Training Max – the Gripper (Parts 1-3)

A dog which attacks livestock must be quickly brought under control.

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Part 1 - A compulsive gripper can be a big problem to train
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.

Part 2 - Max is making progress
Thumbnail image for the sheep and cattle dog training tutorial: Training Max the Gripper - part two

After a quick recap of Max's colourful start to his training, this tutorial shows him making good progress in the training ring and even starting to bring the sheep up to the handler but he's difficult to stop. Andy's careful to start the training session correctly to give Max the best chance of going around the sheep rather than gripping or splitting them - but can Max keep up the good work?

Part 3 - Max is almost trustworthy now!
Thumbnail image for the sheep and cattle dog training tutorial: Training Max the Gripper - part three

The third and final part of our "Training Max the Gripper" tutorials sees Max working well in the training ring but then Andy decides to move the action out into the open field. Find out how Max copes with taking the sheep out of the training ring, and whether or not he manages to get them back into it before the session ends.

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

64 comments

  1. I have a 12 month old dog who is a gripper, he goes straight at the sheep grabbing one and scattering the others. i have got him to work properly in a round pen using roughly your method with Max and he is going quite nicely in both directions. I have now tried him in a small paddock but more space and he starts to flank nicely then goes straight in, takes no notice of my efforts to block him. any suggestions for this stage? i feel we will be in the round pen for ever

    1. REMEMBER! The closer you are to your dog, the more control you have over it.
      Difficult to tell from your description, but I suspect you’re allowing the sheep to get too far away from you when you send the dog off. If you go up close to the sheep before you send the dog off, you should have far better control. Most important: KEEP CALM – and try to keep the dog and the sheep calm.
      If the problem persists when you and the dog are close to the sheep, you need to go back into the ring, and get it right.
      Watch part two of this tutorial (again, if you’ve already seen it). You’ll see me take Max into the open field, mid-session. You may need to enlist the help of a friend for this. Get the dog working nicely inside the training ring, and then as the dog is CALMLY flanking around the sheep, keep it going nicely as your friend opens at least two hurdles (preferably more) for you. The wider the gap, the better! When sheep rush through a narrow gap, the dog thinks they’re escaping, and rushes to stop them. Often this results in gripping, or at the very least, heightened excitement on the part of the dog. If you can, keep the dog working the sheep inside the ring, even after the hurdles are opened up wide, that will be a great help. Keep the dog going round and round, and gradually work closer to the opening, until you feel you can ‘waltz’ them into the open field.
      Whatever you do, try to keep yourself, and the dog CALM.

      1. Thank you Andy. Having watched Max out of the pen again I think my problems are partly because my sheep are not as well trained as yours and are not sticking to me well enough which leaves too big a gap for the pup to take advantage of. For the time being we are back in the round pen and the older dogs are on sheep training!

  2. This is a very interesting video series because it is something you almost never see in other on line training venues; that is, training a strong, difficult, and grippy dog. Not many trainers illustrate that type of situation, so I greatly appreciate it. Thank you! You mentioned in a reply to Steven that walking the dog on lead around the sheep (in the round pen as well as in the field) can be beneficial for helping in this situation, although it takes a long time to make progress. Did I understand that correctly? So walking the dog around the sheep on lead until the lunging disappears can be a good way to deal with this situation? I have two very nice and well trained sheep dogs, and one “fire breathing dragon”. The latter is still a pup (not quite a year old). I think he’s going to be awesome when he trains up, but his first reaction is to dive in and grab. I like the idea of walking him around sheep on a lead until he quits lunging, and I have lots of time to devote to that. I just don’t want to frustrate him, so I want to make sure that I understood the recommendation. Thank you!

    1. It’s very good to know that you find the tutorials interesting! Thank you for the feedback.

      Yes, you have understood my reply to Steven correctly, but have you watched (and tried) the methods used in “How Can I Slow the Dog Down?“? The lead training idea will work but it’s slow, and if you overdo it, there’s a good chance you will put the dog off working. Restraining the dog on a lead when it’s trying to get at the sheep will teach the dog that you don’t want it to work, so you need to strike a balance between restraint and encouragement.
      It’s very frustrating for the dog – and the handler too!

  3. Hi, I’ve just started putting our 10m old collie with the sheep and he (ominously called max!) Runs straight for them and grips or scatters them into the fence and the sheep get hurt. I’ve had to stop having Max in the ring for the sheep’s sake. I think it’s a combination of issues in Max being too excited, running at the sheep rather than running around (and certainly not wide), the sheep not coming off the fence, me being new and probably many more. I have tried to get Max to get over the excitement by penning up the sheep and letting him run around them. He is listening more in terms of starting to lie down and his tail is definitely showing more confidence. He will run tight around both ways, but he is consistent in reaching through the hurdles to grip. I know you normally have the dog in a ring so not sure what to focus on. It feels like he needs to get over the excitement and have an ability to walk near sheep calmly. Should this be done in the ring on the lead or just in general walking around the sheep in the field? He has definitely calmed down over the few sessions running around the penned sheep, but pulls hard immediately when a sheep (or anything that moves) is around and that could be as very long process in and of itself! Thanks in advance for any advice. Sarah

    1. Can I respectfully refer you to the reply I made to Steven (the previous comment to yours on this page)?
      Your dog’s reaction is perfectly normal – if somewhat undesirable! It simply needs training – and it’s up to you to make sure your pen is the correct size (about 16m diameter [52ft]) so that you can keep control of the dog and MAKE him stay off the sheep.
      We find putting the dog on the outside of the ring is of little use. It seems to frustrate an excited, aggressive dog still further. The dog appears to be calming down because it realises it can’t get to the sheep, but then when you take it into the ring, it’s more aggressive than ever. Please read the reply I gave to Steven, watch the recommended videos, and then if you still have questions, we’re happy to answer them.

  4. Hello
    I’m curious as to how old Max was in this video, and what formal training he had before you took him on. My dog is 12 months and has only just started with the sheep, but I’m having a lot of problems with him charging and scattering the sheep when in the training ring, and subsequently I lose control of the situation. Do you think the rope and chain might benefit him at this stage, if only to slow him down? Thanks!

    1. Max was a year old when we made the video, Steven. You need to make your dog keep off the sheep – either by positioning yourself close to the sheep and warning the dog off with the training stick, of if you can’t do that, the rope chain should help, but you really need to do most of the work yourself. Make sure the training ring’s not too big (no more than 16 metres diameter) – get in there, and MAKE the dog keep away the sheep. Watch Starting a Strong Dog and The Training Stick for more.
      If you use the rope chain, take care. You don’t want to harm the dog.
      An easier (but far slower) way is to walk the dog around the sheep – both in the field and in the training ring, until the novelty and excitement reduce considerably. It takes quite a few frustrating sessions, but it will eventually calm the dog down and make it easier to train. At first the dog will pull like anything, but gradually, it will accept that pulling is pointless, and it will begin to calm down. Once the dog stops pulling, towards the sheep, you’re getting somewhere – but it’s not a quick solution! Watch How Can I Slow the Dog Down? for a better understanding of your problem.

  5. Hi Andy,
    My dog, very rarely grips, but if one ewe runs away and I send him to bring he most certainly will grip it.
    When he does grip a sheep he doesn’t let go or listen to me. I have to run the whole field and really shout at him. Why is it he only grips when there are very few sheep he is herding? What’s the best things for me to do. I want him to be able and fetch one escapee.

    1. I could write a book on this, but basically it boils down to confidence. It’s very common, in fact most trainee sheepdogs do it at some stage.
      Think of this in terms of hunting. When the sheep are in a tight flock, they’re more or less inpenetrable to dogs, but when one breaks away, that’s the one the predator will try to kill.
      It’s both exciting and frightening for the dog. The excitement of closing in for the “kill”, but the obvious danger that the terrified prey will make a last stand (and could injure or even kill the dog).
      When a sheep breaks away, it’s important to KEEP CALM.
      Remember. The closer you are to the dog, the more control you have over it, so as dog and sheep get farther away, your control reduces.
      If the dog senses any excitement in your voice, it’ll excite the dog too, so try to keep calm. Unless you’re sure the dog can bring the sheep back before they both get outside your control range, don’t send the dog after the sheep. Instead, keep the dog with you while you get closer to the sheep.
      If you go out wide, the chances are the sheep will run back to the others, and you can quietly encourage the dog to follow it. This will increase the dog’s confidence, and show it what you want it to do next time.
      If the sheep is more than just a few yards away, it’s a good idea to take the group of sheep to the single one. Alternatively, you could take the dog away from the sheep, far enough away to allow the runaway to come back to the main group.
      There are loads of ways of doing it if you think about it, but the important thing is to keep calm, and only let the dog work if you’re pretty sure you can control it. If you can’t, take the dog closer to the sheep before you send it off.

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