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Best Toys for Herding Dogs

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David Adams

March 22, 2024

Dog Enrichment

Best Toys for Herding Dogs thumbnail

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

Sheep dogs and corgis and German shepherds, oh my! Herding dogs are a diverse group of breeds who have been used to work with human handlers to gather, herd, and protect livestock. Regardless of their current occupation of Chief Snooze Officer, dogs bred for herding may display behaviors that reflect the jobs humans originally used them for — with high energy levels to match. Many of these breeds, like the Australian Shepherd, Australian Cattle Dog, and Border Collie, are especially known for their engagement with their people. They form deep bonds with their family members, allowing them to learn impressive tricks and enjoy interactive games.

Energetic breeds like herding dogs benefit from regular mental stimulation and physical exercise.  

Characteristics of Herding Dogs

Domestic dogs display a set of behaviors related to hunting known as the predatory sequence. You’ll see this reflected in play — and, of course, in their inclination to chase wildlife (something we often call prey drive). If you’ve been told your dog has a high prey drive, you know these behaviors well! As the predatory sequence name implies, the behaviors happen in a designated order. 

Humans have bred dogs for thousands of years, and herding behavior is ultimately modified predatory behavior. Bred to accentuate different parts of the predatory sequence, these working dog breeds have different skills. German shepherds and Malinois guard. Border Collies herd with lots of strong eye contact. Blue heelers are known for nipping, which is how they got the nickname "heeler" as they'd go after heels while herding cattle.

Think about toys that help your dog safely express their natural instincts and species-typical behaviors like foraging, sniffing, and licking, as well as breed-typical behaviors, like chasing/herding and biting. Toys for herding dogs are more than just different balls, though plenty of dogs do enjoy chasing, herding, or fetching a ball. What's most important is setting up opportunities for mental exercise — at a range of difficulty levels — where your herding dogs can get a good physical workout on top of satisfying their innate desires.

Best Toys for Herding Dogs and Working Dogs

While it's imperative to understand your dog's breed — what we bred their ancestors for, what natural herding instincts they might have — it's also important you understand that dogs are more than their genetics. Their personalities and interests are as individual as a human’s. Not every herding dog likes a herding ball, and that’s okay!

Consider your own dog’s likes and dislikes when deciding on toys and enrichment activities for them to engage in. Avoid physical or mental activities that frustrate your dog. Look for signs of satisfaction — like an ultimate decrease in destructive behaviors that suggests your dog is getting adequate exercise and fulfillment — as opposed to signs of pent-up energy.

It’s also worth noting that plenty of dogs can benefit from this list based on their likes, not just herding breeds!

Squishy Face Studio Flirt Pole

https://www.squishyfacestudio.com/flirt-pole-v2/

If your dog likes to chase and catch, a flirt pole may be a fun activity for you to engage in together. This long pole with a grippy handle includes a bungee cord with a lure at the end (or sometimes other versions substitute a rope toy) which enables you, the human part of the interactive game, to easily maneuver the lure for your dog to chase and bite.

This design does stand up to some tugging, but chasing and biting — in short bursts, rather than the longer periods of time you might leave your strong chewer with a designated chew toy — is really the name of the game. Unlike balls, flirt poles enable your dog to get some great exercise in a small space. Lure coursing is a sportier option for dogs who love the physical stimulation of running and chasing. 

Jolly Egg


https://jollypets.com/collections/made-in-the-usa/products/jolly-egg-dog-toy

The Jolly Egg is a hard plastic toy that can really stand up to some abuse. It's perfect for aggressive chewers because the egg-shaped ball makes biting and chomping down difficult, reducing the risk of damaging teeth — or the toy itself.

Your Blue Heeler, Border Collie, or other herding dog can chase, herd, and pounce on this unique ball toy that rolls in an unpredictable pattern (better emulating the experience of herding sheep or herding cattle).

The 20-inch Boomer Ball is another popular option. Need some space to play chase-the-egg? Bring it on out to a Sniffspot!

Jolly Pets Push-n-Play

https://jollypets.com/products/push-n-play

A true classic for herding ball fun! The Push-n-Play is the perfect herding ball, durable and great for treibball practice. It is not a rubber ball, which makes it better able to stand up to the wear and tear that your pup's regular exercise ball might get. It also floats and can be filled with water or sand for a bit of a challenge (if your dog is into that kind of thing).

The Jolly Pets Push-n-Play traditional herding ball is a great choice if your dog enjoys engaging in their natural herding instincts and if you think they'd get frustrated with the more unpredictable roll of the Jolly Egg.

While we're on the topic of Jolly products: Jolly makes a number of ball toys designed specifically for herding breeds like Blue Heelers, Border Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, and more They come in a range of sizes (along with an amazing array of products) and include soccer balls, balls with handles, and balls with rope toys attached for flinging and tugging fun. They also make a number of treat-dispensing balls for additional mental stimulation.

Agility Kits


https://fitpawsusa.com/product/caninegym-agility-kit/

Herding dog breeds, especially Border Collies, often excel at competitive agility. If your energetic herding dog loves to engage in this type of physical activity — fast-paced, full of mental stimulation along with a healthy outlet for the zoomies — FitPaws has a lot of options for building strength and mobility in a small space. The agility kit allows for different configurations.

Bring some treats and have some engaging fun with your pup. If you’re interested in competing, find an agility facility in your area that uses humane, science-based methods for training.  

SodaPup Pop Top Rubber Tug Toy

https://sodapup.com/products/sp-pop-top-rubber-tug-toy-for-interactive-play-orange-squeeze

Does your dog love a game of tug? Try this cute pop-top tug from SodaPup! This toy is durable, but is not meant for chewing. Play together, but provide a different toy, like the SodaPup peanut or other product developed for chewing when it's time to relax and chew. 

Kong Wobbler

The Kong Wobbler weebles and wobbles, but doesn’t fall down. This sturdy, easy to clean food/treat dispensing toy provides some mental stimulation for the opportunistic forager that lives in your home. Since our goal with enrichment is to allow our dogs to engage in behaviors that are innate and typical for their species without frustrating them, the Kong Wobbler is a great intro food dispensing toy.

We know that a treat dispenser like this might not seem to satisfy your dog's innate herding instincts the way some other toys, like the Jolly herding ball for dogs mentioned above, do — but food enrichment can still be a great part of your pup's daily routine! It's especially important to shake things up to keep your dog entertained, so this is an excellent complement to more direct herding activities.

Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble

https://store.petsafe.net/busy-buddy-kibble-nibble

Another great intro food dispensing toy is the Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble ball by Pet Safe. This toy provides mental stimulation and resembles a herding ball, which can help burn excess energy while more clearly satisfying your pup's strong herding instincts. The hard plastic material is easy to take apart for filling and cleaning. Foraging is a natural instinct for domesticated dogs, but some toys can be frustrating. The Kibble Nibble ball can be adjusted to release food more easily for beginners.

Soda Pup Lick Mat

https://sodapup.com/collections/lick-mats

SodaPup has some of the cutest, most creative enrichment toys on the market, and their enrichment mats (lick mats) are no exception. These flexible rubber mats are designed with ridges to have soft treats like peanut butter, cream cheese, wet food, pumpkin, or any other snack your dog fancies, spread over the surface.

Why are we including so many food enrichment items as a toy for herding breeds? Well, as mentioned above, herding dogs need more than just endless adrenalizing games of fetch with ball launchers and straight up physical exercise!

If your pup has a lot of energy and you think they need more mental exercise, a lick mat is a great, affordable option. Licking and sniffing are calming activities for dogs, with an added benefit of figuring out how to get all of their favorite spreadable treats out of every crevice on the mat. Load up the mat and freeze it once your dog gets good at cleaning it off. This material is durable (and machine washable!), but lick mats are not meant for chewing. With any type of enrichment toy, supervise your dog, especially if it is their first time interacting with the item.  

WestPaw Toppl

https://www.westpaw.com/products/toppl-treat-toy

If you buy one enrichment toy for your dog, regardless of breed, this is possibly the best option for mental stimulation. The WestPaw Toppl is durable, versatile, machine washable, and holds up to some chewing. This toy comes in two sizes, which are designed to be used separately or fit together into one megatoy. Both sizes have a rounded end, which wobbles when used separately. Ridges inside are great for spreading on peanut butter or other soft treats, or can be used to wedge a solid treat inside. Load up one or both ends and freeze it for an extra challenge once your dog is good at emptying the toy. Holes in both sizes allow small food or treats to fall out when they are fit together. This configuration can hold nearly a cup of small kibble, and can be used as a food dispensing toy for meals. 

ZippyPaws Burrow Stuffed Toys

https://zippypaws.com/product-category/plush-toys/burrow/

ZippyPaws heard your dog liked stuffed toys so they stuffed some stuffed toys inside of a stuffed toy! These toys are super cute and creative. Great for dogs who love to shred and de-squeak stuffed toys, but allow for an added foraging bonus. Tuck some treats inside and let your dog solve this plush puzzle! If your dog is a shredder, save some toilet paper tubes, fold one end in, tuck in some treats, and then fold the other end. Put the treat-filled cardboard tubes inside of the burrow for a fun game.

Nina Ottosson Puzzle Toys

https://outwardhound.com/brands/nina-ottosson/

Let your dog flex some brain muscle with a puzzle toy! If your herding dog is a quick learner who enjoys figuring out a nice puzzle, Nina Ottosson’s are the best. Different levels of difficulty help dogs learn at their own pace and make for happy herding dogs enjoying excellent exercise (mentally, that is).

Benebone Chew Toys

https://www.benebone.com/

If you’re looking for something for an aggressive chewer, Benebones are a good bet. Chewing is a calming natural instinct that also helps keep your dog’s teeth clean. Many small pet stores carry Benebones if you like to shop local.

Sniffspot Dog running on field

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The Final Word

Enrichment is not one-size-fits-all. Humans have different hobbies, and so do dogs! Help your dog engage with mental, physical, and sensory experiences that they willingly opt into and that are not frustrating. Always remember, when choosing activities for your family pets, that dogs process an astounding amount of information through their sense of smell. Provide enrichment toys or activities (like a visit to a Sniffspot!) with the way your dog experiences the world in mind.

Struggling to find the best exercise balls and other herding toys for your pup? Consider providing a few horse toys on top of the options we talk about in this article! It might sound strange at first, but horse toys are especially well designed to stand up to rough wear — and you can find a great size variety on the larger end if your dog needs more challenging levels of play.

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Kelly Hayden
Owner & Lead Trainer - Ardent Dog - Certified Separation Anxiety Professional Trainer

Get your dog the safe enrichment they need by renting a Sniffspot

Sniffspot Dog swimming in pool
David Adams photo

David Adams

March 22, 2024

Dog Enrichment

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