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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. Many of these breeds, like the Australian Shepherd, are known for their engagement with humans, allowing them to learn impressive tricks and games. Working 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 or their inclination to chase wildlife. If you’ve been told your dog has a high prey drive, you know these behaviors well. As the name implies, the behaviors happen in a sequence.
Humans have bred dogs for thousands of years, and herding behavior is modified predatory behavior. Bred to accentuate different parts of the predatory sequence, these working dog breeds have different skills. German shepherds and malinois guard and bite. Border collies herd and nip.
Think about toys that help your dog safely express their natural instincts or 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 enjoy chasing, herding, or fetching a ball.
Best Toys for Herding Dogs and Working Dogs
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 activities that frustrate your dog. 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
If your dog likes to chase, 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, enabling the human end of the game to easily maneuver the lure for the dog to chase and bite. This design does stand up to some tugging, but chasing and biting 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.
The Jolly Egg is a hard plastic toy that can really stand up to some abuse. The egg-shaped ball makes biting difficult, reducing the risk of damaging teeth. Your dog can chase, herd, and pounce on this unique ball toy. 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
A true classic for herding ball fun! The Push-n-Play is durable and great for treibball practice. It also floats or 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 herding ball is a must if your dog enjoys engaging in their herding instincts. Jolly makes a number of ball toys in a range of sizes (along with an amazing array of products), including soccer balls, balls with handles, and balls with ropes for flinging and tugging fun. They also make a number of treat-dispensing balls.
Herding dog breeds excel at competitive agility. If your dog loves to engage in this type of physical activity, 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
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.
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.
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. 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
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. Herding dogs need more than just endless adrenalizing games of ball and physical exercise. If your dog has a lot of energy, 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.
If you buy one enrichment toy for your dog, regardless of breed, this is it. 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
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
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.
Benebone Chew Toys
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.
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 engage in and are not frustrating. 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.
Trainers 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:
Owner & Lead Trainer - Ardent Dog - Certified Separation Anxiety Professional Trainer