The dog’s confidence

Confidence is highly important for a good sheepdog. REVISED & EXTENDED – June 2024

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



Close-up photo of Border Collie Sheepdog Kay controlling a group of sheep

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Video Highlights

Don’t mistake aggression for confidence – they’re different.
Calm and power are signs of a confident dog.
Dogs which lack confidence work erratically.
Sheep and cattle respect a confident dog.
Improve your dog’s confidence while you train it.
Brief summary.

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Confidence is of vital importance

Look closely at your sheepdog’s confidence, because self belief is one of the most important factors in sheepdog training. A good level of confidence enables the dog to work well while low confidence, means the dog won’t work well. It’s that simple!

Unfortunately though, not enough trainers and handlers understand this. All too often, a dog lacking confidence, is condemned as “weak”. That’s regrettable. In nearly all cases, a lack of confidence is fairly easily put right.
Particularly in a young dog.

Understanding factors which affect the dog’s work is extremely important for a successful sheep or cattle dog trainer. Of those factors, the dog’s confidence and self belief are probably the most underestimated. Confidence is of vital importance if a sheepdog is to work efficiently, especially at long distances from the handler, between the stock and a fence, or when faced by stubborn animals.

Sometimes Nice is Not Enough

How Can I Slow the Dog Down?

The Training Ring

Get Off the Fence

Sticky Dogs

Starting a Strong Dog

The Training Stick

Stopping the Dog

The Outrun


19 responses to “The dog’s confidence”

  1. Scott Michael Brennan avatar
    Scott Michael Brennan

    Hello Andy,

    I just rewatched this video and Ive been continuing with my little Collie you’ve seen videos of here in México. Yesterday I had a great session for the first few minutes and she seemed very confident to me ( although rewatching this video I now wonder if I’m mistaken in identifying her confidence). As I was super happy there was one aggressive sheep that I didn’t think to take out of the training ring. Pretty soon my little girl got rolled like three times under the sheep and after that I couldn’t lead her in between the sheep and the fence or get her close to the sheep, she just pulled backwards on the leash and refused. I didn’t force her. Afterwards ( stupidly now I see with your tutorial) let her loose on the larger flock to chase after the sheep in the open field, thinking it would boost her confidence to get close and feel the thrill of chasing. She did all that and I was happy, until I saw this tutorial and saw you mentioned that letting the dog onto the sheep on an open field far away from me brings down her confidence. But, even on the leash she put up a fight and refused, she was super close to me.

    Should I leave her off the sheep for sometime or get back on the horse right away? I can send along the video if that would help, but doing my best to add comments publicly on the most relevant tutorials.

    She is ten months old if that clarifies anything.

    Thanks kindly for your input.



    1. Thanks for the update, Scott – I’m glad you hear you had an improved session – at least, until it went wrong.
      If she was chasing the sheep in the open field, you will almost certainly be able to build her confidence back up. Be sure to encourage her to defend herself – put a command on it.
      When I commented on the dog being a long way from you in the open field, I meant that she’ll be less likely to obey your commands when she’s further away from you. The dog is usually happy enough in the open field because it can do what its instinct tells it (without interference from the handler). But if you manage to get her under some control (at a distance) she won’t be as bold about obeying your commands if the sheep don’t co-operate.
      Anyway, please let me know how you progress – and send another video if you want to. I want to see YOU a lot more relaxed though! She’s a nice dog.

  2. Barney avatar

    Hi Andy. You have been highly recommended. For me to check your videos out. I have
    Two-year-old Border Collie in training She knows all her commands well Just can’t seem to get her tail down. Seems like she’s not really working just playing But happy to take direction how do I get to work in for me? thanks,

    1. Wow! How long’s a piece of string?
      I can’t really help you without some details to work with, Barney. How long has the dog been working? What’s she doing (right)? When does the tail come up? When you say she knows her commands, do you mean she’ll go round the stock in either direction?
      If she’s only bouncing around with her tail up, and not really committed to working the sheep (I assume you’re working sheep with her) you probably need to give her more time working on them, and hopefully she’ll begin to take it more seriously.
      You don’t appear to be signed-up to watch the tutorials but I think they would help you a lot. If you decide to join us, watch the videos in the order they appear on the Welcome page, where you’re taken to when you sign-up. The early videos will give you a much better idea of how it all works, and what to expect once the dog takes an interest in actually working (rather than playing as you describe).
      There’s an example of a dog playing, rather than working, in Starting a Non-Starter part 2.

  3. Martin otoole avatar
    Martin otoole

    Hi Andy my sheepdog works well on she is doing OK most of the time with cattle but if I put two much pressure on him with a cow that is hard to move he will leave the field and head how any suggestions to solve this kind regards Martin otoole

    1. You’re trying to progress too quickly. Watch “Sometimes Nice is Not Enough” to learn how to build the dog’s confidence. Instead of putting too much pressure on the dog, get in there alongside him and help him to shift the cow, then once he’s more confident, GRADUALLY let him take more responsibility, but still be close enough to help him if he needs it.

  4. Bridget Sayers avatar
    Bridget Sayers

    Hi Andy just wondering if you can help me my dog swings back and forth when bringing the sheep back to me is there any way to get him to walk directly onto the sheep instead his mother was the same. He a brilliant dog and does everything I ask of him just feel that when I’m trialing with him he can move back and forth behind the sheep but there slow to move for him any advice appreciated thanks your tutorials are invaluable

    1. Walking backwardswalking backwardswalking backwardswalking backwards!
      A dog which “wears” back and forth behind the sheep can be very useful for farm work. It keeps the sheep together and makes sure they all come as a group, but for trials, the dog should be calmly on the point of balance (not necessarily directly behind them). Watch the tutorial Balance, what’s the point? for more on this.
      Most important though – watch Backwards is the way forward to find out how to get the dog to stop wearing, and follow the sheep in a straighter line. It’s worth encouraging the dog to wear back and forth when it needs to though. It won’t bring a whole flock if it just pushes in the middle.
      Lastly, you say the the sheep are slow to move for the dog. This sounds like a lack of confidence on the dog’s part. Have a look at Sometimes nice is not enough to find out how to encourage your dog to get those sheep moving!
      (You need to. be logged-into a full account for the links to work).

  5. Judith Hofs avatar
    Judith Hofs

    Hi Andy, thanks you for your video’s, the really help me.

    On this video I noticed at 1.32 the dog nipping at the nose of the sheep, not biting. I’ve seen this before. Is this something one can train a dog to do? If so could you make a video on that?


    1. Thanks for the feedback, Judith, it’s so important for us to know whether the videos are helpful or not.

      I’m pleased to say we already have a video on training the dog to be more assertive with sheep or cattle. It’s called “Sometimes Nice is Not Enough”. I’ve added a link to it in the “Watch Next” suggestions.

  6. Nicholas da Costa avatar
    Nicholas da Costa

    Hello Andy
    You may remember I once called you from the french Alps where I was working this summer as a shepherd and was (am) worried with my young male (12 months. He was 9 months when he was introduced to the flock) border collie that seems to lack in confidence with sheep. I have now come back down the mountains and have had access to internet so i have subscribed to your online tutorials. Please let me give you a description of the context in which the dog was in the mountains and of his behaviour at work. He had had very little contact with sheep beforehand until he suddenly had to deal with 1000 sheep in the mountains with very steep terrain and often very short visibility as the flock was often grazing in the forest. He also had an inexperienced handler (myself) and was working along with a very dominant male border collie who bit him a few times, as well as other very large and intimidating ‘mountain of pyrenees’ and ‘anatolian shepherd’ protection dogs. so all this was not a good way to start. nevertheless these were the conditions i had. I also had no chance to train him with a small amount of sheep as you show in your tutorials and had no way to to it in a fenced enclosure as all i had to fence were flexible netting i used to fence the whole flock at night to keep them safe from wolves and other predators, and when i tried to keep 4 or 6 sheep in this type of fencing away from the rest of the flock they would immediately jump over the flexi fence and run away to rejoin the flock especially when the dog would come in the fence. so it was all open field work. Now a description of his behaviour: He is very interested in sheep and really constantly wants to go and work with them, there is no doubt about that. When I do send him to the sheep, he would certainly go (in a very tight way, but that is another type of problem that you address in your tutorials about flanking) but usually with his tail up which shows lack of confidence and he would only go and flank at a very short distance (approx 20/30 m max) and then would always stop and look back at me as if he is waiting for me to tell him what to do next or as if he didn’t know what to do next) It surprised me as he always had the example of the other fully trained border collie who worked beautifully and at very long distances. My dog would always stop look at me and come back to me. Also when i would tell him to lie down he would always be looking at me and not the sheep, waiting for me to tell him what to do next. Now that I am back to Portugal where I live I will try to find some sheep and fence to train him following your tutorials, but I wonder if you think this lack of confidence is possible to change or if you think it is too late at this stage to correct. Also if you would have any tips to help the dog build his confidence. Probably reducing the amount of sheep from 1000 to 4 could help :) Hope it’s not too late for my dog as i will be herding 1800 sheep next summer…. Many thanks for your help Andy and congratulations for your wonderful work.


    1. I do remember you, of course, Nicholas, but I must say I don’t understand what you are trying to do. Why are you trying to control large flocks of sheep with a completely untrained dog?

      Of course it’s not too late to train the dog. At 12 months, he’s only a baby (some shepherds don’t start training their dogs until they’re around two years old) but please try to train the dog to control small groups of sheep in a confident manner before you “throw him in at the deep end” again.
      Once the dog will control the sheep properly, watch “Sometimes Nice is not Enough” to build his confidence.
      When the dog watches you, rather than the sheep, it shows a lack of confidence (or worse, a lack of interest). If you cannot stop the dog watching you instead of the sheep, try teaching him to drive. If the dog is driving the sheep away, he cannot watch you as he’s facing the other way.

      1. Stephen Burton avatar
        Stephen Burton

        Hi Andy
        Why is it my dog is great working close and upto about 40m if I ask her to drive the sheep away then ask her to flank, she follows them…is this a confidence issue?

        1. It’s unusual Stephen. Usually the further away the dog gets, the more keen it is to flank round the sheep and bring them back to the handler, but I’m sure it’s a simple confidence issue. The closer the dog is to the handler, the more control the handler has over the dog.
          It’s easily enough to remedy though.
          Watch all three Driving Tutorials, and reduce the distance the dog works ahead of you, then gradually allow her to drive the sheep a little further away, but reduce the distance again if she doesn’t respond to flank commands. As her confidence increases, she’ll be able to work further ahead of you.

    2. Stephen Burton avatar
      Stephen Burton

      hi.. My dog stops and looks back on out-runs… What can I do to remedy this? She will be 2 years old in January

      1. You don’t provide any background information, but stopping and looking back on its outrun (or at almost any other time while it’s working) is a sign that the dog is lacking confidence. Usually this is because the handler is sending the dog too far, too soon, but it can also happen if the dog doesn’t want to go to the sheep – perhaps if they are aggressive, or the dog had a bad experience with those sheep in a similar situation recently.
        Whatever the case, the closer the handler is to the dog during training, the more confidence the dog will have, so it makes sense to shorten the outruns. As the dog’s confidence grows, increase the distance very gradually.
        I suggest you watch The Outrun tutorials as well as The Dog’s Confidence.

        To avoid the risk of misinterpretation, we don’t use text-speak on this website, so I have edited your question.

  7. Brian Sheppard avatar
    Brian Sheppard

    Hi Andy
    Thank you for your input, I will continue to work with him. He is much better now than he used to be, but obviously want it to improve.

    Many thanks for your advice.


  8. Brian Sheppard avatar
    Brian Sheppard

    I have a smooth haired BC that is 4 years old. He is a pet and not a working dog, although we have had him from being 10 weeks from a working farm. After watching your dogs training, I can see a massive resemblance in how he runs, moves and stalks things. From being a pup I feel that he has been a very twitchy dog and will lunge at bikes if to close, lunge at playing kids etc, this is worse when on a lead. Don’t get me wrong his confidence has improved a lot as he has got older and he runs off lead on the fields no problem and always comes straight back when called. So after that long winded description of our dog, my question is could you advise the best way to build his confidence even more and reduce the chance of these lunges?

    BTW – even though we don’t work sheep, I do enjoy watching your vids and feel it will give me a better insight into the BC.

    Hope to hear from you.


    1. Firstly please accept my apologies for the late reply. (It’s good to know you like the sheepdog training tutorials).

      You have asked for my advice on what it primarily a dog behaviour problem. I am not a qualified canine behaviourist, but as you have asked, I will give you the benefit of my experience with training sheepdogs. Please read what I have to say very carefully, and do your own assessment of the risks involved. If you follow my advice, it is on the understanding that you undertake it entirely at your own risk and we will not be held responsible for any consequences whatsoever.

      A dog which lunges at cars, children, cyclists etc can be a real problem if it’s not trained to ignore them. The essential thing to remember is that dog’s react to things they get some response from. For instance, the postman comes up the path to the house, the dog barks – and the postman goes away. So the dog learns that if it barks, the unwanted visitor goes away.

      Similarly with cars cyclists and even children. The dog learns that if it lunges at them, something exciting happens.

      You need to get the dog under firm control, and familiarise it with the things it chases until they are no longer novelties and the dog learns that they are not a threat – and nothing exciting is going to happen when one come near.

      We often get emails from people who’ve bought a puppy and are pleased to tell me that they intend to bring it to one of our sheepdog training classes, but until the dog is old enough for training, they are walking it around the sheep every day on a lead – just to familiarise the pup with sheep.

      Since I learned what the result of this will be, I write back and point out that they are doing exactly the wrong thing because purely by holding back a dog which is keen to chase something, you are telling that dog you don’t want it to chase, and very soon the dog will lose interest. I know this happens because people who have done it have later brought the young dog to our training classes and the dog’s are invariably uninterested in sheep. When I question the owner, it’s surprising how often I hear this story.

      The same is true for car chasing etc, but if you use this method to train your dog you must be EXTREMELY CAREFUL. It’s one thing walking a dog around your own sheep and then perhaps the dog slipping its collar and chasing them, but if your dog should get away from you near a road and cause an accident, it would be a very serious matter, so only train your dog this way if you are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN YOU CAN CONTROL THE DOG.

      Start by training the dog to walk properly on a lead – well away from any roads, perhaps with the dog in a park or preferably in a deserted field. The dog should walk with the lead slack at least ninety percent of the time. If the dog is pulling, it’s trying to control you and instead of learning to behave properly, it’s learning that it can control you.

      Once the dog walks perfectly on the lead, introduce people and other dogs – preferably arrange for a friend to bring their dog along the path from the other direction, or maybe cycle past but not too close. Remember the dog might lunge suddenly so assess the situation very carefully and gradually – very gradually, get closer to whatever excites the dog. If the reaction is in the slightest bit worrying, move well away from the danger area and go back to basics.

      Remember: If the lead’s not slack at any time, the dog is trying to take control and will NOT learn what you want it to learn until you first train the dog to walk on a slack lead.

      Good luck with training your dog. It will be well worth the effort if you do it properly.

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