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How to begin training with a dog which is difficult to control around sheep?


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Thumbnail image for the sheep and cattle dog training tutorial: Starting a Strong Dog

In part one of the ‘Starting a Young Puppy’ tutorials, we saw that with care, it’s possible to begin a puppy’s training at a very early age, but if you didn’t have the luxury of well-dogged docile sheep for your puppy to learn with, then you’ve had to wait before you can start training – and you may find you have a tougher dog than you bargained for when it comes to training it on sheep.

Rather like Tess in this tutorial, there’s a good chance your young dog will have its own ideas about how to go about tackling sheep!

20 responses to “Starting a Strong Dog”

  1. Martin otoole avatar

    Hi Andy my dog is not consistent on the stop and know matter what want to work sheep all the time even at 18 months and when gathering to the pen wants to take know command and run in and take them out again any suggestions

    1. Andy avatar

      Yes Martin – take your time! The dog’s doing what comes naturally, but it sounds as though you’re trying to progress too quickly. Go back to simpler work, and then work up to pen work when you have better control. Watch the Eve At The Pen tutorial.

  2. Jonathan Cobb avatar

    Thank you again for making these wonderful videos. (And thank you to Gill also!) I began watching your videos when I first got our pup, but due to circumstances was unable to work with him with sheep until recently. He’s just turned two years old. I was getting frustrated with our sessions as of late due to him being so strong and wanting to keep going away and not wanting to come by. Watching this video with Tess in real time looked just like my sessions with Alec! Only with an experienced trainer in the ring instead of a rookie. :-) You must be in very good physical shape, it was a workout!
    What do you suggest for my next steps? I don’t want to confuse him and I know I must keep my cool. Should we just continue on with circles like this video, looking for balance? He has come in balance a few times, and he has a good stop but is a bit like Max the gripper at times when he gets too close to the sheep.

    Thank you,


    1. Andy avatar

      Thanks for the feedback, Jonathan. It’s great to know you’re finding the tutorials useful.
      Once you’ve got the dog going around the sheep, and stopping on the far side of them, you need to… No, wait…

      You need to watch the tutorial “What Shall I Do Next“!

      Thanks again for the great comments, and good luck with training Alec!

  3. Charlie Starrett avatar

    Hi Andy, this tutorial is immensly helpful along with Max the Gripper.
    Ive been watching every tutorial over and over for a month trying to get as much info before i begin this new challenge.
    I am from a farm that relied on our feet to do the work instead of having dogs to work the cattle . Very old school. Hard labour and not alot of machinery to help but ive always been obsessed with working dogs.

    On the farm we have a number of borders and mixes 6 in total who are all fixed and who have just picked up what was basically needed and try their best to translate the shouting and . There isnt one who has been trained with a technique or method and none can be relied upon to confidently and non aggressively work the livestock.
    I got my first pup Moss 10 years ago and ( i think he kind of trained me honestly) within about 6-8 months he was “successfully” gathering the cattle from the field and down into the yard…. HOWEVER Moss is border collieXhusky. He is all about the go go go, drive drive drive always has been and the cattle would be coming like a stampede. It took me 2 years to get him to willingly stop and come away from the “prey” once the work was done.

    My Grandad brought home a dog pup last year from strong lines of hill working cattle collies. My grandad is older now, but still stuck in his ways (no-one was allowed to influence or spend time with the dog apart from him so he would bond with my grandad). He is walked twice everyday through the field with the rest of the dogsand for a year Roy this beautiful, intelligent, so eager to please puppy was given no leadership, no control, no obedience, no guidance. He is now almost 14 months. He is STRONG, he is so keen and is aggressive with the cows which isnt helped with the older dogs teaching what little they know, and being kept on a 20 ft length chain at the bottom of field where he can bark, nip and lunge at the cattle as they walk by. THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT i know, but im a 23 year old female on a farm full of 50 year old stubborn men and id be easier teaching Moss in his old age to dance than change the mind of these farmers.

    I have managed to persuade my granda to let me train Roy. For 2 weeks we have been going out for lead training and some chill out time and basic commands where he is away from all other livestock and animals. I cannot stress how quickly he picks up on what is being asked of him but if he guesses wrong trying to please so hard that he takes no notice of correction. i think he maybe is entirely used to the shouting and roaring around the cows and vehicles all day.

    This brings me to my current situation. A few years ago i won 2 welsh Lynn hoggets from an ag show, since then ive increased my little flock to 8 including 6 year and half old suffolks. They are very flighty and have never been around the dogs.
    Roy is definitely going to grip, of that i have no doubt. The question is how severe will it be.

    My main question for you Andy is this ….. Having the unperfect setup that i have, is there any tips on how to perhaps make this any easier? The sheep more compatible or Roy more controllable, im fast and strong and pretty stubborn myself but i feel like im a little out of my depth as this will really be my first time apart from moss ( when i was a teenager and sheep are easier targets than cows.

    Any tips would be amazing help and any constructive crticism is welcome :)

    Thankyou x

    1. Andy avatar

      That’s a difficult one, Charlie. If the sheep are terrified of the dog, and the dog’s been used to being aggressive with cattle, it’s going to be a steep uphill climb.
      It’s important to remember that both the sheep AND the dog are afraid of each other, so if you can control the situation until they’re more accustomed to being close, then there’s a better chance the whole situation will be calmer.
      If you wanted to completely de-sheep (or de-cattle) Roy, an effective way to do it would be to walk him around the sheep on a lead. Once he got over his initial excitement and learned that you don’t want him to keep lunging at them, you could lengthen the lead or use a rope. If he was settled on a rope (and not pulling) you could try dropping your end of the rope to the ground (so the dog still feels it on his collar, but it’s not actually doing much) and call him back to you. This process would be repeated until he finally showed no interest in the stock at all.
      OK – we don’t want to totally stop him working, but we do want to moderate his enthusiasm, so if it were me, I’d get him on a lead or short rope and carefully walk him near the sheep to see how he reacted. If you do this, understand that the sheep will probably panic and Roy will probably lunge at the fleeing sheep with the strength of a lion – so be VERY careful.

      I’d teach him to walk properly on a lead or rope around the sheep, and at the same time the sheep would be getting used to having him around. If they weren’t too wild, you could move the sheep around with him – eventually letting go of the rope and insisting he stay close to you.
      Admittedly, this will be teaching him to push the sheep away or drive, rather than gather them to you, but I think it’s worth doing – at least until his initial excitement is reduced, then you can try training him normally.

      Work any sheep long enough with a dog that’s under reasonable control, and the sheep will get “dogged”. Once they are calm enough, if you can’t get the dog to go round the sheep and gather them, you’ll be able to stop the dog and keep it in place while YOU go to the point of balance to show him that’s what you want. Then it’s easy to start Walking Backwards with the dog bringing the sheep to you.

      1. Charlie Starrett avatar

        Very interesting! i wouldnt have thought to de-sensitise Roy at all because didnt want to put him off working completely. We had a session yesterday where we zig zagged through the cows and calves. After 20 minutes i didnt have my shoulders threatening to dislocate or my hands burned from the rope!!
        The sheep are just a no go for right now. They arent even human friendly. Grazing only and with no hard feed they didnt get much contact so ive gone and bought some sheep feed and have twice now walked up and with much patience was able to stand next to them while they ate.
        So far so good, i’ll try introducing Roy during feeding once they are comfortable with me walking around and in through them.

        I’l keep you updated on the progress

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