The tests did not arise with the idea that they could ever substitute
for the gradual introduction to herding that traditionally formed the
basis of the herding dog's experience. It should be kept in mind that
these tests have great limitations. A private session or lesson with a
trainer allows for more individual attention. And passing an instinct
test does not "prove" the dog is a good herder. Tests only provide a
glimpse of potential. It can happen that a dog that does well at a test
soon loses interest. Or a very keen dog may prove to be difficult to use
as a herding dog because it has an overexcitable or uncooperative nature
or may even be too aggressive for the stock. It can also happen that a
dog that shows little interest the first time it is exposed to stock, or
even after several times, suddenly has the light go on and proves to be
a capable herder. Only time, training and experience with provide a
clear picture of a dog’s abilities
Although a dog need not have had previous herding training before
taking part in a test, a prior introduction to livestock under the
supervision of an experienced trainer is desirable, and in any case the
dog should have had training to come and to stop (sit or down) on
command. The tester, a person experienced with stockdog training,
supervises the introduction of the dogs to livestock, usually sheep but
sometimes ducks, geese or goats. While occasionally a herding instinct
test will be held at a fairground or similar venue, it is preferable for
the test to be held at a trainer's established facility. The sheep
should be what are sometimes referred to as "school sheep" - sheep that
a trainer regularly employs to introduce young dogs to stock work,
well-accustomed to being worked by a variety of dogs. They should be
cooperative and move freely and calmly. Sheep of this type will stay
grouped and will readily move with the handler, helping to give the dog
the right "feel" for the situation.
A herding demonstration should take place before the beginning of
testing, with information being provided to help introduce owners to
principles involved with herding behaviors and training. Information on
various aspects of herding should be provided throughout the day.
Education is an important aspect, aimed at increasing the knowledge and
involvement of the inexperienced owner, both relative to herding in
general and the individual dog being tested, and with regard to
preparation for the next steps in herding training.
At a typical test, 15 to 25 dogs will be evaluated, one at a time.
Each dog is brought on lead into a moderate-sized enclosure with rounded
corners. The tester asks the owner a few questions regarding the dog's
background and the owner's experience. Usually the dog is first walked
around or near the stock on lead so that its initial behavior can be
observed. Then, at an appropriate time, the lead is removed or dropped
and the tester guides the dog and encourages it to herd the stock. The
stock should be well settled, preferably somewhat out in the open so as
to allow the dog and stock to move more freely and smoothly, providing
the opportunity for the dog to establish control of the movement of the
stock under the guidance of the handler. The owner stays near the tester
so as to provide a single focal point for the dog and stock, but usually
does not take an active part unless experienced with stockdog training.
The movements of the tester help the dog position itself in relation to
the stock. The tester may carry a pole to be used as an extension of the
arm in guiding the dog's movements. At most tests a maximum of 10
minutes is allowed for each testing session. Actual time in the arena
often is shorter, the test being concluded upon the dog demonstrating
The behavior of the dogs will vary. Some may quickly show strong
interest, with attempts to go around the stock to gather it, or approach
it and follow it about; others may require several minutes for the
instinct to surface. There might be an attempt at aggressive pursuit, or
there might be uncertainty or disinterest. Some dogs will work quietly,
while others may bark in excitement. Some dogs may not test favorably
the first time, needing additional experience, then demonstrate good
instinct at a subsequent test.
After the individual test session, the tester fills out an evaluation
or test form, indicating whether the dog passed and marking the form
according to the characteristics exhibited by the dog. The tester spends
a few minutes discussing the behaviors shown by the dog and providing
additional information and suggestions. For those who decide to look
into proceeding with further herding training, an instinct test can
provide a starting point for connecting with a trainer and finding leads
for obtaining more information.
The following is an
explanation of the terms used on a typical testing form. While these
come from the testing form used by the Collie Club of America, several
other organizations use similar forms. In the example below, the words
in bold type are the words which appear on the form and the words in
regular type are explanatory notes regarding the particular section.
The sections on the testing form are primarily descriptive in nature.
The first five sections are entirely descriptive and are not considered
to vary in desirability. The remaining sections include both acceptable
variations and behaviors that vary in desirability in greater or lesser
degree. The lines are to be checked where applicable. In some cases it
may result that more than one line is checked in a particular
subsection, or that no line is checked. The lines for additional
comments are very important, as not all eventualities can be can be
accommodated in a standard form. The tester must mark according to what
is seen that day, although it can be noted in the comments section if
there is evidence of possible changes developing through more
experience. Each exposure can bring about changes as the dog becomes
more experienced and undergoes the influence of training.
__ driving/some gathering
__ no clear
When gathering, the dog attempts to head off or
circle the stock and move it toward the handler. When driving, the dog
stays between the handler and the stock, keeping the stock grouped but
deliberately attempting to push it away from the handler. Dogs of
breeds traditionally thought of or used as "drivers" may often in fact
show gathering instinct. Behaviors sometimes seen in inexperienced
dogs should not be mistaken for driving, such as: an insecure dog that
wants to stay near the handler and may run back and forth between the
owner and the stock, pushing the stock away; a dog so strongly
desiring to head off the stock that, when the stock turns, the dog
repeatedly cuts across between the stock and the handler in order to
get to the heads as quickly as it can; a dog that is simply chasing or
Some dogs may show tendencies to both gather and drive in varying
degrees. One tendency may predominate with the other being used in
particular situations, for instance, a dog that may be a natural
driver going to the head to stop stock from moving forward too quickly
or escaping. If gathering and driving are about equal, then the two
first lines can both be marked.
Some dogs, often through inexperience, seem to show no style
preference or switch randomly back and forth between gathering and
driving, or simply go after the stock from any position. As the test
continues the dog may begin to show a more definite style. Some dogs
will need more exposure for a more definite style preference to take
hold. A dog which shows both gathering and driving tendencies may
pass, but a dog will not pass if it shows no discernible inclination
to control the group and its movement, and just runs at the stock or
chases with no real attempt at herding.
Behaviors often seen in inexperienced dogs which are in fact due to
lack of herding experience should not be mistaken for a herding
"style" -- for instance, a dog which holds stock against a fence is
simply showing inexperience in dealing with the situation, it is not
demonstrating some other "style" of stock-handling.
As with the other sections, there is a comments line for the tester
to provide more details about natural tendencies of the dog, testing
methods utilized, etc.
__ runs wide
runs moderately wide
__ runs close
A wide-running dog consistently exhibits a tendency to keep a good
distance from the stock while moving around it, showing strong
interest. This should be distinguished, however, from a dog which is
running wide because of avoidance behavior or lack of interest in the
When running moderately wide, the dog is neither notably wide nor
very close. The dog may start close but is easily encouraged to move
wider. Some dogs swing in close, then swing out wider. A more detailed
description can be given on the lines for additional comments.
A close-running dog consistently moves close. While such a dog's
approach can be widened, it will require more training to effect this.
In many cases the dog's distance from the stock may depend on the
nature of the stock and the situation, with the dog placing itself
closer or further back as appropriate.
A loose-eyed dog is one which has good concentration but without
the level of intensity of focus of the dog which shows medium or
strong eye. Loose eye should not be confused with lack of attention to
stock. Loose-eyed workers are in control of their stock and keep track
of the overall picture. A fairly upright body posture and a
free-moving manner of working are usually displayed.
Medium indicates intense concentration but fairly free in movement,
body posture usually upright to some extent.
Strong-eyed indicates a very intense concentration with a stalking,
pausing approach, usually with a lowered body
__ shows wearing
__ a little
__ no wearing
This indicates the side-to-side movement the dog makes to keep the
stock together as it moves the stock forward. A larger group of
animals, or animals which keep wanting to split, may increase the
dog's tendency to wear. A dog may wear in wide arcs or in shorter
arcs. Some dogs wear constantly, others in response to particular
situations. A dog which shows no wearing will often allow splits in
BARK __ Works silently
__ some barking
__ sustained barking.
The dog which works silently may give an occasional bark in
excitement or for another reason, but essentially is quiet.
The dog which force barks is fairly quiet but will readily bark in
an attempt to move stubborn stock.
n some cases the dog simply has a natural tendency to bark a lot.
Some smaller dogs will use their voices to help make their presence
known. When working large groups of animals, some dogs will bark in
order to have an effect on the animals which can't see the dog. Dogs
with a natural barking style, called "huntaways," are used to force
sheep from hiding places in rough pastures; huntaways should be so
noted, and will generally also be very loose-eyed, somewhat pushy
dogs. Often, barking may be due to excitement, frustration at
uncooperative stock, or lack of confidence, in which case barking will
lessen with experience. The comments lines should be used to note the
nature of the barking.
__ a little distraction
__ easily distracted
apprehensive of situation
The dog which readily adjusts adapts to the situation quickly and
turns its attention to the stock. Such a dog may pause a moment to
size up the situation, but shows no sign of nervousness. The dog may
how some very brief moments of distraction, particularly at first, but
the dog's interest quickly and steadily builds to the point where the
interest is definite and sustained. ]
Some dogs may have definite interest in the stock but be diverted
by a scent on the ground or by something happening outside the ring.
In some cases the dog still may be passed provided that the incidents
are brief and the dog readily returns its attention to the stock. On
the other hand, if the dog shows only a little interest in the stock
and is very much more interested in other things, it is not
demonstrating the consistent, sustained interest that would be
necessary for preliminary training to begin, and it should not be
passed. Some dogs, particularly young dogs, may show strong interest
for a minute or two, then lose interest entirely. If the interest
reawakens the dog may be passed, provided the interest is then
sustained, but if not, the dog should not be passed at that time.
Further exposure and retesting should be recommended because dogs
which are easily distracted often progress to strong, sustained
interest with more experience. ]
In some cases a dog which is apprehensive of the situation or
initially shows some reserve or timidity may still pass if its
confidence level readily increases. As with the easily distracted dog,
further exposure and testing often increases the dog's confidence
level. The dog which, despite encouragement, shows continuing fear of
the stock or situation should not pass.
__ very keen interest
__ some interest
Sustained interest - the dog definitely and consistently keeps its
attention on the stock, although there may be some glancing about or
very brief periods of distraction.
Keen interest - this is self-explanatory and should be used to
indicate those dogs that are especially keen.
Some interest -- the dog evidences interest in the stock, but to a
lesser extent or more intermittently; because the extent of the
interest will be variable, these dogs may be borderline cases and
careful thought will need to be given whether or not to pass them.
No interest -- self-explanatory.
sufficient for stock
__ forceful, appropriate
__ lacks power to move stock
ufficient for stock -- shows power suitable for stock. If the stock
proves stubborn, the dog attempts to continue working but may show
some hesitation, often due to inexperience.
Forceful, appropriate -- the dog approaches the stock boldly and
confidently. The dog may occasionally attempt to nip sheep or paw
ducks, but not to the extent that it constitutes a threat to the
stock. It will be apparent that the dog is very interested in the
stock and desires to control its movement, but it does not intend to
harm the stock. Even if excited, the dog will accept the tester's
guidance to encourage it to temper its actions toward the stock. The
type of stock (different kinds, different individuals within a kind)
will require different degrees of force. The dog should show enough
force to control the stock, without being rough.
Excessive force -- the approach is very strong, with the dog
lunging at the stock and sometimes attempting to grip. The dog shows
little or no tendency to tailor its actions to suit the type or
behavior of the stock. Such a dog may still be passed only if it
responds to the tester's intervention to get it to behave in a more
Lacks power to move stock -- the dog shows interest in the stock
and will circle it or follow it if it moves, but if the stock does not
move, the dog stands and watches it or looks to the handler. Ideally,
the dog will respond to encouragement and gain self-confidence with
experience. In some cases the stock may simply be too stubborn or
uncooperative for an otherwise adequately powerful but inexperienced
dog, and this should be noted.
responsive to guidance/control
__ somewhat responsive
__ inhibited by guidane/control
Some dogs quickly show willingness to accept training, although
their actions may be of an unrefined nature. They may need to be shown
several times, but soon adopt the desired behavior. Other dogs simply
persist in their behavior, despite attempts at guidance, or appear to
take little notice of attempts at guidance, or may even stop working
and sulk in response to attempts at guidance. Some dogs may be
inhibited by attempts at guidance. Extra care may be needed in the
handling of an especially sensitive dog.
__ keeps stock grouped/regroups
__ does not
__ singles out individuals/splits
__ chases stock
loses contact with stock
Ideally the dog moves to keep stock grouped if some animals attempt
to break away. Some dogs may make attempts to regroup in some
instances and not others, and some may make little or no attempt to
regroup. There are dogs which deliberately single out an individual
repeatedly, while others may chase one individual or the whole group
with no attempt to control the direction or composition of the group.
Some dogs may run in response to stock movement, but then begin
running for running's sake and lose contact with the stock. Too little
effort to control the movement of the stock may indicate chasing
rather than herding.
BALANCING STOCK WITH HANDLER
__ some adjustment
__ no adjustment
This section concerns balance in the sense of the dog's movements
in directing the stock in relation to the handler's position (balance
in the broad sense includes the dog's distance relative to the stock's
"flight zone," encompassing the positioning used in directing and
controlling the stock). Some dogs clearly change direction in response
to the movement of the handler in order to keep the stock in a
position relative to the handler's position. This is clearest in
gathering dogs where, if the dog is circling the stock and the handler
moves around the stock to meet it, the dog will change direction to
keep its position opposite the handler; if the handler is moving or
giving round in a particular direction and alters the direction, the
dog will move to one side or the other to cause the stock to change
direction. A driving dog, while taking stock away from the handler,
will be aware of the handler's direction of travel and adjust its own
position to cause the stock to move in that direction. Some dogs,
while moving the stock and keeping it grouped, do not take the
handler's position into consideration, while some may simply circle
the stock repeatedly in one direction, or hold the stock against a
The comments section is particularly important. Strong points and
areas needing improvement with regard to the dog's performance and the
handler's handling should be noted, suggestions given, and notations
made of the difficulty or cooperativeness of the stock -- anything
that has a bearing on the dog's performance and the understanding of
what transpired during the run. Overall comments are to be made in
addition to comments under the different sections.
The behavior of the stock should be noted to provide background
regarding the dog's behavior, because the nature of the stock can have
a strong bearing on the dog's reactions, especially the less
experienced dog. With regard to uncooperative stock, it should be
indicated whether the stock was still controllable, or not only
uncooperative but of such a nature as to be uncontrollable.
Herding instinct tests should take place at established herding
facilities whenever possible, utilizing experienced stock regularly
worked by the tester. Such facilities will be set up for efficient stock
handling and the stock will be more relaxed and cooperative. If a test
is held at a facility other than that of an established trainer, it
nonetheless should utilize experienced stock, preferably stock that is
regularly worked by the tester.
The resting area for the stock should be some distance from the
trialling or testing arena in order to avoid confusing the dog being
tested as to which group it should keep its attention on, and in order
to prevent stock in the arena from hugging the fence near their
flock-mates. Vision screens must be set up if two adjacent arenas are
being used, or if the waiting area can be seen from the
Tests should be held in a private setting. Trials of fully trained
dogs are the proper showcase for herding for the general public. The
stock must be gentle and accustomed to being worked by a variety of
dogs, free-moving but not inclined to run. Stock which may work for an
experienced dog may not be docile enough for inexperienced dogs.
Calm, cooperative stock, accustomed to being worked by a variety of
dogs, will remain well grouped and move freely but not too fast, giving
a dog the best opportunity to demonstrate instinct.
Stock must be healthy and in good condition; unhealthy or unsound
animals must be withdrawn immediately and given any necessary care.
There must be at least three, preferably more, groups of each kind of
stock with which to rotate so that the animals have ample time to rest
between runs. Hot weather or other factors may require more frequent
rotation and longer rest periods. The tester should halt a testing
session at any sign of stress on the part of the stock.
Safety and humane treatment of the animals are of utmost importance.
Rest, water, shade, and where necessary protection from wind, must be
provided for stock. Waiting dogs should be kept away from the resting
area for the stock. Dogs, too must be cared for properly, and water and
shade must be made available for dogs. The tester and all concerned with
the test must make every effort to insure that neither stock nor dogs
come to any harm. Careful attention must be paid at these events to the
public's perception of what is happening to the animals. ANIMALS ARE TO
BE TREATED RESPECTFULLY AND RESPONSIBLY BY EVERYONE CONCERNED.
There should be herding demonstrations by the tester or other
qualified individual at the beginning of the test and educational talks
regarding herding in general. Demonstrations and talks given early in
the day should be repeated for the benefit of later arrivals. The tester
should invite and respond to questions from participants and audience
EDUCATION IS AN IMPORTANT ASPECT OF TESTS. Testers must be able to
work well with people, showing an ability to communicate pleasantly and
clearly, always being willing to answer questions and provide comments
both to participants and audience. Participants must be given the
necessary guidance to provide a positive experience for both owners and
dogs. There must be education aimed at increasing the knowledge and
involvement of the inexperienced owner, both relative to herding in
general and with regard to preparation for the next steps in herding
training. The overall impressions given at tests are very important.
The tester has to be flexible in administering a test, but should
also conduct the test in a reasonably standardized format.
The owner or owner's agent should bring the dog into the enclosure on
lead. The tester will ask the owner some brief questions regarding the
dog's background and the owner's experience, and whether this test is
for the dog's first or second leg.
It is strongly recommended that the dog have prior supervised
experience before coming to a formal test. It is especially recommended
that the dog have solid training to stop on command (sit, down or stand)
and recall reliably with distractions.
The tester's active and/or advisory participation is important at all
times. Initially, the tester may do most of the handling of the dog, or
may closely guide the owner in some amount of handling. Inexperienced
owners will need close guidance because they will not know the
techniques that help develop proper habits, nor will they best be able
to see potential problems. More experienced owners may do a larger part
or all of the handling. When the tester and the owner are both in the
enclosure, they should be in close proximity to one another in order to
provide the dog and stock with a single reference point.
The stock should be well settled, preferably away from the fence and
not in a corner. Initially, the dog may be walked on lead around the
stock, keeping to the outside and along the fence with the stock being
encouraged to stay toward the middle.
The tester may carry a 6- to 10-ft. bamboo pole or light PVC pipe to
be used as an aid in guiding the movements of the dog or when necessary
to block the dog from coming too close to the stock. The pole should be
flexible, with the ends wrapped with tape or otherwise padded for the
sake of safety. Wooden staffs or poles should not be used by testers;
however, experienced owners handling their own dog may carry a standard
shepherd's crook. While the dog is working smoothly the pole is held
discreetly out of the way, and may be set down entirely if not needed or
if a dog is inhibited by its presence. It should not be overused nor
A long-line may be used. The dog should not be allowed to strain
against a leash or long-line, nor should it be guided extensively by a
leash or line. The dog may pass with leash or line dragging, but not
with the leash or line held throughout the test.
When the leash or line is dropped or removed, the dog should not
simply be left to its own devices while the handler stands by. The
handler (tester, or owner under the guidance of the tester) must be
actively participating at all times to help develop good working habits.
The handler must move about the field, giving ground to the stock,
creating a place for the dog to move the stock.
There may be some basic, simple training activities by the tester,
because part of good herding ability is the ability to learn and take
directions. Such basic training at tests should be general in nature. It
must be kept in mind that the dog is to be allowed to reveal its natural
tendencies and should not be forced into a particular behavior
corresponding to a preconceived idea of "breed style." Commands should
be kept to a minimum in order to determine the dog's natural manner of
working. It is to be expected that there will be some differences as
well as some overlap in style between breeds and between individuals.
Many acceptable variations in style occur in herding dogs, which should
Ideally, the dog will quickly show strong interest, attempting to
keep the stock grouped and trying to control the movement of the stock
relative to the position of the handler. It will show boldness and
self-confidence without excessive aggression, naturally keeping a good
distance from the stock rather than repeatedly rushing in too close. In
practice there will be many individual variations, including
less-than-ideal reactions often reflective of the dog's inexperience.
For the most part the stock should be encouraged to stay out in the
open, giving more room for maneuver, although there may be some cases
where the tester may keep the stock along the fence for a brief time for
a particular purpose. There may be some cases where the tester will keep
the stock along a fence for a brief time for a particular purpose, but
for the most part the stock should be encouraged to stay out in the
open, giving more room for maneuver. Inexperienced dogs usually do not
know how to handle fence-hugging behavior by stock, and may end up
repeatedly holding it against the fence or charging it because it is
"cornered." With guidance and experience, the dog will learn how to
handle such situations.
The passing dog should show good, sustained interest of such a nature
that the dog appears to be ready to begin preliminary training. Strong
desire and a well-adjusted, willing attitude should be demonstrated. The
overall impression should be that the dog has the potential to be a
useful, practical working dog. Constructive herding activity, not
chasing, should be evidenced. Whether or not to pass borderline cases
must be a judgment call by the tester. As a general rule, such dogs
should not be passed at that time. It should be kept in mind that
retesting on another day is available and recommended.