Close work (1 of 2)

Close work in yards pens and sorting races with a young dog can be difficult, particularly if the area is crowded or small. Learn about sheepdog work in tight spaces.

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Training a dog for close work in yards pens and sorting races

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Video Highlights

Working in yards pens and sorting races

Sheepdog work in tight spaces can be stressful for a trainee dog
Moving a flock of sheep into a confined yard.
Penning sheep is a common task for a sheepdog, but it requires a high level of skill.
How to get sheep into a pen, when using a partly-trained sheepdog.
Reasons why not many people get their sheep into pens, by going into the pen first.
Ideally, man and dog will work as a team to be sure of getting sheep into a yard or pen.
Penning sheep is good training for a dog, but don’t start with a small pen in a big field.
Pens at sheepdog trials are deliberately designed to be difficult.
Sheep can dodge around a pen in a field, but not so easily if it’s tight against a fence – ANIMATION.
For trainee dogs, make difficult tasks easy, then gradually more difficult.
Ways to make penning sheep easier for the trainee dog.
Moving sheep through a gateway, into another field – ANIMATION.
A handler goes through a gateway while the dog brings the sheep along behind – ANIMATION.
A trainee dog bringing sheep through a gateway behind the handler.
We got the sheep into the next field, but how are we going to get them back again?
Showing how sheep might avoid going through a gate – ANIMATION.
Planning how to help the dog to get the sheep through a difficult gateway.
Trainee sheepdog Pip, bringing the sheep towards the gate.
Trainee sheepdog Carew, brings the sheep to the gate.
Two of the sheep are hanging back, but Carew ignores them.
Encouraging Carew to keep her sheep together, and bring them all.
The two difficult sheep are staying back, and Carew would leave them there.
Teaching Carew to ‘Look Back‘, for the missing sheep.

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Much more just than gathering sheep

Part 1: Teaching a dog to bring the sheep to you in the open field, is a good first step in sheepdog training. Your dog’s capable of doing very much more to help you run a flock efficiently though.

Moving sheep around at close quarters, putting them into and bringing them out of tightly packed or restricted yards, pens and sorting races are just a few of the regular jobs a sheep dog or ranch dog needs to do. Taking cattle or sheep to fresh pasture would seem simple enough for the working farm dog, but even that has its difficulties.

We begin to train our dogs for close work in yards and pens by teaching them to move sheep through a gateway into another field and then being them out again. After that, we move on to more difficult tasks. Learn about sheepdog work in tight spaces.

Close Work part 2


17 responses to “Close work (1 of 2)”

  1. Rachelle Bennett avatar
    Rachelle Bennett

    Love all your tutorials I have watched so far. I have an Australian Shepherd, they are a “loose-eyed” dog. Tend to work a lot closer to the sheep. He has a good stand and stay, but he still likes to get too close. His presence really pushes the sheep fast! Faster than my border collie. My border collie can walk right up on their rears and have to nip their heels to get them to move. My Aussie just jogs up and they run for the hills.
    However, in a small pen they sheep are calm with him.
    Trying to teach him to back off, trying the walking backwards, it does take some skill and muscles. We will keep at it! :) Thanks!!!

  2. Saskia Sowers avatar
    Saskia Sowers

    Hi Andy, I have been practicing moving the sheep from one field to another.
    Ian consistently wants to run through and gather them up and bring them back .also wants to rush in behind them in a penning situation. but he did herd them in the small shed, an held them by being still and staring at them while I doctored ones foot. and then “that’ll do ” came away with me. but he seems to fear they are going to escape or something… how can I help him not to rush at them when we are done and the should go?

    1. In an ideal world, you’d have a good enough “stop” on the dog to make it stay back, but it’s expecting a lot. Ian’s only following his instinct, Saskia. As the sheep go through the gate into the new field, the dog fears they’re escaping so it tries to bring them back.

      The secret of successful sheepdog training is to break each new task into smaller stages and teach the dog one stage at a time.

      Watch the “Close Work Tutorials” and you’ll see that if you go through the gate first with the dog bringing the sheep along behind you, the dog won’t run after the sheep because (as the dog sees it) the sheep are still under control.

      The next step is to only go two or three paces through the gate into the new field, and make the dog stay behind the sheep as they go through. Then you can go a stage further and stop next to either gatepost (obviously out of the way of the sheep’s path) and get the dog to bring the sheep through. Stop the dog in the gateway and keep it there as the sheep to drift away. Wait until the sheep are far enough away to give the dog a decent outrun (one it can do easily) and send it to gather them. Dogs love outruns, and soon the dog will learn that if it waits in the gateway, there’s a good chance it’ll be rewarded with an outrun. Assuming this goes well, on the next occasion, try staying back a couple of metres inside the old field, and once again, stopping the dog in the gateway.

      It’s similar with putting the sheep into a pen. Stay close to the entrance until the dog gets the idea…

      1. Saskia Sowers avatar
        Saskia Sowers

        Thanks Andy , will let you know how it goes!

  3. Sounds like a good idea, Patrick – build up his confidence – and limit his driving to just a few yards in front of you until he’s working more freely.

  4. Patrick Schmid avatar
    Patrick Schmid

    I also think it is a confidence probem. I try to give him always good words, like good boy. I think it is, while when he was young must stop him always he was a bulldozer. And i think i give to much pressure on him. I think he must work a lot witout commands only “good boy” and not mutch lie down. And i will try you tips.
    Thank you and best wishes.


  5. Patrick Schmid avatar
    Patrick Schmid

    A really good tutorial. I like that we can see that not all is gone. Some misstakes can happen. Its normal..

    My dog has a lot of eye too. The problem is only when he is driving the sheep. Sometimes he want get up. Always flanking ? is this a good idea? Now i try to always give him a stay command. And let him a lot of driving and give him alwasy commands like good boy …. Or what can i do?

    1. Hello Patrick,
      If your dog sticks when it is driving, and then wants to flank and bring the sheep back to you, that is not “eye”, it’s a lack of confidence when driving. A lot more driving practice is needed – but don’t ask the dog to go too far ahead. Increase the distance very gradually.
      By all means give lots of encouragement, but not, of course when the dog flanks and brings the sheep back towards you.

      1. Patrick Schmid avatar
        Patrick Schmid

        No you missunderstand me. He likes to drive. But somtimes when he stops and lay down. He won’t get up. I give him get up command. But he want get up.
        And i don’t want give him flanking commands. But i think then he always wait of the flanking commands he never get up and drives forward.

        1. Patrick, I don’t understand . . .
          Why do you say he likes driving if he won’t walk up on the sheep?
          How far will he drive the sheep in front of you before he stops?

          1. Patrick Schmid avatar
            Patrick Schmid

            Hi Andy hi can drive 100 meters, no problem. Its not a problem of the distance.
            He drives the sheep I give him a lay down command. And then he will not walk. Then i give him a flanking command and then he walks.
            Is flanking a good idea for correct this.?

          2. You need to work out what the problem is. Is it only when he’s a long distance away, or does he stick like this when he’s closer?

            Either way, it’s a confidence problem, so you need to do whatever it takes to keep him moving freely. Try not to let him actually lie down. Dogs usually move more freely if they stay on their feet.

            Have you tried encouraging him with clapping your hands and ‘Shushing’ or hissing to encourage him?

            If it has to be a flank command to get him to walk up, immediately give the walk up command after the flank command – and try to reduce the flank command over time.

  6. Cathy Hughes avatar
    Cathy Hughes

    Enjoyed this. My Merit is a bit too pushy and I have one heck of a time getting her to maintain distance and a slower gait, especially on close work such as penning. Should I stop actual penning and stick to pushing sheep from one field to the next until she is more comfortable/calm with this before actually penning?

    1. Sounds as though she’s not really ready for penning, Cathy. Lots of practice at bringing the sheep up behind you (as in Give the Sheep Space) first. If she won’t stop, walk through the sheep to get closer and make her stop. When she’ll bring the sheep up steadily and behave herself, then you can start teaching her to pen – but do it gradually.

      1. Cathy Hughes avatar
        Cathy Hughes

        Thanks, Andy. Will do. She is a cheeky little lass, but I suspect I am not always as consistent as I need to be. Will review Give the Sheep Space and practice more. Cheers.

  7. Beth Mitchell avatar
    Beth Mitchell

    Thanks! I have a dog with a lot of eye and she tends to get a bit sticky. I have been having trouble getting her to walk up or even move. I will try the flanking commands to get her to move.

    1. That’s a good idea, Beth. Keep her moving as much as possible. If she stops and won’t start again, walk away if there’s room in the field (right away) so that she’s no longer holding the sheep to you – she should then get up and bring them to you again – so keep walking!

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