The Outrun (Parts 1-3)

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A good outrun is essential if a sheepdog is to work efficiently.

Thumbnail image for the sheep and cattle dog training tutorial: The Outrun part one

Fortunately, it's not difficult to train a dog to do an outrun, and the training process itself improves other aspects of the dog's work, such as flanking and the stop, so we use short outruns very early in training to improve the dog's all-round performance.

Part 1 features Jed, a large, headstrong male collie with far more enthusiasm than skill. We filmed an actual training session, warts and all, to show how to start teaching the outrun, and how to make the best of it when things go wrong (as things, inevitably, will).

Part 2. Andy demonstrates how positioning yourself, your dog and the sheep, in relation to each other, is the key to success when you're working on lengthening or widening your dog's outrun. To prove the method works we see Carew at an early stage in her career - when she'd "cross over" at the prospect of even quite a short outrun - and, just a few months later, tackling a 500 metre outrun for the first time.

Part 3 shows how we use a simple technique we call "The Slingshot", to make the dog go out much wider on its outrun or when flanking the sheep. "The Slingshot" is one of the most important and highly effective techniques we know of for quickly improving the dog's outrun.
If you can get your dog's cooperation, it will absolutely love doing "Slingshot" outruns, and go out much wider.

20 comments

  1. Hi Andy,
    How do you build confidence in a dog that is reluctant to work away from you? Natsu has been to the sheep 7 or 8 times now and is working really well while I’m in close proximity to the sheep. However, we’ve started to introduce short outruns but he’s reluctant to go unless I go with him. Once I get close enough to the sheep he will take himself off round to the point of balance. I managed to get him to do a couple of really short (less than 10m from the sheep) outruns on the ‘away’ this morning but he was having non of it on the ‘come by’ and I had to walk up to the sheep before he’d go. There are no sheep in the local area where we walk so he has never been taught to stay away from them.

    1. You need to build on what you have, and very gradually extend the distances so the dog doesn’t really notice the increase, Kath.
      The “Walking Backwards” exercise is excellent for teaching the dog to work further away from you – and once you’ve built up a little distance, you can (occasionally) come through the sheep towards the dog, and send it off on a short outrun. While the dog is actually going out to the sheep, try moving further away as it goes, to increase the distance (from you) a little more.
      If the dog comes back to you, reduce the distance – and so on.
      Walking Backwards” is also great for teaching the dog to flank both ways. Once the dog will follow and wants to hold the sheep to you, you need to change direction so that the dog has to flank round the sheep to bring them. Once again, do this very gradually at first, then build on it. If you think about it, to hold the sheep to you as you move around, the dog will have to flank both ways a little, so this provides an excellent start for balancing the dog up.
      Another trick is to work the dog close to a fence or hedge, and as the dog flanks between the sheep and the fence, quickly move forward to block it, and send it back the other way. The trainee dog won’t want to stop in the tight spot between sheep and fence, so it will naturally want to go in the other direction!
      Watch “Starting a Reluctant Dog” and pay particular attention at 05:35 where I block the dog between the sheep and the hurdles, to send her back the other way!

      1. Hi Andy, I’m not having any problems with point of balance. I started off walking backwards but can now walk forwards with him bringing the sheep up from the rear. I do lots of direction changes and he’ll happily flank both ways to maintain the point of balance. He will reliably stop and I either go around the sheep or through them and send him whichever way which he’ll do no problem. He’s just reluctant to leave my side and flank to the POB unless I’m stood close to the sheep. He’s not worried by the sheep. He’s really calm and keeps them calm while just moving around but he won’t take any nonsense from them. If one bolts he’ll go get it and bring it back. Just got to convince him to leave me and go get the sheep.

        1. One of the main purposes of the Walking Backwards excercise is to put more distance between the dog and the sheep. If you walk back with the dog bringing the sheep to you – and then STOP the dog, the sheep should keep coming – thus increasing the distance between dog and sheep. As the dog gets used to this, you can begin to work it further and further away – and as I mentioned in my earlier reply, you can walk through the sheep, towards the dog, and when you’re about halfway between them (dog and sheep) send the dog off to gather the sheep.
          Once this works, you can gradually increase the distance of the ‘outrun’ – GRADUALLY!
          Keep in mind that if the sheep DON’T continue to come towards you when you stop the dog, it strongly suggests you need fresher sheep for the dog to work with.
          You say that the dog will do a very short outrun. My point is, basically, each time you send the dog off on an outrun, you should try to increase the distance – even by a tiny amount, if necessary.
          Keep at it – it works!

  2. Hi Andy
    I have been training my 5 year old dog for 6 months almost everyday ,mainly on 80 hogs in a 30acre hill park . She is very eager to please , she is good in most areas but has a problem when i give a command for an outrun , she knows her sides well once she has the sheep together and can also drive them in any direction but for an outrun she seem unsure of which way to go and ,she circles my legs looking at me ,she seems very frustrated . If i keep calmly repeating the command she will eventually do the outrun , and when she does ,she does it well mostly . I keep trying on sheep close to her and gradually moving further away ,ive been doing what you suggest in your videos and standing between her and the sheep , but she still does randomly find the command to outrun confusing . Ive tried the slingshot tecnique also , but i feel that it completely freaked her out . It seems like a lack of confidence and/or that im confusing her in some way . I wonder if you could give me any advice on how i could help her understand what she needs to do .

    1. A frustrating problem, isn’t it! We take our dogs out into the field that our sheep live in every day, and they learn that they’re not to chase the sheep when they go out together like this, but sometimes when we train them to work the sheep, it leads to the sort of confusion you describe. They usually get out of it very quickly though – because they’re young. Older dogs take longer to learn, and I suspect your dog has learned to stay by your side, and only recently have you begun to send it out to gather sheep. The dog will learn to do an outrun when you command it, but it’s going to take a while for it to get into the habit, simply because just like people, dogs learn more slowly as they get older.
      It sounds as though you’re doing the right things – but I would try to make working the sheep more exciting for the dog. Give her lots of encouragement – clapping hands, whistling, shushing, lots of praise etc – particularly when she’s actually doing an outrun. Start very gently at first, in case you ‘put her off’. Watch “Sometimes Nice is Not Enough” to see how I encourage the dog by increasing its excitement. If your dog is excited when she’s around sheep, she’ll be more eager to go to them.

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