Agility vs. Herding

Is it possible to do both with a dog? Not if you want to be very successful. Do I want to be very successful? Not really. It’s more important to me that I go and the dog and I both have fun. I like to train my dogs, they like training because to them it’s a game (agility) and what they’ve been bred to do (herding). I compete because I want to see where I am in my training and of course I like the titles I can earn. I am blessed to live where I have room for both sheep and agility equipment so I can train at home. Not sure what I’d do if I had to choose between the two. I’d probably choose agility because I think it offers a kinder, more supportive environment and I don’t need to drive hundreds of miles to get to a good instructor.

There is a whole lot more foundation work involved in bringing up an agility dog than there is with a herding dog. This is a very good article written by a well-known stock dog trainer about bringing up a puppy so someone else can train it. As you can see, there’s not a lot you need to do with a puppy that you plan to do stock work until it is time for serious training to begin. Most dogs are not ready for serious training until they are at least a year old. If all I was going to do with a dog is herding, I could keep a whole pack of puppies. Once they got to be old enough to train, however, I’d be in trouble.

Bringing up an agility puppy takes a lot of time and effort. Some people do go overboard and push their dogs, especially if they’ve already been successful with a previous dog. It’s much easier doing the foundation work when you’ve done it before. I started Gel’s agility training as soon as I got him. He had been brought up as a herding puppy and as such, had pretty much been left alone to just be a puppy. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but Gel’s temperament was sound so he adapted to training classes quite easily. I would hate to have seen him if he had a shy or reactive temperament. I was lucky with Gel.

In my opinion, the biggest difference between training a dog for agility vs. herding is that herding is an instinctual behavior whereas agility is a series of behaviors that are trained by rewarding the dog for the correct behavior. With herding, the trainer shapes the dog’s instinct to work stock. Of course, in order to be successful, the dog has to have a willingness to work stock and to work with the human. For most dogs, agility is one big game and they love it! A well-bred stock dog loves to work stock.

Agility/herding, for some dogs, it’s a win-win situation so why not do both if you can? I’m not trying to become a successful stock dog trainer so that I can buy and sell trained dogs. I have no desire to trial at the USBCHA National Finals; I would like to go to the Bluegrass Stockdog Trial one day. I know I’ll never go to the USDAA (agility) finals in Arizona, but I’d like to qualify for them, which we can do, hopefully this year. I know we’ll never go to the AKC finals because Gel is never going to run tight enough to compete at that level, but Fern might be able to.

Competing is tremendously expensive. In the grand scheme of things, USBCHA trials are the least expensive thing to do. One weekend-long USDAA trial costs me about $120 in entry fees; one AKC trial costs about $80; one run at a USBCHA trial costs about $20, and unless you are running at the Open level, that’s all you get at most trials: one five minute long run. It’s hard to justify driving two or three hours to a trial for one run. You get more bang for the gas doing other things with your dogs, if you can.