The essentials of sheepdog puppy training

Spring time is puppy time!

The promise of longer daylight hours and milder weather makes puppy ownership more appealing than during the cold of winter, and it’s a time of year when there are more puppies to choose between.

We have our own puppies in the spring, and are eagerly awaiting our (Ezra and Meg) litter in early April.

Tricoloured border collie puppy in an open field
Fun and exercise will help your puppy develop mental and physical dexterity

When you’ve bought a puppy to work sheep there are a couple of important points to bear in mind. First, preserve your puppy’s confidence at all costs. Don’t give your puppy the opportunity to be unsupervised around livestock.

It’s not so much the danger of injury (though there’s always a chance) but that an aggressive sheep’s head-butt, or several sheep taking it upon themselves to chase the puppy away, can seriously damage your puppy’s confidence.

On the other hand, it’s important that you allow your puppy to be a puppy during its early months. Encouraging play, socialisation and exploration will all help to develop your puppy’s, and later your dog’s, confidence.

Secondly, if you want to take your puppy to see livestock, either to get it accustomed to the stock or to see its reaction, take care if you use a lead. Dogs, and especially border collies, take things very literally. If you walk your pup to heel and insist on good lead behaviour around stock you MIGHT be teaching your puppy that you don’t want it to chase!

Sounds like a minefield? It needn’t be.

Black and white smooth coated collie puppy looking cute
Develop a bond with your puppy before you start serious training

The early months with your puppy are invaluable for getting to know its personality, establishing a bond between the two of you, and laying the ground work for early sheep training. It’s even, dare we say it, an opportunity to have some fun! So use the time to play with your puppy, and take him out and about with you.

(We know that some trainers disapprove of playing with sheepdogs, feeling that it distracts the dog from its real purpose, but we’ve only ever seen sheep dogs of all ages benefit from having some fun and relaxation away from livestock.)

You’ll find a huge amount of information and advice about training your puppy in our Online Tutorials library, and much of it, we’re sure, isn’t available on any sheepdog training DVD.

Start with our short introduction video, “Puppy Training Essentials”, and move on to “Starting a young puppy” parts One and Two. There’s also a “Pack Behaviour” tutorial that explains how, we believe, dogs view hierarchy and leadership.

If you don’t yet have a puppy, watch “The Sheepdog – Selection and Preparation” to help you make the right choice.

Remember, to watch the tutorials you’ll need to be logged in as a paid member. If you still need help, leave a comment or question on the tutorial page and we’ll respond as quickly as we can.

You’ll find more information about our sheepdog training tutorials in the video below.

New tutorial: The training area

Photo of a sheepdog trainer fastening the field gate, watched by Kay the trainee sheepdog. This is the title image of the training area tutorial

For beginners and beyond

The wide open spaces have their place, but NOT in the early stages of sheepdog training.

For the best chance of success, and to save your legs and temper, keep the dog and sheep contained. We stress, in our training tutorials, that: “The closer you are to the dog, the more control you have,” but it’s especially important in those vital, early lessons.

First steps in border collie sheepdog training dvd

The size, shape and nature of the training area can make a huge difference to your training experience, and will either help or hinder your dog’s progress.

We covered the training area on our First Steps DVD and now, after a few minor changes and with the addition of a subtitled version, the training area chapter can be seen in the tutorial library. “The training area” looks at how to adapt the space you have available and suggests some alternatives, including using sheep hurdles to build a training ring.

Once built, we show you how to get your sheep into the ring and then take a first look at moving out into the field when your dog’s ready.

To help you get the best out of your training ring, we recommend you watch “Get off the fence!” where we demonstrate how working inside the ring helps the dog learn to keep the sheep away from the fence or hurdles. Partly confidence and partly technique, this is an important skill for your dog to master before it can work successfully in an open field (although it’s almost impossible to train in any situation when the sheep are pressed tight against the fence).

Don’t dismantle the training ring once you start to make progress. Even as your dog becomes more advanced you’ll often find it helpful to go back to the ring for a session or two, either to reinforce the commands or perhaps restore some confidence to the dog. If you watch “Teach your dog to circle the sheep (inside flanks) part two” you’ll also see how useful the ring can be for introducing more advanced work.

Having covered sheep, dog, and training area, the final part of the equation is the handler – coming soon.

NB: Tutorials are available to paid subscribers who are logged in to their account.

You’ll find more information about our sheepdog training tutorials in the video below.

Another Beardie on our Group Training Course

Working Bearded Collie Sheepdog at work

Thanks to Hugh Emerson for this picture of Bess working, and thanks too to fellow course member, Liz Harper, for the camerawork.

We were delighted to see another Beardie on our sheepdog training course today. Hugh Emerson brought Bess from their home in Cheshire to see whether she was interested in sheep. Bess certainly didn’t disappoint him.

Bess got off to a fairly bouncy (puppy-like) start but soon settled down and was holding the sheep together very well. Before the end of the day, Bess could control her sheep in the open field and walked up on them very nicely considering she’s only 10 months old and it was her first sheepdog training day.

The other dog on the course was 12 month old Floss with her owner Liz from Warwickshire. I have to say, Floss was excellent. apart from a slight attention span problem, Floss was superb. She gave the sheep room, stopped easily and showed power when required. Both these dogs could make wonderful sheepdogs.

You might think these sheepdogs are fighting but in fact they're playing

The Whites of their Eyes” – Kevin and his sister Midge look quite fierce but they’re just relaxing together by the pond.

“Demo” Dog Kevin:
Because we only had a total of two dogs on the course, we needed to give the trainee dogs a rest from time to time, so I used Kevin to demonstrate how to control the dog’s direction using the positioning of your body and hand signals. Kevin’s quite steady on his sheep, so he’s ideal for showing beginners what to do. Since his first introduction to sheep, Kevin has been a pleasure to train. He’s one of those dogs with natural ability to control sheep in a relaxed way.

Time to let off steam
After a day confined to barracks while other dogs were training, Kevin and his sister Midge let off steam in their favourite way – chasing each other around the pond and play-fighting. We love to see the dogs (of all ages) relax like this and try to encourage it. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is true for dogs as well as people, and it’s good for their fitness and physical development (of course), as well as their character. Despite being litter mates Midge and Kevin are very obedient both around and away from sheep, but we make a point of training and spending time with each of them individually. If you can’t give puppies individual attention then litter mates (or even unrelated puppies kept together) can be a nightmare!

A great little Beardie

Bearded Collie at work

Bearded collie Izzy working sheep.

We don’t see many working bearded collies but today we had a super beardie on the group training course. Izzy is from a Shropshire farm and was a delight to train.

Working Bearded Collie Izzy was a credit to her breed on today’s sheepdog training course.

She was fully focussed on her sheep, showed plenty of courage and easily gathered sheep from a fence. We were very impressed with her.

Flanking well, stopping well and walking up nicely on her sheep, Izzy is now ready to learn to do outruns and gather sheep from a distance.

With some owners coming from as far afield as Essex and the south of Hampshire, the course went very well. Six dogs took part and with Kay in close attendance, we managed to get all of them working sheep although one was a rather late starter and showed no interest until after lunch! The weather was windy but dry and very mild for the time of year. Everyone seemed to have a very enjoyable time but sadly, one owner left at lunchtime, even though their dog was making excellent progress.

Beardie working sheep

Norman Dolphin’s Bearded collie carefully keeping her sheep together.

Midge’s guest appearance:
After the course, one of Kay’s six month old pups (Midge) decided to come and demonstrate her skills with the sheep. She suddenly appeared in the field after escaping from the yard and I was delighted when she put in her best performance to date, right in front of the course members. Like her brother Kevin, Midge is a natural and with next to no training can already handle the sheep with confidence.

Training Update

Very low angle shot of sheepdog Kay lying in the grass

Kay will be on hand to keep the errant sheep in order during the day. She’s an invaluable assistant during sheepdog training lessons.

Tomorrow’s group sheepdog course will go ahead as planned. The forecast is for grey cloud but doesn’t mention rain, so lets hope we get a dry day. It will be quite windy, so the dogs are going to have fun!

The privately booked group course on Sunday will also go ahead as planned. We recommend warm, waterproof clothing, and good boots (the ground will be slippery).

New Kennels:
The new kennels are built and the dogs seem to like them. We need some bolt-on water bowls and then once we’ve made a few minor adjustments, all will be complete in the dog housing department. It’s certainly much easier for us. Access is a dream compared to struggling with the tumbledown mesh gates we had on the old acommodation.

Pearl’s Retirement – and Pups For Sale

Sheepdogs Pearl and Maeve

Best of pals – Pearl (left) and Maeve.

Tomorrow’s Group Training Course will go ahead as normal. At the time of writing, the weather forecast is good with white cloud and 6 celcius expected. Check the current 3 day forecast for our area. Unless we get more rain, the ground will be reasonably dry but bring warm clothing and good boots.

Pearl’s retirement home:
It’s wonderful to hear from Pearl’s new owner that she’s settled in really well. After years of very loyal service, we decided it was time for Pearl to take things easier and with perfect timing, along came a request from a very suitable couple in the home counties who had seen her on the Border Collie Sheepdogs – Off Duty! DVD. Pearl (see picture – right) is reported to be very happy. She has lots of attention (which Pearl has always craved) and at eight years of age, she made the change from living permanently outdoors to being a house dog, seamlessly.

Border Collie Sheepdog puppy for sale

Puppy for sale (click image for a larger version).

Pups for sale:
We have just one of SpotTum’s litter sisters still for sale (2.5 months old). She’s ‘showing’ well on sheep and must go to a very active home or farm where her talent will be appreciated. Use the contact details below if you’d like more details about the puppy.

Was that a hint of spring?:
The household rubbish collection in this area is often quite early, so we like to get ours out by around 7 am. When I was taking the bags out this morning, it felt very mild and the birds were singing. It made me think spring must be coming, but of course, the British climate is very unpredictable. After the snow and heavy frost, it would be wonderful to have an early spring – but perhaps not this early!

New Young Talent at Kings Green Farm

Good looking boy! Border Collie puppy, Kevin
Six month old Border Collie puppy, Kevin

Kevin and SpotTum are two very promising puppies.

Despite the wet, miserable weather we’re experiencing in the UK at the moment, things are looking pretty bright for us as far as future sheepdogs are concerned.

Kay and Eli’s pup, Kevin continues to impress us with his natural ability around sheep. He has only seen them four times and already, he flanks calmly around them and will stop on command.

Let’s hope he continues to make such good progress. We’d really like to find Kevin a permanent place in our team.

At five and a half months of age, Kevin’s one of those lovely pups with big feet, silky coat and skin that’s much too large for his body at the moment. He’s very obedient for his age and loves people.

Ten week old border collie puppy - Spotum

SpotTum got her name from the black spot on her white stomach.

SpotTum . . . (OK, we were short of a name for her – and noticed she has a pronounced black spot on her white tummy) was keen to chase sheep right from the time she was eight weeks old. She’s not as refined as Kevin, but shows remarkable staying power, despite being unable to effectively keep up with the sheep.

She impressed us yesterday when she slipped through the rails to get amongst the sheep in the pen. Far from being frightened, SpotTum circled the crowded pen confidently and whenever a sheep dared to look at her, she immediately nipped its nose.

As soon as I can I’ll put a command on that so that I can control SpotTum’s nip. It’s very useful for a dog to bite when it’s confronted with difficult sheep, but of course, we must keep it under careful control at other times.

Pups for sale:
We have two of SpotTum’s litter sisters for sale (2.5 months old). Both are ‘showing’ well on sheep and must go to working homes or farms (not suitable for pets).

Training Update:
Just as the ground was beginning to dry out a little, it’s now raining heavily again. Hopefully, it won’t amount to much and the ground will continue to dry. We’re training as normal at the moment.

Everything’s So Wet!

Non working great dane - Lily

OK – Just for Greg (see Facebook comments) this is a pic of our lovely great dane – Lily. She doesn’t work sheep, but we love her just the same!

(We’re hoping to keep the sheepdog training courses going).

Just at the moment (especially after last night’s heavy rain) training our own dogs is on hold.

The ground is so sodden, it’s hard to walk around on it, let alone train a sheepdog.

We’re keeping the sheep off the training areas in the hope that we can keep our sheepdog training courses running but it’s a good idea to come back to this page and check from time to time.

The sheep are having a pretty miserable time of it, too.

We’re running out of fresh grass and even though the sheep are not expecting lambs, we’re feeding concentrates to ensure they’re in top condition.