Pet Parenting: Dog considers child a sheep

Dear Denise,

Our new shelter dog, an Australian shepherd mix, just started “herding” my 4-year-old today. She kind of even goes after her and nips. She doesn’t do it to my 8-year-old though. What should I do?

Dear Mama:

Congratulations! You are the proud owner of a herding dog. I assume you have no plans to get any sheep? Okay then, I guess we better do something about this herding behavior.

I’m not sure why your dog herds the four year old and not the 8 year old. My guess is there is something more exciting and fun about the four year old’s movement and behavior (probably more erratic). Start by teaching your dog a ‘leave-it’ command. After that is learned, you can apply it to the four year old.

You’ll also need to talk with your four year old about not ‘running’ from the dog. Things that run obviously want to be chased. The other thing you can do is teach your child and dog some fun games to play together, like fetch. This will engage both of them without arousing your dog’s herding behavior. Your four year old isn’t too young to learn to how to behave with the dog (I’ll be teaching a class for kids this age, 3-4-5-year olds, at Terra Tots beginning in February. *See information about the class below).

If these strategies don’t work, and I’ll admit that sometimes they won’t because instinct will just overwhelm your young puppy, then you should use a time-out. This is done the same way you would with your child. Simply remove the dog from the situation, and ‘time-out’ his play with a mandatory ‘sit-stay.’ Just 10-15 seconds is enough to make a point. Especially, if you do it immediately and EVERY TIME your dog exhibits the behavior. Fortunately, border collies are very smart and the dog should quickly learn that whenever he herds, the play stops.

Good luck,


* The class Denise will teach at Terra Tots is called Kids and Canines. It’s a special class designed for children ages 3-5, their parents and the family dog. Denise will help parents teach their children how to train and interact appropriately with their own pet, as well as stranger dogs.  This interactive class is limited to five dogs and their respective people. Only one dog per family. Children will learn how to pet and groom their own dog, ask to pet/greet a stranger’s dog, get their dog to sit – not jump up and come when called, and how to play safely.

Each class will last approximately 30 minutes. All dogs must have proof of vaccination, be house-trained and pest-free. 4 weeks for $60.00. Reserve your spot by Jan. 29 for the first class. Other classes will be formed on an as-needed basis. Call 479-587-8687.

Denise Holmes is a pet behavior counselor with over 25 years of experience. She focuses on family pet training and animal-assisted therapy.  She has consulted with Arkansas Children’s Hospital, produced a CD to help expecting parents introduce the family pet to a newborn (which is available at Terra Tots),  For more information or questions about the class please call 479-225-6063. Denise is also on the air Wednesday mornings on Magic 107.9 to answer callers’ pet related questions.