Introducing a young dog to sheep (puppy training essentials)

Important points to remember when introducing a young dog to sheep

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Andy with Border Collie puppy Mo

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Introducing a young dog to sheep is a great idea.
Done correctly, it can make training far easier – but you need to take care!
It’s natural to be keen to introduce your dog to sheep.
But are you able to recognise danger signs and act quickly enough to protect the dog?
By leading a puppy around sheep, you may be teaching it not to work.
Reasons why leading a dog around sheep can discourage it from working.
How to familiarise your dog with sheep and preserve it’s instinct to work.
Add verbal encouragement to boost the dog’s confidence.
Unless you’re sure you can recognise danger signs, and are in a position to quickly prevent them, keep the pup well clear of sheep, until it’s at least eight (8) or nine (9) months old.
Then, only allow access if you’re in a position to assist it when required.
REMEMBER: By repeatedly restraining a dog or puppy from rushing at sheep, the puppy may be learning that it’s not allowed to work sheep.

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Lead walking has consequences

The more familiar your dog is with stock before it begins training, the easier it will be to train the dog. This is because the hunting instinct is not as strong in pups as it is in adult dogs. It’s the powerful hunting instinct, combined with the intense excitement and novelty of being introduced to sheep for the first time, that makes many older dogs difficult to control or aggressive in the early stages of herding.

The more exposure the young dog has to sheep or other stock, the less excited it will be when we begin teaching it to herd stock.

For this reason it’s tempting to try your puppy or young dog with stock at a very early age. Beware of this! If the youngster is frightened, back-off! Allow the dog’s natural curiosity to develop. Trying to force the dog to take an interest will probably have the reverse effect, so wait until you can see that the dog’s keen to get closer.

If the young dog’s keen to get to the sheep or cattle, unless you can be absolutely certain you’re in a position to protect it from attack (or even the threat of it) there’s a very real danger that sheep or cattle will frighten the young dog and damage its confidence – possibly permanently.

Worse still!

On the other hand, if you frequently walk a pup or young dog around stock (on a lead) to familiarise it with them, unless you allow the youngster to chase the stock from time-to-time, there’s a very strong chance the young dog will learn (from being restrained) that it’s not allowed to run after the animals. Find out how to introduce a young dog to sheep

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20 responses to “Introducing a young dog to sheep (puppy training essentials)”

  1. Janice Mullins avatar
    Janice Mullins

    Andy, I am trying to train a border collie to work cattle. If the cows do not respond to the dog, how I proceed to get the dog to work, or move the cattle? Also, sometimes the dog ignores my commands. Any suggestions?

    1. You haven’t given me much information to work with, Janice. How old is the dog? What is the dog doing (if anything) when it’s near cattle? How does it react to them?
      As for the dog ignoring your commands, how long have you had it? When exactly, does it ignore you? It sounds as though the dog isn’t properly bonded with you. (In this case, bonding means the dog fully accepts you as its leader). A good test of this is walking the dog on a lead. If the dog walks with the lead slack for about 90% of the time, there’s a good chance it’s bonded with you. Proper lead training can help to improve the bond between you and your dog.
      Watch “Sheepdog selection and preparation“. I suggest you watch all of it even if you’ve already seen it once. There’s a link to the lead training section if you’re in too much of a hurry though. The FAQ “How to train your dog to have a great recall” deals with it in more detail.
      Whether the bond between you and the dog is the cause of the problem or not, I can’t really help you get your dog working cattle properly unless you give me a better picture of what’s happening. I’m happy to give my best advice if you do.

  2. Can your tutorials help with a Kelpie in training or does this training help more working collies. Thanks

    1. They definitely work very well with Kelpies, Fi. The only difference I’m aware of is the Kelpies can be a little slower to train, but definitely worth it!

  3. Hello Andy,

    Would you share your knowledge on raising siblings from the same litter ? Why it’s not a good idea or what a person needs to do to make it successful?


    1. It’s not a good idea to take-on litter-mates because it can be much harder to get them to ‘Bond’ with you – and thus they’re harder to train. Litter-mates are already strongly bonded with each other, so when they go to a new home, they don’t NEED to bond with anyone else.
      To overcome this, it’s necessary to exercise and train them separately – in other words, it takes twice as long. Even this is no guarantee of success though, because a vital part of bonding is for the dog to spend as much one-on-one time with the owner as possible. Obviously this will be halved if there are two to deal with.
      The term ‘bond’ (above) doesn’t mean the dog wags its tail when you pat it on the head, it means that the dog fully respects you as its leader. A good recall (even if the dog is in full play mode) and walking on a lead with the lead slack (not pulling at all) are good tests of how bonded the dog is with its owner.
      If you want two puppies, we recommend you buy one – and then when that dog walks well on the lead and will come back to you even if it’s having great fun somewhere else at the time – then you might consider getting a second pup.

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