gets out of hand, but agree that finding ways to redirect will be really helpful. Also I understood the herding/working – you are describing a dog that needs a job.

Agility will be more than enough work to keep his brain busy if you like it. My friends that do agility train several times a day for a few minutes, at least. For example, they may have gates or poles in the yard and send the dog through them a few times each morning while they have their morning coffee (no jumping yet for your puppy of course!) My friend with BCs has a retrieving dummy and will throw it for them while she has her coffee - for her dogs its an obedience exercise. For a lot of retrieving puppies it’s an instinct to bring it back. (For my dogs, they might bring it back once, and then they think you’re an idiot for throwing a toy and will ignore it; if you shoot a bird they will happily retrieve it though.)

You’ll just have to find the pattern that works for you. And definitely start looking for an agility instructor now. Some really like getting puppies started early so you don’t have to untrain things. Especially smart herding breeds - they needs less time “maturing” like the dopey sporting puppies. :slight_smile:


I think you will find that the AKC groups are merely a convenience for conformation shows.


@Go Fish interesting! I’ve known many people with heelers or mixes and all of them have been able to cure the nipping. I have one friend with two heeler mixes and two very small children. They do fine with them and honestly she’s a pretty lazy and uneducated owner. So I was feeling hopeful.

I am still hopeful because he’s already starting to show a little understanding of what to nip and what not too. It’s mostly during the early morning or right before bed puppy zoomies that he seems like he can’t control it for a bit lol. Which is understandable at this age.

@S1969 yes he’s still very much learning about life. I just want to set him up for success now but of course he gets some leeway for his baby brain.

Setting poles up is a great idea! Thanks. I emailed a “agility prep” class that starts in August. It sounds like it could be something we could start at his age and he’ll be fully vaccinated at that age.

He’s in puppy obedience classes and I called a few dog trainers to see about some private sessions. It would be wonderful to find someone who could start some agility type training or point us in that direction.

Our puppy class is with an agility trainer and I can definitely see some building blocks to continue with agility, like having the puppy step up on or in things and stay there, always think to look at the handler for direction, etc. It is pretty basic as well, but has been a HUGE benefit so far for my shy puppy (now 13 weeks old). In only three classes, she went from being so scared she was shaking, to wanting to play with the other puppies. The socialization was the main reason I signed her up. I haven’t decided if we’ll continue on to the intro to agility class or not.

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My mini aussie nips at the pool skimmer…and the vacuum cleaner…and the grandparents lol

He also loves herding around one of those big inflatable balls you get at walmart. Goes nuts over it until he pops it! no fun then…I have a picture somewhere of him as a puppy herding a volleyball that’s almost as big as him

@Lunabear1988 funny you say one of your dogs was living out of a horse trailer when you got him, mine was too!:lol: