Start training a young puppy on sheep (1 of 2)

We attempt to start training two eleven week old puppies to sheep for the first time.

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

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Photo of Andy holding puppy Ezra

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Video Highlights

Introduction.
What’s the correct age to start training a puppy on sheep?
In the open field, puppies are not fast enough.
The pup’s speed’s not important inside a training ring.
Encouraging the pup to find the point of balance.
Safety of the pup is a high priority.
Introducing two pups to sheep for the first time.
Carew would rather be elsewhere.
Carew’s not ready for training yet.
Ezra’s confidence is building.
Each time the sheep move away, the dog’s confidence grows.
Pups get tired very quickly.
Ezra working as an adult sheepdog.
Carew went on to be a truly great sheepdog.

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With care, you can start training early

Part 1. The usual age to start training a puppy on sheep is between six and twelve months, but if you have the right sort of sheep and know what you’re doing, your pup can begin herding at a much younger age. Starting a dog early makes it much easier to get the youngster under control in the presence of sheep. In “Starting a Young Puppy” Andy shows what to do and what to avoid when he takes litter-mates Ezra and Carew to the sheep – at just eleven weeks old.

WATCH NEXT
Starting A Young Puppy 2


Comments

32 responses to “Start training a young puppy on sheep (1 of 2)”

  1. charles hartway avatar
    charles hartway

    Hello Andy,
    We were wondering if a puppy getting shocked by an electric fence would ruin it for later training and if so how to prevent it from happening.
    The pups are wandering free on the property and like to go under the fence for the cows. They live in the barn not the house.

    1. If you’re lucky a painful experience with an electric fence won’t put your pup/s off working stock, but it’s really not worth the risk. I strongly recommend the dogs are only ever loose when they’re supervised; it’s not just the electric fence but the stock themselves that may hurt or frighten a puppy and that probably WILL be discouraging. A bad experience with stock is likely to make a young dog nervous about working, or possibly aggressive in its determination to “get in first”. Either way, it’s far better to keep your dogs under control and not allow them to wander at will. It’s perfectly OK, even desirable, to take the puppies to see the stock on a regular basis, and even allow them to dart or run around the stock for a minute or two to keep them keen, but always under supervision. The Devil makes work for idle paws!

      Gill

  2. Elisabeth Kelly avatar
    Elisabeth Kelly

    Hi Andy
    Enjoying what I have been watching so far – do you have anything more specific on the puppy age- recall especially ( I saw some lead walking but again anymore on that) and it is ok to us “come” as recall or will that get confused with come by? And lastly ( probably not!) how do you get him to lie down on the move – just practise it stopped and then hope they get in when on the move?! Thanks Elisabeth

    1. It’s good to know you are enjoying the videos, Elisabeth. Thank you for the feedback.
      I think the most appropriate videos to watch are “Stopping the Dog” (particularly part 1) and “Sheepdog Selection and Preparation“. If you have already watched them, watch again!
      It’s not really a question of picking one “fix-all” though.
      We recommend you watch as many of the early videos as you can, to get a fuller picture of sheepdog training and how to go about it.
      You don’t have to be an expert to train a dog. You need to be the dog’s leader, and best friend at the same time. This is not as easy as you might think. It means having fun with the dog, but showing calm leadership as well. Dogs are amazingly clever at finding ways to “get round” human beings. They will find the slightest “chink” in our “armour””, and exploit it to get their way.
      The most common fault I see with trainers is that they are not prepared to be assertive enough, particularly when the dog is very young.
      Training should begin the moment the dog comes to live with you. Any rules should be firm from day one.
      Years ago, I used to play the guitar (not very well, but I enjoyed it). One summer, I began playing the guitar while I had the dogs out in the field for their morning run. I would sit on our picnic table in the shade of a big damson tree while most of the dogs lay quietly around me.
      One of our dogs (Maddie) was a fanatical retriever. She would constantly bring a ball for us to throw, but of course, while playing the guitar, I didn’t want to stop, pick up a ball and throw it.
      On this occasion, Maddie brought the ball and laid it by my feet. Then she stood back and gazed at me expectantly. I ignored her.
      After a few minutes, she picked up the ball again, and placed it carefully on my feet, but I continued to ignore her.
      A little later, she picked up the ball and put it in my lap. I still ignored her, but I was finding it increasingly difficult not to laugh.
      Finally, Maddie picked up the ball, climbed up onto the table, and shoved the ball firmly onto the strings of the guitar.
      I threw the ball!
      It was incredibly funny, but my point is, Maddie had won. She had controlled ME – and although it was an isolated incident, it’s typical of the sort of thing dogs will do to get what they want.
      To be a good trainer, we need to reward the dog when it does good things, but when it does bad ones, we should make sure it doesn’t get any reward. That might mean shutting the dog away from interesting things for an hour or two.
      You don’t need to be cruel to the dog, just be FIRM, FAIR and CONSISTENT.

  3. Scott Michael Brennan avatar
    Scott Michael Brennan

    Hello, I’m loving these tutorials! I have a 13 week old BCollie and I also have a decently trained ( in herding, he is very advanced in other things) 4 year old Malinois. I’m used to training with toys as rewards. I understand the actual work is the reward when herding. But, I’m very excited using a bite toy attached to a string/rope and having my puppy run in the circular pattern in both “Come by” and “away” directions. As she plays I’m often just yelling out the directions as she follows my lead. Will this help in the long run or am I wasting my time? She has been introduced to the sheep, but not to work, just while being in my arms and watching my Malinois work them. She gets very excited from her perch in my arms.

    1. It’s good to hear you are enjoying the tutorials, Scott. Thank you for the feedback.
      Firstly, your pup is VERY young, so training sessions should be simple, lighthearted and brief. Pups get tired very quickly.
      Yes, make the sessions fun, but try not to over-excite the pup. Don’t ‘yell’, give commands in a friendly but firm way if you can. We need to give the dog the impression we are competent leaders – calm and efficient.
      Any training you can give the dog, such as going round things, and importantly stopping, and staying in place, will all help later on when you begin serious training with the dog. The recall is also very important.
      Holding the pup in your arms while it struggles to get near the sheep is not a good idea – UNLESS you let the pup chase them regularly. If you just hold the pup while it (frustratedly) watches the sheep, you’re teaching it not to chase them. It will eventually stop trying. Watch the short video Puppy Training Essentials.

  4. Lauren Johnston avatar
    Lauren Johnston

    Hello. Greatly enjoying the videos recently purchased. Question: I have a young BC bitch, 15 months old, who is very “mouthy” and “talky”. She has a loud and, she seems to think, commanding bark and though I am very routine with correction, she basically ignores the “stop talking” command unless startled into it; for example — I will growl “stop talking” and walk toward her or tap my crook on the ground with the verbal command, etc. Is this her immaturity that causes her to challenge. As some background info: we have 7 other BC’s and she is the youngest, so she sometimes seems to be jockeying for position in the pack. What else might I do to stop the sometimes incessant barking?

    1. The dog’s age is a factor Lauren, but not a major one. Stopping a dog (of any age) barking, isn’t too difficult once you know WHY the dog’s barking.
      We have an FAQ page on How To Stop Your Dog Barking. It should be a big help to you.
      The method outlined works well, but you mentioned another method (startling the dog) which works well too. If you’ve tried that method and it didn’t work, it suggests the dog doesn’t recognise you fully as its leader, or you’re simply not being “startling” enough! I suggest you look closely at the Stopping The Dog (Part 1) tutorial. Pay particular attention to the sections on bonding with your dog.

      1. Lauren Johnston avatar
        Lauren Johnston

        Thank you, Andy. I will do that and yes, I can see that she challenges me as leader. I will look at both the FAQ and the Stopping The Dog (part 1) tutorial. Thanks again and I so appreciate the prompt and personal reply. Best, Lauren.

  5. Martin otoole avatar
    Martin otoole

    when buying a sheepdog pup what is the best signs in a pup to look for what type of pup would you recommend kind regards Martin otoole

    1. Hello Martin,
      Thanks for being a subscriber to the tutorials. You should find all you need to know in the Sheepdog Selection and Preparation tutorial. I’m sure it will help.

  6. David Acuna avatar
    David Acuna

    Hi Andy and Gill,

    Congratulations for your excellent website and content.
    I have one question about electric fences. We do holistic management with our sheep and move then around using 4 wire electric fences. The other day our two months old puppy (a border collie) run into the paddock obviously interested in the sheep but got a electric pulse. He wasn´t scared but confused, and we quickly moved him out of the place to avoid him get scared and have a bad experience.
    So I wonder if we should train him first about the electric fence without sheep so he can learn about it and respect it without believing that are the sheep the ones who are causing him the electric shock and not getting scared by them. We also use electric nets for poultry at the farm. What do you recommend?.

    Thanks!

    1. I’m amazed the puppy wasn’t scared! In our experience (admittedly of adult dogs with electric fences) they are terrified. Obviously, it’s best to avoid the pup associating sheep with electric shocks. That would never do!
      We stopped using electric fencing years ago, because when a dog is chasing frightened sheep, they simply charge through the fencing and drag it all over the place!
      Far better to get the dog working sheep in a more conventionally fenced paddock (such as the training ring) first if possible – and then allow it to work the sheep near the electric.
      I think that if the dog gets the idea is shouldn’t go near the electric fence, it’ll be reluctant to go between the sheep and the wires – and the sheep will learn that if they stand very close to the fence, the dog won’t trouble them too much. (Sheep are not as stupid as people think).
      You need to think it through carefully. I don’t know how your sheep will behave. Are they used to being worked by a dog? It would help if they are, but I would definitely recommend training the dog well away from any risk of electric shock, at least until it has good control over the sheep.
      In my limited experience of dogs getting an electric shock (after they develop a very strong work instinct) it’s not too difficult to coax them back to work again, and obviously then VERY GRADUALLY work them closer to an electric fence. Far preferable I would imagine, than allowing the pup to learn not to go near the fence first.

      1. David Acuna avatar
        David Acuna

        Thanks for your detailed responde, Andy.
        Yes, we will definitely train the dog well away from the electric fence and will use the training ring as you suggest. But at the same time, our farm is not too big, just 4 hectares, and we use the electric fences for all our animals, sheeps and poultry, and move them all around the farm. I guess we’ll need to keep our puppy under supervision all the time and avoid he gets in contact with the sheeps while they are at the electric fenced paddock and only when we take them into the training ring. Once the dog is adult and trained with the sheeps we could start getting closer to the electric fence with him, am I right?.

        Thanks again!
        David

      2. David Acuna avatar
        David Acuna

        Hi Andy,

        Due to our farm context working with portable electric fences and following your advice I’m thinking about following this training plan for our 10 weeks old puppy:
        Avoid any contact of the dog with the sheep while they are within the electric fence for the next 6-8 weeks. When he is around 16 weeks old put the sheep on the training ring (without any electric fence at all) and get him with them and see how he reacts, taking special care to avoid him to be scared by the sheep and trying to encourage him by keeping us very close to him as you suggest. Maybe keep doing this every 10-15 days or so.
        By the same age train the dog with the electric fence WITHOUT sheep and faraway form them, so he learns to respect it and not relate it with the sheep.

        How do you see it?. Does it make sense?. We won’t be able to keep the sheep completely out of the dog’s view once he is 16 weeks old or so as we´ll need to use the pastures we have around our house by that time, so our goal will be that our dog doesn’t lose interest in the sheep but at the same time he won’t run into them while they are within the electric fence.

        Thank you very much,
        David

        1. The plan sounds OK in theory, but I think you might run into problems, especially if he pup’s allowed to wander around freely. When the pup’s hunting instinct kicks-in (which you clearly want it to do) you’ll need to shut him away from the sheep, or shut the sheep away from him. Clearly, he cannot be allowed to chase them around at will – and also, there’s a strong risk that the sheep will harm the pup, or at the least, frighten it.
          You can train the pup to ignore the sheep – but then you run a high risk that he’ll think he’s not allowed to work them – and you’ll have big problems trying to get him interested again. It’s a delicate balance between keeping the dog away from the sheep most of the time, but allowing him to chase them a bit (under strict supervision and protection) to keep his interest in them, alive.
          The electric fence just complicates this, because we don’t want the dog to get a shock, and associate it with the sheep.

  7. Mary Fox avatar

    Hi Andy
    I have a 6 month old bitch. She is very keen iv been doing a lot of yard work, lie down come to me etc this is going well.
    As expected all this traing went out the window when intoduced to sheep but she seems to have a natural stop which helps but not on command is this OK I do give her the lie down when she does it? Sorry I have another problem that started recently, chasing cars, postman,tractors ect .worried. help x

    1. First, the car-chasing! We have an article on this. I strongly recommend you study it (it works).
      Otherwise, your dog sounds perfectly normal, but think about what you are doing. If you wait until the dog stops and then give the command, who’s in charge here? The dog!
      You must make the dog stop when it suits you – not when it suits the dog. That goes for all aspects of training.
      Please be sure to watch all of the early training tutorials in the order they are listed on the Welcome and Library pages. That way, you will get a much better idea of what’s going to happen, and how to cope with it.

      1. Mary Fox avatar

        Hi Andy
        Thank you very much for your reply and would like you to know how much I’m enjoying the tutorials. I am trying to find the one you mentioned I should watch on car chasing but can’t seem to find it in the list? Could you point me inthe right direction. Thank you Mary

        1. Mary, I added the link twice in the first sentence of my reply!

  8. Deborah Hoggar avatar
    Deborah Hoggar

    Hi Andy
    I’ve just discovered your videos which are so clear and concise, brilliant for a complete beginner like me, I’m really enjoying them.
    I have a 5 month old BC, we’re on a small holding, just 10 acres and 24 Romney sheep. Until now I’ve used a ball to try to teach the basic commands, Nell loves the sessions and she’s pretty much nailed ‘come by’, ‘away’ in terms of going off in the right direction, ‘lie down’ – at a ball throw’s distance, ‘walk up’ and then ‘lie down’ again as she approaches me, ‘that’ll do’ when we finish playing. However I’m now worried she’s very focussed on the ball and straight lines – is the ball a bad tool, should I ditch the ball?
    Now I’ve watched your videos I do intend to establish a training pen and introduce her to a small number of sheep but one or two introductions to the sheep so far in a 5 acre field she was really interested in them but essentially just chased them or ‘stalked’ them and ignored me completely.
    Thanks for any advice
    Deborah

    1. It’s great that you’ve taught your dog some basic commands with the use of a ball (away from sheep) but you must remember that what you teach the dog AWAY from sheep, usually gets completely forgotten when the dog comes face-to-face with them. The dog’s hunting instinct ‘kicks-in’ at this time, and until you get it under some sort of control (using the techniques outlined in the ‘Starting’ tutorials, she’s going to ignore anything you say.
      Once she begins to realise that she must do as you tell her though, the commands you’ve already taught her will speed her progress significantly.
      I suggest you watch the first of the tutorials in the order they appear on the ‘Welcome Page’ when you login (if you’ve already watched them once, watch them again). They’ll help you to understand what your dog is doing.
      Her behaviour sounds perfectly normal from your description.

  9. Bruce Hennessey avatar
    Bruce Hennessey

    I have a brand new 12 week old pup. She joins 2 other older dogs and I generally take them out together. She stays with me off lead and will come generally when called. Is lead training the first thing to get sorted?

    1. The pup begins learning from you the moment it sets eyes on you for the first time, so it’s whole life with you is going to be a training session. Lead training can play a major part in training your dog, but equally important is to spend time with the dog on a one-to-one basis, and prove to it that you are a good leader.
      By all means let the puppy play. We encourage ours to play with us, with toys, and with each other, but it’s important they learn that when you say stop (doing something) you really mean it. That goes for other members of your family, too. Dogs are constantly looking for ways to “get around you” – to get “special” privileges, so it’s important to keep that in mind. So if the dog is playing and you tell it to stop, don’t let it persuade you to let it keep going, for example.
      Be FIRM, FAIR and CONSISTENT with your dog, and you’ll be fine.

  10. Robert Johnston avatar
    Robert Johnston

    Been a few years since I last trained from a pup (current bitch now 7yrs). Currently have three 5month old pups showing good form. My son has been great walking them daily off lead and away from sheep, they know names and have some level of recall. I take them to sheep at weekends and now daily on Christmas break. I take pups out just long enough to do something good for which pup is well praised (verbally and where possible pats). I had them out this morning and was slightly discouraged, deliberately took them out in afternoon: better sheep, better planned and only for few mins. Pups loved it and I was much more encouraged.
    Question: What amount of time do you generally take pups / young dogs out for?
    Thanks Robert ( enjoying your videos :-)

    1. Thank you for your kind words Robert, it’s good to see that you’re making progress with your pups.
      If they are closely related though, I hope you give them plenty of training individually, rather than together. Training related pups together does little to improve the bond between you and the dog – they’re more inclined to stay bonded with each other. This can lead to problems with training.
      To find out how often, and how long we train our dogs, I suggest you watch the tutorial How Often and How Long.

  11. Britta Waddell avatar
    Britta Waddell

    Hi, my 4 months old pup takes every opportunity (and she is very quick) to escape and run to the sheep. Our property is shared between horses and sheep, therefore we have electric fences (Gallagher Equi Fence). It keeps horses and sheep where they should be and they are safe. My older BC had a few shocks as a puppy and then learned only to go thru fence if I allow it. But this pup doesn’t seem to mind electric shocks and still runs off, all by herself. What can I do to stoop this/

    1. If you have no fences, it won’t be easy to control a puppy, Brita. It’s usual to keep the dog in a kennel, take it out regularly and keep control of it with a lead or rope while it’s out. If you spend time with the pup, keeping it on a lead to stop it running off, it won’t take long to teach the dog to come back to you when you call it.
      At the moment, the dog either feels it’s getting no guidance from you, or it’s not properly bonded with you (respects you as its leader) so it goes off and follows its instinct.
      I recommend taking the dog out for a few minutes several times a day on a lead, and training it to walk properly with the lead slack. If the dog is pulling on the lead, it’s trying to control you. That means it doesn’t recognise you as its leader. When you get it to walk properly with the lead slack, the pup will begin to respect you more.
      At the moment, with no fences and no respect from the dog, you can’t possibly control it.

      1. Britta Waddell avatar
        Britta Waddell

        Thanks Andy,
        now almost a month later, we have improved a lot. Leading on a loose lead/rope, sit and down are now established and she even came back when she took off to see the sheep the other day. Great success I thought :-
        Other people told me to use electric collar, but really didn’t want to do it and I didn’t have to!

        1. That’s great news, Brita.
          I detest electric collars. They’re totally unnecessary.

  12. Jenny Ullgren avatar
    Jenny Ullgren

    Hi – my puppy chases my boots more than the sheep. She tries with the sheep, but get suddenly more interested in eating the sheep’s poop and just now and then chases the sheep. The sheep are not very afraid of her either. Just curious. Should we try her on other sheep, more afraid of her chasing-motions? Should we let her chase our boots? Jenny

    1. The dog certainly shouldn’t be chasing your boots, Jenny. You need to stop that, but you don’t say how old the puppy is. It’s not unusual for a young pup to get distracted but if it’s more than about six or seven months old, the likely cause of its getting bored is that the sheep are not responding, so yes, I would get some more responsive sheep if you can.

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