Starting a reluctant dog

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Close up photo of Maisie, the dog used in this herding sheepdog training tutorial

Most dogs are over-excited when they first encounter sheep and it's up to the trainer to do their best to protect the stock. Occasionally though the dog takes no interest in the stock at all.

In this tutorial, Maisie shows no interest in sheep at first, but once the hunting instinct kicks-in, despite being a sensitive dog, she's aggressive with them.

Our video demonstrates how to limit the pressure applied by your control measures, while at the same time encouraging the dog to work.

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11 Replies to “Starting a reluctant dog”

  1. Hello, I am new to shepherding and have recently bought my first sheep dog. She is 6, very keen but not that trained.

    She sticks to me like glue during the day which is great but this is not helpful when trying to train her with the sheep. She seems to understand ‘Come by’ but ‘away’ seems to fall on deaf ears. I thought that perhaps I could start in the pen and send her different ways by using the stick to direct her as you do in your videos, however with her sticking to me this is not very possible. She also very often starts to gather and then returns to me, I’m guessing this is a lack of confidence? Thanks, Amy

    1. Definitely a confidence issue, Amy but you don’t say how long you’ve had the dog. If it’s only a few days, things may well change as the dog begins to bond with you. (Don’t mistake the dog staying very close and possibly being affectionate, for the dog recognising you as its leader. These are different things). Proper bonding can take weeks or even months in an older dog.
      You don’t actually say whether the dog has worked sheep before either. If it has, and you’ve only had it for a few weeks, its work should improve as it bonds with you. If it hasn’t worked sheep before, bear in mind that the older the dog is, the longer it takes to train…
      If the dog wants to work, you should be able to get it working soon though. If the dog is “bonded” with you, you should (at least) have enough control to be able to make it stay in place, so it’s simply a matter of making the dog stay where it is, while YOU move to the opposite side of the sheep. This is fairly easily done in a training ring, even if you have to squeeze between the sheep and the hurdles. It teaches the dog that you want it to be on the opposite side of the sheep from you – NOT by your side. Be patient. As I said, the older the dog, the longer it takes to train.
      Once you get the dog on the opposite side of the sheep from you, I suggest you watch “Backwards is the Way Forward” for help with getting the dog to control the sheep from that position.

      1. Hi Andy, thank you for this. I have only had her for 2 weeks so hopefully with time she will be more confident. She has worked before but it was at least a year ago and I don’t think she was hugely trained before this but I expected her to know the basic commands.
        As you suggest I will practice getting her to stay and then move on to other commands. Thanks.

  2. Hey Andy thanks for your advice was looking at your videos again and I think I’ve figured out what wrong was watching your video on sticky dogs and that’s exactly what’s happening with my pup so I’m going to take ur advice on the sticky dog video and I’ll see how I go thanks I’ll let you know how I get on . Delighted to have this site it’s provided me with invaluable information on training sheepdogs thanks again

  3. Hi Andy I have a young pup 7 months have had him in the round pen but he keeps sitting down after about a half circle he pulling of the lead going in and if I left him off he d tear around the pen after them and they would all jump out but as soon as I get control he keeps sitting down I’ve tried him out in the field same thing happens or he ll just push them against a wall and hold them there if I try circles in the field he sits down and I’ve to try and encourage him up all the time . I’m not sure what to do maybe he is too young yet or more than lightely I’m doing something wrong. Any advice greatly appreciated thank you

    1. Sounds as though he’s a bit immature yet, Bridget, but it also depends a lot on how you “get control” of him. It’s a very fine balance between protecting the sheep, and being too hard on the dog. With a youngster, I tend to give the dog a bit more leeway than perhaps an older dog.
      Without seeing how he reacts when he sits down, it’s impossible to be precise. Sometimes the dog will look frightened and perhaps look for some way out of the ring (or away from the scene). This could be because your correction is too harsh.
      If the dog appears to simply lose interest, it may be what Gill and I describe as “if I can’t do it my way, I’m not going to do it at all“.
      Both need lots of encouragement to keep the dog interested, but you will know by now what triggers it and when it’s likely to happen, so try to avoid (or reduce the intensity of) whatever causes it.
      If you can’t fathom it out, give the dog a month or so away from sheep altogether, and see if he improves after that.
      Watch “Calm but Firm” to see a dog similar to yours, and how we cope with it.

  4. Hi Andy have a young dog he very eager to work but on his outrun he doesn’t run I just about get a light jog out of him he manages to get around the sheep but everything is done at a very slow pace if the sheep are running he has no problem it is mainly when the sheep are static on the outrun any help or advice would be appreciated thanks

    1. If you can get some more lively sheep (ones that are not so used to a dog) that will do the trick, but if you can’t, you need to try to encourage the dog to move them more quickly. Also, if you can take your dog to new sheep – somewhere away from it’s familiar ground, that should help too.
      Watch “Sometimes Nice is Not Enough” for other ways to perk the dog up!

      1. Hey Andy thanks for ur advice I’m just back from training my dog changed the sheep used lambs oh my god what a turnaround he was a joy to watch thanks again

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