Give the sheep some space

Teach your sheepdog to keep away from the sheep when it’s working.


Photo of a pond In autumn

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Video Highlights

Why your dog must give the sheep space

Most points lost in sheepdog trials, are caused by dog’s being too close to the sheep.
Comparing the working distances of dogs.
Teaching a trainee sheepdog to give the sheep more space.
Walking backwards with the dog bringing the sheep along nicely.
Correcting the dog when it goes the wrong way.
‘Whooshing’ the stick, to make the dog go out wider.
Work on the side that the dog is tightest on, to balance it up.
More walking backwards to relieve the stress. Rita enjoys this.
In the next lesson, two days later the dog’s flanks have improved.
Gently use the stick and follow the dog round to keep it back off the sheep.
Standing between the dog and the sheep, increases the chance of guiding the dog round them.
Use a quiet voice to encourage the dog, and a wave of the stick to keep him out.
Blocking the dog with the stick, to stop him, then ‘whooshing’ it to widen him out.
Following the dog round and gently waving the stick to ‘push’ him out.
The same dog in the open field a few days later.
Walking back with the sheep, and keeping the dog in place.
Walking through the sheep to send the dog on a short outrun.
If the dog’s hard to stop, repeatedly flank it a little way and then stop it.

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The dog must not crowd the stock

If your dog’s going to work sheep or cattle properly, it must learn to give them plenty of room and not crowd them. Of course there are times when the dog needs to be close and assertive with the stock, but as a general rule, the less the dog pressurises sheep or other livestock the better. Teach your sheepdog to keep away from the sheep.

If the dog keeps well back off the stock, they’ll be much calmer, and subsequently far easier to manage than excited or frightened sheep or cattle will be.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn ways of encouraging your dog to go out wider, and stay out there! Your dog must not crowd the stock.

Starting A Non-Starter 1


25 responses to “Give the sheep some space”

  1. Mariko Suzue Pan avatar
    Mariko Suzue Pan

    Hello Andy, thank you so much for your videos! I am really enjoying them. I found this video really helpful and my pup is starting to keep her distance well with her flanks and in doing so, has been gripping a LOT less. We still have work to do but it’s getting better! The one thing I can’t seem to do is to encourage her to keep her distance when I’m walking backwards straight. With her flanks she keeps her distance, but she comes in way too tight when I go straight, and that’s where it all seems to go all out the window. Her stop is getting better and better and I tell her to lie down when she comes in too close, but the second I tell her to walk on, she comes in too close. It’s akin to a car constantly accelerating and braking rather than just a slow, smooth ride. How can I fix this? Thanks!

    1. It’s great to know you’re finding the videos helpful! Thanks for the valuable feedback!
      Don’t worry, it’ll come! Your description of the car lurching forward is exactly what it’s like! It’s perfectly natural for the keen young pup to keep coming in, but you must insist on her staying back.
      I hope you’ve watched “Backwards is the way forward” – if you have, watch it again – and again! It will help you a lot. Watch how I come through the sheep to MAKE Tess stay back.
      Backwards is the way forward is the single most important video for anyone who’s dog is flanking and stopping reasonably well. Keep at it – do it PROPERLY, and your dog will be transformed!

  2. Arye Ehrenberg avatar
    Arye Ehrenberg

    Hello Andy. do you use a command to to tell the dog to move away from the sheep?

    1. If you need to, but usually the dog will learn to flank properly if you push it out, as you’ll see in the video above (and many others).

  3. Nancy Barrows avatar
    Nancy Barrows

    Hi Andy
    I’ve been enjoying the videos and have found them helpful. My young dog was very tight but she’s gotten much better lately. The problem I having is at the top of the out run. She’s willing to give room on the sides but tends to cut in at the top which upsets the sheep. Do you have any suggestions?

    Thanks, Nancy

    1. Great to know that you’re finding the tutorials useful – and that your dog is going wider now. Thanks for the feedback Nancy.
      If your dog’s tight at the top of her outrun, position yourself between the sheep and the dog before sending her off to them. Then, as she comes past you, move across towards her and ‘push’ her out. You need to get a feel for how aggressive/assertive to be though. Usually just the fact that you’re moving out towards the dog and telling it to “get out” will be enough to push the dog out wider, but of course you need to time it so that it has most effect when the dog is actually past you. At the very least, this will give you a “get out” command to tell the dog to go wider.
      You can see graphics showing this more clearly in the Outrun tutorials but basically, if you stand closer to the dog and farther away from the sheep, you can widen the dog on it’s journey to the sheep, and if you stand closer to the sheep – but farther from the dog, you can widen the part of the outrun when the dog goes around the sheep.
      If you don’t already have a “get out” command, it’s well worth developing one because you can use it whenever the dog begins to come in tighter.

      1. Nancy Barrows avatar
        Nancy Barrows

        Hi Andy
        I tried your suggestion yesterday during practice. Yes it does help if I position myself closer to the sheep and just Get Out. Thank you for your help with that. The other issue I’m having is with her speed. She is very very fast. I’m pretty sure the sheep would like for her to approach at less than warp speed. Any suggestions?

        Cheers, Nancy

        1. Good to hear that worked, Nancy.
          Now I want you to position yourself on This Page (the A-Z list of tutorials) and look for “How Can I Slow the Dog Down“! :)

          1. Nancy Barrows avatar
            Nancy Barrows

            I tried the walking backwards today at practice. It made an amazing difference! I used a fence line to help control the rather flighty sheep we were using and by the end of the session she was really giving the sheep tons of room. Thank you so much

          2. That’s great news, Nancy. It sounds as though you’ve got a really useful dog there!

  4. calypso taylor avatar
    calypso taylor

    Hi Andy, I’m very much enjoying your videos, they are helping me out a great deal! I took on a ten month old dog a couple of months ago (he’ll turn 1 this December) and things have been going well so far. He has been and is very tight on the sheep, so I’ve been giving him a woosh with the stick and praising him when he’s flanking out at more of a distance. But I’m slightly concerned as although he is keen on the sheep he’s actually pretty chilled out for his age and lacking in confidence under the surface of it all, so after pushing him out with the stick a couple of times in the session, he’s started to show reluctance in going after the sheep at all! I think he is a ‘slow goer’ and will need more time to mature and be a pup but I don’t want to put him off all together before we’ve even started! Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
    Thanks, Calypso.

    1. In “The Golden Rule of Sheepdog Training“, I say “Balancing the intensity of correction techniques, with the sensitivity of the dog, Is the quality of a good trainer”.
      You’re on the right track, but you’re pushing your dog a little too hard.
      If you find your training methods are causing the dog to lose confidence or enthusiasm, moderate them to a level that’s acceptable to the dog, and then VERY gradually increase the intensity as required.
      You can see me doing this in “Calm But Firm“.
      Sometimes a dog will show reluctance as a way of avoiding your corrections, so you need to watch carefully and adjust the severity accordingly.

  5. Saskia Sowers avatar
    Saskia Sowers

    Hi Andy , hope all is well. Ian is doing great. he’s still a bit tight on the sheep , we are working on it. My question is . now that he’s flanking well , ( most of the time ) stopping better . and improved greatly on all we discussed before . How do I get him to turn off. lol He is ALWAYS working . the others I can call them off and we go about our business. but Ian will go paddock to paddock and stare and while I am working, I can not watch him every moment. and he will lunge at them through the fence if he can , I need him to be with me on the farm working but I also need him to chill out a bit when I don’t need him to work , He can not seem to help himself, he will come away when told “here ” or enough or whatever. but as I go back to my chores . he goes back to staring and his idea of working.

    1. Great to hear that you’ve made such good progress with Ian, Saskia – but now you’ve arrived at the tedious bit!

      Dog training is all about reward. Ian loves nothing more than to be round sheep, and you’ve made it clear to him that he’ll only be allowed to be around them if he behaves himself and treats them with some respect. That much you’ve achieved.

      I always advise people to have their dog with them as much as possible, because that way, the bond between you and the dog will get stronger and stronger. Unfortunately, it can be difficult at first, because whenever you’re near the sheep, the dog will want to go to them. This is perfectly natural, but of course, we need to get through to the dog that it’s not acceptable.

      Call him back and tell him to lie down somewhere near you, and where you can easily see him. Carry on working, and if he slopes off, call him back again. You can repeat this a few times, but if he’s not improving, tie him up for an hour, and then try again. If he goes off again, call him back sternly and give him a warning.

      If he slopes off again, take him away back to the farm or to his kennel, and leave him there for the rest of the morning (or afternoon). Repeat as required.

      Just as he learned to respect the sheep, he must learn that if he wants to be with you, he’s not to go after the sheep when you’re working. Unfortunately, there’s no short cut to it, but it shouldn’t take long, and it’s well worth the effort.

      1. Saskia Sowers avatar
        Saskia Sowers

        Thanks Andy ! I will do that . He will certainly be upset to be restrained or taken from me and his pack , so I will do that . The other dogs will play with each other and come when told . Poor Ian is just so desperate to “play sheep”! . I have also been trying to get him to drove or drive . Just started . He gets very confused as I’m trying to get to do the opposite of what I taught him , He so wants to bring the sheep to me . I have watched the videos you have on this . but I feel I am just confusing him . when I try to change the balance point as you show . ( Ian between me and the sheep } he gets very confused and wants to flank , and then he will rush in to get them moving which scatters them for a moment , then he will gather them back . I don’t know if I should stop him ? or how to proceed . I can feel I am awkward in my directions , but not sure how to remedy this. Thank you Andy , Ps, My dogs are doing as good as the are, because of your teaching. Hats off to you!

        1. He’ll be fine, Saskia – but I think you’re expecting too much, too soon! Once he learns that the way to stay out around you is to leave the sheep alone, he’ll do it.

          You saw the picture on my last reply to you – we’ve moved on still further from there too. As a typical example, just this evening I didn’t go out with the dogs until it was getting dark, and while we were out, I noticed that the sheep (who usually stay out of the way at the top of the field) obviously assumed the dogs would be away by now and were merrily grazing away, right where I take the (fourteen) dogs. Because our dogs are so good about situations like this, I continued to walk our normal route, getting closer and closer to the sheep, until Dulcie (one of Bronwen’s pups) ran on ahead in a huge loop between the sheep and the rest of us. The sheep fled back to their usual spot, and Dulcie continued her loop until she was back with the rest of us. We all carried on walking as though nothing had happened, except I praised Dulcie for doing a great job.

          Only a few weeks ago, Dulcie was being quite annoying because she insisted on running to the sheep and chasing them. She also chased the cattle next door, but now she’s learned, and behaves impeccably. It can be a trying time, but be firm, fair and consistent, and you’ll get there. Dulcie learned from a mixture of being put away in her pen and missing all the fun, and at other times, being put on a lead for the rest of the run (so humiliating when all the other dogs are running free).

          As for the driving, it WILL confuse the dog, so wait for an opportunity while you’re training Ian, and when you see him between you and the sheep, just encourage him to walk up on them. Keep him close at first, and if he tries to gather them back to you, stop him (if you can) and call him back onto line. (It’s all in the tutorials). If he begins to look confused, back off and give him something he enjoys, like an outrun. Take care though, not to let him think that if he looks confused you’ll immediately stop the driving lesson. Take it STEADY!

          1. Saskia Sowers avatar
            Saskia Sowers

            Thanks Andy , Ill keep it slow and yes, reviewing events in my head , your right. I think I am expecting a bit too much from him . He’s progressed so well and seems to love it , and I forget he’s only almost 11 months old . I just need to slow down . I will re watch the videos and we will go back to his comfortable things more.

  6. Janice Blakiston avatar
    Janice Blakiston

    Hi Andy my bitch is 11 months and seems to be flanking increasingly tightly. She circles faster and faster and tighter and tighter. Whooshing the training stick seems to make no difference. I seem to be behind the movement, but if I do manage to get ahead of her, she will change direction. She is trying to find a gap to dive in at the sheep – which are sticking to me like glue. I’m really stuck with this. This is the nearest video I’ve seen to my problem, but your solution is using the stick and with my bitch it just seems to make her faster and more determined! She is worse on the come by. Today I even tried leading her round the sheep and pushing her out. Any ideas what I should try? I’m in the open field with luckily very dogged sheep.

    1. The first thing I would recommend is to watch “Training Max – The Gripper”, Janice. These three tutorials should be a great help to you. If you’ve already watched them, watch them again! “Starting a Strong Dog” should help, too.

      If the dog’s going increasingly fast and tight, it sounds as though you’re not calm (who can blame you) but you MUST give the dog the impression that you’re calm and in control, even when you’re not! Excitement and shouting are definitely not the traits of a good leader – and leadership is what your dog needs. Look closely at your own behaviour as the dog would see it. Try to be “Calm but Firm” (another one to watch).

      You say the dog “circles faster and faster and tighter and tighter” but of course, I don’t know how fast or how tight! If you can get the dog to go around the sheep once or twice (and praise it) before things go wrong, that might be a good opportunity to abruptly end the session and bundle the dog unceremoniously back into it’s pen (or somewhere it won’t like being). You could then try again after an hour or two, and when the dog dives in tight and refuses to listen to you at all, bundle it away again. Be careful with this though – only do it once or twice in any one day, and be sure the dog is completely ignoring you before you stop it’s session. If the dog was actually making an effort to do as you want (much against it’s natural instinct) and you bundle it away, your punishment is invalid and confusing for the dog.

      If the dog’s ignoring the stick, you’re probably not using it aggressively enough! I don’t mean you should hit the dog (you mustn’t) but you should make the dog think that if it’s too close you will hit it. Try taping an empty polythene bag on the end of the stick. Use very thin polythene bags which make a sharp rustling sound. That often works well.

      With a dog like yours, timing is vital. You MUST learn to anticipate when the dog’s going to come in tight. When you first send it off or when it changes direction are the usual times but there will be a definite pattern to it – often at the same point of the circle each time it comes round in a certain direction. You already know that clockwise is worst, so for the time being, always start with the dog going anticlockwise. If that’s going OK prepare to whoosh the stick aggressively when you change the dog’s direction. Getting a sharp correction in just BEFORE the dog actually commits the offence is many times more effective than correcting the dog afterwards.

      Our “weapon of last resort” is a lungeing whip. Again, not to hit the dog with. Learn to crack it – immediately before the dog grips. Beware though. If you over-use the lungeing whip, you can put the dog off working in seconds. Only use it if you’ve tried everything else and are making no progress. If you can’t crack a whip, whatever you do, don’t practice near the dog. They get used to it, and will eventually ignore that too – but it’s mightily effective when you first use it, so be careful.

      Whatever you do, don’t despair! The dog will come good as long as you keep protecting the sheep, and chase her away from them. Ending the session can be a very useful training aid. Dogs learn by reward – and she’ll quickly learn not to be aggressive if you take her away when she gets nasty.

      Get the sheep away from the fence by leading her round them, and try to set her up to go round them nicely, first time every time. It’ll pay off soon. Lots of stuff to try there. Remember to watch those videos and please let us know how you get on!

      1. Hi Andy – thank you so much for this response, which I hadn’t seen til now. I think your comment about not being calm is very valid and definitely something to work on, I have seen you say this in a video and have to agree it makes a big difference, I didn’t realise because of the leadership thing and it makes perfect sense. Some of your suggestions I have tried (lunge whip – I’m able to use and have done,) she doesn’t seem to care much, plastic bag I haven’t tried, but will. Taking her away, I haven’t done, but interestingly I did do 2 sessions on Sunday, just because I wanted to, about 45 mins apart and I felt that worked very well – she was definitely a calmer dog second time. I have watched the Max videos and I will again and the starting a strong dog. Your encouragement is a big help and if I look at the bigger picture I do see small windows of improvement, in between the sheep scattering moments. I think the biggest problem I have – as you mention – is timing. This is very difficult for the novice. I’m going to keep watching videos, because they do help a lot in trying to learn and recognise how you react to what the dog is doing. I’ll update in a few weeks how things are going…. thank you again.

  7. Heather Buckley avatar
    Heather Buckley

    I notice you say lie down a lot but the dogs very rarely actually lie down….are you using that command as a stop not actually wanting them to lie down?

    1. Quite right, Heather.
      This is a copy of a reply I posted on a similar question elsewhere on this website:

      Years ago, I used “Stand” because it was ideal for using in a short, sharp manner. In other words, to grab the dog’s attention. Over the years though, I’ve found that a longer, drawn-out command often works better than a short, sharp one.

      There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I try to avoid short sharp commands because they can actually excite the dog (especially when repeated rapidly) making it more difficult to control. Secondly, I’ve carefully observed dogs while I and others train them, and I’ve noticed that although a sharp command may be effective momentarily, once the command is no longer audible, some dogs seem to assume it’s OK to carry on as they were before the command sounded. For this reason, when a dog is proving difficult to stop, I drag the command out for much longer. I find this more effective in most cases.

      You should bear in mind that as the dog learns to work effectively, it will use the handler’s tone and the urgency in their voice, combined with the dog’s interpretation of the situation to decide how they react to the stop command. For example, many handlers (including me) use the stop command gently when they just want the dog to slow down a little – or they’ll use the same command more urgently and in an abrupt manner to actually stop the dog. This method gives an infinite variation in the intensity of the command – as interpreted by both dog and handler as a team.
      I changed to “Lie down” because if you drag it out over two or three seconds it doesn’t sound quite as strange as dragging out “S – T – A – N – D!”

      Although I use the “Lie down” command these days, I actually prefer the dog to stay on its feet because when faced with aggressive sheep, I think the dog will feel safer (and less vulnerable) standing on its feet, rather than lying down on the ground.

      1. Heather Buckley avatar
        Heather Buckley

        ok thanks!! Great videos! Learning a lot!

  8. Brianna Henderson avatar
    Brianna Henderson

    Hi, thanks for the great video. My dog is very keen and likes to work quickly. He’s doing very well, but still pushes the sheep too hard and doesn’t seem to understand that I want a steady pace. I use the steady command, and he responds to it, but has to be reminded over and over again not to push too hard. How do you feel about lying the dog down continually while you’re wearing to try to teach it to give some space? Good idea, bad idea? He seems to have only one gear and that is FAST (although his stops are excellent). I want him to understand to hold the pace steady on his own and mind the comfort zone of the sheep.

    1. Glad you like the “Give the sheep space” tutorial, Brianna. Have you watched the other tutorials? For a dog with a good stop which is pushing too hard, “Backwards is the way forward” would be my first recommendation. Get this right and the dog will learn to have a steady pace and keep its distance from the sheep.

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