Sometimes Nice is Not Enough

Does your dog have difficulty moving stubborn sheep or other livestock?


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It’s all very well training your dog to keep back from the sheep and not upset them, but what can you do if the sheep refuse to go where the dog’s trying to put them? For the welfare of the sheep, they simply must be handled, treated for any ailments and managed, so we need to teach the dog to get tough when the time arises.

Find out how Carew’s confidence grew immensely once she learned to be more assertive. As well as difficult sheep, Carew can now handle stubborn cattle with relative ease.

Sometimes Nice is Not Enough

35 responses to “Sometimes Nice is Not Enough”

  1. Micha Hamersky avatar


    Our 2,5 year old dog loves to go hard on the legs of our cattle…he loves to push hard and especially when the start moving, he loves to grip too. I can controll him and not let him, but I would like to have him more laid back and only do it when its needed.
    Do I simply have to continue yelling at him, if he does and should not, or are better ways to make him understand and feel confident to only use it when needed only?

    1. Andy avatar

      The secret is to give just enough correction so that the dog doesn’t go in too hard, Micha – and avoid rapidly repeated, and high-pitched commands.
      You have already pointed out that you know the situations when he’s most likely to grip, and you’ll also know how his body language changes a moment before he launches at them. These are your signals to (a) be ready to correct him, and (b) give a SINGLE sharp correction JUST BEFORE he launches at the cattle. (If you possibly can). With practice you should be able to tell the precise moment when your command is most effective.
      Don’t forget to praise the dog when he’s behaving well though. Praise him in a soft, happy voice, but be prepared for him to take it as a signal to dive-in again. Dogs like yours tend to have a very light “trigger” when it comes to gripping. Stop him doing that, and continue to praise him whenever he’s working properly. Dogs love being praised, so it’s a useful training aid.

      I was a little surprised to see your question on this page! This tutorial is intended for people who need to give their dog some extra GRRRRR! Your dog sounds as though he’s not short of it! As you mentioned, he needs the opposite. That’s all about CALM – and it begins with the handler.
      Avoid sounding excited – there’s nothing better for exciting the dog. Be calm at all times – or at least give the dog the impression that you’re calm.
      Dogs need good leadership. Getting excited is not what good leaders do. They remain calm at all times, and give clear commands – strong when required, but not screeching. Watch “How Can I Slow The Dog Down” and “Calm But Firm” to learn more about getting your dog to work calmly.

  2. Barbara Mazur avatar

    Last week, inside our arena, the sheep turned on my dog as she stood by the wall – almost like ganging up on her. Would going in there and shooing the sheep away be helpful?
    She got herself in that predicament by scattering the sheep then having a hard time getting them back together. I’m fairly new as a handler and not sure how to help her. There was a clinician there who told me to get her to me with a that’ll do and start over.
    I would like to know how to help her and how to teach her that she can nip if necessary. How do you teach a “bite on command” ? Right now, she air snaps. Thx!

    1. Andy avatar

      If you don’t already know that I strongly encourage trainers to get alongside their dog and help it to move sheep when it’s confidence is lacking, that suggests you have not watched many of the tutorials which appear first in the Tutorials Library, Barbara. It’s important to watch them, as you’ll get a far better understanding of how a sheepdog works, and how best to go about training the dog.
      There’s an awful lot about increasing the dog’s confidence in the tutorial on this page “Sometimes Nice is Not Enough“, so I suggest you watch it again, at least once. There’s more in the “Starting a Non-Starter” tutorials, too. In those, I grab a sheep, and encourage the dog to grab it, too – but you need to watch the tutorial to put it into context – and for the SAFETY aspect of it!.
      Your dog will be fine. She just needs guidance (and a little help, to boost her confidence).

  3. Jane Hart avatar

    As an amendment to what I wrote yesterday, the times when my dog has grabbed sheep is when she has been pushing them into a pen and one has broken away and jumped over her. She is so desperate not to let it go that she grabs it. I was thinking that she would be better if she learned to stand rather than lie down in front of them but this hasn’t been easy to teach her. Today we were taking sheep back to the field after clipping. The sheep that sometimes has a go at her faced her and she nipped it on the nose. This was enough to turn it away so that was just what she needed to do. I don’t think she recognised it clipped. I was there as backup but nice not to be needed.

    1. Andy avatar

      The behaviour you describe is perfectly normal Jane. Your dog is learning all the time, and will be a first-rate sheepdog I’m sure.
      I used to think it was better if the dog stayed on its feet, but these days, I don’t think it makes much difference, confidence-wise. A dog which is lying down is rather like a coiled spring (ready to jump into action) whereas a dog standing upright, has to bend its joints and tense its muscles before it can spring. Look at the way sprinters start a race (crouched down) compared to marathon runners who set off more slowly from a standing position. These days I prefer to let the dog decide whether to lie down or stay on its feet.
      It’s difficult to get the balance just right between discouraging gripping but at the same time, encouraging the dog to have more confidence. You seem to be on the right track, but if your corrections are causing the dog to lose confidence, they’re too strong (back-off a little).
      I hope you praised the dog when she nipped the sheep’s nose! It’s so important to praise the dog when it gets something right.

      1. Jane Hart avatar

        Thanks a lot, that’s very encouraging.

  4. Jane Hart avatar

    Hello, I have encouraged my dog to stand up for herself but a couple of times she has grabbed sheep and hung on. Also she has grabbed lambs which have walked towards her. I have told her off for doing this and we are now back her having not much push and turning away from sheep that stand up to her. I am not sure how to get the balance right as I don’t want her hurting my sheep. She is 2 years old. Should she still gain confidence at this age?

  5. Jane Hart avatar

    Hello Andy, I have been training our 15 month old collie since she was about 7 months old. She does training on the hoggs and helps with the farm jobs too (we only have a small 9 acre farm so there’s not that much work). She seems to struggle to move sheep that don’t want to move eg moving sheep out of fields into the yard. One of our new ewe hoggs faced up to her and she backed off. I don’t know if this is because I have discouraged her from being too hard on the sheep, or if I have been making her do too much too soon. Can a dog like this learn to stand her ground?

    1. Andy avatar

      Too much discouragement won’t help of course, but you have to protect the sheep! The dog’s confidence can certainly be built up though Jane – with a little help from you!
      Watch the tutorial carefully and make sure you’re close to the dog when she needs encouragement. Give her lots of enthusiastic support and if necessary, encourage her to nip (on command). It will boost her confidence to know that if necessary she’s allowed defend herself.
      It helps to actually move a stubborn sheep yourself at first.

      1. Jane Hart avatar

        Thanks a lot! Even though I have watched the tutorial I still felt the need for a bit of encouragement (a bit like my dog does..). I’ll just have to be careful with her and support her all I can. I feel like if she just did one nip it might be all she needs to do to gain confidence and for the sheep to see she means business.
        Best wishes,

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