Balance – what’s the point?

The point of balance is important to understand, when a sheep or cattle dog is working livestock. It’s position is not always straightforward.

Subtitles: French*, Spanish* or English, click CC on viewer (*translation errors).



Cover photo of Balance tutorial.

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Video Highlights

A sequence showing dogs demonstrating simple balance skills.
Many things seem confusing when you begin training sheepdogs.
Trainee sheepdog Tony on balance.
The dog’s ancient hunting instinct is to encircle the prey.
Examples of balance when the dog’s not directly behind the sheep.

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Positioning the dog on balance.

Sheep and cattle dog trainers often refer to the importance of “the point of balance” but what exactly is it, and where can we find one?

When we first start training, we want the dog to be on the opposite side of the stock from ourselves. As training advances however, the dog becomes able to carry out more complex tasks. From this moment on, directly behind the stock is not always the ideal place for the dog to maintain control.

In this short tutorial, we discover what exactly the “point of balance” means to the working sheep or cattle dog handler, and just how much it affects the sheepdog’s work. Additionally, we learn why balance is not always where we might expect it to be!

The Training Ring (parts 1 & 2)


13 responses to “Balance – what’s the point?”

  1. Sarah Hemming avatar
    Sarah Hemming

    Hi, I have rescued an older working collie. We are still getting to know each other but she does not balance at all. She is happy circling and will drive with you if you are moving forward as well as do some pen work, but she doesn’t have a concept of gathering or walking sheep up to me. I have tried getting her to walk sheep up to me down a fence line when I am on the opposite side walking backwards but she just looks at me like I am a bit mad! Any tips on how to teach this skill or is it a case of working with what she will do? She isn’t too keen on the ring / lessons and so most of the teaching has to be whilst doing jobs. My sheep are not the most dogged and so I don’t have anything that will stick to me like glue. Thanks.

    1. I’m sorry, I can’t really begin to answer your question properly without more details.
      You say you ‘rescued’ an ‘older’ working collie, and you’re ‘still getting to know each other’.
      From what did you rescue the dog? How old is the dog, and how long have you had it?
      All three of these can make a huge difference to my replies, but I cannot possibly sit and type out every possible cause of each of the problems you mention, it would take far too long, and depending on the dog’s background (was it actually working sheep when you took ownership of it) the dog’s age, and how long you’ve had it living with you, much of my reply would be irrelevant.
      Please briefly give as much detail as you can, and I’ll be happy to help.

      1. Sarah Hemming avatar
        Sarah Hemming

        Hi Andy, thanks for reply. She is a six year old working sheepdog whose farmer had died and was taken to a rescue. We do not know anything else about her other than she was the farms sole sheepdog. We have had her four months and she has settled in well with us, I have just observed that she wants to drive sheep with me and not gather to me. Thanks

        1. That all sounds pretty good! She’s not too old, and has been with you long enough to have at least partly, bonded with you.
          If the dog will drive the sheep and circle them, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to stop her on the opposite side of the sheep from you.
          If you can’t do that – and you really should be able to if you watch the tutorials which show how to use the training stick, and block the dog – The Training Stick, Stopping the Dog, Starting a Strong Dog etc.
          To be honest, I think you need to be more assertive. If the dog will work in a pen, there’s no reason why it won’t work in a training ring. That’s where you can get control of her and make her work the way you want her to. Try to make it enjoyable for the dog if you can, but you need to MAKE her stay on the opposite side of the sheep from you. Then as you walk away from the sheep, they should follow you (rather than be near the dog). Once they follow you, you can call the dog up a little way, and then stop her again (or preferably slow her down, so that she brings the sheep at the pace you are moving back). Watch Backwards is the Way Forward.
          Use the ring to teach the dog to stop on the other side of the sheep, then if there isn’t enough room in the ring, move outside it to teach the ‘walking backwards’.
          Keep trying, and BELIEVE in the dog. She’ll be gathering sheep for you in no time!

  2. Nancy Barrows avatar
    Nancy Barrows

    Hi Andy
    Should we expect the dog to stop at the top by themselves?


    1. Good question, Nancy! I have just added my reply to our Frequently Asked Questions!

      1. Nancy Barrows avatar
        Nancy Barrows

        Thank you, the FAQs are very helpful.

  3. Susan Cooper avatar
    Susan Cooper

    I have a dog that wants to do nothing but circle, circle, circle. I have moved backwards time and again, and still can not get him to walk up to me on balance. He lives to circle and flank. I’ve been trying to flank him half a circle, down him and go in the other direction and walk up, but to no avail. How do I get him to quit his endless flanking and get a walk up?

    1. You simply need to stop him, Susan! Make the dog stop, and make him stay in place until you send him off again.
      Watch the six videos on this page (“Backwards is the way forward” – last) :

  4. nick viney avatar

    Thanks for the ‘Balance’ video.
    Very pleased to see on the site that you are looking for another Kelpie to start. I took on a young adult KelpieXCollie who had been ‘wrong’ for the previous owner and he is now (3 years later!) my top dog. Steady and reliable in very challenging working conditions on Dartmoor.

    1. Glad you like the tutorials, Nick. Yes, we’re looking forward to getting another Kelpie. Recently we’ve been impressed with the ones that have attended our sheepdog training courses and we feel we understand them better that we did five years ago when we had our first Kelpie, Red.

  5. Greg Mortimer avatar
    Greg Mortimer

    Dear Andy and Gill

    Thanks for the “Point of Balance” tutorial. Perfect timing for my dog and I and very instructive.

    See ya next time

  6. Melinda Stevenson avatar
    Melinda Stevenson

    Thank you, love your videos!

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