How to slow a sheepdog down

How to slow a sheepdog down. Ways to calm your trainee herding dog, and make it work more steadily.

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Video Highlights

Super-cool!

The consistent use of patience, confidence, and quiet authority will then result in a calmer dog.
Get the dog going around the sheep first, and worry about other training details later!
Pack behaviour and hunting instinct.
There’s no ‘quick-fix’ to slow a dog down.
Novelty or excitement excite the dog, so try to be calm at all times.
Repetitive sounds excite the dog, so it makes sense to avoid them if you want to slow it down.
Rapid movement of sheep excites the dog, so avoid these too.
Restrict the size of the training area because that way you’ll have more control, and hopefully be calmer.
Fear, or lack of confidence excites the dog, so it’s wise to avoid situations where the dog works close to the sheep, such as in tight-corners or pens.
Situations posing actual danger of injury.
Which is the best tutorial for slowing the dog down?

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Slow that sheepdog down!

How to slow a sheepdog down and get it to work more steadily is a frequent sheep dog training question. There’s no “quick fix” for getting a keen dog to work at a steadier pace. The number of things which speed it up is surprising!

Young dogs are excited when first introduced to sheep, cattle or other livestock, because it’s part of their natural instinct. Excitement shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, because dogs which are not motivated by the close presence of livestock and don’t have this ‘working instinct‘, cannot be trained to work them successfully. Treated correctly our excited dog will be more relaxed, and this will result in the standard of the dog’s work improving dramatically.

Many of the factors which speed the trainee dog up are caused by the trainer, and unfortunately the trainer is usually completely unaware that the problem lies with them.

This video tutorial takes an in-depth look at the reasons why herding dogs often work very fast, and suggests ways of slowing a sheepdog down. You’re well on the way to getting your dog trained to herd livestock, once you can get it to calm down, so it’s well worth the effort. The stock will be more relaxed and work better for a dog which appears calm and under control, than one which is excited and erratic.

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Comments

10 responses to “How to slow a sheepdog down”

  1. Barbara Mazur avatar
    Barbara Mazur

    Hi Andy,

    I had subscribed to TWS a while back with another dog.
    I’m back now with a new dog. He’s a 2yr old English Shepherd, Czarek, and we’ve been training about twice a week for about a year, a little less.
    Right now where we train we’re in the round pen. The ranch doesn’t have enough dogged sheep to put in the bigger pen.
    Czarek is very keen, has natural talent, is very fast. I have mobility issues so I can’t move super fast.

    I was wondering if you had any suggestions on how to teach him “steady”. I’ve watched your videos and I compare him to Max the Gripper. When he gets tighter, he pulls wool. When I am working with sheep that aren’t super clingy, I can move around better and he’ll wear behind them. When working like that, he doesn’t grip.

    Is there anything that I can do outside of the pen to teach him to steady his pace? He does have a stop and a That’ll Do.

    Thx, Barb

    1. With a fast dog and mobility issues I can see your difficulty, but being able to stop the dog and call it away from the sheep is a big help. I hope you have watched “How Can I Slow The Dog Down“? Even if you have, it would be worth watching it again.

      I wonder how big the training ring is – and how many sheep are in there? The training ring should be about 16m (17 yds) across. Any bigger means you won’t be able to keep close to the action (for better control) and if the ring’s smaller, the dog will feel restricted and is likely to be more aggressive with the sheep.

      Three of four sheep is the ideal number in the early stages of training. If there are more sheep, it can make it harder for the handler (you) to move around. You mention that the ranch doesn’t have enough dogged sheep for the bigger pen… If they have just one or two, it will help to calm the others, because they will see that the dogged sheep is/are calm.

      Just because a pen is bigger, doesn’t mean you need more sheep to train on. Use the dogged sheep all the time at the moment if you can. The more flighty the sheep are, the more excited the dog will be.

      As you’ll see from the video on slowing the dog down, CALM is vital. If you raise your voice, or rapidly repeat commands, that will “wind the dog up”.

      Coming back to the point you made about being able to stop the dog and call him away. Stop the dog, and keep him in place while you position yourself between him and the sheep. Then, send him off. If he’s going too fast, STOP him immediately and make him wait while you get in place between him and the sheep again. Then repeat the process. If he’s too fast, stop him very quickly and keep him there for several seconds before trying again. Soon he’ll be confused about why you keep stopping him, and the next time you send him, he’ll go more slowly. Now is the time to praise him GENTLY if you can, but if that speeds him up, don’t praise him the next few times.
      By repeatedly stopping the dog, he will eventually realise he must be more steady.
      Please let me know how you get on!

      1. Barbara Mazur avatar
        Barbara Mazur

        Thanks for the great advice RE stopping him if he goes too fast, then trying again.
        We actually had lessons today and I was ready to cry. When an experienced handler comes in to help, he gives them a wide berth and doesn’t really want to work for them. I stay in the pen and that seems to help him work.

        I tried a couple of things today that had positive results. First, my till let you trainer told me to lie him down, walk over to the sheep and then turn around and look at him, without giving a command. This is because he has been anticipating a command, and is all tense with body lifting from the ground, then taking of like a bullet, sometimes before I say anything. Doing this very quickly had him waiting instead of jerking with anticipation.
        The other thing that kicked him out was the use of tools…we have some bendable tubing, about 45cm long, and I took two, one in each hand. When I gave a come by or away and he came in hot and tight, I said Out and threw one at his side. This surprised him and he went out immediately. I did this a few more times and suddenly he was staying out and working and not gripping. You see, previously when he’d come in like a tornado, I’d wait before correcting him in any way. Today, he got corrected as soon as he came in like that. This, to me, is very similar to what you advised me to do which is immediately stopping him when he does that.

        Just to be sure that you know, he wasn’t hurt in any way. I believe that maybe the tubes made it more clear to him… I have been told that he doesn’t respect me when he is working for himself etc .. I’m not sure about the respect thing, but I believe that I need to be clear in what I am communicating.
        Anyway, super long comment but I wanted to explain properly.
        We will be going for lessons on Wednesday and I’ll try out your method.
        Thank you very much.

        1. Barbara Mazur avatar
          Barbara Mazur

          PS:
          Forgot to add that we use 3 sheep. I’ll get the round pen measurements next time.

        2. It’s great to know that it’s working for you Barbara. I look forward to hearing more from you!

          Just one point, rather than throwing things, I recommend you use a lightweight “Training Stick“. If you throw something, it will work if your aim is good, but you have to go and pick it up. The dog will learn that this is a good opportunity to “dive in” or do his own thing. Watch the “Training Stick” tutorial, and learn to use one properly. It will HALVE your training time!

          Lastly. The dog wants to do things his way. He knows he can do them his way when you’re training him, but your trainer doesn’t let him get away with things the way you do, so he switches off. He’s a clever dog! (You need more GRRR)!

  2. Robann Mateja avatar
    Robann Mateja

    Just a general comment… these tutorials are great! I train my own dogs and take advantage of many on line resources, and I have to say… your tutorials have helped more than any other resource. The reason, I believe… is because you talk about the problems and you illustrate with real life situations, not dogs that are already “perfect”. Not only does this help me learn how to deal with real problems, but also gives me confidence that I’m not alone because my dogs aren’t perfect out of the gate. But… they have improved tremendously. Thanks again!

    1. Thanks for the great feedback Robann. It’s important for us to know the tutorials are working for you, and very kind of you to take the time to tell us.
      It’s not always easy to include things going wrong but of course, it’s just what beginners need to see – along with how to put them right again.
      Please accept my apologies for the late reply! My fault entirely. Because you were not asking a question, I decided to reply later – and then got distracted (sorry).
      Good luck with training your dogs. I hope they continue to make good progress!

  3. Sarah Hemming avatar
    Sarah Hemming

    Thank you for this – very informative. I find that my dog will listen well when slow and steady, but the moment they get close to a fast pace they won’t listen or if they realise they can make a run for it to the sheep at full pelt will dart off and again ignore me. I can control in a circle, and feel like we need to start working outside a ring. I think backwards is the way forwards will help, but find that the dog starts at a pace, scattering the sheep and ruining any practice on this steady aspect behind sheep. I can normally see the pace explosion coming, but cannot stop it, welcome any input/advice. Thank you.

    1. It’s good to know you find the tutorials useful Sarah, thanks for the feedback!
      We have a tutorial to help you get the sheep and the dog out into the open field with the minimum of fuss – “Moving Out“. The secret is to get the dog working nicely inside the ring, and then (ideally) have someone open the gate while you then “Waltz” them out (find out about what I call “waltzing” in “Get Off The Fence“).
      If you don’t have an assistant, get the dog working nicely, and then catch it, (or better still call it to you) and then keep the dog with you while you open the gate. Then, set the dog up, and send it to gather the sheep and bring them out. While the dog is on its way to gather the sheep, you quickly move outside the ring – and as dog and sheep come out (probably at high speed) encourage the dog to go round them.
      Whatever you do at this stage, don’t try to stop the dog. Just keep commanding it in a normal voice. If control is totally lost, only then should you try to stop the dog.
      Yet another variation on this is to open the gate yourself, but keep the dog working inside the ring (avoiding the open gate, of course) so that you can get the dog working really calmly before you attempt to “waltz” them out.
      DO watch the tutorials though – they’ll help you a lot.

  4. Regine Crutain avatar
    Regine Crutain

    Good Evening Andy and Gillian, well I must congratulate you both on the hard work that you borth have put into these excellent videos! !!!! The honesty and commen sense that you apply will be an enormous help to us!!! We have a small goat farm with thirty goats that we take out to graze freely every afternoon, we have two Kangal dogs for protection ,but when the goats stray the Kangal follow and laugh at us running around!!! Six months ago we decided that enough was enough and decided to take on a sheepdog,we where given a year old Border Collie called Nilka who was completely out of control!!!! Luckily we have quite a lot of experience with animals and their behaviour and after doing a lot of research on YouTube, Ted Hope’s advice was the best we have managed to get her to a reasonable stage in her apprenticeship. After having watched several of your videos I am convinced that I will know be able to continue her education correctly. Thank you very much !!! Regards Régine

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