Success Rates of Australian Stock Herding Dogs

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Intermediate

Farm Table says:

An important read if you want to understand how to achieve productive herding dogs. The article is heavy on the statistics but contains clear graphs to represent the data. This is not a guide on how to train your dog, but how to create a dog that is able to be trained.

Environmental Factors Associated with Success Rates of Australian Stock Herding Dogs

What is the problem?

Stock herding dogs can be a significant investment of time and money, so ensuring high success rates of acquired working dogs is needed to achieve maximum financial return to owner. Reducing cull rate also increases socially responsible practices and animal welfare. Researchers from the University of Sydney surveyed 812 herding dog owners, and data on a total of 4027 dogs was collected. This research aimed to quantify current herding dog management strategies and their efficacy, as a basis for further examination and improvement.

What did the research involve?

The researchers developed a questionnaire to obtain current practices in the management of herding dogs and compared this with the owners’ success rate to determine the variables that showed the greatest impact in dog outcomes. The success rate was defined as the percentage of dogs acquired for training or immediate use that became successful working dogs. The survey was comprehensive in both the number of respondents and questions; with the chance to win a prize for filling out the survey. It was also anonymous to encourage honest answers to the questions.

What were the key findings?

The following variables were listed as significantly contributing to success rates:

  • Housing method (group shelter with yard/pen)
  • Dog breed (cattle dog cross least successful)
  • Age at aquistion (highest success rates if under 12 weeks)
  • Training methods (electric collar use by far the least successful)
  • Participation in dog trials (time spent training for competition increased dog handler bond)
  • Hypothetical maximum treatment expenditure (owners willing to spend more to treat their dog had greater success rates)
  • Conscientiousness score of the owner (A person scoring high in conscientiousness usually has a high level of self-discipline. These individuals prefer to follow a plan, rather than act spontaneously.)

Only one variable above is linked to the genetic traits of the dog. The rest relate to building the dog handler bond and animal husbandry practices. The time spent with the animal at a young age when bond formation is strongest, and time spent via training for work/competition builds this bond. Housing in a group shelter with plenty of yard space allows healthy socialisation with other canines, while restricting movement via chain or crowded cages creates frustrated, fearful and apathetic animals that have greater difficulty learning and concentrating.

Final comment

Dog handler bond is of undeniable importance in creating a dog that not only understands your commands but also wants to work for you. Best practice is not established in this article as the responses rely solely on accurate recall by the dog owners. Being an anonymous survey people are generally more honest with answers though, so the research retains its importance as a guide to this topic.


This paper was summarised by Mia Courtney (Agricultural Sciences Student – La Trobe University) and reviewed by Nickala Best (PhD Student – La Trobe University). Learn more about Mia and Nickala here.

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