What Shall I Do Next?

Follow our suggested order for training your sheepdog


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When you start to train a sheepdog there are so many issues that need attention, it can be quite daunting. You can’t possibly address them all at once, and while there’s no simple rule for the order of training, we suggest a logical pattern that we follow, and explain the reasons why.

Once the dog’s making good progress and controlling its sheep well, the sequence of events, locations and if possible, sheep, should be varied to keep the dogs interest and attention.

16 responses to “What Shall I Do Next?”

  1. Jane Hart avatar

    This is the tutorial I should have watched first. I was looking for a good overview of the stages of training a dog and didn’t find this one. All your tutorials are useful though, especially “backwards is the way forwards”. My dog is nearly 11 months old and is coming on very well. I have worked with a local trainer but these videos are very good alongside this, even though the methods are a bit different.
    Best wishes,

  2. Catherine Galbraith avatar

    Hi there, wondered whether you could suggest best way forward with this 6 month old pup. He is doing good on the come bye, but really struggles on the away – I’m more or less chasing him round keeping him moving and he’s really close in. I try to keep his focus on the sheep (shushing) and am trying to widen his away (waving stick), but more often than not this causes him to turn/spin away from the sheep and run clockwise back down the pen/field . His stop is also problematic, again he turns away and runs off down the pen/field, always in a clockwise direction. I’m working him round 5 calm sheep. Can you offer any advice on how I should proceed at this stage., and do you have any thoughts about what’s underpinning this behaviour. Thank you.

    1. Andy avatar

      I’m struggling to fully understand what you’re trying to say, Catharine.
      You say the dog’s coming in too close, but that you are chasing and “shushing” him to keep his focus on the sheep. Chasing can be used to keep the dog out from the sheep, but shushing is the way to excite the dog and speed it up.
      I suspect you need to slow the dog down, so try to be very calm but firm with the dog.
      It’s the “keep his focus on the sheep” part that worries me, otherwise his behaviour sounds quite normal for a keen young dog. Maybe you mean you’re trying to get him to work consistently, but if the dog is losing its concentration on the sheep, that’s an entirely different problem (let me know).
      To balance the flanks, try to make the dog use its weaker side more, and save the better side for difficult jobs, like getting the sheep out of corners or off the fence. As the dog’s worst side improves, you can use both sides for all work.
      Walking backwards with the dog bringing the sheep up to you calmly at the pace that you’re walking back at, is the best way to balance the dog’s flanks because the dog has to go both ways to keep the sheep under control, but it sounds as though you don’t have enough control of the dog to start walking backwards yet.
      It all takes time. Your dog is only a puppy at the moment. Be patient and don’t expect too much of him. He needs to mature a little first.
      I suggest you watch “Calm but Firm” – “Starting a Strong Dog” and “Backwards is the Way Forward“.

      1. Catherine Galbraith avatar

        Thanks for your prompt reply Andy, I’ll try and clarify what I mean. On the away, his run is both slow and close, as compared with the come bye. Hence,my trying to chase him round (following his tail), and keep him going (shushing). Alongside that, and again on the away, at times he tends to spin away from the sheep and run the other way, and I’m thinking that this is because he’s not concentrating on the sheep, but I’m misinterpreting the situation. Hope this helps a little, but meantime, will look at the tutorials you suggested. Thank you

        1. Andy avatar

          If the dog has the instinct to bring the sheep to you, I would try to develop the “Walking Backwards” technique as soon as you can. To do it successfully the dog must flank both ways (to an extent) so it will help to get the dog balanced up.
          Also, if you send the dog off in the clockwise (best) direction, then run back a few yards to your right, it will mean he must go back the other way as he brings the sheep to you. If you get the timing right, it’s great for “tricking” the dog into flanking it’s least preferred way.
          I’m a little concerned by the need to push him around them or speed him up. This suggests quite low confidence, so you need to give him lots of encouragement.

  3. Natalie Dalziel avatar

    Hi Andy,

    I have recently adopted a 7 year old collie who is an experienced sheep dog. The problem is I don’t know his commands for flanking and his previous owner can’t remember them so I am starting from scratch. Is there a specific video for teaching him come by and away? When I say “away” at the moment he runs directly at the sheep so I suspect he hasn’t been taught clockwise and anti-clockwise. I have tried using the training stick but he just lies down and doesn’t move away from the stick. Thank you, Natalie

    1. Andy avatar

      That sounds very suspicious to me! Training a dog to work sheep is like riding a bicycle – you don’t forget the commands! If the dog’s been trained to work sheep it will know it must go around the sheep and not straight at them. Several years ago I bought a dog which had been trained on the opposite flank commands to the ones I use. It took just TWO brief sessions for the dog to learn that my “Come-bye” meant clockwise, not anticlockwise, and likewise for “Away” (the opposite to what it had been taught).

      Presumably you didn’t see this dog work sheep before you took it on..? (You should have).

      If you need it to work and it hasn’t been trained, at seven years of age, it’s probably going to take a lot longer to train than a younger dog would have.

      Let’s be positive and assume that the dog has been trained. The only possible reason I can think of for it to run straight at the sheep is that you’ve only had the dog for a few days and it hasn’t bonded with you yet. The older the dog is, the longer it takes to bond with you. It’s all about having a really strong bond with the dog. By “bond” I don’t mean the dog wags its tail when you stroke it, I mean that the dog REALLY respects you.
      Read what I wrote in reply to a similar question.

      For the dog, it’s not a question of knowing commands or not. It’s instinct should be to go to the sheep and bring them to you. If you have that bond, and the dog’s been trained, it’ll go round the sheep when you send it off, even if it doesn’t have a clue what you’re saying. Take the dog up close to them at first, and make it clear to the dog that you want it to go to the sheep. If it goes round them, you can stop it when it’s on the far side of the sheep, and then by moving one way and encouraging the dog to move to the Point of Balance, the dog will learn whatever command you (consistently) put on that movement. Be sure to watch Balance, What’s the Point?.

      If the dog hasn’t been trained, you need to start at the very beginning with watching the tutorials. I recommend you do this anyway so that you’ll understand what’s happening.

  4. janis ralston avatar

    My dog is very good lies down when told , but after I have moved sheep from one field to another she does not want to finish. She is very aware of the command that will do but the temptation of sheep is to much and she takes it upon herself to herd them back ..

    I cannot take her into a field to do fencing unless I know she has a fence between her and sheep .. how do I rectify this ..

    I watched video of her working with last owner and she comes straight back as soon as he says that will do .

    1. Andy avatar

      You don’t say how old the dog is or how long you’ve had it but if it’s only a few weeks, bear in mind that when you take a dog away from it’s home (particularly if the dog was born at that home) you’re taking it away from absolutely everything it’s ever known. A good comparison would be for us to be “abducted by aliens ”.

      If you have a different voice and accent to the trainer that will add to the problem as well, but the main thing to remember is the older the dog is, the longer it will take to bond with you. By bond, I don’t mean the dog wags its tail when it sees you, or will sit still (or roll over) while you make a fuss of it. I’m talking about the dog accepting you as it’s true leader.

      This can take a couple of weeks with a young dog or sometimes months, depending on age and circumstances. It also heavily depends on what kind of leader you are to the dog. If you get cross or excitable when things go wrong, that can confuse and frighten the dog and it’s not exactly portraying you as a leader, but if you’re firm, fair consistent, and calm – and if you spend a lot of time with the dog (rather than shut it away in a pen or chain it up all day) the bonding will happen far more quickly. A two year old dog will take longer to bond with a new owner than a puppy, or a one year old dog.

      I recommend you take the dog with you as much as possible. In the tractor cab, in your truck, when you’re working in the buildings etc. Have the dog loose if you can trust it not to run off or get into mischief, otherwise you need to be careful, but if you can have the dog with you, and interact with it, the dog will grow to respect you. A dog which is shut away or chained up is learning virtually nothing but it will view wherever it’s shut away as a safe place. Because your dog is nervous, once it has finished working, it immediately wants to get back to the safest place it knows. That should be with you, but at the moment for your dog, it’s not. You need to become the dog’s best friend.

      Whatever the dog was doing for its previous owner is what the dog will normally be doing for you once it has bonded with you – but these things take time.

  5. J Fenwick avatar

    Just a quick question! You mention in this video about a bonding with your dog video? But I can’t find it! I would be interested to watch this as it would be of great help to me! Thank you!

    1. Andy avatar

      Yes! We noticed that on Friday, J Fenwick!
      There are one or two tutorials I’ve mentioned, that we have not yet found time to make. Bonding with the dog is an important one, so we’ll try to cover it quite soon.
      For sheep work, basically, you should spend plenty of time with the dog (the more the better, within reason) and teach it good manners. Make the dog wait for you to open doors, and then you go through first etc etc.
      A good way to tell whether your dog fully accepts you as its leader is by the way it walks on a lead AWAY FROM SHEEP or livestock.
      If the dog is pulling, then it’s obviously trying to control you. If it walks with the lead slack, then the dog has fully accepted your authority – and will obviously be far easier to train on sheep or livestock than a dog which believes it can control you.
      Once you master it, your dog’s behaviour should improve all round.

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