city slicker puppy

City Slicker Puppy: Successfully Raising a Herding Puppy in an Urban Environment

There are as many ways to raise a puppy as there are puppies. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that when you raise a puppy, you are in fact raising another species that not only does not speak English, but doesn’t speak any human language at all. Add the words successfullyherding breed, and urban, to the mix, and that just makes everything a tad bit more interesting. Read on for urban puppy training tips from our friend, Nancy Tanner.

City Slickers

Herding dogs are becoming increasingly more popular, and not just on ranches and farms, but in towns and cities around the world. Seeing a Border Collie fetching a ball in a city park is no longer uncommon. Watching kids play soccer with their Aussie is a familiar sight in many neighborhoods, and there seems to be a mutual attraction and understanding between a long distance runner and a Cattle dog.

There is a long list of herding breeds, and each one with a temperament and herding style that is slightly unique to that breed. Some sensitive, some cautious, compulsive a little or a lot, others more hard-hitting, and some even slightly guarded. But they share the commonalities of persistence, purpose, resilience, and stamina. Herding breeds thrive on working through new concepts, they are great at reasoning, and almost all are incredibly work oriented, or what is called biddable. In a nutshell, they have grit. Herding dogs have grit in spades! And this is what makes them super awesome to those that get them and love them, and this is generally a specific type of person.

Herding dogs are not for the faint of heart. You need to be sure you want to be active, and live a daily active life, that is both creative and challenging. Over the years I have seen well-intended families get a nicely bred Border Collie because they thought their family was active and thought it would be a good fit, only to face the harsh realization that what they thought was ‘active’ was not even a warm up for their dog.

Breed Traits

Keep in mind what a herding dog has been bred for, and the qualities and traits that have been passed along for a working dog: they watch stock animals; they read stock animals’ body language; they can move stock fast or slow, small to large groups, and change their direction; they watch the tall grass moving off to the side in case there is a predator; they keep track of weather changes; they listen to the guy behind them; and they do this for duration and distance. Then tomorrow, they wake up and do it all over again and love it as much as the first time. This is no slouch of a dog, on any level. They were bred to work with intense mental and physical focus each day.

How, then, can they be successful in an urban environment? The key to success is your time, your ability to manage your environment, and your creative thinking.

Key Tip: Puppy Socializing

First off, puppies are puppies and need to do puppy things. They need you to love them, pet them, feed them, be part of your home and family, and love them some more. They also need to have puppy friends and puppy play dates a few times a week. Kind and considerate socialization with other puppies is über important. From nine weeks on, they should be meeting other young play friends in a managed environment.

Socialization to people, places, things, events, and other well-socialized adult dogs should also be filling up your dance card. Small visits each day, anywhere from five minutes to a half hour, helps your young herding breed get to know the bigger picture, a greater world, and they start to put together how cool their new life is going to be. Visit stores of all kinds that allow all dogs that are on leash. If you have a particularly shy herding puppy — not uncommon — take smaller steps out into the world. Visit stores during the off-hours when they aren’t so busy. Hand a treat to an employee and ask if they can give it to your puppy. Spend less time out and about, but for sure a bit every day. Ounce by ounce the world will start making more sense.

Key Tip: Exercise

Secondly, exercise! Oh, glorious, wonderful exercise. The goal is not to pound your young herding breed into the ground, or hurt them with too much, but to give appropriate physical movement each day, and a lot of mental work each day. This is where being a creative puppy handler comes into play. Your family room and yard become your ‘dog gym’ of sorts, opening up a world of trick behaviors, movement games, play with a purpose, fetch and find it puzzles, and possibly ground work for future dog sports.

Leash walk you say? Taking your young dog out on a leash for a walk is nice and polite, and an awesome trick to be sure. But please do not put this into the category of exercise, because it really isn’t. (Well, maybe for you, but for sure not your young herding dog.) Walking a straight line down a sidewalk is about as interesting as lettuce for a young herding dog.

So find a tricks book, watch dog trick videos, get some ideas and make a list. Little by little, start to introduce these behaviors, a bit of this and bit of that, and build them over time. Start to introduce toys as a way of working with you. You can start to teach fetch, or tug, or find it, or any number of games. All of which create reasoning skill building, and that is perfect!


West Paw Designs makes the Zogoflex Bumi Tug Dog Toy. It’s a great option for tug time!

If you do an outdoor sport yourself like hiking, running, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, drift boating, or skiing, include your puppy for short periods of time at first, let them get use to this new cool something-that-you-do and want to share with them. As they get older, and stronger, include them for longer adventures. Always be safe. Always have the right gear for your puppy.
Check out some dog sports, see if one interests you, and see if there is something in your area. There is such an amazing variety of things to become involved with these days, anything from agility, rally-ofreestyle, tricks, treibball, dock diving, tracking, hobby herding, nosework, and more.

This ‘secondly’ part is a biggie. Exercise can be so easily misunderstood, so I will say this and then move on: exercising a herding dog both mentally and physically is hours, not minutes… and that is hours with an ‘s’ at the end. A young herding dog that has her needs met has the ability to settle, and be calm, and enjoy your home. So set this time aside each day. Don’t just give your herding dog the time you have left over.

Key Tip: Structure

Lastly, because you have little Einstein now living in your home, management of space both inside and outside is imperative. A positive home is not a permissive home. Clean up the toys when you are not playing, but bring them out when you are playing together. No free food in bowls lying around, but make sure to have lots of chew toysbully sticks, and chew items especially during the teething stage. Herding breeds love structure and schedules more than any person you will ever meet, just so you know this. And always remind yourself: if you choose to not manage and work your herding dog, the environment will, and that will always work against you.

My Border Collies are my CFO’s: Chief Fun Officers. They make my life interesting, exciting, challenging, active, and there is no lack of love! I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

By Nancy Tanner: Certified Professional Dog Trainer, knowledge and skill assessed. She is also the owner of Paws & People, LLC in Bozeman, Montana, est. 2003. A dog sport competitor, award-winning writer, and mother. Visit her website at: