Sheep – essential facts for trainers

Are yours suitable sheep for sheepdog training?

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Photo of a group of sheep grazing by a green hedge

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Video Highlights

Legal requirements for keeping sheep.
Why dogs are able to herd sheep and cattle.
Sheep types and characteristics.
We use Welsh Mule sheep.
Hoggs (ewe lambs) can be ideal.
Dogged‘ sheep are ideal for starting a dog.
Types of sheep to avoid in early training.
Ideas for finding some sheep to train with.
The powerful flocking instinct.

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Not so daft!

People think sheep are stupid, but in some ways they can be very clever, as well as determined. When you start training your first sheepdog, it’s easy to overlook the importance of learning about sheep and their behaviour. The more you know about sheep and their funny ways, the easier it will be to train your sheepdog.

In this video tutorial, we look at the way sheep behave – especially when confronted with a dog. We also discuss ways of finding and obtaining sheep, how to find somewhere to keep them, what sort of sheep it’s best to use for training sheepdogs, and which types are best avoided when the dog’s in the early stages of training.

WATCH NEXT…
Starting a young puppy 1


Comments

13 responses to “Sheep – essential facts for trainers”

  1. Philip Hopkins avatar
    Philip Hopkins

    Hi Andy,
    I’ve watched the first videos and thoroughly enjoyed them.
    I have Nigerian Dwarf goats. I’m reluctant to use borrowed sheep for starting my almost 9-month-old Border Collie because of concerns about parasite transmission (sheep to goats). I have two wethers and a yearling doe that are relatively gentle. Any tips on starting my dog with them or should I research other options?
    Thank you.

    1. It’s good to know you’ve enjoyed the videos you’ve seen so far, Philip.
      We have quite a number of members who train their dogs on goats, but I understand some goats can be very stubborn, so you may need to watch “Sometimes nice is not enough” at some stage, if your dog finds the goats hard to move.
      The principles are just the same for the dog, whatever it’s working, so you should find our tutorials very helpful – but be sure to watch the first ones first, to get a better understanding of how things work, and what to expect along the way.
      We’d love to hear how you get on, if you feel like letting us know.

      1. Philip Hopkins avatar
        Philip Hopkins

        Thank you. I am watching the videos in order so will look for that one coming up.

  2. Ray Cooper avatar

    Well I’ve watched the first three clips with interest. Myself and my dogs are “Late starters” I’m late 50s and I started my dogs one at just three and a half years old and the other at two years old. Between both of my dogs they have during the six to nine month process shown all three behaviours that you outlined in episode three.

    The most common comment I get about my dogs is that they are “soft”.

    What are your thoughts on the trainability of “soft” dogs. And not having my own sheep is once a week enough training for them?
    Thanks

    1. Your dogs are perfectly trainable, but the older the dog is, the longer it takes to train it to do new things. Dogs are very much creatures of habit, and the older they get, the more ingrained those habits become. (Just as with humans).
      If you mean the dogs BOTH chase the sheep all over the place, BOTH try to hold the sheep in one place (and then refuse to move) – and yet they BOTH lose interest in working at times I’d be surprised, but I wouldn’t worry too much. It suggests to me the dogs are confused about what they’re doing. Their instinct makes them want to give chase (you should encourage this – as long as the sheep are not being stressed too much) but they also fear they’re doing wrong – so they stop!
      I suggest you watch the tutorials in the order they appear on the Welcome and Library Pages – certainly the first ten or twelve tutorials will give you a better background understanding of training. In addition, I suggest you watch Calm but firm (which should help you to understand a dog which loses interest in working when you correct it) and Sometimes nice is not enough which is about giving the dog more confidence to be assertive with sheep. Bear in mind though, that I cannot see what’s happening. If I have misunderstood you, please correct me. If the dogs are lacking confidence, it would be worth watching How can I slow the dog down – but DOING THE OPPOSITE of what is recommended! You’ll see what I mean if you watch the video.

      1. Ray Cooper avatar

        The older dog likes to split them up or when the sheep stick themselves in a corner she will just stand and stare. Occasionally shows disinterest but that has improved.

        The younger one has just quit and run away once or twice but he also is showing more enthusiasm over time.

  3. gareth thomas avatar
    gareth thomas

    hi andy a report on my sheddding diffecuity .. yes its starting to happen ,, i left the stick at home to start with he was reluctant to come thriugh to shed ,, so i lowred my body position on the second and third time and its sterting to happen … i will give you an update in a week … thank you

  4. Sarah Weaver avatar
    Sarah Weaver

    Hi Andy,

    I have been watching your videos for almost a month and have found them invaluable.

    I have a 3/4 Collie – 1/4 Huntaway which is making steady progress (your sessions on Starting the Strong Dog and Max the Gripper are especially helpful and reassuring) and, while still working far too close to the sheep she has at least, stopped gripping.

    I am now working outside the pen in half an acre and the dog can circle, follow while I walk backwards in a straight line / round obstacles / in and out of the pen, do short outruns, come away from the sheep, and (need I say it!) has no problems with confidence when going between the sheep and a fence. She has also worked out how to bring a sheep back to the group in a ‘reasonable’ manner. However, all these need more work , especially widening her out for ALL activities because I know that she is putting far too much pressure on the sheep.

    Initially I started her on 8 sheep borrowed from a friend who uses dogs but I found them too flighty for my over-enthusiastic dog (I have concluded that there are dogged sheep and sheep that have been worked by dogs) so I changed to using 4 of my own which are much quieter, although they have never seen a dog. In fact, their quiet temperaments + the over-enthusiast dog mean that I am now working with sheep that are completely under my feet most of the time and would rather be with me even when I am almost beside the dog!

    My question is: should I change to the borrowed, flighty sheep (maybe a selected 4 of them) to progress training or stay with the sticky sheep to consolidate?
    My worry is that if the borrowed sheep (which neither like me or the dog) rushed everywhere it would encourage the dog to return to her over-enthusiastic behaviour which I am trying to calm down.

    Your thoughts would be appreciated.

    Sarah

    1. It’s great to know you find the tutorials helpful, Sarah – thanks for the feedback.

      The fact that you put your comment on this page suggests that you’re thinking this is a sheep problem, but to be honest, I think it’s a dog training problem.

      Quote: “their quiet temperaments + the over-enthusiast dog mean that I am now working with sheep that are completely under my feet most of the time”

      If the tame sheep are gathering round your legs, the dog is too close. MAKE the dog stay back. The tutorial for this is “Backwards is the Way Forward“. If you’ve already watched it, watch it again! (And again)!

      It’s the best tutorial we have for getting your dog to respect the sheep and work at a sensible distance. It’s tedious, but you really must make that dog stay back and respect the sheep. Walking backwards really works if you stick at it and do it properly!

      If the sheep which “have been worked by dogs” are panicking, it’s because the dog’s too fast, too close etc etc. Watch “How can I Slow the Dog Down” for help with this.

      If the sheep really are a problem, you could try putting two from each group into a paddock together for a few days (no training) and leaving them to settle. Then, after (say) about 7 days, try working them with your (now much steadier because you’ve been working on the walking backwards) dog. Hopefully, the steadier ones will slow the flighty ones down, and the flightier ones will perk the steady ones up a bit.

      1. Sarah Weaver avatar
        Sarah Weaver

        Thanks for your prompt reply, Andy.

        I shall re-watch both tutorials again and again and……. If I can get her to slow down I think I might achieve a useful dog.

        Her boundless “enthusiasm’ for, and reaction to, EVERYTHING in her world has been a problematic characteristic since we had her as a puppy and, to be honest, I have been surprised by her ability to apply herself when with the sheep. If walking backwards is the key then I have the patience to walk backwards forever (nearly)!

        Your last paragraph has put into words something that I had already considered and so I shall definitely try this tactic, choosing the quieter of the flighty sheep to begin with.

        Thanks for your comments.

        In a while I’ll let you know how we get on.

        Sarah

  5. Megan Filhart avatar
    Megan Filhart

    Andy,
    Thank you so much for your fast reply! I will work on driving first, I am sure walking backwards will be challenging when I get to that point. I would love to work with sheep instead, however this just isn’t a sheep area. No worries, I have been injured by cattle before and it’s no fun, so I will be extra careful!

  6. Megan Filhart avatar
    Megan Filhart

    Hi Andy,
    Are sheep the only species you would recommend starting a dog on? It would be most ideal if I could make use of the cattle at hand if it’s possible. Any advice would be appreciated, I am very grateful to your tutorials. Thank you!

    1. Sheep are by far the best initially, Megan. Once you have some control over the dog (particularly if you can call it away) it becomes much easier to train the dog on cattle, but obviously, there are safety issues. For instance, you don’t want the (probably over-enthusiastic) trainee dog to bring the cattle rushing towards you. For this reason, I would suggest you start by using the dog to push the cattle away from you. Once you have proper control of the dog in that situation, it will be easier and safer to teach it to go round you and (calmly) bring them towards you.
      Good luck with training your dog – but be careful if it’s on cattle!

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