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.
Training Max – the Gripper (Parts 1-3)

71 responses to “Training Max – the Gripper (Parts 1-3)”

  1. Arye Ehrenberg avatar

    Hello Andy. can the same dog work both sheep & cattle in the early stages of training & in general?

    1. Andy avatar

      To work cattle, a dog needs to be very strong, and quite aggressive. In my opinion, it’s far better, safer and easier to train the dog to work sheep first, and then once the dog is working well, move on to cattle. This way, the dog will be far more controllable and responsive, and it will also understand that it shouldn’t be too aggressive with sheep.

      1. Arye Ehrenberg avatar

        Thanks Andy. I’m still wondering, in your experience, in the case of a fully trained dog, does working on cattle makes the dog more aggressive when working sheep?

        1. Andy avatar

          To successfully work cattle, the dog generally needs to be fairly aggressive – and if you train your dog to work cattle before training it to work sheep, the dog can often be too aggressive on sheep. You can train it not to be, of course, but if you’re likely to want the dog to work both, I would train it on sheep first, and then on cattle.
          It’s safer that way, too. An untrained dog could spook the cattle into doing something dangerous, whereas spooking sheep is far less likely to cause trouble. Once the dog can be controlled around sheep, it’s far easier to control it on cattle.

  2. Arye Ehrenberg avatar

    Hello Andy. this video is very helpfull.
    Will it be good to start a dog like Max in a small round pen where the sheep are in and the dog is on the outside?

    1. Andy avatar

      I don’t find working the dog on the outside of the pen very useful. In my experience, the dog just gets frustrated, and when it eventually gets into the pen, it’s just as bad, if not worse than it would have been if I started it off inside the ring.
      It’s important the ring is the correct size though – about 16 metres diameter (17.5 yards). Watch the Training Ring Tutorials to see how we do it!

  3. Brenda Horne avatar

    My collie is just a year old and I have been trying to train him for about two months. I made round pen with hurdles and tried to work him on the outside. Initially it went well but he then decided to jump the hurdles to get closer to the sheep, he is inclined to grab but only if one of the sheep gets separated from the rest of them. he is a bit like Max so quick, quicker than me that’s for sure. He gets calmer as he tires out.

    1. Andy avatar

      I don’t find working the dog on the outside of the pen very useful. In my experience, the dog just gets frustrated, and when it eventually gets into the pen, it’s just as bad, if not worse than it would have been if I started it off inside the ring.
      It’s important the ring is the correct size though – about 16 metres diameter (17.5 yards). Watch the Training Ring tutorials to see how we do it!

  4. Laura avatar

    Hello. Your videos are very helpful. I have a one year old dog who grips. He runs in , fixes on one and grabs hold of it. I have a couple of questions please.
    I don’t have any other dogs, so how do I keep the sheep quiet after being scared by my dog?
    They run away as soon as I take him into the round pen with him (he is on a lead). So I made another pen and put the sheep in there with the dog on the outside. He has a good stop and recall off the sheep. I am stuck on how to move forwards. What do you suggest please?

    1. Andy avatar

      By keeping the sheep quiet, I assume you mean calming them down (rather than stopping the noise)?
      If I’m right, it suggests your sheep are not used to being worked by dogs (at least, not by untrained dogs). If you don’t have another dog (or a friend with a trained dog who could help you) the only way you’re going to calm them is by working them with your dog. You might try walking the dog around the sheep on a lead to familiarise them but it’ll be a slow process. It can sometimes help to calm the dog down, too though.
      Have you tried the rope-chain? As you will have seen in part one of this tutorial, it can transform the dog’s behaviour – as long as the rope-chain is more or less as the one in the video. Too long and it will wrap around the feet of the sheep (and actually wind the dog in towards them like a winch). Too short, and it’s likely to harm the dog’s paws. The weight needs to be correct too. Heavy enough to slow the dog down, but not so heavy the dog gives up and stands still.
      Remember you need to be pro-active, too. You really need to chase the dog away from the sheep when he comes in. Watch “Starting a Strong Dog” for more on this – and “Calm But Firm“.

  5. Lauren Holley avatar

    I have found all of your tutorials incredibly valuable and I have taken something from each, even the ones that I wouldn’t have thought applied to my dog, these with Max are wonderful and have given me hope when I am worried about her gripping. She is approaching a year old and after about 3 weeks in the ring with 4 sheep we moved out to a small paddock which is working well, she’s giving the sheep more space but will still try to come in when going away and have a grip, not always but often enough for me not to trust her yet. The sheep have learnt to stay close to me even in the paddock so I am able to give a swoosh of the stick to send her out when I can see she’s going to give it a go, I’ve got pretty good at reading her intentions. I feel we are making progress in other areas and she now has a good stop the majorty of the time so I am reluctant to go back into the ring as I am able to control her in the paddock, is it just a case of being patient and trusting in the process and she’ll get there or is there another tactic I should be trying?
    She jumped a fence the other day and got in a larger field with about 30 ewes with lambs, she refused to come back to me as it was far too exciting so I said to myself “what would Andy do” and decided to give her calm instructions as if I was in control and she followed them to my surprise, she stopped when asked but kept dodging me when I attempted to approach her, I eventually got her cornered and she went to my step dad tail wagging like it was the most fun she’d ever had. She didn’t grip once despite several break away attempts by some of the sheep which gave me hope even if it took 10 minutes to get hold of her! Prior to watching your tutorials I would have panicked and screamed at her, so I feel we are both making progress, thank you, I am genuinely enjoying learning with her.

    1. Andy avatar

      It’s great to read your comments, Lauren. Thank you for the valuable feedback!
      Keeping calm and appearing to be in control makes a huge difference when you’re training a dog, doesn’t it!
      You’re obviously making great progress with your young dog, but don’t forget she’s still very young. If I were you, I’d get her back in the ring, and concentrate on getting her going well in the anticlockwise direction without gripping, if you can.
      If you feel that she’s worse in the ring, then by all means make the ring larger if that’s an option, or work on her flanks in the paddock, but remember it’s a confidence issue, and if you get her going well in the ‘Away’ direction in the open, that’s only part of the job. Next you need to GRADUALLY start working her closer to a hedge, fence or corner, to build her confidence when she’s between the sheep and a fence or hedge. The ring can be useful for this, but you can do it in the paddock by gradually working the working the dog closer and closer into a corner.
      Calling the dog away can be very trying, but once you can do it, training moves forward much more quickly, so it’s worth doing! How do you manage to catch her in the paddock though? Assuming you’re able to catch her there, did you try that method when she escaped to the ewes and lambs?
      The most important thing is to crouch down BETWEEN the dog and the sheep, and call her to you. That way, she’s getting closer to the sheep (which is what she wants). They quickly learn to dodge away from you though – so it’s better if you have a really good stop on her.

      We’re in the process of putting together some Frequently Asked Questions on our blog:
      Read about Calling the Dog Away there – and please let me know if you need any further help.

      Currently we’re working on a new tutorial about getting the sheep into a training ring without a trained dog – and immediately after that, we plan do a video about calling the dog away – hopefully it’ll be uploaded quite soon.

      1. Lauren Holley avatar

        Thanks Andy, great advice as ever!
        I will set up the ring again, I do have the option of making larger too if I do need it, I feel even more confident after your reply so thank you. I don’t mind how long it takes, she’s worth it and it’s teaching me patience I didn’t know I had!
        We have been working on her coming to me in the paddock as you describe above thanks to your fantastic tutorials, she has a good stop too but when she jumped that fence there was no tricking her into coming anywhere near me! We’ve made progress as there was a point she would never come anywhere near me if she thought even for a moment that the fun was up so I shall continue and I’m sure we will get there. Her stop is good so the times she doesn’t come to me she will stay in place if I go to her in the ring or paddock, I’d like to add that her stop is only good because I followed your tutorials, as infuriating as it was to have to let her go having got her to stop when we started it has paid off! I look forward to the new video on calling the dog away as we are still clearly a work in progress.

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