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What is an Instinct Test?

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Instinct Testing.


The Oxford Dictionary says instinct is 'a natural or inherent aptitude, impulse or capacity - a largely inheritable tendency of an organisim to make complex, specific responses to enviromental stimuli, without involving reason'

I include this link to an American utube made to try and boost the boxer into their herding group. It is interesting for the insights offered by very experienced trainers of all breed herding dogs.

A herding instinct test should be set up to make clear to observers, with the absolute minimum stress to all concerned, especially the animals being used as test subjects, whether a dog shows appropriate responses.

Click the links below to see a kelpie

and a boxer being tested


There are two reasons to test a dog for herding instinct.

1. To test as a one off, to further knowlege of the the inherent abilities of the line, of interest to breeders.


     2. To assess the chances of the owner having a trainable sheepdog  (I say sheepdog; this facility does not work with cattle or ducks)  as a long term commitment. 


How old should the dog be?

Age is less important than physical fitness for both owner and dog!  Even  the controlled setup we use requires agility and stamina from the dog and handler. 

Is it an advantage if it is obedience trained?

For the one off, 'breeder's notes' type instinct test, other training is less important. Obedient, well balanced owner and dog teams are at an advantage when it comes to testing with further work in mind.

Is further training available? 

Yes, if you are persistent, and this situation seems to be improving as other training places become aware of your interest. Training a sheepdog is expensive in terms of miles travelled, even if - especially if! - you buy your own sheep! 

How much effort is appropriate to 'turn'  a pet or show dog  'on'  to sheep? 

Trainer and owner must be realistic; the ultimate responsibility is the owner's. Be sure they recognise the implications of a switched on, untrained dog.

Keen turned on dogs are no more likely to cause you problems than keen untested dogs,

so long as you are vigilant and sensible. 

 We need an understanding of the breed we are looking at: how does it work, historically?

We are looking for a dog which moves confidently round the sheep, takes directions from a handler well and maintains interest throughout the test. Close working, barking and 'loose eye' are to be expected and understood. Heeling breeds will be treated with caution,  heeling of sheep is not acceptable in the testing and training situation.


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