DEAR OLD TRAINER: A Blue Heeler mix showed up at my flower farm one day and adopted me. She stays with me in the fields when customers come by to pick up orders and feels she has to protect me. She nipped at one man’s heel. She also herds the cats up each morning. I am 68 and have never been a dog lover, but this dog has stolen my heart. What can I do to stop her from herding the cats and nipping the customers?
Gail, (city withheld)
DEAR GAIL: First thing you do is count your blessings. We should all be so lucky as to have a beautiful dog show up to love her and protect us.
Everything you describe in your email is classic behavior of a herd dog. Border collies, Australian shepherds, heelers, corgis and other herding breeds are take-charge types and one-person dogs.
Heelers are brave and loyal and are always looking for ways to make life easier for their human. She sees the cats as sheep and thinks she is doing you a favor by keeping them in line.
As for the customers, there is nothing to be alarmed about. Nipping heels is how herd dogs remind the sheep who the boss is. Nipping comes directly from their DNA and is not the same as biting.
I own herd dogs and the bossy ones will nip my heels or pull at my pants leg if I stop to visit longer than they feel is appropriate on our daily walk.
With a dog this smart training is always easy because she is already trying to guess what her job is and training herself to do it.
All you have to do is work with her on a few simple training exercises to let her know what you want her to do and teach her the command that applies to each.
Start with the sit-stay-come sequence. Order her to sit. If she doesn’t know how, press on her hindquarters with one hand, lift her chin with the other. When she sits, pet her and love on her.
When she learns to sit, give the command and while she is sitting stand in front of her, hold your hand up like a crossing guard stopping traffic and say “stay.” Take a step back. If she tries to move hold her in place with your hand. As soon as she stays in the sit position for a few seconds when you step back, pet and love on her.
When she will stay on command, motion her to you and say “come.” When she moves toward you pet and praise her. Practice those three commands over and over in short training sessions (no more than five minutes) and hold several sessions a day. Pet and love on her every time she does it right.
Give commands in your normal speaking voice.
Once she learns the routine you have total control over her and can stop any behavior just by telling her “no,” then having her sit and stay.
Be patient. And remember, the loving and petting is the most important part of the training.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.