Starting a non starter (Parts 1 & 2)

If your dog doesn't want to work, we can help you to change its mind!

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Photo of a border collie clambering through a fence to get away from the sheep in the background

It can be very disappointing to find that your dog doesn't seem to want to work sheep or cattle, but it doesn't necessarily mean you won't be able to change its mind. As with most aspects of training dogs to work stock, if you understand what's happening and why, there's a much better chance of putting things right.

In these two tutorials, we look closely at why some dogs want to work and others don't. Then we look at several proven ways of triggering the dog's work instinct.

9 comments

  1. I have a 9mth old bitch that I’m training for a friend. She’s very playful and doesn’t seem to concentrate for long. She runs hot and cold as far as interest goes. Sometimes she’ll run in and grip the sheep other times completely ignore them. She’ll do a couple of really good runs around the round pen and then go back to sniffing and playing around ignoring the sheep. Is there a way of keeping her more consistently interested.The collies we have here in southern Ireland are common or rough type dogs with a bit of border in them. People have told me they can be slower to mature and take longer to train. Could it just be she needs more time and isn’t ready for training yet.
    Excellent videos I’ve trained two dogs to a fairly high stardard for my own farm using your tutorials.

    1. Thanks for the great feedback, Kent! It’s important for us to know we’re on the right track with the tutorials.
      Apologies for the late reply though – that’s my fault (sorry).

  2. I have a cattle dog that is half catahoula, half Aussie. She is 3 years old. We wanted her to work cattle but neither myself not my husband knew how to train her so I’ve been searching for videos ever since she was about 1 because I had read that is when they are old enough to stay ahead of cattle. She shows an interest in the cows by chasing them but not all the time. She is very smart and learns commands quickly. After finding your videos, I feel like I understand how to train a herding dog and I am thinking of getting a few sheep or goats to start her on then work her up to cows. You said in your video that after 18 months they start to get pretty set I their ways so I’m concerned she may be too old to start training now. What do you think?

    1. Eighteen months is ideal for training a dog, Melissa. As they get older, they get more set in their ways, but eighteen months is still very good.
      Starting the dog on a few sheep is a great idea, too. Good luck!

  3. I have watched both your tutorials and am trying them out with my 10 month old bitch. She is out of two working dogs from a big local estate. She seems to be frightened of everything – when I take her out onto the farm she will come with me so far and the minute I stop encouraging her or turn my back she heads back to our house. I have other dogs which she gets on with but she runs away back to safety whether I have her on her own or with them. She will walk round the sheep but shows no real interest and again as soon as I turn my back she is over the gate and back to the house. I feel she has absolutely no confidence at all, she is really happy with us and our other dogs but gets very hostile if anyone new comes in or someone she does not recognise. I am lead training her which she is absolutely hating and just lies down or goes mad and bites at the lead. Help!!

    1. Jumps over the gate and goes back to the house! That’s very interesting!
      As you say, she’s obviously showing a real lack of confidence, but when it comes to jumping the gate (something that takes quite a lot of confidence) she doesn’t think twice about it. That’s encouraging.
      How long have you had her, Helen? From what you’re saying, I suspect you haven’t had her very long, and she’s not settled in yet, but please let me know so I can get a better picture. Any more details will help a lot. Do you know any more of her history? What does she LIKE to do?
      As for the lead training, I suggest you get a lead on her and then relax. Don’t apply any pressure at all, just wait – and CALL her to you when she’s relaxed enough to listen.
      Any more information you can give about her will help a lot.

  4. Looking at the footage of the kelpies that you have, I was noticing that they all seem to have a very bouncy approach to sheep and work at a fast pace. Have you ever had one that tended to show “eye” instead of being aggressive when it approached sheep? Would that make it easier to train.

    1. It may make a difference, Anna, but our difficulty with Kelpies is the length of time it takes for them to learn. In our limited experience, collies are far quicker to “get the idea”.

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