Starting a reluctant dog

What to do when starting a reluctant dog, which doesn’t want to work.


How to train a dog which isn't keen to work sheep

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Every dog is different

It’s normal for a dog to be excited, when you take it to sheep or cattle for the first time.
Dogs use a hunting instinct when they work, but sometimes the instinct is dormant.
The dog shows no interest in the sheep. She should be glaring at them!
Waving the training stick appears to worry the dog, but she soon reacts to the sheep.
Take care not to frighten a sensitive dog, at this delicate stage.
The dog is hassling the sheep, but not harming them.
Tapping the stick on the ground can help to keep the dog out as it runs at the sheep.
The dog’s bouncy pace suggests she’s playing, rather than actually working.
We must protect the sheep, without putting the sensitive dog off working.
Taking the pressure off the dog, to keep her interest in the sheep.

Guide the dog around the sheep

Trying to guide the dog around the sheep, and not through them.
This time, gently waving the stick encourages the dog to keep out.
The dog went in the ‘Away‘ direction, but doesn’t want to go ‘Come bye‘.
The dog goes ‘Away’ again, but reluctantly.
Once again, Maisie refuses to flank in the clockwise direction,
Trying to block the dog as it goes between sheep and hurdles, to change it’s direction
A great opportunity! The sheep are in the middle of the training ring!
Getting between the dog and the sheep, to ‘push’ her out around them.
Another opportunity to block the dog, and send her clockwise again!
Whacking the stick on the ground keeps her out, and she gets the sheep off the fence.

She’s stopped bouncing!

Importantly, Maisie has stopped bouncing. She’s taking her work seriously.
Whacking the stick, helps the dog get the sheep off the fence again.
Trying to keep the dog flanking, to get her used to going in the ‘Come bye’ direction.
Now Maisie seems reluctant to go ‘Away’, and dives into the sheep!
An early correction, stops the dog splitting the sheep.
The dog’s tired so we’ll stop soon, but first let’s see if she’ll go clockwise again.
Maisie went clockwise, but dived into the sheep when they were close to the hurdles.
The sheep are tight on the hurdles but Maisie gets them off – just!
Getting between the sheep and the dog, to catch her and end the session.
At the start of the session, Maisie didn’t even look at the sheep. She’s keener now!
For another training session with a sensitive (but aggressive) dog, watch ‘Calm but firm‘.
Starting Maisie was easy! To get a more difficult dog started, watch ‘Starting a non-starter‘.

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There’s always the exception…

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 and doesn’t want to work. Starting a reluctant dog requires patience and determination.

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.

It also shows a good example of how to get a dog to flank both ways around the sheep when the dog prefers to cast in one direction only.

Close Work 1 | (top ⇧)


13 responses to “Starting a reluctant dog”

  1. Fergus Dermody avatar
    Fergus Dermody

    Hi Andy, i am a novice trainer. I have a dog about 8 months now, she is 1 year and 3 months old. When I got her she was extremely shy but has improved immensely. She is very stuck on me and when I bring her out with sheep she is hard to get going. She may venture away from me but after a bit will look for me and come straight back to me. She’s definitely interested and is flocking the sheep against the fence but when I give commands she will run straight back to me. I’ve got her to come by in the training pen but she will not come away. She sticks under my ankles going back and forth. Can you offer any help

    1. Don’t worry Fergus, if the dog’s showing any interest at all, you should be able to build on it – but of course you need to be very patient.
      It would take me half the day to tell you all you need to know about the problem, but luckily we have tutorials for that! I recommend you watch both of the “Starting a Non-Starter” tutorials, and also “Sometimes Nice is Not Enough“.
      Building your dog’s confidence will work wonders! Please let me know how you get on.

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