How to train a sheepdog – Online Tutorials Preview

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We now have 70 clearly explained, easy to follow sheep and cattle dog training videos for first time sheepdog trainers, farmers, and shepherds. Watch the preview here!

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86 Replies to “How to train a sheepdog – Online Tutorials Preview”

  1. Hi Andy, I have just bought a trained sheepdog after seeing two videos of it working for an experienced trainer online(£1800). Got it home 10 days ago and the dog just wont listen to any commands from us. It has bonded well with the family and is in all other respects a good dog. The seller suggested we put a slip knot rope around its waist to make it obey commands, which it does when the rope is on(you can tell it is no stranger to this method of training) but as soon as the rope comes off then it runs wildly around the sheep refusing to stop or come back. My question is that surely at that money I should expect the dog to stop and come back when called. Any suggestions

    1. It’s not a good idea to buy a dog on the strength of seeing a video, because the handler might only show you the best bits. If you go to see the dog, you’ll get a much better idea of how it behaves when it’s first sent to the sheep. Don’t despair though what you saw the dog do on the video is what the dog will do for you once it’s bonded with you.

      You don’t say how old the dog is Roger, but you should 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 being abducted by aliens.
      If you have a different accent to the trainer, that will add to the problem, 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 while you make a fuss of it, I mean 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 – including what kind of leader you are to the dog. If you’re cross and excitable, that’s not exactly the sign of a leader, but if you’re FIRM, FAIR and CONSISTENT – and if you spend a lot of time with the dog (rather than shut it away in a pen all day) the bonding will happen more quickly.

      If the dog was working reasonably (without a rope) in the video then that’s what you’ll get once you’ve built up that trust, 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 tie it up, but if you can have the dog with you, and interact with the dog, it will grow to respect you. A dog which is shut away or chained up is learning virtually nothing.

      You need to go back to basics with the dog (briefly). Get that right, and the dog will progress quickly. I suggest you watch the videos in the Starting Category.

      Good luck, and please let me know how you get on.

  2. Hi Andy
    i just watched “the prefect stop”, and saw Bronwen, jumping away from the sheep, not having enough confidence. My dog does exactly the same, if im close or far away when dealing with stubborn sheep. The dog does not give up, it really wants to move the sheep, but does not have the power and confidence to do so. Most often the when a ewe stand up to the dog, the dog just picks at weaker sheep out of the flock and nips it in the hind leg. this means it starts circling the sheep. the dog is most often impossible to stop when this happens. some times i have to walk away just to get the dog to stop trying to move the sheep. although if i have a stick, i can smack it on the ground and the dog stops.
    I have seen all your tutorials.

    How can i build the confidence of the dog.

    1. Yes (at 2:43) in The Perfect Stop, Bronwen is chased away by a sheep – and I say that I was too far away. I should have been close enough to help her, and that’s what you should do. Get in there and help the dog by driving the sheep away yourself.
      Yes! The dog will find a weaker sheep and attack it (a perfectly natural reaction from a dog which is hunting) and you must discourage this, but encourage the dog to focus on the sheep which is causing the problem. It won’t happen overnight but the more you help the dog, the quicker its confidence will grow.
      Even though you have watched all the tutorials, I strongly suggest you watch Sometimes Nice is Not Enough at least once again.
      If the sheep are difficult, make sure you’re close enough to help it – and the dog’s confidence will grow.

  3. Hi Andy,
    Hi my puppy is nearly 6mths he has a thing about food he goes to grab
    any food which I give to my livestock as I’m feeding them once they
    have got it he’s not bothered, but when he grabs he grabs at the
    animal too I’ve tried on and off the lead. He’s also like this with
    the other dogs (3) I’m not sure why he’s never had a reason to fight
    for it. He also barks a lot pls help if you can.
    Zoe Bishop

    1. Whichever way you look at this, it’s a behaviour problem, Zoe. If the food jealousy issue (with other dogs) had been addressed when the puppy was eight weeks old (or the moment it first came to your notice) it wouldn’t have escalated into what it’s become. Now unfortunately, the dog’s got into the habit and you have a more difficult job on your hands, but of course it can be corrected.
      Dogs assume that anything we don’t (effectively) correct, is acceptable behaviour, so they carry on doing the same thing, or even develop it into an even worse problem. Obviously whatever measures you’ve tried with your dog have been ineffective, so the problem has developed. For this reason, it’s time to change the measures you’re using.
      I suggest that the moment the dog shows food jealousy with another dog, the youngster immediately gets put away on its own in a shed or cage, and left there for at least a couple of hours. If the incident happens at a meal time, the dog will miss that meal too (but of course it will have plenty of water).
      As for attacking livestock, I realise it’s nice to have the dog with you but other than training when you’re able to concentrate fully on controlling the dog, you shouldn’t be allowing a dog near stock if you cannot control it properly at all times.
      In the short term, I suggest shutting the dog away as I’ve just described, but even better would be to get the dog’s training with stock underway as soon as possible. Once you can control it properly around stock, you’ll be able to watch out for the problem and if it happens call the dog away, or send it back and make it stay away at a distance.

  4. Can you tell me if you have a tutorial on how to get a dog to slow down? My border collie is like a bullet and that puts my sheep at a full run constantly. It is almost impossible to actually move the sheep in a calm manner. I have tried sending him in one direction and then asking for a lie down at various points on the circle, but he still gets up at full speed. I also notice that when we even enter the field, the sheep take off at a full run away from us. They have learned what he is about. Thank you!

    1. If the dog goes out wide and steadily, the sheep will come away from the fence calmly, but if the dog is erratic and unpredictable, the sheep will be erratic and unpredictable too.

      The dog moving at lightning speed and far too close to the stock, is a problem that a great many trainers face Kim. There’s no “quick fix” for it, but once you understand why the dog’s doing it, hopefully you can work with the dog to correct it.

      When the dog’s working sheep or cattle, it’s using an ancient hunting instinct. This instinct tells any predator that if things go badly, the prey could retaliate and the predator could be seriously hurt. If you understand and believe in this, it will answer just about every question about training a sheepdog.

      In your dog’s case, it’s highly excited because it’s afraid it could get hurt – so the best way to keep out of trouble is to be so fast, nothing can catch it.

      Unfortunately, as you point out, the sheep will run amok if the dog’s running around very fast. If the dog is calm and steady, the sheep are much more likely to be calm, but to achieve this is going to take time.

      YOU must be calm too. I mean REALLY calm!

      Of course, I’ve not seen you work your dog, so I may be wrong, but from my years of teaching people to train dogs, I know that the biggest problem with new handlers and trainers (including me when I started) is that (just like their dogs) they’re nervous. If the handler’s nervous, the dog immediately picks up on this, and becomes even more nervous and excited itself.

      Watch “Calm but Firm” for a lot more on this. (Logged in members only). Try to be really calm, but firm. If the dog does something wrong, give ONE very firm correction (preferably before the dog actually commits the act) and then carry on giving gentle commands as though you are firmly in control (even if you’re not).

      The thing your dog needs most is good leadership. Good leaders don’t panic, and they don’t excitedly repeat commands when things are going wrong – be a strong, calm leader and your dog will be calmer, but as I said, to steady the dog down is going to take time.

      In your question, you suggest that you can stop the dog, but when you send it off again, it rushes at the sheep. If I’ve understood this correctly, then you’re nearly there.! Once you can stop the dog on the other side of the sheep, you can practice walking backwards with the dog bringing the sheep up to you in a calm, steady manner.

      Once the dog will stop on the far side of the sheep, “Walking Backwards” is the single most useful training exercise you can do. Learn how to do it with our sheep and cattle dog training video “Backwards is the Way Forward”. (Logged in members only).

      As I say in the tutorial, it’s boring and may seem pointless, but once the dog learns to do it properly, you’ll have a different dog. It will improve the dog’s pace, working distance, control of the stock – and most important of all, it’s respect for YOU as its leader.

      From the few details you’ve provided, I’ve had to generalise. If any of the above does not apply to you and your dog, please give me a fuller description of the situation, both about the dog, and your own behaviour when you’re working it. I’ll do my best to help.

      IMPORTANT.
      Of course, walking backwards while the dog brings stock to you is potentially hazardous. Only do it if you’re prepared to take a few falls, and be particularly careful of any trip hazards, trees, or low hanging branches and the like.

      1. Andy-As a beginner handler-yes, I would say there are times when I am nervous. Though I do not think I show this-I am sure Kai is picking up on it. I had never thought of his running as a sign of him being afraid, I will give that more thought as I suspect you are correct. I have two comments about your response to further clarify:
        1. Kai can circle the sheep and will take the lie down command. To try to slow him, I think of the circle as the face on a clock and will stop him at 12:00, 3:00, 6:00 and so forth. He will stop on command, but when he gets up-it is lightening fast.
        2. Walking backwards is interesting. Kai gets sticky on the walking backwards. He will lie down and stay there. It takes great effort to get him to come on and continue. Then, the sheep and I get too far ahead of him and then the sheep disengage and so we can not get where we need to be. I have used a long line (40 ft is what I have) to give a tug when I give the command, “walk up”. But often that gets us into trouble as he can then get too close to the sheep and then they run and he busts through them. I also seem to find myself tangled in the line. Kai also protects the weak point to a fault. If we are walking away from the weak point, he is better, but trying to get him to walk backwards with me towards the weak point is not so good. He does not want those sheep near the gate and will either lie down or will swing around in front of them to protect that gate.
        Off to watch more videos!

        1. Ahh! He’s sticky as well!

          Watch “Sticky Dogs“.

          Kai’s issues are ALL about nerves and lack of confidence.

          The problem is, you’re going to have to be really clever. You’ll see in “Sticky Dogs” that the way to stop the dog being sticky is to try not to actually stop the dog – try to keep it moving – and this is what you need to do with walking backwards.
          To be honest, I’m puzzled by him not getting up when you walk back. Normally, as you walk back, the sticky dog realises it’s no longer holding the sheep to you (and they’re far enough away to not be a threat of any kind) and the dog moves forward to gain control. If the dog’s prepared to LOSE control of the sheep, there must be a reason…
          If you can keep him moving though, this will resolve itself quickly.

          As with all fast, sticky dogs, the more they work the sheep without anything horrible happening to them, their confidence will grow and their pace will get steadier, but the difficult part is keeping control while they’re learning!

          Weak point?? Not sure what you mean by this…

          1. By weak point, I mean where the pressure is in the field, for example, the gate that takes them back to the barn.

          2. You mean where the sheep want to get to? Perhaps another group of sheep they can see in the next paddock, or somewhere they see as a hideout from dogs??
            I’ve never heard of the expression “weak point” in sheepdog training before.

          3. Well I am new to sheepdog training and don’t always use, or know, the correct term. My local trainer calls it the “pressure point”, the place where the sheep want most to go.

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