Herding with the Canaan Dog

The Canaan Dog shows definite talent as a stock dog and is able to compete in herding events. However, they do not perform as does a Border Collie or Kelpie with that degree of ‘eye’.


Jordy working

Canaani can be distracted by the environment, and may run off to check on the neighboring sheep, horses or cattle to see whether they can be brought into the flock. This awareness of surroundings would be very useful in their native land -- a vast desert where any strangers could be enemies -- or where stock had strayed from the Canaan's own herd. For trial purposes this can be difficult to control, but control usually comes with time and patience. The greater the quantity of stock, the more a dog will show interest. This breed works with 200-300 or more head in the Negev and elsewhere in the Middle East, as is the case with the German Shepherd Dog in its native land.

A working dog, especially a ‘green’ or relatively untrained one, may stop to watch the scenery, eat sheep droppings or do other ‘lovely things'. It will still be watching the flock, though an inexperienced handler might not think so. A dog may seem totally focused on its handler, for example, asking for praise, then without warning leave to stop members of the flock from escaping. Once the miscreant sheep are returned, the dog will go back to its handler for more petting and praise -- all this with no commands. Canaan Dogs think, and are very sensible in their approach to stock. A Canaan Dog may suddenly realize that sheep, ducks or chickens have escaped their pens, gather then quickly together and herd them back through the escape route, then quit and go back to their previous activities. They watch the pen casually, and if an animal attempts to leave again, it is turned back.

This breed does best when a Standing Stop command is used; a Whoa, Stop or Stay command should usually halt the dog on its feet rather than dropping it to the ground. Down is best used only at the beginning of a work session, and only if the dog is thoroughly obedience trained already (CD level or better). Far preferable is using a Stop only when the dog is very enthused in its work (after quite a few lessons), and waiting for a Down until almost at the Started level, or later. Down is a dominance-oriented command, and avid beginner dogs will probably ignore its use. If forced to Down rather than perform a Standing Stop, many dogs will obey the command -- and quit exhibiting any herding instinct. Better a Whoa or no command, than to discipline for disobedience and destroy a dog's interest in true work. Remember than Canaani are sensitive to handler emotions, positive and negative, and do not forgive harsh corrections easily. As with other types of work, these dogs need to trust their handlers before obeying commands they do not think are necessary.


Tycho, stalking stockdog

Working style in the Canaan is mostly fetching behavior, often featuring close work without causing excessive fear in the stock. There is usually little gripping at the start of training, though dogs with more interest may develop a ‘taste’ for wool as time passes. Canaani are usually silent, and have a ‘force growl’ or ‘snap’ more than a ‘force bark’ in most dogs.

A Canaan may become bored if repetitive trial course training is the bulk of its work. The dog may quit working entirely if the handler does not vary the routine with useful jobs to perform (as determined by the dog's experience and ability). There is also the possibility that the dog will become creative in order to liven up its time with the livestock. A wise trainer will attempt to mentally challenge a Canaan with positive, varied experiences whenever possible. This does not mean Canaani cannot be used under ‘everyday farm conditions'. Rather, to these dogs as to many other herding breeds, ‘real life herding’ is much more interesting than any trial.

Joan Capaiu Greene / Past CDCA Herding Chair

You may be interested in the CDCA Herding Certification Program.