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Starting a Young Puppy (Parts 1 & 2)

We introduce two eleven week old puppies to sheep for the first time


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How to start training a young puppy to work sheep and other livestock

Part 1. The usual age for starting a pup on sheep is between six and twelve months, but if you have the right sort of sheep and know what you’re doing, you can start a pup at a much younger age. Starting a dog early makes it much easier to get the youngster under control in the presence of sheep. In “Starting a Young Puppy” Andy shows what to do and what to avoid when he takes litter-mates Ezra and Carew to the sheep – at just eleven weeks old.

How to start training a young puppy to work sheep - part two

In Part 2, we take young Ezra to the sheep again, but this time, give him a little more guidance and lots of encouragement. We also see signs of Ezra’s confidence growing and learn that nine sheep is too many for this early stage of a dog’s training.

21 responses to “Starting a Young Puppy (Parts 1 & 2)”

  1. David Acuna avatar

    Hi Andy and Gill,

    Congratulations for your excellent website and content.
    I have one question about electric fences. We do holistic management with our sheep and move then around using 4 wire electric fences. The other day our two months old puppy (a border collie) run into the paddock obviously interested in the sheep but got a electric pulse. He wasn´t scared but confused, and we quickly moved him out of the place to avoid him get scared and have a bad experience.
    So I wonder if we should train him first about the electric fence without sheep so he can learn about it and respect it without believing that are the sheep the ones who are causing him the electric shock and not getting scared by them. We also use electric nets for poultry at the farm. What do you recommend?.


    1. Andy avatar

      I’m amazed the puppy wasn’t scared! In our experience (admittedly of adult dogs with electric fences) they are terrified. Obviously, it’s best to avoid the pup associating sheep with electric shocks. That would never do!
      We stopped using electric fencing years ago, because when a dog is chasing frightened sheep, they simply charge through the fencing and drag it all over the place!
      Far better to get the dog working sheep in a more conventionally fenced paddock (such as the training ring) first if possible – and then allow it to work the sheep near the electric.
      I think that if the dog gets the idea is shouldn’t go near the electric fence, it’ll be reluctant to go between the sheep and the wires – and the sheep will learn that if they stand very close to the fence, the dog won’t trouble them too much. (Sheep are not as stupid as people think).
      You need to think it through carefully. I don’t know how your sheep will behave. Are they used to being worked by a dog? It would help if they are, but I would definitely recommend training the dog well away from any risk of electric shock, at least until it has good control over the sheep.
      In my limited experience of dogs getting an electric shock (after they develop a very strong work instinct) it’s not too difficult to coax them back to work again, and obviously then VERY GRADUALLY work them closer to an electric fence. Far preferable I would imagine, than allowing the pup to learn not to go near the fence first.

      1. David Acuna avatar

        Thanks for your detailed responde, Andy.
        Yes, we will definitely train the dog well away from the electric fence and will use the training ring as you suggest. But at the same time, our farm is not too big, just 4 hectares, and we use the electric fences for all our animals, sheeps and poultry, and move them all around the farm. I guess we’ll need to keep our puppy under supervision all the time and avoid he gets in contact with the sheeps while they are at the electric fenced paddock and only when we take them into the training ring. Once the dog is adult and trained with the sheeps we could start getting closer to the electric fence with him, am I right?.

        Thanks again!

      2. David Acuna avatar

        Hi Andy,

        Due to our farm context working with portable electric fences and following your advice I’m thinking about following this training plan for our 10 weeks old puppy:
        Avoid any contact of the dog with the sheep while they are within the electric fence for the next 6-8 weeks. When he is around 16 weeks old put the sheep on the training ring (without any electric fence at all) and get him with them and see how he reacts, taking special care to avoid him to be scared by the sheep and trying to encourage him by keeping us very close to him as you suggest. Maybe keep doing this every 10-15 days or so.
        By the same age train the dog with the electric fence WITHOUT sheep and faraway form them, so he learns to respect it and not relate it with the sheep.

        How do you see it?. Does it make sense?. We won’t be able to keep the sheep completely out of the dog’s view once he is 16 weeks old or so as we´ll need to use the pastures we have around our house by that time, so our goal will be that our dog doesn’t lose interest in the sheep but at the same time he won’t run into them while they are within the electric fence.

        Thank you very much,

        1. Andy avatar

          The plan sounds OK in theory, but I think you might run into problems, especially if he pup’s allowed to wander around freely. When the pup’s hunting instinct kicks-in (which you clearly want it to do) you’ll need to shut him away from the sheep, or shut the sheep away from him. Clearly, he cannot be allowed to chase them around at will – and also, there’s a strong risk that the sheep will harm the pup, or at the least, frighten it.
          You can train the pup to ignore the sheep – but then you run a high risk that he’ll think he’s not allowed to work them – and you’ll have big problems trying to get him interested again. It’s a delicate balance between keeping the dog away from the sheep most of the time, but allowing him to chase them a bit (under strict supervision and protection) to keep his interest in them, alive.
          The electric fence just complicates this, because we don’t want the dog to get a shock, and associate it with the sheep.

  2. Mary Fox avatar

    Hi Andy
    I have a 6 month old bitch. She is very keen iv been doing a lot of yard work, lie down come to me etc this is going well.
    As expected all this traing went out the window when intoduced to sheep but she seems to have a natural stop which helps but not on command is this OK I do give her the lie down when she does it? Sorry I have another problem that started recently, chasing cars, postman,tractors ect .worried. help x

    1. Andy avatar

      First, the car-chasing! We have an article on this. I strongly recommend you study it (it works).
      Otherwise, your dog sounds perfectly normal, but think about what you are doing. If you wait until the dog stops and then give the command, who’s in charge here? The dog!
      You must make the dog stop when it suits you – not when it suits the dog. That goes for all aspects of training.
      Please be sure to watch all of the early training tutorials in the order they are listed on the Welcome and Library pages. That way, you will get a much better idea of what’s going to happen, and how to cope with it.

      1. Mary Fox avatar

        Hi Andy
        Thank you very much for your reply and would like you to know how much I’m enjoying the tutorials. I am trying to find the one you mentioned I should watch on car chasing but can’t seem to find it in the list? Could you point me inthe right direction. Thank you Mary

        1. Andy avatar

          Mary, I added the link twice in the first sentence of my reply!

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