Training Max – the Gripper (Part 1)

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Thumbnail image for the sheep and cattle dog training tutorial: Training Max the Gripper - part one

Not for the faint-hearted, this tutorial deals with one of the most difficult aspects of sheepdog training, how to cope with a very strong-willed dog which persists in violently attacking the sheep.

In the first part of the video, you'll see Max at his worst despite his trainer being vigilant. Later on, Max's training becomes easier and far more rewarding. Watch the video to find out how it's done.

Max had no training of any kind at any time in between the lessons shown above.

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42 Replies to “Training Max – the Gripper (Part 1)”

  1. We have a novice dog that is a gripper and already caused some physical damage to a sheep, we are thinking about training in a muzzle for a while. What are your thoughts on using one?

    1. Apologies for the very late reply, Melinda. I have only tried very briefly to use a muzzle on the dog, and I stopped using it because it seemed to increase the dog’s frustration. Don’t take this as an expert reply though – it’s not. However, I can honestly say that I personally prefer to use the rope and chain system that you see on the “Training Max the Gripper” tutorial on a dog which walks well on a lead (away from the sheep).

  2. I have lots of experience with police k-9’s and Schutzhund dogs and have used a long rope extensively in that training. I am currently working my first herding dog, primarily on cattle. She flanks beautifully but has bee a real challenge to get to fetch because she was constantly wanting to dive in and grip and push the cows at a dead run right over the top of me on several occasions!!!!! Last week was the first week that I could send her on a short fetch, turn my back and have her reliably bring me the cows. I still have to give her a reminder or two to stay behind when she is fresh but when she blows off a little steam, she has been staying behind and starting to rate herself and take pressure off by slowing or stopping and not blowing out to the sides. It has been really amazing!! Her problem is that if the cows get a little ahead of her or if we are done with work and she senses the opportunity, she will fly into them, to the head and grip. I have tried running and driving her off of them but she is persistent. She is 20 months old now and is a very strong dog. The typical comment, from those that watch her work, is “when you get that under control, she will be a nice dog.” The problem is that no one has told me how to get it under control. So, I go back to my old Schutzhund roots, and think that I should put her on a long line and set up a couple of situations where I’m fairly sure that she will rush in and be able to stop her on the rope. But then I second guess myself because I don’t want to make her think that she can’t ever go to the head to stop them, so I am currently having this debate with myself and, in the meantime, the problem continues. What are your thoughts? I should also say that I used a long line to teach her to down for a ball and for a Frisbee and now I can stop her in a dead run after either of those with a down command and she drops reliably. Am I over thinking this? I hate being so indecisive.

    1. Reading through your comments carefully Andrea, it seems you’re rushing things a little. When working a dog on cattle, great care must be taken for your own personal safety, and that of the dog. How many cattle are you working with? Just two or three should be sufficient. More will give you a lot less control.

      I strongly recommend you go back to basics – especially Walking Backwards if it’s safe for you to do it.

      The other basic to concentrate on is the stop. Flank the dog around the cattle, then stop it. If the dog won’t stop, it’s not really ready to move on to greater distances. Once you get the basics sound, the rest will be much easier.

      You say her problem is that if the cows get a little ahead of her or if we are done with work and she senses the opportunity, she will fly into them, to the head and grip.

      Use your power of anticipation. You just told me what she’s going to do under these circumstances, so if the cattle begin to get away a little, flank her after them and stop her. If she won’t stop, you either sent her too late (and the cattle were further away, giving you less control) or you need to work on the stop to improve it.

      If the dog goes after the cattle when you want her to stop working, SHE’s the one doing the anticipating. Keep her working until you can get her very close to you and then just stop her and make a fuss of her – then send her off again – so whenever you call her to you, she doesn’t know whether it will be the end of the session, or whether you’re just going to give her some fuss. Break the pattern up so that she can’t anticipate.

      1. Thank you. My plan was to go back to basics and work through those things this summer. I will definitely be following your recommendations!!

  3. That was beautiful. I used to train Military Police dogs and drug dogs and have my first herd dog; a 1 year old border collie. She was abused and thrown into pens with Hogs by her first owner and has many scars to prove it. She acts like she wants to herd and is interested in my goats, but runs away from any human contact or attempt at control. Perfect on a leash and runs away at the first opportunity. After 2 months here, she won’t allow any but very brief contact for a few seconds as she thinks she will get beat if you try to touch her. Any helpful hints?

    1. This is more of a canine behaviour problem than herding as such Amy, but if you’ve only had the dog for two months, and the dog really has been mistreated, it’s very early days yet. She needs to fully bond with you – and that can take a long time.
      I’d really need to see what she does when she’s around goats or sheep to be able to advise properly, but if she wants to herd without you around, and she’s not harming them, why not arrange it so that she can spend some time on her own with them while you observe from a safe distance?
      This may not be possible if the dog is causing stress to the goats, but if you are able to set it up, watch carefully – and as the dog’s confidence builds you should be able to gradually join in, in some way – even if it’s initially just encouraging her from behind a hedge or fence. As she gets more confident, you should be able to take a more active part.
      Don’t try anything until the dog is happy to be with you and doesn’t run off. Take her for long walks on the leash and stop at intervals to stroke her and make a bit of a fuss of her if you can.
      Don’t try to force her to do anything – do it by encouragement rather than pushing her.

  4. Can you share the timeframe for this, ie how long it actually took to get Max to not constantly run in and grip? Is this culmination of many weeks? The rope chain seems like a really great idea- it is so easy to get wrapped in a long rope! I look forward to the next stage- these are very helpful lessons- Thanks!

    1. Very good point, Jim and Sandy! I made a note this morning to edit some sort of timescale into the video – and this has now been done. Thanks for prompting me – and good luck with training your dog.

  5. Great (if a little painful) to watch – my young dog has been very grippy and rather like Max! Have had to take a different approach as no round pen, and light sheep. Using a long line and a good helper(!) and teaching him to flank wide. Also lots of walking backwards with him balancing (and friend on end of rope). Very much work in progress. Liking the idea of a weighted rope.

    1. We would love to hear how you get along with your dog on a rope being held from behind, while you walk back with the sheep, Caroline. It sounds like a good idea – especially if the person holding the rope allows the dog to get closer to the sheep than you want him to. This will mean you have to be very firm with the dog – and should pay dividends when the rope is eventually released.
      Good to hear you find the tutorial useful.

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