Back to forwards

Improve control of your working sheepdog once you and the dog have mastered “Backwards is the Way Forward“.

Subtitles: French*, Spanish* or English, click CC on viewer (*translation errors).



Back to forwards is a great lesson to improve control of your dog

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Video Highlights

Improve control of your working sheepdog

The natural next step in sheepdog training once it perfects ‘Walking Backwards‘.
‘Walking Backwards’ teaches self-discipline, flanking, working distance, sheep control, pace and more.
When your dog can bring the sheep steadily, turn around and go ‘back to forwards’!
An example of a trainee herding dog working too close and erratically.
The dog lunges at the sheep when your back is turned.
Two days later the dog’s flanks are noticeably wider.
Testing the dog’s trustworthiness when you turn your back on it.
Dogs love silly voices because they reassure the dog that all is well.
Allowing the dog to work on trust, will often be respected by the dog.

Controlling sheep without a dog

Moving placid sheep without a dog.
Watch a trainee dog bringing the same bunch of sheep up the field.
ANIMATION: Showing why the sheepdog being too close, causes the sheep to separate.
Make it ‘uncomfortable’ for the dog to come in close when it’s flanking sheep.
Keep your eyes fixed on the dog as it flanks round sheep, to avoid going ‘dizzy‘.
Keep the dog moving to reduce its ‘stickyness‘, and keep ‘pushing’ it out wider.
Over-aggressive use of the training stick upsets the sensitive dog.
An ideal opportunity to start ‘walking backwards‘.
Testing whether the trainee dog’s ready for walking forwards.
Keeping the dog in place while you take the sheep away for an outrun.
Walking towards the dog will usually make it stay in place.
Setting-up the outrun.
‘Back to forwards’ again!
Raising both arms to make the dog stay in place.
Setting-up another outrun.
Trainee sheepdog Kay demonstrates a good outrun.
Kay demonstrates a great example of the ‘walking forwards’ exercise.
An excellent example of a short ‘look back‘!
Walking backwards, then forwards like this, creates a solid foundation for farm work.

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A matter of trust

Walking backwards, with the dog steadily bringing the sheep up to you at the pace you choose to move back at, is one of the best exercises we know. It’s a particularly useful lesson for trainee dogs. That’s because it will improve the dog’s stop, its control of sheep, its working pace and the distance that the dog works from the sheep. In this tutorial, we go a stage further by turning our back on the dog and walking forwards.

Once you can trust the dog to bring the sheep steadily up behind you as you walk forwards, your training will have moved onto a new level. Watch ‘Backwards is the way forward‘ it’s such a good training session, it’s worth watching several times.

Sticky Dogs.


15 responses to “Back to forwards”

  1. Deborah Hoggar avatar
    Deborah Hoggar

    Nell is 18 months and I’m a beginner. She’s great, loves to work and understands the basic commands. She tends more to ‘sticky’. We have limited space, our biggest paddock is 7acres and a small flock. I’m finding that I shout a lot compared to your videos !
    I feel as if it’s necessary in order to get her to respond but should I consciously stop and change my voice or will she just need less voice as she gains knowledge and experience?
    Thank you

    1. It sounds as though you might be working the dog too far away from you, Deborah. The closer you are to the dog, the more control you have over it, so it’s best to work the dog close to you initially, then as the dog improves, increase the distance.
      Of course, that’s not always possible when you rely on the dog to handle the sheep for you, but if you’re prepared to get that bit closer before you send the dog off, it will help a lot.
      If the dog’s not listening when you’re close to it though, you need to go back to basics with it. Get it into a training ring or small paddock, and MAKE it lie down when you tell it.
      I have a dog called Portia, who’s got huge potential, but she would only stop quickly if I yelled at her. I spent some time with her back in the training ring, and instead of shouting, I sort of shouted quietly (stifling the shout). That has helped a lot, and might be worth trying.
      There are loads of things you can try – and I intend to do an FAQ about it soon, so look out for that on the website.

  2. Nancy Barrows avatar
    Nancy Barrows

    This has been a complete game changer for us. I was really struggling with how to slow my dog down and get her to give the sheep more space and was getting really frustrated. It’s done wonders for our working relationship. We’re beginning to trust each other. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Nancy – it’s great to know the training has helped you and your dog!

  3. Catherine Galbraith avatar
    Catherine Galbraith

    Hi Andy, I’m a bit puzzled about the lie down command. Is it meant to get the dog to stop and just stand still, or that the dog should lie on the ground …… or both?!! Thanks

    1. Well, it’s a bit of a miss-mash really, Catherine!
      Watch the Stopping the Dog (Part 2) for a (sort of) proper explanation.

  4. Brooke Scofield avatar
    Brooke Scofield

    This is so exciting. I can’t wait for my dog to be the beautiful herder I know she can be, as beautiful as your videos.

  5. Darci Wagner avatar
    Darci Wagner

    Hi – So we are to the point where we are walking backwards. My dog has a tendency to flank back and forth pretty wide and when we ask for a lie down the dog has a tendency to run circles or wants to “come by” as that is what she seems to be comfortable with. Should we keep trying to work her and ask her for the ‘lie down” to keep her back or is there a step we should revert to?

      1. Before you begin walking backwards, you must be able to control the dog around the sheep and get it to stop.
      2. If the dog’s flanking too wide, you need to call it in as it’s going round.
      3. If the dog strongly favours one side over the other, work the dog more on the poorer side when possible, but remember to use the dog’s best side when the task is likely to be difficult.
  6. Great tutorial – I learnt a lot from it!

  7. Saskia Sowers avatar
    Saskia Sowers

    Hi Andy , I had an unfortunate situation happen. We were trying to get a ewe into a trailer to take her off. She was in a smaller pen . we trying to hem her in to catch her . Ian came to help . I didn’t use him on this ewe as she is aggressive and flighty all at once. But there he was . so to keep things calm I tried to get him to “liedown” (standing). He obeyed . But he was very close to her. she ran him over and stomped him as she ran off . He got up and continued after her at this point, not listening . she turned ran him down and stomped him again . I’m trying to defuse the situation , but he’s now determined . and so is she. He did end up stopping her in a corner long enough for me to get my hands on her. I got a rope on her and had my sister quietly get Ian . I told him what a good boy he was ( he did pen her and hold her..) and ” that’ll do, ” on his way out .
    Our next lesson. I could tell his confidence had been rocked. he was very fast . coming straight in , instead of flanking all the way ,and very tense. we have been working with 4 sheep my well dogged matriarch had 2 lambs and is in the nursery . so they are not as placid as before . but not flighty either . he not gripping . just runs more straight at them and splitting them . he will stop and wait for them to get back together , not chase them every where . but I am trying to build his confidence , slow him down and get him out wider. I am afraid of getting him institutionalized by repetitive work but I cant trust him in the bigger field either now ? How can I help him? Thank you Saskia

    1. I’m sure he’ll be OK, Saskia. Go back to basics with him – Walking Backwards etc.
      Have you watched Sometimes Nice is Not Enough? If you have, watch it again! I’m sure it’ll help a lot!
      If you confront that sheep again, make sure you’re really close to Ian so you can help him (but take care not to get hurt). That ewe sounds nasty!
      You’re not institutionalising Ian if you’re trying to get good control of him – you’re training him. Break up the training when you can, of course, but he must widen out. Walking Backwards is the best exercise – if you can get the sheep under control in the big field, it will teach him to KEEP them under control – and work further back.

      1. Saskia Sowers avatar
        Saskia Sowers

        Thank you ! That particular ewe has went to market lol . she has been very nasty since day one . which ever herd I put her in they start acting like her too. not worth it. I must give Ian credit though , he may have taken several beatings but he never backed down . The bad part was, I was very close but every thing happened so fast . I have watched , Nice is not enough, and will watch it again . Ian does have a ” get tough button” if I make a certain sound, as you taught in that tutorial , he will lunge so they move. but not too much . I will watch the Backwards is the way forward again. My biggest issue is I don’t have a big training field, the field I am training in is about an acre an then I bring them in the yard also about an acre and a 1/2. the field next to that is about 3 acres but is very hilly. To break things up I sometimes try him on the 5 wethered rams that are in that field, they are not dogged and I cant quite tell if he’s ready for that .Asking to much of a pup ? Or is it a good challenge? Sometimes he listens well , but if he splits them, he doesn’t listen all that well . the biggest problem is my inexperience. I cant keep up in that field as I can in the smaller flatter field. well I’ll go back to walking backwards and try not to micromanage the poor guy. although I watched the tutorial several times, I just picked up your comment when you said : ” She moved them around me without being told . That’s good”. idk lol I’m trying . Thank you very much for taking the time to answer :D

  8. Louise Roy avatar
    Louise Roy

    Thank you – very helpful tutorial.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Louise. It’s very important to us.

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