Southern Charm Mini Aussies/Mini American Shepherds of Georgia
Karla and Chelsea Benjamin
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Dog parks can be a great place for owners to let their dogs off the leash, chase a ball or Frisbee and have some socialization with other dogs. However, most dog parks are chaotic, and chaos to a herding breed is stressful.
What is the Problem with Herding Breeds Going to Dog Parks?
There is a reason why you do not see many herding breeds inside dog parks; they tend to get out of control and/or get aggressive with other dogs.
When we look back at why your dog was bred, it was to “control” other animals. All herding breeds were made to control herds and, in order to control, they must use intimidation and aggression. So what happens when you bring a herding breed to an out of control dog park? Instincts often kick in (at the wrong time and place). You will have a group of dogs romping off in the distance and your dog will look and be instantly triggered to “control” it, so your dog rushes up circling, barking and nipping, to name the most common behaviors seen. We, the owner, rush over to grab our dog, only to have the dog balance with you (run to the opposite side of the group), we move to the right and so does your dog, we move to the left and your dog follows your lead. What is going on!? Your dog is working!
This is a big problem when taking your dog to dog parks, as they will often switch into an instinctual mode (the genetics of your dog will determine how strong the instinct is). And when that dog sees a group of animals running all over the place, it’s too strong of an instinct to ignore so they take off after the chaos and snap into work mode.
Other dogs don’t necessarily appreciate nipping behavior, and this can lead to dog fights. The herding dog is technically not doing anything wrong (according to the dog) and the dog being nipped/herded isn’t either when he snaps at the dog (simple communication for “stop that”), but if a dog acts out in aggression, it triggers the herder to “get him in control” and will often act out aggressively back, starting a fight.
How Do You Know Your Dog is in Work Mode at the Dog Park?
•Intense staring-Herding breeds will often lock with their ‘prey’ and become extremely focused on them; this is very hard to break. •Crawling/Stalking-It is a predatory instinct to stalk one’s prey. Not only do herding breeds do this, but many other working breeds such as Hounds and Terriers will stalk and chase. •Gathering-This is when they are running around the ‘chaos’ or ‘group’. They like to have them all together and will circle numerous amounts of times thinking they are doing a fine job. •Barking-This can really only apply to herding breeds. If they become over-stimulated, things are chaotic, they can’t get control or feel that there is no control but do not know how to put them in control, these dogs will often bark incessantly at the stimuli. •No interest in romping with other dogs-Herding breeds aren’t really big ‘rompers’ like Boxers and Pit Bulls; they prefer to chase and run, again triggering that instinctual behavior.
What to Do if Your Dog Does These Behaviors?
The best outcome would be to not put them in these situations. For an OCD working dog, putting them in a dog park is stressful and often over-stimulating. It would be better to go at low times where no dogs, or maybe just one, are there so you can enjoy off-leash time safely with your dog.
Another option is to seek herding training from a reputable instructor. Often when a herding breed is having difficulty with instinctual behaviors, the best thing to do is control it, because we can’t erase a behavior that has been bred into a dog for a hundred plus years. A sheep/cattle/goose dog instructor will be able to give you hands-on experience with your dog and teach you what to look for and how to control him or her.
Do all herding breeds do this? No, but the majority of them do, especially if they come from working lines; their parents and the parents before them were workers either on a farm or recreational.