A young collie plays with a pink Kong outdoors on grass

7 Fun Activities To Keep Your Herding Dog Active And Entertained

Herding dog breeds are becoming more desirable as household pets due to their obedient nature, intelligence, and fast ability to learn. However, taking these dogs out of their working environment doesn’t take the herding instinct out of the dog. 

Not only do these breeds need exercise for their active bodies, but they need stimulation for their working minds as well.

Activities which can be used to keep your energetic herding dog busy include: 

  1.   Sheepdog Trials
  2.   Treibball
  3.   Agility
  4.   Flyball
  5.   Disc Dog
  6.   Dock Diving
  7.   Nose Work

Sheepdog trials are perfectly suited for herding dog breeds

It should come as no surprise that the sport of Sheepdog trials has been made especially for herding dogs.

Sheepdog trials, also known simply asherding’, is the competitive canine sport of herding livestock. It tests the working abilities and herding management skills usually through challenging the dog with groups of sheep, ducks or cows.

Just like with traditional herding, the aim of the trials is to showcase the dog’s ability to work livestock around a marked field.

Obstacles include navigating them through gates, into and out of pens and separating out individual animals from the flock.

As with all competitive sports there is a set scoring system laid out as well as categories and requirements for the competing dogs. However, you can start your dog with non-competitive herding to test your dog’s instinct and trainability.

Treibball can keep dogs busy indoors and out

No livestock around? No problem!

Treibball is a brilliant sport aimed at herding breeds which trains basic herding skills using large Pilates style balls instead of livestock. This game is taught to the dog by the handler, so it also helps increase the bond between you and your canine companion.

As with traditional sheepdog trials, treibball is taught using hand signals, whistles and verbal commands so it really helps put your dog’s concentration and ability to learn to the test.

Once the basic skills and commands have been learned, treibball can be varied and altered to mix it up, keep it fresh and fit it into your environment and schedule. So now you can have happy herding dogs, even if you live in the city!

Agility is guaranteed to engage even the most intelligent of dogs

Probably one of the most well known dog sports out there is dog agility. Agility is a game of speed and precision as a handler cues and signals a dog around a timed obstacle course. 

Dog agility courses can be set up with jumps, tunnels, see-saws, hoops and many other obstacles, but miscellaneous objects can easily be set up for an at home game too.

Dog agility not only keeps a herding dog fit, but it also teaches self-control too. The obstacle course must be completed safely and in a controlled manner so there is a great deal of learning to be done by both the dog and handler to achieve this desired combination.

Dog agility is played worldwide, and is suited to beginner level dogs right up to international competition. 

As a popular sport there are normally many local clubs and classes dedicated to teaching this exciting sport, so why not check if there is one near you and get started with your dog today.


Flyball is a test of speed, agility and precision for the dogs, plus it’s also a great social game for dogs and handlers alike.

If your herding dog loves to play fetch then Flyball is definitely for them! This fast-paced, dog relay game is played as a competitive sport with two teams of four dogs each.

Each dog takes its turn to run up and back along the straight course which is made up of four hurdles and a Flybox at the end. 

The Flybox houses a tennis ball that is released by the dog’s impact (some have suggested flyball isn’t safe because of this aspect) as it uses the surface to turn. It then makes its way back down the hurdle course and over the start line before the next dog in the team begins its race.

The fastest team to complete the course, error free, wins the game.

Disc dog

Disc Dog is a high-speed competitive game of frisbee where a dog and handler show off their skills in long distance catching and choreographed freestyle tricks.

As “Frisbee” is a trademark brand of toy, the term Disc is used for this sport and also refers to the type of dog safe discs used throughout the game. 

Disc Dog is played between one dog and one handler and uses multiple flying discs flying discs to score points during their dynamic routines.

Not only is this sport physically demanding and energy filled for both the human and the k9, but it also increases the bond between a dog and their handler due to the time spent working together to learn their own special tricks and routines.

Dock diving

One of the best sports for active, water loving herding dogs is Dock Diving.

Perfect for the summer months, Dock Diving is where a dog runs and jumps off a high platform (the dock) into a large pool of water while chasing, grabbing or retrieving a specialised toy called a bumper.

In this competitive sport, the game is sectioned into 3 main events: Big Air, Speed Retrieve and Extreme Vertical.

Big air

Big Air is like a long jump for dogs. The dog takes a running jump off a 40-foot-long dock while chasing after a bumper toy thrown by the handler. The distance the dog travels before hitting the water is recorded from the edge of the dock to the tip of the dog’s tail. Specialised video recordings are used to get accurate measurements and the longest jump out of all the dog competitors wins.

Speed retrieve

Speed Retrieve starts in a similar way to the Big Air, but the aim is for the dog to swim to retrieve a bumper toy from the end of the pool after they’ve landed their jump in the water. The dog to do the run, jump, swim and retrieve in the fastest time wins.

Extreme vertical

Extreme Vertical is a mashup of the previous two games but with a vertical twist. This time the bumper toy is held on a bar above the dock and the dog must make a running leap to retrieve it first before landing in the water. The difficulty of this event increases as the bumper toy is lifted 2 inches higher after every successful catch. The winner is the dog that makes the highest jump with a successful toy retrieve.

Bumpers make great water toys in non-competitive surroundings too. They are lightweight, easy for your dog to grab and of course, they float. 

Nose work

Like all dogs, herding breeds have an impeccable sense of smell. Not only do dogs learn a lot about their environment through scent, but they can also learn to use that skill to communicate and work with us.

Working scent dogs go through rigorous training to learn the skills they use on the force, but the basics of this is now taught through interactive and fun scent work games for any dog.

Simple starting games such as the “Which Hand” game are aimed at getting your dog to choose the hand in which you hold a treat. This can then move on to playing search for treats hidden in objects and around the house.

Even these beginner scent work games can engage a dog’s mind, teach invaluable skills and of course, focus on the natural instinct that’s so perfectly built into your dog.

You can find out more about scent work for dogs through the National Association of Canine Scent Work.

A close up of a collie dog's face with snow piled on the dog's nose
Photo by Tadeusz Lakota on Unsplash

Frequently asked questions

Why do herding dogs need to be kept busy?

Herding dogs are bred to work and have a strong instinct to herd and protect. If they don’t have a job to do, they can become bored, anxious, and destructive. Keeping your herding dog busy with activities and games can help prevent these behavioral issues.

What are some activities that can keep my herding dog busy?

There are many activities that can keep your herding dog busy, including agility training, obedience training, nose work, puzzle toys, and interactive games. You can also take your dog on hikes, runs, or bike rides to provide them with physical exercise.

How can I provide mental stimulation for my herding dog?

Herding dogs are highly intelligent and need mental stimulation to stay happy and healthy. You can provide mental stimulation by teaching your dog new tricks and commands, playing hide-and-seek, or using interactive toys that require problem-solving skills.

Can herding dogs participate in dog sports?

Yes, herding dogs can excel in many dog sports, such as agility, flyball, dock diving, and obedience trials. These sports provide both mental and physical stimulation for your dog and can help strengthen your bond with them.

How can I train my herding dog for activities and games?

Training your herding dog for activities and games requires patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement. Start with basic obedience training and gradually introduce new activities and games. Use treats, praise, and toys to reward good behavior and make training fun for your dog.

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