Have you heard of the predatory sequence in wolves? It’s a sequence of actions that the wolf performs in the process of hunting prey. It goes something like this:

orient => eye => stalk => chase => grab-bite => kill-bite => dissect => consume

A wolf’s survival is dependent on their (or their pack’s) ability to successfully complete this sequence. Otherwise no food.

In the process of domesticating dogs, we’ve done some fucking around, so to speak, with this predatory sequence. Depending on the job we wanted or needed the dog to perform, we bred to enhance some steps in the predatory sequence while dulling others. With some breeds we interrupted the predatory sequence. And with others we bred to skip some steps entirely.

While there are many herding specialists, we generally need our herding dogs to organize and move large groups of animals without harming them. So in creating these herding breeds, we selected for an exaggerated start to the predatory sequence and against completion. That is, we wanted dogs with a strong instinct to orient, eye, stalk, and chase, but muted instinct to grad-bite, kill-bite, dissect, and consume. Have you ever seen a border collie herding sheep? That it, right there.

Does that mean we nailed it perfectly? Does that mean a herding dog will never bite or kill? Not exactly. They are dogs, not robots, after all. By and large, though, herding dogs have a strong inclination to orient, eye, stalk, and chase but then not finish the predatory sequence. Some herding dogs, like Australian cattle dogs, walk a fine line by nipping at the feet (hence the term “heeler”) of cattle which are much less likely to be intimidated by stalking and chasing than sheep.

Regardless of the details, we intentionally created dogs who would be hyper aware of their surroundings and movement, in particular. Not only that, but we wanted them to respond quickly to the movement of livestock. Awesome, right? We did good! Well, right up to the point that we took our herding dogs from the pastures in which they thrived and put them in suburbia.

The instincts and skills that make herding dogs so valuable in organizing and moving livestock can be irritating at best and dangerous at worse in our (sub)urban neighborhoods. Your herding dog might be startled at the sudden appearance of another dog around the corner and bark obnoxiously. Or they might yank your arm off trying to chase a bike or car. We didn’t design these herding dogs for the environments they often find themselves in now.

The good news is that I’m designing a program to help you teach your dog how to navigate this crazy world. Interested in hearing more? Get on my email list!