The outrun (1 of 3)

The ability to outrun and gather sheep is essential if a sheepdog is to work efficiently.


Teaching a sheepdog to do outruns, and gather sheep

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Video Highlights


One of the most common outrun faults is the dog crossing over.
Teaching a dog to do outruns and gather livestock.
We can learn from Jed’s bad outrun.
Jed’s tail indicates his state of mind…
It’s good to get the dog working in the open field as soon as it can control the sheep there.
Walking back with the sheep, to create enough space for an outrun and then walk through the sheep towards the dog.
Walking out towards the dog to ‘push’ it out wider on its outrun.
Testing the dog’s flanks.
Leaning left is enough to tell the dog which way it should go.
Flicking the training stick to send the dog out wider.
Walking back with the sheep again, to create space for another outrun.
Walking towards the dog, intending to call it further away from the sheep.
Jed runs straight at the sheep.
Attempting to send the dog after the missing sheep.
Returning the sheep to the training area.
Walking backwards with the dog bringing the sheep along steadily.
The dog notices the sheep moving away.
Testing the dog’s flanks.
Half a pace is enough to tell the dog which way it should go.
Trying to call the dog away from the sheep.

Stop the dog, and the sheep should gather together again

Stopping or even slowing the dog can often allow the sheep to gather back together.
Using stick, voice and body position to help call it away from sheep.
If the sheep move away, quickly send the dog to gather them.
The dog cuts-in, and splits the sheep.
Give the impression you’re in control, even when you aren’t.
Try to keep calm. An excited voice will excite the dog.
Attempting to call the dog away for another outrun.
The dog’s coming away, but the sheep are running away. Jed excels!

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Teach your dog to outrun and gather sheep

To do an outrun, the dog will leave the handler’s side and run out wide enough to gather the sheep, without disturbing or upsetting them. The dog then calmly approaches the sheep to bring them to the shepherd. This is known as the ‘lift‘ and ‘fetch‘ stages of the gather.

Fortunately, it’s not difficult to train a dog to do an outrun, that’s because they enjoy them so much! Dogs love to get close to sheep, so they see outruns and gathering as great fun!

The outrun training process itself improves other aspects of the dog’s work, such as flanking and the stop, so we use short outruns very early in training to improve the dog’s all-round performance. Outruns are also extremely useful when teaching the dog more difficult tasks such as driving or shedding, because they provide welcome relief when the dog is feeling under pressure.

PART 1 of this video features Jed, a large, headstrong male collie with far more enthusiasm than skill. We filmed an actual training session, warts and all, so that you can learn how to start teaching a herding dog to do outruns and gather sheep or other livestock.

As with any form of sheepdog training though, lessons don’t always go well, so we tell you the sort of errors to expect, and how to correct mistakes when things go wrong (as they inevitably, will).

The Outrun 2 | (top ⇧)


36 responses to “The outrun (1 of 3)”

  1. Deborah Hoggar avatar
    Deborah Hoggar

    a year ago I started watching your videos as a complete beginner. We’re smallholders 18 breeding ewes, the last of their lambs going off soon, a ram and a couple wethers for his company.
    A year on moving / loading, managing our tiny flock – jobs that used to take us an hour with much arm flapping and bad language, now takes minutes with Nell doing most of the work calmly and obediently – not bad !
    Just one thing I’d change ! Our biggest paddock is 7 acres (I did say small scale !!) so it’s a short outrun but Nell will not set off at a run and arc round. She stalks the length of the field to fetch them, never ‘at’ them, never scares them, then at the end of her long ‘walk’ she flanks them. She brings them to me beautifully but I cannot instill a sense of urgency or speed in the dog. If they run, she matches their pace and gets things back in control. You could call it calm but sometimes, just sometimes you’d call it infuriatingly slow !
    I can’t ever imagine trialling but we’d be timed out before the end of the ‘out walk’
    Any ideas gratefully received !

    1. I know the feeling only too well, Deborah! We had a dog many years ago, called Quinn. He would bring the sheep reliably every time – at a very steady walking pace! Eventually. we sold him to a retired farmer in Norfolk, who wasn’t bothered how long it took the dog to bring the sheep, he was happy to sit in the truck and watch him!
      We don’t have that problem now though.
      You need to make the job more fun for your dog. Have a look at the “Calm but Firm” and “How Can I Slow the Dog Down” tutorials, and make a note of all the things I recommend for calming or slowing the dog down – then do the opposite!
      Lots of clapping, shouting, whistling, rapidly repeated commands – anything that will excite your dog.
      Also, watch “Sometimes Nice is Not Enough“. That will also show you how to give your dog more “GRRR!”
      Let me know if anything is not clear – and it would be great to hear how you get on.

  2. Peter David LLewellyn avatar
    Peter David LLewellyn

    Hi Andy how do I get my dog to have a wider out run finding it hard to stop her running straight at the sheep thank you Dave

    1. My first suggestion is to watch all three of these Outrun Tutorials, AND “Sending the dog the wrong way” AND “Give the sheep some space!” All of them will help you to encourage the dog to go out wider.
      I suspect you’re trying to send the dog too far, too soon. Start with very short outruns, and GRADUALLY increase the distance.
      If your dog happens to be doing something which isn’t covered in those tutorials, please get back to me, and describe what’s happening.

  3. Deborah Hoggar avatar
    Deborah Hoggar

    Hi Andy
    On an outrun my 22month old Nell goes out wide, doesn’t run at the sheep, doesn’t cut in too tight but she’s so cautious not to chase the sheep or scatter them she approaches so slowly and walks forward so slowly it’s like stalking them rather than moving them. The sheep tend to move forward when they’re ready rather than when she asks them !
    Please point me to the right tutorial, I have no doubt there is one !!
    Thank you

    1. Nell sounds like a nice dog to train!
      In a nutshell, you’re sending her too far, too soon.
      The closer you are to the dog, the more control you have, and the more confidence the dog will have.
      In your case being too far away reduces your authority over the dog, and reduces her confidnence.
      Work Nell at a distance where she’s more authoritative, and increase the distance VERY slowly!

      Also – I suggest you watch “Sometimes nice is not enough” to give Nell a bit more “GRRR”!
      (You can always get her to tone it down if she takes it too literally).

      I’m sure this will help – perhaps you’ll let me know??

      1. Deborah Hoggar avatar
        Deborah Hoggar

        I will do, thank you for the advice

      2. Deborah Hoggar avatar
        Deborah Hoggar

        I have 18 ewes in with the ram at the moment on a smallish paddock, so decided it would be the perfect place to take your advice and try the outrun small scale this morning!
        Nell was pitch perfect. The sheep were more inclined to move away from her in that space and that ‘jeed’ her up a bit more ! Also I left her lying down and went near to the sheep copying your technique which worked well.
        I’ll build the distance slowly.
        – Happy customer !

        1. Good to hear it’s working, Deborah!
          Be sure to watch “Sometimes nice is not enough” – and give the dog lots of encouragement to be more assertive!

  4. DAVID SANDISON avatar

    Hi Andy
    I have a 2.5 year old bitch. She was a gripper,but is much better. She used to run off to the sheep if I wasn’t paying attention. I have started her on outruns and used your technique getting her moving before sending her off, to make her wider, but she is still quite narrow round the back of the sheep. Also when we get more than 15/20m away she won’t GO, she goes into stalking mode. Any help appreciated.

    1. Your description very strongly suggests you’re trying to progress too quickly, David.
      Remember. The closer you are to the trainee dog, the more control you have over it.
      You need to increase the distance the dog works at very slowly. If she won’t go, it’s because she doesn’t feel confident. Get closer to the sheep and build her confidence slowly.
      Watch the three Outrun Tutorials again – it’s all in there – including what to do if the dog is too tight at the top of the outrun.
      Your dog will be fine!

  5. Arye Ehrenberg avatar
    Arye Ehrenberg

    Hello Andy. I’v watched this tutorials multiple times. I’v noticed now that in peart 2 before you sent Carew on one of her outruns you gave the command “Look” (01:45). can you please explain a little about that? thanks

    1. The “Look Back” command is very useful, especially when training a dog.It’s used to send the dog back for sheep it has left behind, or which appear after the dog has gathered the main flock.
      You can find out about any commands you don’t understand, on our Sheepdog Terminology page.
      The “Look Back” can be seen on this link.
      Many trainers treat it as an advanced exercise but I teach the dog to look back almost from the very beginning of its training. It teaches the dog to keep its sheep together!

  6. Arye Ehrenberg avatar
    Arye Ehrenberg

    Hello Andy. I wonder, in the early stages, like in part 2, is it possible to work with two handlers, one near the dog and the other closer to the sheep?

    1. It can work very well! The one closest to the dog sends it off to the sheep, and the other person ‘pushes’ it out wider!
      Also, if there are two handlers and two dogs, they can be positioned at a suitable distance apart, and the first handler sends their dog off to gather the sheep while the other handler keeps their dog with them, then when the sheep have been brought to the first handler, the second handler sends their dog to gather them – and so on. It’s especially good if the sheep are dogged, and don’t drift away once the gather is finished.

      1. Arye Ehrenberg avatar
        Arye Ehrenberg

        Thanks. what a great idea! I never seen it done any where.

  7. Kath Hudson avatar
    Kath Hudson

    Hi Andy,
    How do you build confidence in a dog that is reluctant to work away from you? Natsu has been to the sheep 7 or 8 times now and is working really well while I’m in close proximity to the sheep. However, we’ve started to introduce short outruns but he’s reluctant to go unless I go with him. Once I get close enough to the sheep he will take himself off round to the point of balance. I managed to get him to do a couple of really short (less than 10m from the sheep) outruns on the ‘away’ this morning but he was having non of it on the ‘come by’ and I had to walk up to the sheep before he’d go. There are no sheep in the local area where we walk so he has never been taught to stay away from them.

    1. You need to build on what you have, and very gradually extend the distances so the dog doesn’t really notice the increase, Kath.
      The “Walking Backwards” exercise is excellent for teaching the dog to work further away from you – and once you’ve built up a little distance, you can (occasionally) come through the sheep towards the dog, and send it off on a short outrun. While the dog is actually going out to the sheep, try moving further away as it goes, to increase the distance (from you) a little more.
      If the dog comes back to you, reduce the distance – and so on.
      Walking Backwards” is also great for teaching the dog to flank both ways. Once the dog will follow and wants to hold the sheep to you, you need to change direction so that the dog has to flank round the sheep to bring them. Once again, do this very gradually at first, then build on it. If you think about it, to hold the sheep to you as you move around, the dog will have to flank both ways a little, so this provides an excellent start for balancing the dog up.
      Another trick is to work the dog close to a fence or hedge, and as the dog flanks between the sheep and the fence, quickly move forward to block it, and send it back the other way. The trainee dog won’t want to stop in the tight spot between sheep and fence, so it will naturally want to go in the other direction!
      Watch “Starting a Reluctant Dog” and pay particular attention at 05:35 where I block the dog between the sheep and the hurdles, to send her back the other way!

      1. Kath Hudson avatar
        Kath Hudson

        Hi Andy, I’m not having any problems with point of balance. I started off walking backwards but can now walk forwards with him bringing the sheep up from the rear. I do lots of direction changes and he’ll happily flank both ways to maintain the point of balance. He will reliably stop and I either go around the sheep or through them and send him whichever way which he’ll do no problem. He’s just reluctant to leave my side and flank to the POB unless I’m stood close to the sheep. He’s not worried by the sheep. He’s really calm and keeps them calm while just moving around but he won’t take any nonsense from them. If one bolts he’ll go get it and bring it back. Just got to convince him to leave me and go get the sheep.

        1. One of the main purposes of the Walking Backwards excercise is to put more distance between the dog and the sheep. If you walk back with the dog bringing the sheep to you – and then STOP the dog, the sheep should keep coming – thus increasing the distance between dog and sheep. As the dog gets used to this, you can begin to work it further and further away – and as I mentioned in my earlier reply, you can walk through the sheep, towards the dog, and when you’re about halfway between them (dog and sheep) send the dog off to gather the sheep.
          Once this works, you can gradually increase the distance of the ‘outrun’ – GRADUALLY!
          Keep in mind that if the sheep DON’T continue to come towards you when you stop the dog, it strongly suggests you need fresher sheep for the dog to work with.
          You say that the dog will do a very short outrun. My point is, basically, each time you send the dog off on an outrun, you should try to increase the distance – even by a tiny amount, if necessary.
          Keep at it – it works!

  8. saira renny avatar
    saira renny

    Hi Andy
    I have been training my 5 year old dog for 6 months almost everyday ,mainly on 80 hogs in a 30acre hill park . She is very eager to please , she is good in most areas but has a problem when i give a command for an outrun , she knows her sides well once she has the sheep together and can also drive them in any direction but for an outrun she seem unsure of which way to go and ,she circles my legs looking at me ,she seems very frustrated . If i keep calmly repeating the command she will eventually do the outrun , and when she does ,she does it well mostly . I keep trying on sheep close to her and gradually moving further away ,ive been doing what you suggest in your videos and standing between her and the sheep , but she still does randomly find the command to outrun confusing . Ive tried the slingshot tecnique also , but i feel that it completely freaked her out . It seems like a lack of confidence and/or that im confusing her in some way . I wonder if you could give me any advice on how i could help her understand what she needs to do .

    1. A frustrating problem, isn’t it! We take our dogs out into the field that our sheep live in every day, and they learn that they’re not to chase the sheep when they go out together like this, but sometimes when we train them to work the sheep, it leads to the sort of confusion you describe. They usually get out of it very quickly though – because they’re young. Older dogs take longer to learn, and I suspect your dog has learned to stay by your side, and only recently have you begun to send it out to gather sheep. The dog will learn to do an outrun when you command it, but it’s going to take a while for it to get into the habit, simply because just like people, dogs learn more slowly as they get older.
      It sounds as though you’re doing the right things – but I would try to make working the sheep more exciting for the dog. Give her lots of encouragement – clapping hands, whistling, shushing, lots of praise etc – particularly when she’s actually doing an outrun. Start very gently at first, in case you ‘put her off’. Watch “Sometimes Nice is Not Enough” to see how I encourage the dog by increasing its excitement. If your dog is excited when she’s around sheep, she’ll be more eager to go to them.

  9. Per Hedström avatar
    Per Hedström

    Hi Andy
    I have whached the videos about outruns and I think I understand what it´s all about. But my dog reacts a bit strange. When I stand close to the sheep and she is about 50 meter away she goes out very nicely espacially to the right.
    But when she is by my side and I send her away she just sneeks very slowly up to the sheep.
    I have tryed to make a video to show you what I meen. I hope you can whatch it an comment,
    It´s on youtube, look for: Per Dog Freja Hedstrom.
    Per hedström

    1. Sometimes, when I get questions like yours, I wonder whether I’m explaining things correctly…
      The outrun tutorials are there to show you how to stand in the correct position to encourage the dog to go out wide. They show that when you stand close to the sheep the dog will go out wide around you, and when you are further away from the sheep, the dog will either go straight towards the sheep – or in other cases, go out a little, and then cross over.
      Where did I go wrong? Please watch the videos again – especially the part where I explain that you need to find the correct distance between yourself, the dog, and the sheep, to get the dog to go out correctly. What you describe is precisely what I’m talking about in the videos.
      When I searched for “Per Dog Freja Hedstrom” on YouTube there was a great number of videos there which have nothing to do with sheepdog training. If you’d like me to watch a video, please provide a link to it.

      1. Per hedström avatar
        Per hedström

        Thanks for your reply. I don´t think yoy need to see my video. My dog reacts exacly like you say. So we will keep up our traning as you show in your videos. And they are very pedagogocal and easy to understand.

  10. Malene Kamstrup avatar
    Malene Kamstrup

    Hi Andy
    Thanks for your turturials, that I find usefull. I have a dog, that is 14 months old. I have trained him after your videos – as well as posible. Nighter me or the sheep are very experienced.
    I have the problem, that the sheep try to escape, when the distance to me and the dog is too long – mabye 3 – 4 meters. The dog then chase the sheep, split them up and bite. I know, that the sheep escape because the dog bites – and the dog bites because the sheep try to escape. I have told the dog no! every time, but… Now I got the idea to punish the dog for chasing and biting by stopping the training, and take the dog away from the sheep. Can the dog unterstand that? What do you think about that idea?

    1. Do you mean 30-40 metres, Malene? I hope so! If the dog is splitting the sheep up and biting them at 3-4 metres, it hasn’t learned very much!
      Assuming you mean 30-40 metres, if the dog is splitting the sheep and attacking them, it’s because the dog’s not confident working at that distance, so it reverts to it’s basic hunting instinct.
      Reduce the distance of the outrun to one at which the dog will work well, and then very GRADUALLY increase the distance – to build the dog’s confidence.
      Watch all three Outrun Tutorials – and if you really did mean 3-4 metres, watch Starting a Strong Dog for help with that.

  11. Britta Waddell avatar
    Britta Waddell

    Hello Andy, I think I am very lucky to have a 7 months old pup, who naturally keeps her distance to the sheep. She never rushes into the sheep and circles around the sheep very nicely. Would you still encourage her with the stick to stay out? Thanks, Britta

    1. I only use the stick when I need to, Britta. If the dog doesn’t need it, of course, I don’t use it, because the dog must eventually learn to work without any artificial guidance from the handler, but the stick does so much more than keep the dog out away from the sheep. For example, it’s very useful for showing the dog (by blocking) which way you want it to go – and for stopping the dog.

    2. I only use the stick when I need to, Britta. If the dog doesn’t need it, of course, I don’t use it, because the dog must eventually learn to work without any artificial guidance from the handler, but the stick does so much more than keep the dog out away from the sheep. For example, it’s very useful for showing the dog (by blocking) which way you want it to go – and for stopping the dog.

    3. Stefanie Wagner avatar
      Stefanie Wagner

      Dear Andy,
      I have a question to the dogs Position:
      When I send Ben clockwise, he starts to hesitate at 11 o clock, If I send him anticlockwise, He overflanks Till 11 again. He brings the sheep to me, but Most of the time He has to juggle them from Side to Side…

      I can make Ben circle the sheep, but I have to continue the Command a lot to encourage him. How can I Support him to find the real Point of balance and Stick to that? Do you have any ideas?
      Thank you so much foryour Tutorials, I Took a lot from Them for my Training.

      Thanks, steffi

      1. I think you may be trying to progress to fast, too soon. The dog should flank equally well both ways during training but it’s natural for the dog to favour one direction or the other in the early stages of training (rather like us being left or right-handed). Work the dog on its weakest flank whenever possible (but of course, send it the other way occasionally to break the monotony).

        My general rule is: if the task is easy (sheep well away from a fence and not far away) send the dog its worst way. If the task is difficult (sheep on a fence or in a corner etc) send the dog it’s best way. Keep doing this until the flanks are equally good both ways.

        Once the dog’s flanks are balanced up, it might still “over” or “under” flank though, depending on the nature of the sheep and the ground.
        Watch “Balance – What’s the Point?” for more on this.

        Well done for teaching the dog to circle the sheep on command – it’s not easy, but it’s very useful!

  12. Ian Harper avatar

    I have a problem that I haven’t been able to find the answers for in your videos.
    My dog Finn, when sent on an outrun where the sheep are out of sight, will slow down or stop in the crouch position when she sees them, waiting for me to catch up to her position. I then send her out from there, and if it’s a short outrun she’ll do it, but if it’s farther, will repeat the behavior. She does most other work fine, including driving but this is difficult. If, as in your outrun video, I get between her and the sheep and then ask, she does a nice outrun, but when there’s a big distance between she and the sheep, she always stops…

    Usually this is an indication of lack of interest or motivation, but it seems to to me to be perhaps a lack of confidence.

    Any ideas? Relevant videos? Maybe a new video?

    1. It’s a lack of confidence, Ian. If the dog stops on its outrun, you’re sending it too far, too soon.

      Reduce the distance to build the dog’s confidence that way, and only increase the distance very slowly. Watch the “Sometimes nice is not enough” tutorial to build Finn’s confidence still more. You’ll see in the tutorial, how to give the dog a command to speed it up. You should use this command just before the point where he’s likely to slow down or stop on his outrun (or at any other time when he’s likely to get worried).

      Until the dog’s reliable on its outrun when it can see the sheep, avoid sending it to sheep it can’t see. Then, if possible, try to gently re-introduce the situation where they are out of sight – but maybe only just out of sight. Perhaps you can see them (quite close) but the dog can’t (for just a few yards).

      It’s all about introducing things like this slowly. To some dogs it’s no problem if the sheep are out of sight, but to others, it’s a major issue.
      Take your time, and Finn will be OK with it before long but the more you allow it to happen, the more Finn will accept it as a safe way to work, and the harder it will be to get him out of it.

  13. Nancy Creel avatar

    Hi Andy, My first sheep herding video that I purchased was your “First Steps in Border Collie Sheepdog Training “. It stood me really well as a first time handler and using your pen system I was able to start my pup quite nicely. I’ve now used the system with many dogs and am successful with most of them. One Kelpie was a problem! We’ve run into some difficulty with outruns with some of the dogs which have learned to slice because our sheep are so dogged. All the fields we use are fenced and none are as large as yours in the videos. Typically our sheep either run to a fence or to the handler. This causes the dogs to come up short on their outruns.

    Recently I took six of our “hurdles” and made a holding pen for the sheep to work on our outruns. I have one friend that is willing to experiment with me and we take turns opening the pen once the dog is correct in the shape of their outrun. It has worked amazingly well so far. I’ve even tried it with ducks on my own and when the dog is correct I pull a rope to release the ducks. We are seeing rapid and amazing improvement in our other work. The dogs are staying wider and they are quickly getting a better understanding of what out means.

    Can you think of any reason not to try this?

    Nancy Creel
    Bozeman, Montana

    1. Hello Nancy. Strictly speaking, what you suggest is not necessary (I think you may be trying to extend the outrun more quickly than the dog is ready for) but your idea of a pen to hold the sheep or ducks is great! You could even pen the sheep but “jam” the front hurdle in place (with rope attached) so that the hurdle holds the sheep until you pull on the rope and then it falls down and releases the sheep! This would probably allow you to work on your own (but I’d still prefer to advance the dog’s training in line with it’s confidence and competence).

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