About us

Border Collie sheepdog Odo working four sheep among some old apple trees

FROM PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER TO SHEEPDOG TRAINER!

The Working Sheepdog Website was created in May 2002 by Worcestershire-based partners Andy Nickless and Gill Watson. Originally intended as a place to share photographs, and their experiences with a rapidly expanding collection of border collies, it has grown to become a hub for sheepdog training advice, DVDs, and tutorials. 

Newland View, Droitwich, Worcestershire. UK
Andy and Gill’s first home together Newland View, near Droitwich

Before meeting Andy, Gill owned collies and had competed in local sheepdog trials, having previously “dabbled” in showing, obedience and agility, while Andy would be first to admit that he didn’t really understand collies at all! 

Greyhound Lurcher Jill at Newland View near Droitwich
Jill would chase anything that moved, but Andy trained her not to.

Andy’s experiences with a range of dogs, from Border Terriers to Great Danes, hadn’t prepared him for the challenges and joys of living with a workaholic breed that combines brains, beauty, athleticism, intuition, and a mischievous sense of humour. He felt his greatest dog training achievement had been with Jill, his Greyhound Lurcher. A typical sighthound Jill had chased everything that moved, but after Andy’s calm and persistent training could be trusted not to chase livestock – or even rabbits.

Andy began to share Gill’s enthusiasm for border collies and sheepdog trials, and frustrated by the slow progress of Gill’s latest dog, Dot (more about whom can be found on the website) decided to see if he could help. Gill recalls, almost fondly, Andy ‘phoning her office to tell her he’d been working on Dot’s “stop” command: “It was like Mr Toad’s “poop-poop” moment; I knew I’d lost my dog”. 

Dot’s training wasn’t an easy path from practice paddock to trials success, and arguably the stop was ever her weak point, but Gill and Andy added a few more dogs into the mix and quite quickly realised that Andy had a feel for training practical working sheepdogs. 

Photograph of Kings Green Farmhouse framed by the leaves of oak and apple trees
Andy and Gill moved to Kings Green Farm nr Worcester (UK) in 2002

Much as Andy was enjoying the competitive element of sheepdog trials, he was more fascinated by the training process itself. Every collie is different; some are shy, some are confident, and some are just bluster, but Andy was finding that with time, patience and faith in the dog (however difficult that would sometimes prove to be) he could train them all to become happy and helpful working dogs. 

Andy’s profession of freelance industrial and architectural photography began to take a back seat and, eventually but inevitably, he took the plunge to become a full-time sheepdog trainer while Gill continued to work full-time in industrial publishing.

Gill takes up the story:

Gill brings the wine, surrounded by twenty-three very lively borde collies
A substantial number of Border Collies was soon acquired!

“What we needed now was more border collies, so we advertised on our website that we were interested in young dogs who, for whatever reason, found themselves in need of a new home. We hoped we might be offered one or two, but were unprepared for the deluge of border collies who’d proved unsuitable for a domestic environment. At least, that’s how we viewed them to begin with, but it quickly became clear to us that there was nothing whatsoever wrong with the dogs – their behaviour was entirely due to the humans in their lives. Sometimes the dogs had been bought (or given as a present!) without any research into their needs, and sometimes it was the fault of the breeder not providing adequate guidance or “after-sales” support. But whatever the reason, within a short time we’d been given or bought a variety of border collies who’d become “problems”. Usually they were male, and generally aged between 9 and 12 months old (yes, adolescent) but some were older or younger; very few were ISDS or KC registered, but they were all real and individual characters.

Delightful close-up photo of sheepdogs Dash and Scout, lying close together near a football
Two of our young border collie sheepdogs, Dash (nr camera) and Scout

“The pack needed to earn a living, so given Andy’s background in photography we thought we could make a video about the dogs: after all, how difficult could it be…?

“In 2005, armed only with our first video camera and our naivety, we created “Border Collie Sheepdogs – Off Duty” and in the process learned a huge amount about filming, sound recording, narrating, editing and publishing that stood us in good stead for the venture that was to come. 

“Naturally, as well as collecting collies, we’d garnered a considerable collection of sheepdog training videos. Mostly the videos were produced by acknowledged experts in the trials field, people who clearly knew how to train a variety of dogs and had the cups, rosettes and titles to prove it. All had something to offer, but they all had something else in common – everything was going right, first time. We weren’t seeing on video what we were witnessing every day when working with our own dogs: that if something can go wrong – it probably will!

First steps in border collie sheepdog training dvd

“In 2009 we started work on “First Steps in Border Collie Sheepdog Training” and, completely by accident, changed our lives. We wanted to use our own experiences to prepare beginners for the difference between what they’d like to see, and what they should expect to see, from their young dogs, and how to prepare themselves and their environment to avoid the pitfalls arising in the first place. First Steps takes newcomers, and especially non-farmers, through the process of selecting sheep and understanding a little of their behaviour; preparing the training area; preparing themselves, and learning their commands; and choosing a dog to train (if it isn’t too late). We knew it wouldn’t always be easy viewing for us (any mistakes were entirely ours, and we learned from them) but we were determined to show sheepdog training as it really is; typical things that go wrong during training and, just as importantly, how to put them right.

Sheepdog Carew working a small bunch of sheep
One of the easier dogs to train – this is Carew at work

“The response to First Steps was overwhelming! So many messages and telephone calls from people who’d found, not simply information, but reassurance and encouragement, and it was clear that more than a few sheepdogs were getting that second chance they needed before being written-off as “untrainable”. 

“Andy began to give lessons and hold training clinics for groups, and in October 2010 I left my job as editor in industrial publishing and joined Andy full-time to look after the online shop and the day-to-day care of the dogs. 

Andy Nickless and Gill Watson laughing as sheepdog Ezra joins them at the picnic table!
Sheepdog Ezra interrupts filming for a training tutorial but Chihuahua Eric’s not amused!

“Technology moves on of course, and with the trend to move videos and, by then, DVDs from physical media to online hosting and downloads, the next step was to create online tutorials to be watched by subscribers. Restricted only by the attention span of the viewer, online videos give us far more scope than the DVD format ever could. Our online tutorials have far more detail, cover more topics, and are infinitely editable: new information, or more footage, can be added and made available immediately to our subscribers across the globe.

Gill Watson and Andy Nickless sitting on a picnic table with Ezra the collie sheepdog and Alfie the chihuahua looking up at them
Chihuahua Alfie wants to join in, too!

“English subtitles have always been included, but in late 2021 we started a new venture with the addition of Spanish subtitles, reflecting the increased interest we’re getting in South America. Australia, Canada and the US are home to many hundreds of our subscribers, and Europe continues to be a major market for us too, so European language subtitles will follow. 

“Please feel free to enjoy the website, it reflects who we are, what we do, and what we believe about dogs in general, and border collies in particular. Where would we be now without our dogs? They all deserve our sincere gratitude.”

If you’d like to leave comments, we’d love to hear from you. Your feedback is invaluable to help us develop the tutorials (subjects and content) and the website as a whole. Most of the blog pages and articles have comment sections so look for the icon at the bottom right of the page.


ONLINE SHEEP AND CATTLE DOG TRAINING TUTORIALS

Clear, inexpensive, sheep and cattle dog training instruction

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

For Español or English SUBTITLES click “CC” on player.

video

For a very small monthly (or annual) subscription, watch many hours of expertly presented sheepdog training lessons. Not just theory – we show you what should happen, and what to do when things go wrong. Signup now. You may cancel payments at any time and continue to watch for the period paid for.

8 comments

  1. I haven’t started the dogs on sheep, but have found the first few training videos have helped me to manage the dogs better in general. Can clearly see what I was doing wrong in handling the border collies with traditional training methods. I recommend this training series for anyone with a border collie.

    1. Thank you for the feedback, Nancy. We’ve found that training a sheep or cattle herding dog can in many ways, be beneficial to the dog’s general obedience away from stock.

  2. Hello Andy and Gill,
    Just to let you know that my sheepdog training has improved and my dog Kate enjoys her training sessions very much indeed. I changed my commands and went back to basics,
    following your tutorials. Kate’s outrun is excellent and her flanks are also wider. The sheep are given space and Kate’s herding is calm. I am now teaching her the walk and the walk on. With the command steady she reacts instantly and then I give the walk or walk on command where necessary. I am more confident about training and it is shown in Kate’s ” will to please”. Thanks.
    I have now started to train my other border collie Choco. She is older than Kate. She too enjoys her training, so I have the feeling that we are also becoming a “sheepy” team. Thanks again, Yvonne

  3. I have an 18months old bitch that I have been working with for about 2-3 months now, who isnt very strong. She will fetch and flank and return on command. she is getting better with her penning, she will drive if I walk at the top of the sheep, the side of the sheep or parellel with her but will not drive if I hang back even by 1 step. As i have said she isnt very strong/ powerful she works quietly and wondered if there is something else I can do to get her to drive sheep away. I have watched your dvd which has been helpful in some areas since working with her and I have bought many books which havent been half as helpful. any help/advice would be greatly appreciated

    1. Hello Helen,
      It’s a confidence matter – and far too complex to describe fully here, but keep trying to encourage the dog to walk ahead of you – she’ll get the idea in the end. There will be a lot more information about teaching sheepdogs to drive on our new DVD when it comes out – hopefully before christmas.
      Meanwhile, be patient and encourage the dog to walk a little way ahead of you, and then very gradually increase it.

  4. A plea for help. We have a superb 1.5 yr old collie bitch who rounds up our local sheep beautifully (fence between her and them), she can circle the field and move to another. She’ll keep crawling along very calmly for 20 mins. I feel as a domestic dog that we are not helping her with her natural instincts. I can’t find anyone who can help me satisfy these instincts in a domestic situation or help me to control her hunting, which when she does occasionally. She killed her first rabbit at 5 months and has caught and killed 5 since. She recalls everytime no problem but when she hunts she just goes and doesn’t look back. She’ll be gone for 5 – 20 mins which is totally unacceptable. Pleeeeeeese could you recommend a book, site or something to help we really want to do the best for her and us. Thank you very much in anticipation and sorry to contact you in this way. Aidy

  5. Hi Andy and Gillian
    What great idea with this block. I will follow this.

    Greeting from your bigest fan from Switzerland.

    Now England and Switzerland are the same. See the snow.. smile :-)

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