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Important points to remember when bringing up a puppy to work stock


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Thumbnail image for the sheep and cattle dog training tutorial: Puppy Training Essentials

Tempting though it may be to try your puppy with stock at a very early age, you should beware. Unless you can be absolutely certain you’re in a position to protect the youngster from attack or even the threat of it, there’s a very real danger that sheep or cattle will will frighten the young dog and damage its confidence – possibly permanently.

On the other hand, if you frequently walk a pup or young dog around stock (on a lead) to familiarise it with them, unless you allow the youngster to chase the stock from time-to-time, there’s a strong chance the young dog will learn that it’s not allowed to run after the animals.

18 responses to “Puppy Training Essentials”

  1. Charissa Buggs avatar

    Hello there! Thank you so much for these videos, we’ve been learning so much from them. We have a nearly four month old Border Collie puppy who is very energetic and full of life. We’re hoping to train him to work with sheep in the future. I’m struggling to know how to go about training him now though. We take him for 2-3 walks a day. But we live on a farm where he’s able to run around and explore. He loves sniffing, stalking and chasing birds and rabbits. Whenever we take him for a walk (not on a lead) he isn’t very good at coming back to us when we call him to come here. He’s learnt how to sit and lie down and will do those most often when commanded. So my questions are: 1) You say that teaching him to walk on a lead is very important. How often should I take him for a walk on a lead? Should I only be walking him on a lead for now or can I let him walk freely? I’ve been using a short lead so as to lead train him as you suggest. This is gradually improving over time. But should I use a long lead to let him wander about but still have control? 2) How do I train him to come when I call? He will often look at and acknowledge me when I call but then prance off in the other direction. Especially if something takes his fancy. When we call him back and he doesn’t come, do I keep calling him? Doesn’t this reinforce that he can disobey my commands? Or do I go and get him? And then pick him up and carry him away? Or insist he comes to me there? How do I train him to to do reliable recall. We obviously can’t take him to puppy training classes at the moment so having to rely on reading up and watching things! Thank you so much for your help! Much appreciated!

    1. Andy avatar

      [Thank you so much for these videos, we’ve been learning so much from them.]
      Thanks for the great feedback. It’s important to us to know our work is appreciated].

      [We have a nearly four month old Border Collie puppy who is very energetic and full of life…. We take him for 2-3 walks a day. But we live on a farm where he’s able to run around and explore. He loves sniffing, stalking and chasing birds and rabbits.]
      Basically, this is the cause of your problem. The dog has the freedom to do as he pleases nearly all day – including chasing animals, but you’re wondering why he doesn’t feel your recall command is important enough to him.

      Please watch Sheepdog Selection and Preparation. If you’ve already watched it, you’ve missed the point – watch it again!

      Your situation will rapidly get worse unless you keep the youngster in a kennel (with a proper run) when he’s not with you – and he should be with you as much as is practical during the day.

      With access the the thrills he finds around the farm (including chasing things) he’s going to become a real problem and very soon will discover sheep. Then he’ll either become a real pest, or one of the ewes will “fix” him and he may not ever want to go near them again.

      Once you’ve watched Sheepdog Selection and Preparation, start taking the dog out on a short lead, and first make sure he walks properly on it (not too much pulling). Occasionally, stop, crouch down and call him (even though he’s within arms reach). He’ll more than likely come closer, so you make a little fuss of him and praise him. Don’t overdo it though.
      Carry on walking, and repeat the above. Once he’s coming immediately when you crouch down and call him, you can extend the lead (say twice the length of a normal lead) and repeat the above. If he doesn’t come, pull him to you – and give him praise, but a lot less than you would if he came immediately.
      If all goes well, double the length of the lead (or rope) again – and so on.
      If at any stage he makes it clear he’s not going to come willingly, you march him briskly back to his pen, and unceremoniously bundle him into it. Leave him there for at least an hour.
      Keep working on the recall this way until the lead or rope is about ten metres (30 ft) then, assuming he comes back to you reliably, you can try letting go of the lead. He should still come back to you, but if he doesn’t, he’ll be a lot easier to catch because you can step on the long rope he’s trailing behind him. Take great care not to stop him too abruptly though. You don’t want to injure his neck. I suggest you connect the lead with something stretchy to absorb the shock.

      Remember – dogs don’t do anything unless they get some reward – if you think about it, it’s true. A dog which is sniffing around hoping for something to chase, isn’t going to feel inclined to come back to you unless it respects you as its leader. If it firmly respects your leadership, it will value your praise when it does something that pleases you – that’s it’s reward.

      We also have a puppy training article you should find useful.

      The first thing you need to do is gain that youngster’s respect!

      1. Charissa Buggs avatar

        Hi Andy, thank you so much for your reply, we really appreciate it.

        Just to clarify, our puppy is not roaming free all day but when we’ve been taking him for walks around the orchards/fields, he’s been largely free range except when we’ve been lead training him once a day or so.

        Your puppies seem to have a very different existence from ours, and most puppies, in that you have them in a group. You show us you exercising them in a group as well as lead training. Your puppies are therefore able to see the difference between free form pack time in a group, and the one to one training of obedience.

        With a single puppy how do we balance the “fun and games” exercise and the confidence building, exploring of their world, with training sessions? We can’t fulfil all our puppy’s need for exercise on a lead.

        So the question we have though is what percentage of their daily exercise is ‘free form’ and how much of it is structured training?

        Thank you, Charissa

        1. Andy avatar

          The same rules apply to dogs regardless of age, except that older dogs take longer to learn. Our puppies (when we have them) are confined to our garden, and later the yard, until such time as we can control them. You need to get your dog’s respect and control it too.

          In Sheepdog Selection and Preparation, I say “your dog starts learning from you the moment it sets eyes on you”. That’s absolutely true. When it’s not with you, it’s learning other things (usually mischievous things in the case of puppies).

          I can’t give you a prescription to follow as such because everyone’s situation (and dog) is different, but as I said in my last reply, your situation will rapidly get worse unless you keep the youngster in a kennel (with a proper run) when he’s not with you – and he should be with you as much as is practical during the day. It doesn’t have to be a kennel, but the dog must be kept out of trouble.

  2. Andy Snow avatar

    Hi Andy,
    Have you considered doing a tutorial on breeding pups and how to look after them up to the training stage? I would be very interested as I have a lovely dog and bitch that I would like to breed from in a year or so time and know very little about breeding from dogs.
    Apologies if this comment is in the wrong section, was not quite sure which tutorial was the most relevant!
    Many thanks

    1. Andy avatar

      If we did a tutorial on breeding, it would probably be quite negative, Andy. So many people have a dog they love, and quite naturally want to breed from it, but they keep one pup (keeping more is a big mistake unless you really know what you’re taking on) and they give little thought to where the rest of the litter will go.
      We’ve learned the hard way that there are an awful lot of people who want border collies (and other dogs for that matter) but expect the dog to live in a totally unsuitable home. I could write reams on this, but I simply don’t have time.
      My advice to anyone who wants to breed from their dog is to think very carefully about it, and make certain you have suitable homes for ALL the pups before you even get the dog mated.
      I’m sorry if that’s not what you wanted me to write, but I have to say what I know to be the truth.

      1. Andy Snow avatar

        Hi Andy
        Thanks for the reply. I fully understand what you are saying. It is the one thing that has always put me off in the past. I have two lovely dogs that I would like to breed from at some point and already have a few homes lined up . I can see why a tutorial on breeding might not be a good idea so will do some homework nearer the time that I need to think about a working replacement.
        Many thanks

  3. Chantal Pique avatar

    Thank you Gill,
    the password is working and questioning if possible about 14 weeks old puppies and with about 18 weeks old sheep can be training them?

    1. Andy avatar

      Both the dog and the sheep sound a bit young Chantal, but to be honest I have not tried training a dog on sheep of that age. It would be worth trying them. Just try to remember that the dog is extremely young. Do not expect too much of it. Keep the sessions very short – and maybe once or twice a week at the very most until the pup’s a bit stronger.
      Perhaps you would be kind enough to post back here to let us know how you get on?

  4. Olle Sundemo avatar

    Hi! I really appreciate your videos and find them both inspiring and helpful in our trying and daily life with the old dogs. But we have now got ourself our first puppy in 15 years, and we are very exited about the fact that we get to do it all from the bening this time. She is only 13 weeks so there will take some time until we really get serious in the pen with the sheep.
    I believe this first year is crucial for setting leadership, general behaviour and basic commands. But Im not sure when Im to hard on her, or soft..
    Whats your focus for the puppies the first year?


    1. Andy avatar

      Thanks for the kind words, Olle. It’s great to get feedback from our members.
      No need to be too hard on the puppy, all you need to do is be FIRM, FAIR and CONSISTENT. Concentrate on teaching it good manners. To respect you, such as not rushing through doors or gates before you, and to come when you call. Teach the dog to be considerate – but don’t expect the dog to progress too quickly. It’s a tiny toddler in human terms, so be patient!
      Lastly, don’t make the common mistake of walking the pup around the sheep on a lead – this will almost certainly result in the puppy believing you don’t want it to chase sheep.
      Tutorials to watch are: Starting a Young Puppy and Puppy Training Essentials.
      Good luck, and don’t forget to let us know how you get on!

  5. Helena Barrio avatar

    Hello there, I am thoroughly enjoying your videos, thank you. I was wondering if you had one on the lead training mentioned in a video with Scylla, or some tips on the site as to what you mean, trying to do my best!

    1. Andy avatar

      Lead training is one of the tutorials we intend to bring out soon, Helena. One of the ways to tell whether your dog fully accepts you as its leader is by the way it walks on a lead AWAY FROM SHEEP or livestock.
      If the dog is pulling, then it’s obviously trying to control you. If it walks with the lead slack, then the dog has fully accepted your authority – and will obviously be far easier to train on sheep or livestock than a dog which believes it can control you.
      If the dog is pulling, then it’s excited about going somewhere, so turn round and go the other way. If the dog then stops pulling, turn back to the original direction. If the dog pulls again, turn around and go the opposite way again – and so on.
      It’s tedious – and you may not get to your original destination on this occasion (or the next few times you try) but the dog will get no reward (going where it wants to go) unless it walks with the lead slack.
      Pulling back sharply on the lead can help to show the dog you won’t accept it pulling.
      Once you master it, your dog’s behaviour should improve all round.

      1. Helena Barrio avatar

        Super, thank you for the guidance! Much appreciated, Helena.

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