Healing Herbs For Herding Dogs

Healing Herbs For Herding Dogs

By Judith Toth Bigham, Ohio

Although herding is first and foremost an agricultural enterprise it has in recent years “morphed” into a competitive sport that attracts enthusiasts from all walks of life. Even confirmed “urbanites” who will never have livestock to herd are eager to give their herding-breed companion the opportunity to do what he/she was bred to do… herd livestock.

Herding is a complex activity involving the instinct based relationship between a prey species (livestock) and two predator species (dog and human). Learning to calmly, confidently and efficiently control and move livestock of both physically and psychologically demanding, on the dog as well as the handler.

Because herding dogs are essentially canine athletes, they, like their human counterparts, are vulnerable to similar performance-related stresses and injuries. The timely administration of the appropriate healing herbs can help these canine athletes recover from minor performance-related injuries, which do not require immediate veterinary care. Such injuries would include insect bites (bee stings), abraded footpads, and superficial wounds and lacerations. Psychological fatigue (the dog working to point of “mental shutdown”), as well as stress caused by lack of confidence or “performance anxiety,” are additional performance-related issues that could be helped by herbal remedies. During summertime training sessions or herding trial competitions, it is not unusual for a dog to be stung by a bee while herding livestock. If the ground is especially dry and hard due to lack of rainfall, torn or abraded footpads are possible. Rarely, a recalcitrant sheep might “ram” an inattentive dog, causing a minor soft-tissue injury, and possibly a stress (fear or anxiety) reaction, too.

Wintertime herding contains plenty of hazards. The accumulation of snow between the hairy pads of the feet creates hard, little “snowballs,” which can lead to lameness resulting from soft-tissue injury (bruising) to the pads themselves. A slip or fall on ice can result in a soft-tissue injury (bruising or strained muscles) to a shoulder or hip. Sharp ice or frozen stones protruding through the snow can cause lacerations on the footpads. Nevertheless, any one of these performance-related injuries could be ameliorated by the timely administration of the appropriate herbal remedy (i.e., arnica for the pain resulting from a soft-tissue injury; Bach Rescue Remedy for Pets to relive stress and anxiety; yarrow to stop bleeding).

Plants are a powerful and valuable gift of nature. Herbal medicine is an ancient healing tradition, which has been used safely and successfully throughout the ages to treat illness and injury in both beast and humankind. In addition to their healing properties, some plants can be highly nutritious and can act as “tonics” to strengthen the systems of the body. The following herbs can be considered beneficial adjuncts to a herding dog’s health and wellness program:

• Alfalfa (powder or capsules) is rich in vitamins and minerals.

• Dandelion (fresh leaves, stems and blossoms; powder or capsules) is a digestive tonic and blood cleanser.

• Kelp and microalgae (powder or capsules) are rich in vitamins and minerals, especially trace minerals.

• Nettle (powder or capsules) contains protein and an impressive array of vitamins and minerals.

• Slippery elm (powder or capsules) is a digestive tonic, rich in vitamins and minerals.

A convenient and effective way to incorporate these nutritious, tonic herbs into the diet of a hardworking herding dog would be to blend together equal parts of each herb and mix a tablespoon of the blend into the dog’s food once a day. Administering the herbs in capsule form could be more costly,] time-consuming and challenging, especially if the dog is reluctant to accept and swallow the capsules.

The sport of herding continues to grow in popularity and attracts new enthusiasts. Many of these owners and handlers, eager to keep their canine companions healthy and happy for as long as possible, seek alternative and complementary healing and wellness services for their dogs, including acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, bodywork/massage and hydrotherapy in addition to using the services of a holistic veterinarian for routine canine care.

The judicious administration of healing herbs and herbal remedies to treat minor performance-related injuries, as well as incorporating nutritive, tonic herbs into the dog’s diet to support strength and health, supports and enhances the efforts of the herding dog owners to keep his canine athlete in peak-performance condition, both psychologically and physically, enabling the dog to continue doing what they are instinctively “hard-wired” to do— calmly, confidently and efficiently control and move livestock.



Based on my more than 20 years of experience as a stockdog trainer and herding events judge, insect bites (bee stings, in particular) and psychological stress are the “injuries” most frequently suffered by herding dogs. As a master herbalist specializing in holistic healthcare for herding dogs, I have found the following plant-based (herbal) remedies to be of value in the treatment of minor performance-related injuries:

Arnica (homeopathic “pellets”): relieves pain, especially pain resulting from soft-tissue injuries;

Calendula (topical cream): stimulates wound healing;

Ginger (capsules): relieves nausea;

Milk thistle (capsules): reverses liver damage caused by poisoning (i.e., the dog found and ate something “questionable”);

Slippery elm (capsules): eases diarrhea;

Valerian (capsules): relieves nervousness and anxiety; and

Yarrow (powder): stops bleeding.

In addition to the herbs mentioned above, the herding dog handler could add the following to the herbal first-aid kit:

• An essential oil-based insect repellant (spray) to deter biting insects;

• Bach Rescue Remedy for Pets (a flower essence blend— administer four drops, orally) to relieve stress or anxiety (it is especially effective for “sound sensitivity,” thunder, fireworks, gunshots); and

• An essential oil-based “wound wash” to cleanse minor lacerations and wounds (i.e. abraded footpads) prior to administering the herbal remedy. Do not use as eyewash! — Judith Toth Bigham

Sources: Clayton College of Natural Health, May 2010; Holistic Care for Companion Animals certificate, Clayton College of Natural Health, December 2010

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