Backwards is the way forward

Our single most useful exercise, once you have control of the dog


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It’s boring – and it might appear pointless to the novice, but walking backwards with the dog bringing the sheep up to you is the single most important exercise you can do once your dog has basic control of the sheep. It improves pace, working distance, the stop, sheep control, and much more.

As well as clearly demonstrating how to get a strong dog to bring the sheep up quietly – this tutorial provides a valuable tip on how to read your sheep.

Backwards is the way forward

26 responses to “Backwards is the way forward”

  1. Holly Grant avatar

    Hi Andy- When the video reaches 40 seconds it skips to the end!

    1. Andy avatar

      Not happening here, Holly. I just checked it and it plays fine on our system.
      Backwards is the way forward is one of our most popular videos, so I’m sure that someone else would have reported it by now if it wasn’t working properly.
      The usual cause of problems like this is your browser cache. The cache can become clogged from time to time, so you need to clear your browser cache.
      Alternatively, try logging in with either a different browser (Firefox, Chrome, Safari etc) or on a different device (maybe a friend’s computer or phone).
      If the video or player were at fault, it would happen at our end, too.

  2. Cees Kruyt avatar

    Hello Andy Nickless and Gill Watson,
    much appreciate your video’s and lessons. A technical remark: the video ‘Backwards is the best way forwards” tends to stop halfway. That is a slight problem if it only happens once, but I tried many times, and the same ‘stop’ does happen again and again. Ans it’s the only one with this problem. Hope it can be solved.
    Kind regards from a dutch sheperd-and-border in training, Cees Kruyt and Sky.

    1. Andy avatar

      Thank you for reporting this fault to us, Cees Kruyt and Sky!
      The “Backwards is the Way Forward” tutorial is working correctly now.
      Please do not hesitate to report any other issues you have with our tutorials – it’s very good to know that you appreciate them!

  3. carolyn johnston avatar

    When you say “lie down” why don’t you actually make her lie down???

    1. Andy avatar

      I understand your confusion, Carolyn…

      This is a quote from the Stop tutorials.

      This brings me to a few issues that you might be wondering about.
      Firstly, if I give a dog the stop command, I don’t always want it to stand still.
      This is herding, it’s not obedience!
      I want my dogs to think for themselves, to a certain extent.
      They’ll develop far better sheep and cattle skills, than I ever will, so I want to encourage that.
      The alternative to this, is to have a range of commands for various speeds, rather like the gears in a car.
      I think this is confusing and impractical, but if you want a robotic dog that doesn’t think for itself, you might want to try it.
      It’s not for me though.
      I’m sure I’d get the commands mixed up, and I try to limit the number of commands my dogs have to learn.
      If I want the dog to stand still, I’ll give the stop command, and then sometimes add “Stay there!”

      I hope this helps.

  4. roger levy avatar

    Hi Andy
    Meg is a year old we train once a week in a small Paddock with five Sheep next week will be her twelfth training session. She knows her sides with a good stop flanks both sides with ease even a mini outrun and has started to walk on. However when I do set her up to walk on (stopped behind the Sheep if) as she starts to walk I give her the command …walk on….she immediately flanks…I stop her or send her round again stop her behind the Sheep once again as soon as I give her…walk on…she flanks…
    I am still walking backwards and backwards and backwards I have also managed to soften her commands (less shouting) which is so much better…calm dog calm sheep with me included in that…
    As a novice handler I do not have Sheep of my own all of her commands were taught away from Sheep (voice and whistle) with Sheep its like a switch she is keen as Mustard!!!
    Any advice regarding walking on would be much appreciated…

    1. Andy avatar

      You stop the dog behind the sheep, and then when you give her a walk-up command, she flanks to one side or the other instead of walking up?

      Very common problem. The answer is simple – walk away! The dog SHOULD realise the sheep are off balance and go back to the point of balance to correct the situation. If it doesn’t go to collect them keep walking away but give a command to send the dog to collect them.

      If she still won’t go and get them, go back to walking backwards but try to get her to balance the sheep to you without any commands from you. You can use the stick or wave your hand to send her back, but the idea is to make it second nature to keep the sheep on balance.

  5. Richard Williams avatar

    Dear Andy,

    Firstly, thanks for the brilliant tutorials, I’d be lost without them.

    Griff (9 month old Collie) was flanking well and I was ‘walking backwards’ and he would wear behind the sheep.

    However, during the last two training sessions he’s ignoring my commands, flanking in the direction he wants, stopping in front of the sheep rather than behind and running wide. He’s also gripping a little. Away from the sheep he’s become belligerent and wilful although he’s a sensitive and gentle dog.

    We’re training every day; do you think I’m over doing it?

    Thanks very much


    1. Andy avatar

      Hmm… Griff (9 month old Collie). An adolescent male…
      You may be overdoing the training but I doubt it. More likely, he’s just adolescent – and finding ways to do things his way.

      If you have a training ring (and even if you don’t) I suggest you go back to basics. Get him in the ring (or somewhere where you can control the situation) and get him doing as he’s told again. Be firm, but don’t be too hard on him. If he’s running wide, it’s probably just him being “bloody minded” but it might be that you’re being hard on him (or he thinks you are).
      Watch “Bronwen and Scylla 7” for some guidance – and also “Calm But Firm” should help.
      Thanks for the feedback on the tutorials, it’s good to know they are helping you.

      1. Richard Williams avatar

        Dear Andy

        I’ve gone back to basics as you suggest. I’m giving the flanking commands and asking him to lie down. He’s doing very well albeit sometimes I have to walk through the sheep and become a little firmer.

        The problem arises when I ‘walk backwards ‘. The sheep begin to follow and Griff will circle ‘away’ to land in front of the sheep. Or he will go really wide ‘away’. Either way the sheep stop walking and become rooted to the spot. I’m being very calm and gentle with him as you suggest, but I noticed he went wide when I used a harsher tone.

        Another issue is that he has a lovely outrun, but does not bring the sheep back to me. He will either lie down or circle the flock and no amount of encouragement will make him move the sheep. The sheep are forty ewe lambs that are reasonably well dogged.

        He is quite confident with the sheep, this morning he got them off a stone wall fearlessly for example. However, I noticed this afternoon that ewes can challenge him and he’ll back down.

        I don’t think I’m over doing the training, as his enthusiasm seems endless.

        Thanks very much


        1. Andy avatar

          FORTY ewe lambs? That’s a small flock!

          Richard, “back to basics” means back to basics. The dog should be working with no more than four, or five sheep. No wonder you can’t keep the dog in place when there are forty of them to walk through.

          Where in the tutorials do you see me giving the dog basic training on more than a handful of sheep?

          Get the dog to stay in place while you move back with the sheep, and he should only move forward at the pace YOU are moving back at.

          The dog seems OK, but you’re trying to move on too quickly.

          When he circles the sheep at the end of an outrun, I presume it’s when the sheep are a good way off. Again, get him to do short outruns first, and once he’s doing them well, you can increase the distance GRADUALLY.

          The dog will have far more confidence when it’s working close to you.

          If he’s lying down or circling the sheep at the end of an outrun, the chances are he’s not confident enough to outrun that far. I also suspect it’s because the sheep are stubborn and don’t want to move. Watch “Sometimes Nice is Not Enough” to learn how to build up his confidence.

          Going out wider when you’re firm with him is another sure sign of a sensitive dog.

          With respect, I think that not only do you need to go back to basics with Griff, you need to watch ALL the basic tutorials again.

          1. Richard Williams avatar

            Dear Andy

            You’re absolutely right!

            In my defence we started on five sheep in the ring, then five sheep in a paddock. Then one day he dived into a field with one hundred ewe lambs and kept them together. I thought forty would be ok!

            I’m going to do as you say. Keep up the good work!



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