Sheep – Essential Facts For Trainers

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Title picture of our sheepdog training tutorial video, Sheep.

The third chapter from the 2xDVD set First Steps in Border Collie Sheepdog Training: "Sheep".

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

In this tutorial, we look at the way sheep behave - especially when confronted with a dog. We also discuss ways of finding sheep, how to find somewhere to keep them, what sort of sheep it's best to use for training sheepdogs, and which types to avoid.

"WATCH NEXT" SUGGESTIONS

The Sheepdog (1st Steps Ch1-2) The Training Area (1st Steps Ch4) The Handler (1st Steps Ch5)

6 Replies to “Sheep – Essential Facts For Trainers”

  1. 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. 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

  2. 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!

  3. 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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