Top tips for easier sheepdog training

Sheepdog training tips and advice to make teaching your farm dog to herd sheep, a lot easier!

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Simplify the education of your first herding dog with our sheepdog training tips and advice for beginners.

Safety tips and advice

If you want the dog to work cattle and also sheep, training it on sheep first is safer and easier.
You must ensure the safety of yourself, other people, and also any animals concerned.
Falling over in the field, is an obvious safety issue.
Training herding dogs is completely different.
Which of the everyday obedience training lessons are also useful for farm or ranch dogs?
Everything a dog does in its life is either for survival, or reward.
Most other canine disciplines rely on giving the dog a reward of some kind.
When a dog herds other animals, its instinct tells it that it’s doing it to survive.
The biggest reward you can give a herding dog, is to allow it to continue working.
Because dogs are so trainable, we’re able to turn the hunting instinct to good use.

The hunting instinct is essential for herding dogs

New trainers are often shocked by their dog’s aggression when it first encounters stock.
A modified form of this aggression, is what the dog uses when it works stock.
Getting the dog as well as the sheep under control, can be the most difficult part.
Even those who doubt dogs descended from wolves, must recognise their ancestors hunted.
We defy anyone who’s lived amongst dogs the way we have, to deny their pack instinct.
Watch the tutorial ‘An Insight Into Pack Behaviour’ for a better understanding of it.
Understanding pack behaviour, answers many questions about sheepdog training.
A dog’s reluctance to get sheep out of tight places, is clearly explained by pack behaviour.
Trained sheepdog Mel, demonstrates how to get sheep out of a tightly packed pen.
ANIMATION: Showing the ‘danger area’ when a dog approaches sheep on a fence.
There are plenty of sheepdog training tips and advice in the tutorial ‘An Insight Into Pack Behaviour’.
Get Off The Fence’ shows how to teach your dog to get sheep away from tight places.

Tips on being a suitable trainer

Are you a suitable trainer?
When a herding dog is confronted with farm stock it can be very difficult to control.
You’ll need to be strong-willed, to control the dog and protect the livestock.
If you find it hard to assert yourself, you may find sheepdog training is not for you.
You don’t need to treat the dog harshly, but at times you’ll need to be strong-willed.
The better you earn the dog’s respect as its pack-leader, the easier training will be.
Training the dog will also be far easier if you’re fairly fit.
If you lose your temper, your dog’s training is also likely to get worse rather than better.
Which breeds and types of dog make the best herding dogs.
If you simply want to push stock in one direction, there are many breeds to choose from.
If you need a dog to gather sheep and bring them to you, Collies and Kelpies are ideal.
For more information on sheepdogs, watch the ‘Sheepdog Selection and Preparation’ tutorial.

What type of sheep is best for sheepdog training?

Sheep that are not used to being worked by dogs, often cause problems for trainers.
Farm animals see dogs as predators. Their natural reaction is to run away from them.
Sheep running away or scattering, cause huge problems for untrained dogs.
Sheep will quickly trust a calm, predictable dog, but greatly fear an erratic one.
What are dogged sheep, and how can they help train my dog.
Dogged’ sheep can be excellent for starting a dog off.
As the dog’s training improves, you’ll need ‘flightier’ sheep, which will move away.
How to manage if the sheep won’t go away.
The ‘Driving’ tutorials will help you to teach your dog to drive sheep away.
ANIMATION: Showing two handlers simultaneously training their dogs to do outruns.
Watch the ‘Outrun’ tutorials to find out how to teach your dog to go out and fetch sheep.
What to do if you can’t obtain any ‘dogged’ sheep.
Types of sheep to avoid when training your dog.
Watch ‘The Dog’s Confidence’, and ‘Sometimes Nice Is Not Enough’, to learn how to cope with stubborn sheep.
And watch the ‘Sheep’ tutorial, to find out a lot more about sheep.

Tips for creating a suitable training area

How a few simple changes can make training easier.
How to modify your training area to make training as easy as possible.
Why we recommend using a temporary training ring to start a dog on sheep.
There’s much more information in ‘The Training Ring’ tutorials.
The dog’s confidence is also important for working sheep and cattle dogs.
Sheep are particularly quick to learn if a dog lacks confidence.
If the dog approaches in a calm, confident manner, the sheep will respect it.
You should make sure the dog always wins any confrontation with the stock.
What to do if your dog is struggling to move sheep or cattle.
Watch the tutorials ‘Sometimes Nice Is Not Enough’, and ‘The Dog’s Confidence’.
Learn your commands. Ways to remember your commands and get them right.
Make sure you know your flank commands, and keep commands to a minimum.
The ‘Learn Your Commands’ tutorial will help you to remember your commands.
Watch ‘What Shall I Do Next’, for advice on the sequence of training we recommend.
A brief summary of the main points in this tutorial.

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Who said it was easy!

Nobody would claim that sheepdog training a dog to work sheep or other livestock is an easy matter. But by understanding what is going on and why, and by paying attention to just a few basic details, we can make the process so much easier for both dog and handler.

Andy addresses nine valuable sheepdog training tips frequently overlooked by novice trainers. They include safety, the difference between training a dog to herd sheep compared to obedience and other forms of dog training, the dog’s hunting instinct and pack behaviour. He also asks you to consider whether you’re a suitable trainer…

The Golden Rule of sheepdog training


54 responses to “Top tips for easier sheepdog training”

  1. HI – I’m trying to find the video with the lead training bits mentioned in the Bron and Scylla 1 video but not having luck.

    I’ve got a very high drive young one who occasionally debates whether or not he needs to listen and I know that would help us both.

    1. Hello Kent, I think lead training is included in Bronwen & Scylla, Part 1, and there’s also an FAQ that includes it – Good Recall.
      I hope that helps!

  2. Peter David LLewellyn avatar
    Peter David LLewellyn

    Hi Andy I need a bit of help I’ve got my 11 month old collie to flank which she does pity well but once she gets around the sheep she stops and lies down and I can’t get here to drive the sheep on towards me, can you give me some tip please Dave

    1. It’s a very common problem Dave, but not too difficult to correct. Watch the “Sticky Dogs” tutorial. If my guess is right, your dog lacks confidence, and rather than assert herself with the sheep, she considers that after all, she has them under control between you and herself, and all is nice and safe.
      With practice, you’ll be able to keep her moving and as her confidence builds she’ll get better and better. Another trick is to walk away. If you do this, the dog will realise it no longer has the sheep safely trapped between you and herself, so she SHOULD get up and bring them to you.
      If the problem is a general lack of confidence, rather than the dog being “Sticky” I suggest you watch “Sometimes Nice Is Not Enough“. This will show you ways to improve the dog’s confidence, and make it more “pushy”. It wouldn’t hurt to watch that one either way.

      1. Henza Dantier avatar
        Henza Dantier

        This year (Year 2) my dog had an epiphany and started showing balance and responding to the directions with the stick. The problem is me. When the trainer is in the pen, all is fine, but when I’m there I am confused and don’t know where and whom to look at and how to move. The sheep get behind me from the start and my dog just circles around us since I’m not doing anything. I believe that the aim is for the dog to get the sheep to me but what do I do if the sheep is already seeking safety behind me? Should I follow my dog’s movement in the clock position and make him change direction from time to time? Thank you!

        1. I think I need more information before I can give you a helpful reply, Henza…
          You say the dog had an ‘epiphany’ (great word) and apparently works well for ‘the trainer’. Would I be right in supposing that you are having lessons with a trainer?
          I don’t want to give advice which might not be appropriate for another persons methods – but I have to wonder why that trainer isn’t being more helpful to you.
          If you could send me a video (see how, via this link) so that I can see what’s happening, that would be a great help.
          I suggest you watch the videos which involve starting a dog on sheep, especially ‘Starting a Strong Dog‘ and ‘The Training Stick‘ to see how we do it, – and be sure to let me know if I can be of further help.

          1. Thank you Andy. At first, I told the trainer that I preferred that she worked with Mishka and it’s going great. Now she’s slowly trying to introduce me into the pen with my dog, but I am having difficulty knowing which way to move. The trainer told me to look at the direction the sheep is going but I am quite clueless as to what to do with that information, do I back up, move in the opposite direction, etc. I am sorry if I gave the wrong impression but the trainer is very good; I’m the bad student! Since we travel only once per week for herding class, I wanted to do some homework to gain some insight into moving correctly and not confusing my dog. I will watch the recommendations and send you an existing video of my dog and the trainer; I will also try and get one of me being clueless next time! Thank you.

          2. Just try to relax about it all. You are not a bad student, it’s just that nobody has clearly explained to you what you should be doing.
            If the dog is going round the sheep, then you should try to stop it on the opposite side of the sheep from where you are. Once you can get the dog to stop there (on the opposite side of the sheep from where you are) you are beginning to get control of the situation. I think it might be better if you watch the dog, but be aware of its position in relation to the sheep.
            If the sheep are behind you, then you should copy whatever means your trainer uses to get the dog to go round them. Try to keep the sheep between the dog and yourself (for now). Once you can do that, your trainer will probably tell you what to do next.
            When you watch the videos (including the one of your trainer working your dog) don’t watch them like a film or TV program. Try to see what is happening with the sheep and the dog (and the trainer) and work out what the trainer did which resulted in the dog doing (whatever).
            The same with our videos. It won’t cost you any more to watch them many times over, so do that. Another good one to watch is ‘Max – the GRIPPER‘ – he’s pretty horrible at first, but soon improves once he knows what he should and should not do.
            Hopefully you will have the epiphany moment soon, yourself!

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