Top tips for easier training

Valuable advice for sheep and cattle dog trainers.

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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 comments

  1. Hello back, Thx for your response.
    I agree 100% that the dog must do what we want and not the other way around. It would just turn into a chasing and hunting activity.
    First, I do want you to know that I have watched the first 14 or so tutorials in order. Of course, I have also jumped to the ones that target what I think are areas that need work. My dog is an upright, loose-eyed gathering type – mixed breed. We’ve been training for almost 3 years, the first 2 being quite sporadic due to my job and distances. She knows her flanks, stops, walk ups, get outs – doesn’t mean that she always listens. Par for the course and I try to enforce what I can manage.
    To clarify my questions about pressure, I think it’s just an issue of semantics. When I watch you in the tutorials, you use your training stick, your voice, your body language to communicate with the dog. For instance, you whoosh your stick to get the dog to go out more. When they do, you stop. That’s what I meant by pressure. Perhaps another way to describe it is to label it as corrections – one corrects and when the dog gives or does what is asked, one steps back so the dog knows that it’s doing the right thing.
    I do enjoy your videos very much, you are clear and precise. There is also a wide variety of dogs that you show us and that is very helpful. For instance, I could really relate to the “Starting a Strong Dog” which is funny because I have always thought of my dog as more submissive and soft. Luckily, though, she isn’t mean or aggressive towards the sheep.
    Thanks again for the help, Barb

  2. Hi Andy and Gill,

    I have been looking at many of your tutorials, often times more than once. Keeping your temper, soft and gentle voice, harsher for corrections…all of this I’m trying to do if I can remember !
    Anyway, I was wondering if you could point me to your tutorial(s) that deal with pressure and the release of pressure by me. I don’t believe that release of pressure is always a reward…or maybe it is as it allows the dog to keep working. Maybe it’s a tutorial on how to properly use corrections.
    As an example, my dog is an upright dog and she prefers to work closer. Also, her outruns , though better, aren’t the wide BC type. I don’t want to over correct her by pushing her out all the time b/c this may frustrate her as she’s not being allowed to do what comes naturally.
    Any comment would be helpful. Thx!

    1. On reading your questions, I can’t help but wonder whether you might be confusing our training methods with someone else’s?
      We rarely talk about pressure other than the pressure the dog puts on the sheep, or the sheep put on the dog. We also suggest you relieve pressure when teaching the dog something really intensive, such as the stop, or driving. For example, where I suggest the handler uses the occasional outrun, or some other activity which the dog enjoys, to give the dog a short break.
      When we do this, the dog is still expected to do these “relaxing” activities correctly though.
      That brings me on to another point.
      You say “my dog is an upright dog and she prefers to work closer. Also, her outruns, though better, aren’t the wide BC type. I don’t want to over correct her by pushing her out all the time b/c this may frustrate her as she’s not being allowed to do what comes naturally”
      Surely, the point of training a dog is to get the dog to do what WE want, rather than allow the dog to do what IT wants? For herding sheep, the dog uses its hunting instinct – and many dogs would destroy the sheep if we allowed them to do what they want.
      Can I respectfully suggest that you watch the tutorials in the order we recommend? If your dog is a “gathering” breed (it’s not clear from your text, exactly what it is) and if you properly and fully carry out what each tutorial suggests, you will eventually have a useful sheepdog.
      Giving the sheep lots of room and wide outruns are essential, not only for efficient work, but most importantly, for the welfare of the sheep.

      1. Hello back, Thx for your response.
        I agree 100% that the dog must do what we want and not the other way around. It would just turn into a chasing and hunting activity.
        First, I do want you to know that I have watched the first 14 or so tutorials in order. Of course, I have also jumped to the ones that target what I think are areas that need work. My dog is an upright, loose-eyed gathering type – mixed breed. We’ve been training for almost 3 years, the first 2 being quite sporadic due to my job and distances. She knows her flanks, stops, walk ups, get outs – doesn’t mean that she always listens. Par for the course and I try to enforce what I can manage.
        To clarify my questions about pressure, I think it’s just an issue of semantics. When I watch you in the tutorials, you use your training stick, your voice, your body language to communicate with the dog. For instance, you whoosh your stick to get the dog to go out more. When they do, you stop. That’s what I meant by pressure. Perhaps another way to describe it is to label it as corrections – one corrects and when the dog gives or does what is asked, one steps back so the dog knows that it’s doing the right thing.
        I do enjoy your videos very much, you are clear and precise. There is also a wide variety of dogs that you show us and that is very helpful. For instance, I could really relate to the “Starting a Strong Dog” which is funny because I have always thought of my dog as more submissive and soft. Luckily, though, she isn’t mean or aggressive towards the sheep.
        Thanks again for the help, Barb

    1. It depends what you mean, Hope. If you mean using the trained dog just to keep the sheep together and make training easier for the trainee, that’s fine. We do it on occasions when we have a trained dog with the right temperament to do it (Kay and Carew were great).
      Using a trained dog to teach the pup by example is not a good idea though. It works to an extent, but of course, any faults the trained dog has will be passed on to the youngster. There’s really no substitute for training the young dog from a clean sheet, as it were.

  3. Hi Andy and Gill,

    I have taken on the training of an older dog (Ben is about 6). He as been on the farm I now work on since about 12 months old. He is a strong and keen dog and as such has been hard to control for his previous handler. I also think that he was rushed on to more difficult work quickly rather than continue gradual training. I have a good bond with Ben having known him and and exercised him for 2 years.
    I am working on building his confidence as he has been left out of work up to now because he wasn’t working as his previous handler wanted. He is hard to stop and often takes it upon himself to bring you a group of sheep that you didn’t want.

    What I would really like to know is, do you have any advice for “retraining” an older dog, and if you think I can be successful. Ben has really good instincts so I hope it can be done, I’m starting from the beginning with your videos but if you have any in particular to recommend, that would be great.

    Cheers, Hannah

    1. Good to see that you’re going to get Ben trained Hannah, but bear in mind that the older the dog is, the slower it might be to learn. That’s why people mistakenly say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. It’s nonsense, but you just need a little more patience than you might with a one year old dog.

      Regarding the tutorials, I strongly recommend you watch them in the order they appear by default. That way YOU will get a clearer understanding of what’s likely to happen, and how to put it right.
      Start Ben off as though he were a first-timer, and move through each stage when he’s working well at the basics. You’ll be fine, just have faith in Ben, and yourself.
      (It would be great to hear how you get on, if you can spare the time)!

      1. Thanks for your reply Andy. I’ve been working with Ben every day that I can get out, in a ring with about 4 hoggs. I’m pleased with his progress- being worked every day is increasing his confidence and he’s definitely seeing me as the boss now. I know he can gather sheep- he’s got a great outrun but am working on stopping and recall- that’s where we’ve had issues in the past. We have to walk through sheep to get to the training ring and I think this is teaching him that he only works the sheep I want him to work. Any tips for over eager dogs who don’t want to stop when you tell them? I want to move onto driving next but I’m it all super slow.

        Thanks for your help, Hannah

        1. That’s really good news, Hannah! Don’t worry about slow progress. As long as Ben’s improving, you’re on the right track – and if you can walk through a flock with him, it shouldn’t be too difficult to stop him.
          The Stop tutorials are full of ideas for stopping the dog, but really it’s about getting it through to him that you REALLY mean it! If necessary, walk through the sheep towards him in a threatening way, pointing at him and grumbling. It helps if you worry him a bit!
          Rather than driving, I suggest you first move on to gradually increasing the distance at which you stop Ben. I know you said he has a great outrun, but it’s no use if he won’t stop! Remember: the closer you are to the dog, the more control you have over it. This means that he’ll learn (or more likely, already has learned) that you are powerless to stop him at a distance. That knowledge only undermines your authority over him, so for now, only send him as far as you can stop him. Once he’s fluent with that, you can gradually increase the distance – but reduce it again, if his stop deteriorates. That way, he’ll (eventually) learn that he must do what you say, whatever the distance.
          If you can walk through a flock and keep him under control, driving should be relatively simple, but concentrate on stopping him for now. When you start teaching the dog to drive, the dog’s very strong instinct is to run ahead of the sheep and bring them back to you. It’s hard enough to prevent this even if the dog stops quite well, so if you can’t stop him, it’s going to be even more difficult!

  4. Hi Andy
    I have been training my dog for the past month and watching your tutorials . She is very biddable and competent in a small paddock with a dozen or so sheep. I have also been taking cuilean out on a longish lead when i have been gathering the hill with our old dog who is an extremely good and calm worker . I feel that it is good for cuilean to learn the ground and observe what is going on , she is certainly not yet ready to control sheep herself on rough open hill ground ,. I also take her when we are doing any close work in the shed , and let her do a few of the easier tasks alongside the other dog . She is of course very agitated at being kept on a lead while the other dog works , as she is very excited to take part . Although she may be learning by example and getting her used to being around sheep regularly . would you recommend taking a dog in training out like this ?

    1. The emphasis in our early training tutorials is for training sessions to be as calm as possible. As the dog’s keen, and you’re not having any issues with getting her interested in working sheep, I think you should continue Cuilean’s training in your small paddock. As her training advances you can give her more difficult tasks to do, and start working on other parts of the farm when she’s ready. Don’t try to push Cuilean into making progress, and don’t put her into a situation where she’s likely to be over-excited and perhaps achieve more harm than good.

      1. Thankyou Gill for your advice , im really enjoying your tutorials , and have found them very helpful . Im at the stage in training where i would like to take the cuilean to a larger paddock than im currently using (which is around 3 times the size of a training ring as it is beginning to feel limited ) , but wary of the large field because as you say i dont want to achieve more harm than good .
        A tricky step !!

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