Sometimes nice is not enough

Does your dog need more confidence when working difficult sheep or other livestock?


Photo of a sheep chasing a dog away

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How you can improve your dog’s confidence, when working difficult stock.
Over-strict training, can damage your dog’s confidence.
You can see the dog in question, in the “Eve At The Pen” tutorial.
Don’t take away your dog’s right to defend itself.
Watch a dog showing courage when close to stubborn sheep.
Watch a ewe (with a lamb) chasing a dog away.
Ewes protecting their lambs can be particularly troublesome for dogs.
A dog struggling to bring a flock of sheep across a field.
Without help, it took the dog nine minutes to move the sheep about 150m.
Working quickly, can help to move stubborn sheep.
Watch the “Sheepdog Whistle” tutorials.
If the dog’s too far back, it can lose its authority over the sheep.
If you want to work two dogs at once, train them on different commands.
Alternatively, give the dog’s name before the command. (It’s not as good though).
Sheep don’t like fast-moving dogs, so if the dog moves quickly, the sheep will, too!
Once a stubborn flock is moving, keep it going by flanking the dog. (Wearing).
Be aware which is your most confident dog.
Watch a confident dog moving stubborn ewes, and cattle.
Now watch a less-confident dog, ignore a ewe which she knows is aggressive.
The same ewe, respects the more confident dog.
Building the confidence of your dog, is an important part of its training.
Correct dogs which are too aggressive, and encourage the less confident ones.
Encouraging the dog to protect itself, if it’s under threat of attack.
Once your dog knows it’s allowed to defend itself, it’s confidence will grow.
Set situations up so that the dog always wins (not the stock).
Both the dog and the sheep need protection, and it’s up to us to provide it.

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If you have a training question or comment, leave it below.

Needing a bit more grrrr!

It’s all very well training your dog to keep back from the sheep and not upset them, but what can you do if the sheep refuse to go where the dog’s trying to put them? For the welfare of the sheep, they simply must be handled, treated for any ailments and managed, so we need to teach the dog to get tough when the time arises.

Find out how Carew’s confidence when working difficult stock, grew immensely once she learned to be more assertive. As well as difficult sheep, Carew can now handle stubborn cattle with relative ease.

Tess In The Open Field | (top ⇧)


39 responses to “Sometimes nice is not enough”

  1. Ariel Greenwood avatar
    Ariel Greenwood

    Hi Andy, great video. I watched this and your video about sticky eyed dogs and have a question. I have a 3 year old border collie I use regularly for moving cattle. She has been a really useful dog from about a year old, and I have used her in a range of contexts, often moving hundreds or more animals at once, and I’d say she’s still getting better all the time, but I’ve noticed some trouble spots lately.

    Sometimes she accidentally splits one off or there is an animal away from the others, and then ends up in between me and the animal, often at a great distance. Every time the animal takes a few steps, she will too, such that she is keeping pace with their shoulder. I’d say she has improved in this but she isn’t learning how to solve this as quickly as we’ve gotten thru other tricky spots. She is the kind of dog I can say “get ahead” and she’ll fearlessly run and stop/turn large groups of cattle, so I almost think she is drawn to try to turn the animal from the nose (tho she rarely actually bites them) and is thus getting stuck at the front but from the wrong side relative to me.

    Sometimes I ask her to down so that the animal can get around her as they usually want to come to the herd, then I let her bring them and praise her. But I am concerned that my interfering may be making it worse by causing her to doubt herself. I’m usually horseback and sometimes ride over, but at that point I am away from the herd I need the animal(s) to join, so sometimes I wonder if I’ve created more confusion and should have let her solve it herself. On a related note, she also tends to solve the issue of a stuck bunch of cattle by circling them (ie, between me and them) a few times to get them moving, instead of staying behind them. This has been an issue lately with weaned calves who not only aren’t yet “dog broke” and curious.

    I suspect these 2 issues are closely related to some training fundamentals I need to revisit with a few calves inside a pen, but I don’t entirely know what they are. I watched your video about sticky eyed dogs and think your suggestions can help me a lot, but feel I still need help with this issue of her being “off sides.” Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Ariel Greenwood avatar
      Ariel Greenwood

      I should say, I’ve watched a bunch of your other videos too and find them all helpful, but am nervous about trying to solve this with my dog and have it set her back further without some more guidance.

    2. From your description, it’s a little difficult for me to get the exact picture, so please correct me if I’m wrong.

      My understanding is that the dog works really well most of the time (often moving hundreds of animals) but when one or a small bunch of animals get isolated from the herd, rather than going to get it and reuniting it with the herd, she tends to put herself between you and the animal, and even prevents it from going back to the herd (unless you tell her to lie down).

      First, I should point out that she doesn’t “accidentally” split one away from the others… When you get time, please watch several of the early tutorials in the order they appear on the Library page. That will give you a far better understanding of what’s going on with your dog – and the cattle. I know they’re predominantly about sheep, but even so, the basics are all the same.

      The dog is using its HUNTING instinct when it works cattle, sheep or any other stock. In its primitive form, that instinct tells the dog to hunt down the prey, single one out (not accidentally) and hold it in place for the pack leader (you) to move in, and kill. We modify that instinct to suit our own needs, and fortunately dogs are highly trainable, and they fall in with our needs.

      So in the scenario you describe, the dog sees an opportunity to select an animal (or small bunch) and is holding it/them for your approval/selection.

      You mentioned large distances – and that’s a big part of the problem. At some stage, you have moved-on too quickly with the dog, and although it’s not a problem most of the time, occasionally something that was perhaps, skipped-over, becomes a problem. Keeping the stock TOGETHER at all times (except when commanded to separate them).

      The proper way to fix this issue is to go back to basic training, and drum it into the dog that she MUST keep the stock together. Personally, I would probably try to get round it in the field though. When the dog is holding an animal or animals fairly close to you, I suggest you TRY calling her back towards you, and as she gets nearer, send her back on an outrun, to deal with the isolated animals. If she’s too far away, this won’t work, so while the dog’s on her way back to you, get yourself closer to the action.

      The closer you are to the dog, the more control you have over it (and the more confidence the dog has). As I said earlier, your problem is that you’ve moved-on too quickly.

      I really think you should watch at least half a dozen or so of the first videos, to get a better handle on things, but well done for getting to where you are! (I want to come and watch you working your dog on horseback)!

      PLEASE be sure to let me know if I’ve mis-understood the problem in any way – and it would be great to hear how you get on with solving the problem.

      1. Ariel Greenwood avatar
        Ariel Greenwood

        Thank you Andy. Yes, you understand my problem well. I appreciate the advice very much. I’ll watch the videos you mentioned and observe your suggestions and let you know how it goes in a few weeks!

  2. Arye Ehrenberg avatar
    Arye Ehrenberg

    Hello Andy. great & helpful tutorial.
    How can I apply this in training or farm work, and avoid being disqualified in the trials, as the dog might bite a sheep?

    1. You only use the training methods in this tutorial if the dog is lacking confidence, but even with normal training, it’s up to the handler to correct the dog if it’s too aggressive. That way, the dog will learn that it must not bite the sheep unless it really needs to.

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