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Top tips for easier training

Ways to make sure training your dog goes as smoothly as possible


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Thumbnail image for the sheep and cattle dog training tutorial: Top tips for easier training

Nobody would claim that training a dog to work sheep or other livestock is an easy matter. But by understanding what is going on and why, and by paying attention to just a few basic details, we can make the process so much easier for both dog and handler.

In this video Andy shows how to correct the points which will be most beneficial when you train a herding dog, but are so often missed by novice trainers.

36 responses to “Top tips for easier training”

  1. Lotte Bender avatar

    Hi Andy,

    Firstly I love the tutorials. I will be getting my border collie in about a week time and I’m getting as much prep in as possible. Super informative and entertaining.

    I do have one concern that I was hoping you could advise me on as I am very new to dog training, and especially sheep dog training. I have a farm with a small flock of sheep which I will be training my dog on. But we also have 8 donkeys which form a little herd themselves. The donkeys would be dangerous to the dog. And I am wondering is there a way of training the dog to stay completely away from the donkeys but still understand that herding sheep is ok. Just not herding donkeys…

    I’m concerned that the herding instinct in the dog may not make the distinction and may go for the donkeys too. However if I teach her to stay away from them I don’t want her to thinknthat herding is not ok in general if that makes sense?

    Any advise in this matter would be most appreciated.

    Thank you,


    1. Andy avatar

      You can teach your dog anything, Lotte!
      We have one field of about three hectares (five acres) and at this time of year we have between twenty five and thirty sheep on it. Until recently, we had anything up to thirty dogs. We take them out twice every day, whatever the weather for a run.

      The dogs know the sheep are there, and the sheep know the dogs are there, but they keep out of each others’ way. The dogs don’t chase the sheep, because they know it’s not allowed when they’re out together, recreationally.

      The only exception is puppies and young dogs (when we used to buy dogs in to train them). They need to be taught not to run off and chase the sheep when they’re not supposed to. There are lots of ways to do this, but I suggest you keep the donkeys fenced-off at first, at least until you can train the dog.

      You need to teach the pup from as early as possible, that it must respect the donkeys. At the same time though, teach it that when you take it to sheep, it can run after them (and you’ll encourage that) but it must not chase donkeys.

      You’ll only put your young dog off working sheep if you constantly restrain it from working (chasing) and don’t regularly encourage it to work – to show it when it’s allowed to, and when it’s not.

      Watch all the tutorials in the “Where to Start” category – especially “Starting a Young Puppy“.

      Thank you for the kind feedback. It’s very important for us to know we’re providing the tutorials you need!

      1. Lotte Bender avatar

        Hi Andy,

        Thank you very much for your thorough and quick reply. I really appreciate that tip. I’m getting a 6 month old who has been started on sheep, and plan to train her on the sheep for a short time each day so hopefully that will help her distinguish what is ok and what is not.

        Many thanks again for your help and thank you for this fantastic resource.

        Kind Regards,


        1. Andy avatar

          Hello again, Lotte! That sounds really good. Just be very careful in the early days. The new dog will take time to really bond with you – and that’s what you need – to control it when it wants to run after stock. Puppies can be controlled far easier than a five month old dog!

  2. Jeannette de Vries avatar

    I ‘m very happy that I discovered your tutorials. I have been working my Border Collie for more than 1 year and I face a couple of problems. She somehow does not respect me properly in the field and is very hard to lie down when required. Do you a tip for me how I can improve the situation? She is not a very strong dog and she’s also at times afraid that se may lose the sheep. She also sometimes gets into the sheep and grips when she gets desperate. Her outruns are also not so very impressive but I’m trying to follow up your tutorial suggestions on this. So these are a couple of problems I’m working with …. perhaps you have some suggestions for me. The most important one is the lie down as it drives me really crazy that she doesn’t obey:(. Thanking you in advance for your very much esteemed advice! P.S.: Do you also give clinic sessions in your place?

    1. Andy avatar

      Thanks for subscribing to the tutorials, Jeanette. I can understand your frustration, but your dog sounds perfectly normal – with a strong working instinct.
      If you are able to get the dog to go around the sheep (most of the time) you are making progress, but of course, you would prefer to go faster!
      First, can I suggest you watch ALL the tutorials in the “Where to Start” category? You need to watch them all, to get a proper understanding of your dog and why it does what it does. Even the “Starting a Non-Starter” tutorials contain information which could help you, too.
      Stopping the Dog” (parts 1 and 2) – and “Starting a Strong Dog” should be particularly helpful, and even “Training Max – the Gripper“. There’s loads there to help you, and don’t just watch them once, keep watching until you fully understand what’s happening, and how to get the situation under control.

      1. Jeannette de Vries avatar

        Hi Andy, many thanks for your informations! I will watch the tutorials again and try to Keep your recommendations in mind when working the little beast:)))! She is really a very keen worker but overdoing it at times:)))!
        Best wishes from Switzerland and stay safe

  3. Mindy Mills avatar

    Just a word to say I am greatly enjoying the tutorials. I am using/ training English shepherds to work my sheep here in central Missouri USA. A gathering breed for sure! That is if the dogs are from working bloodlines…. which sadly are in danger of being lost. We call em a border collie with an off switch! Just had to give em a little brag! Stuart, Lexie and I are all benefitting from your excellently produced videos! Thank you!!

  4. Gerry McAuley avatar

    Just to say I’m thoroughly enjoying your videos and learning a great deal from them.
    About 2 1/2 years ago, when I started training my first Border Collie, Glenn, I bought four of your DVDs and found them very useful. I’m now starting to train a new 14 month old bitch (Cass) I bought recently so I decided to invest in a subscription to your website so that I would have access to all your training material. Cass is progressing well and is much “faster on the uptake” than Glenn was – or maybe it’s just that I’m a more effective trainer this time round!
    Glenn is now nearly 4 years old but still capable of learning new things – and indeed in need of further instruction. For example, I only recently managed to teach him to shed.
    One thing I would like to train both Glenn and Cass to do is to “take hold” on command. Obviously, there is a fine line between an unwanted grip and a controlled take hold so I was wondering have you any advice on the matter or if you are planning to cover it in a future video.
    Gerry McAuley (Big_gmc)

    1. Andy avatar

      It’s great to know you find our videos helpful, Gerry. The feedback is very useful to us. Thanks!

      As for teaching a dog to hold a sheep, it’s not something I do, but I know it can be extremely useful on certain occasions, and at four years of age, Glen’s certainly young enough to learn how to do it.

      The way I would go about it is fairly simple but you must understand your dog might bite you if you do it. Wear thick protective gloves if you try this. Watch this video for more details about the risks.

      If you watch “Starting a Non-Starter“, you’ll see that I recommend getting a small number of sheep into a fairly confined place and then grabbing one, and pretending to drag it away. This excites the dog and can be an excellent way to spark it’s interest in working. It can also fire the imagination of a dog which already works! So much so, in fact, that the dog is likely to try to bite the sheep very close to where you’re holding it. Hence the likelihood of you’re being bitten!

      Once the dog grabs the sheep by the wool, you simply give the “take hold” command. If you do this in a calm and controlled manner, the dog will quickly learn that grabbing the sheep and holding it, is what you want it to do.

      If the dog isn’t moved to grab a sheep just because you have, it’s going to be more difficult to train it to “take hold” because you’ll need to create a situation where you know the dog will grip. This can be more uncontrolled and stressful for the sheep, so I recommend you try hard with the first method. It should work if you can excite the dog when you grab a sheep.

      Only do this if you’re prepared to risk being bitten though.

      1. Gerry McAuley avatar

        Hi Andy
        Thanks for your informative and prompt reply.
        I shall have a go using your suggestions and, if successful, I’ll video the result and send it to you.

        1. Gerry McAuley avatar

          Hi Andy
          This morning, I tried the “take hold” suggestions you gave me and, with one slight modification to the technique I think I can make it work with Glenn.
          When I grabbed a sheep and started seemingly to struggle with it, Glenn obviously wanted to help but all he would do was dive in for quick nips and jump away again. Strangely, though, when I let the sheep go, he grabbed it immediately and firmly by the wool at the shoulder and held on tight until I took hold of it again. He then let go. I was so surprised that I almost forgot to issue the “take hold” command!
          Just to check if it was real and not just a coincidence, I tried the same thing with another sheep. Same result. This time I had the presence of mind to issue the “take hold” command on time!
          I think that this exercise will also help Glenn’s power and confidence. His one major fault is that when he is working a bit away from me (say 100 yards or more) he lacks the power to push stubborn sheep. Also, he’s never too keen to go into tight corners to drive sheep out.
          I blame myself for this. When I started to train him I was very hard on him if he showed any signs of aggression. The result was that I made him a bit too soft – I think.
          After the “take hold” exercise, today he seemed to have had his “fighting spirit” rekindled a bit and was much more authoritative with the sheep than he had been at the beginning of the session.
          Thanks again for your excellent advice.
          Gerry McAuley

          1. Andy avatar

            I was confident that would work for me Gerry, but it’s good to get confirmation that worked for you too! Of course, it’s often necessary to make minor changes to training ideas, and you seem to be doing that with Glenn. That’s excellent.
            Once he understands that he can use his teeth when he needs to, Glenn’s confidence will improve dramatically, but don’t expect it to work when the dog’s a long way from you, straight away. Get it all working nicely close-bye at first, and then very gradually increase the distance.

  5. Kirsten Colton avatar

    Thanks so much for your great videos. We have learned so much so far. How often would you recommend doing herding training sessions with a one year old border collie? Should we do daily, every other day, or less frequently than that?

    1. Gill avatar

      Hello Kirsten, thanks for the question. I recommend you watch the “How often, and for how long?” and “What shall I do next?” tutorials (you need to be logged in for the links to work). I’m sure these will answer the question more fully than we have space for here but, of course, don’t hesitate to ask if anything’s still unclear.
      Good to hear that you’re finding the tutorials helpful.

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