Sheepdog selection and preparation

How to go about selecting and preparing a sheepdog for herding

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



Cover photo of the Sheepdog Selection tutorial

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Video Highlights

Talking about the dog.
Potential pitfalls when buying a sheepdog.
Hunting instinct.
Registered vs unregistered dogs.
Will a pet dog work sheep.
What is the best age to begin training the dog.
Should a puppy be allowed to wander around the farm.
The young dog should be fast enough to get ahead of the sheep.
Introducing a young puppy to sheep.
Look at the parents before buying a puppy.
Old wives’ tales (common myths).
The dog’s tail position – and what it tells us.
Believe in your dog.
Male or female? Which makes the best herding dog.
Characteristics to look for in a sheepdog.
How to prepare your dog for training.
Teaching your dog to “stay close” by your side.
The importance of lead training.
Familiarising your dog with sheep.
You must protect your sheep.
Should a sheepdog live in the house.
The herding instinct we’re looking for.
Too much eye” – a lack of confidence.
A dog which doesn’t want to work.
Traits you may encounter when training.

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This is a very important tutorial!

It’s packed with essential information to help you to understand, and look after your dog. It includes housing, choice of breed, choice of dog or puppy – and what dogs to avoid. There’s a wealth of information on how to prepare your pup or young dog for herding sheep, cattle and other livestock.

For a long time now we’ve wanted to update our “First Steps” DVD set because our training techniques and understanding of sheepdogs have improved immensely since the DVD’s release.

This video presents most of chapters one (the introduction) and two, from the DVD set. It’s fairly heavily modified and now nearly 30 minutes long! We’re sure those of you who’ve seen the old version won’t be disappointed.

Sheep – Essential facts for trainers


31 responses to “Sheepdog selection and preparation”

  1. Peter David LLewellyn avatar
    Peter David LLewellyn

    Hi Andy I’ve got my sheep in the pen they haven’t been dogged very much. I’ve got a 7 month old collie just starting her in the pen but I can’t get the sheep off the hurdles so it ends up the dog chasing the sheep around the pen. Any suggestions? Dave

    1. It’s frustrating when the sheep glue themselves to the hurdles, but there are things you can do about it.
      Take a look at “Get off the fence” – that should get you sorted, Dave!
      Make sure the training ring’s the right size, and try to use the same sheep each time if you can. That way they’ll get ‘dogged‘ all the sooner.
      Once the dog will go between the sheep and the fence, try to send it back the other way, to keep the sheep away from the edge. If you can keep the sheep in the middle, you can start training the dog to flank round them properly.

  2. Emily Arnold avatar
    Emily Arnold

    Hi Andy, I’m finding your videos full of great info and very clear to understand, thank you! I have a seven month old border collie (Dale) who is not in sheepdog training proper yet. I grew up on a farm wth working sheepdogs (although I don’t have any actual experience of handling) so I would love to train him but am still considering if this is something we should do. So far I have been teaching basic commands such as sit, lie down (though haven’t managed to get him to lie down at a distance) and some loose lead training. Some questions: What commands should you use when loose lead training and when/how do you move off lead towards a dog heeling or staying close? Should I use the command stand, wait or stop when I want Dale to stop? Or does this not matter too much? What should and shouldn’t Dale be allowed to play with..a ball? Thanks, Emily

    1. Thank you for your email, and for the great feedback. It’s good to know we’re providing the information our members need.

      What commands should you use when loose lead training?

      Any commands you like, as long as they’re clear to the dog, and not similar in sound to other commands, we just use “No” when the dog’s pulling, and praise the dog when it’s not!

      When/how do you move off lead towards a dog heeling or staying close?

      When you feel the dog’s got the idea! When the dog is coming back willingly, then is the time to experiment with no lead. Try to (calmly) keep the dog close at first – and be fun to come back to!

      Should I use the command stand, wait or stop when I want Dale to stop? Or does this not matter too much?

      Again, whatever command you like, but they must be distinct from all other commands.

      What should and shouldn’t Dale be allowed to play with..a ball?

      We encourage the dogs to play with almost anything. It broadens their minds and builds their confidence. If you join in the the play, it strengthens the bond between you, too.

      I created an FAQ post about the recall, and there’s quite a lot in there which will interest you (I hope). Good luck with training your dog!

      1. Emily Arnold avatar
        Emily Arnold

        Thanks for the above!

  3. Arye Ehrenberg avatar
    Arye Ehrenberg

    Dear Andy. I’v recently watched all of your wonderful tutorials & I intend to watch them again.
    Now that a lot of pet dog owners are interested to train their dogs to herd sheep, it would be very interesting ,I think, if you’d make a video on training different herding breeds, the popular ones anyway. thanks

    1. That would be nice, but I really don’t have the time, unfortunately.
      Thank you for your kind words though – it’s good to know you find the tutorials useful.

  4. Kathy Vicari avatar
    Kathy Vicari

    Thank you, Andy, for this and all your videos. They are a wealth of information, especially for the novice handler.
    May I ask a question that’s not regarding training, but about dogs’ health. Can you share what tick/flee applications you use on your dogs. I lean towards being holistic/organic in my care for my dogs, but my routines don’t seem to be working in the fields and around live stock. Appreciate your input. Thank you

    1. Thanks for the great feedback, Kathy. It’s important for us to know that we’re on the right track with our videos.
      We use Frontline for flea treatment, but (possibly because we have a closed ‘pack’ these days, and our dogs don’t frequent placed populated by other dogs) we very rarely need it these days. When we do use it, it’s very effective, and there are no apparent side effects from it.
      I’m not sure what we use for ticks – it’s so long since we had any here. We’d ask our vet what they recommend!

  5. Richard Empson avatar
    Richard Empson

    Hi Andy

    Thanks for the videos they have been a great help. However, I have a problem with getting my border collie bitch under control. She is so focused on the sheep I can’t get her to come to me on the ‘that’ll do’ command. If the sheep are still, she will lie and stare at them until they move. I had her at 8 weeks from working parents – I saw the mum working and I have a training pen. Sky can flank come-bye and away on command and stop on balance, the away side needs improvement. She knows ‘that’ll do’ means come straight back to me because I use it with her off the lead before getting to the training field and we don’t get there unless she is by my feet. However, I use a long lead (40 ft) to get the sheep into the pen for training and she is pretty good at ‘lie down’ but ‘that’ll do’ only works with a pull on the lead. She also chases cars when working in a field next to our lane. she does have 3 walks a day with different family members where she can wander off lead and does chase squirrels! Can you give me some tips for basic obedience and a strong recall which I should have got sorted by now – she is just about 2. PS she is like Ray in your video – likes to chase the sheep into a corner and holds them there! Many thanks. Rick

    1. Sky sounds as though she’s making good progress, but I have to wonder whether you have watched all of the early videos in the order that we recommend, Rick? If you have, then please watch them again – and if you haven’t – perhaps you should.
      If you want to get a good understanding of your dog, the sheep, and how things are likely to pan out during training, those early videos will help you a lot.
      By watching them, you’ll find that it’s perfectly natural for Sky to not want to come back to you when she’s with sheep – and they show you ways to get her to come back easily. For instance, in the early stages of training, don’t call her to you (or catch her) and then take her away from the sheep. This will simply teach her that coming to you means the end of her fun. Catch or call the dog away and then send her back to the sheep as many times as you like (within reason). That way she’ll learn that coming away may result in her doing another outrun (they love this).
      There are plenty of examples of how to get the dog to come away from sheep, but I won’t list them because I want you to watch those early videos first.
      Chasing cars – that’s really bad practice – and likely to get her involved in an accident. Maybe a serious one.
      Keep the dog under control, and if she runs at a car (or anything else) pull her back. Teach her that if she does it, she won’t get any freedom.
      Chasing squirrels – that’s just teaching her that she can do what she likes, and ignore you. I’m sure that’s not what you want – is it? Don’t allow the dog to chase squirrels unless you can control her. What if a squirrel ran across a road? Even if there are no roads where she does it now, one day things might be different – and the longer you leave it before you get her under control, the harder it will be to train her…

      1. Richard Empson avatar
        Richard Empson

        Hi Andy

        I’m very grateful for your in depth reply and advice. I have watched the early videos, although I might have missed one – I will watch them again! I had a good session in the pen today with Sky quickly flanking both ways and with me walking backwards she was able to move the sheep to me (to a fashion!). I also got her to come to me off the sheep (4 of them) – letting her go back to the sheep each time – that felt great- just need more practice and some dry weather!. Looking forward to getting out of the pen – have tried it but she just chases them to a corner of the field. I have watched the ‘coming out of the pen’ video at least twice but I think my priority is to get her under control and to slow her down. Your videos are a great help as I have never had a dog before and she is the only one on the farm so no others to copy. I wish I had enough time to watch them all! Thanks again.

  6. Heather Pink avatar
    Heather Pink

    Hi Andy and Gill, Thank you for the great videos. We’ve just brought our 8 week ISDS registered puppy home. She is our first sheep dog and is wanting to chase the chickens from the garden. As an adult we would rather she didn’t chase chickens but we are worried about stopping her now in case we put her off working the sheep in future. Would be very grateful for your thoughts?

    1. There are a number of options open to you, Heather. The most obvious is keep the chickens away from the pup, or the pup away from the chickens!
      Unless you are there to supervise the pup, it shouldn’t have access to any livestock, and yes, there’s a chance that the pup will think it’s not to chase anything if you keep stopping it from chasing chickens, so I suggest you keep the chickens away from the pup if you can.
      If you decide to train the pup not to chase the fowl, it would be a very good idea to regularly encourage the dog to take and interest in sheep. That way, the pup will learn that it’s not to chase chickens, but it can chase sheep – but be sure you’re close enough to protect the pup if a sheep chases or attacks it.
      Really, the pup shouldn’t be wandering around unsupervised, because unless it’s VERY well fenced-in, it will eventually go out and chase the sheep anyway. That’s not a good idea either, if the pup’s not supervised.

  7. Hi Andy,
    I’m looking into buying a new pup and I love German Shpherd dogs. Do you think it’s a bad idea (or too much unnecessary hard work) to try and train a GSD for sheep herding?

    1. German shepherds are not recognised sheepdogs in the UK. As far as I know they are not used for gathering, in the way that’s familiar to us. I think you’d be hard pressed to get one to work well with sheep, but we have very little experience with German Shepherds, so we don’t feel qualified to advise you, really.

  8. Alex Fullmer avatar
    Alex Fullmer

    Ok, so I have the dog, and I have the space in the field to put up a training ring, but I am lacking one thing. You guessed it, the sheep! I thought it would be better to get my Panda (who is just over 6months old) trained a bit on herding sheep before I got the sheep. She is already trying to herd the cats but that’s like pushing a wet noodle. She is quick to pick up on commands. I have her sitting and staying on command and coming when I need to tie her up (most of the time), so I think she has great potential as a herding dog. I’m just not sure what to have her herd at the present.
    Any ideas?

    1. There’s not an awful lot you can do until you get sheep, other than making sure the dog fully respects you as it’s leader. Presumably you’ve watched this tutorial, but I suggest you watch it again!
      How does the dog behave when it’s on the lead? (Lead slack or pulling you along)?
      Will the dog wait while you go through doorways or gates?
      You’ve already said the dog doesn’t always come to you when you call it, so you need to address that. The better the recall, the easier it will be to train the dog on sheep, but don’t make the mistake of walking the dog around sheep and not letting it chase them. If you do, the dog will learn that you don’t want it to chase them.

      1. Alex Fullmer avatar
        Alex Fullmer

        I have watched it and many other of your videos. Thank you so much for putting them together because up till now I really had no idea what direction to go. I’ve already decided from your teaching about leash training that Panda and I need to spend more time there.
        One thing I find curious is that the two times I had to come around front to get Panda to tie her up, my wife was out there. I’m not sure if it’s a pack thing with Panda or not. My wife really doesn’t spend any time with her.
        As far as sheep, there are not many around hear that I know of. I did watch your vid about how different sheep behave which will be very helpful.
        Thanks again for your help. We here in the states can learn much from you.

        1. It’s good to know you find the tutorials helpful Alex, but in your second paragraph, what do you mean by: “I had to come around front to get Panda to tie her up”?

  9. Jane Hart avatar
    Jane Hart

    I would love to see more videos about how you train your dogs in basic obedience and what their lives are like before they start training. Would you recommend taking a sheepdog to a puppy obedience class at a dog club? I was thinking this might be good for socialisation.
    Best wishes,

    1. Puppy obedience training would be great for socialising a young dog, but it will be of limited use when you first introduce the dog to sheep work. Teaching the dog to “lie down” is a good example. When the trainee dog sees sheep for the first time, the chances are it will be so excited it will forget every command it ever learned, but as training progresses over the following weeks gradually, the dog will start to listen, and a familiar command will come in very handy.
      For further information on how we keep the dogs when they’re away from sheep, I suggest you watch An Insight into Pack Behaviour and Sheepdogs Time Out.

  10. Jane Hart avatar
    Jane Hart

    If I take my pup for walks and we see sheep, (ie not ours) I will have to keep it on the lead. Would these kind of encounters be bad for the dog? Should I avoid walking the pup in places where there may be sheep in the fields? There are a lot of sheep near us. I am a bit unsure about what I do with the pup regarding encounters with livestock that it can’t be allowed to chase.
    Best wishes,

    1. If you regularly walk a dog near sheep and restrain it from chasing them, eventually the dog will stop trying to chase the sheep because it’s pointless. The dog knows you’re not going to let it go.
      To maintain the dog or pup’s instinct to work, you should encourage it to work sheep from an early age, but obviously you should look after the welfare of the sheep, and in the case of a puppy, only do it if you’re certain the sheep won’t attack or threaten the pup. I recommend you watch our tutorials about starting pups on sheep.
      A mixture of allowing the dog to chase your own sheep, but walking the dog on a lead when it’s near other sheep would be a good compromise. Preventing your dog from chasing other people’s sheep should be top priority

  11. Kim Goodling avatar
    Kim Goodling

    Can you give me more details on how you teach “stay close”?

    1. It’s really simple, but it takes patience and determination, Kim.
      I suggest you begin by teaching the dog to walk properly on a lead (with the lead slack at least 90{a56cfaadebb0a7665ef0b8bb5f8f73bbf0eca0e81cdb3d1fbeae9197b774aba9} of the time). While you are teaching the dog to walk properly on a lead, if the dog pulls, use your “Stay close” command to call it back. If you want to teach the dog to walk behind you, you can pull the dog just that bit further and let it know that’s where you want it to be. Once you and the dog have mastered that, it should be very easy to keep the dog close to you when it’s walking off the lead.
      As I said, it takes patience and determination, but if you persist, you’ll do it.

      1. Kim Goodling avatar
        Kim Goodling

        Great thanks! Do you have other videos that talk even more about establishing yourself as the leader?

  12. adam scott paul avatar
    adam scott paul

    Hi I have two dogs that are a year old. I’m starting to train them , when I take blue into the pen she just wants to stand by my side and follow me round the pen now and again she will head the sheep how can I get her to be more interested in chasing the sheep? Ted doesn’t seem to be showing any interest in the sheep and often runs home how can I stop this? They are out of the same litter from v good breeding lines ted does like to chase the quad so I’m hopeful he has chase instinct in him. He has the same character as Zoe in one of your videos.
    Any help would be much appreciated!
    Many thanks

    1. My apologies for the late reply, Adam.
      Your first mistake was to buy two pups from the same litter. We won’t normally sell two pups to the same home unless the owner can prove to us that they know how to cope with two young pups at the same time. Litter mates are even worse. If you watch our tutorials regularly, you’ll know that herding dogs are pack animals, and that they need to bond with their owner. Litter mates are already very strongly bonded and when they go to a new home, they don’t feel the same strong urge to bond with their new owner because they’re already very strongly bonded with each other.

      By “bonding” I don’t mean the dog likes your company, or will sit, stay and wag its tail when you stroke it. What I mean is that the dog sees you as its leader. If the two live in the same pen, or the same part of the house and always go out together, this just makes matters worse. You need to spend time with each dog separately.

      To help you get your reluctant dogs working, her’s a blog I wrote some months ago.

      1. Alex Fullmer avatar
        Alex Fullmer

        I keep her tied up on a long run at the back of the house. We have a wood slated fence separating the front from the back. My wife usually sits out front in the morning drinking coffee when she gets up. Usually I’m up and gone before she gets up but on some occasions I’m still taking care of the back yard chores when she gets up early and this is when I seem to have a problem with Panda coming to me when I whistle for her. Donna told me yesterday that Panda heard me whistle (she picked up her head) but then moved over towards our other older dog that stays inside most of the time.
        Hmm, maybe it has something to do with the other dog?
        Anyway, hope this isn’t to lengthy of an explanation.

        1. It sounds as though you tie the dog up and then go off somewhere, possibly for a long time (to work?) and of course, the dog knows what’s going to happen. When there’s nobody else around, the dog will come to you, but when there’s another dog which clearly gets greater privileges, Panda will see this and really, really won’t want to be tied up.
          Tied-up dogs are not a good thing. Is it not possible for Panda to spend more time with the older dog as a companion?
          My best advice is to spend more time with the dog if you possibly can, and provide a pen with a proper run for her.

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