Featured tutorial – Get off the Fence!

Get off the Fence sheepdog training tutorial

Sheep have a real talent for assessing a trainee dog, and for making life as difficult for it as possible. As a result, a very common problem for young dogs and inexperienced handlers is getting the sheep into the middle of the ring or field, and keeping them there. 

It's a problem we've all had, and it's SO FRUSTRATING! While to the dog, the sheep are trapped and aren't going anywhere - what's there not to like?

Luckily, it isn't difficult to overcome.

As with so much in sheepdog training, the keys to success are the dog's confidence and your own timing.

The dog needs to put itself between the sheep and the hedge/wall/hurdle or fence, and to stay there, or at least slow down a little, while the sheep move away. Stuck between the sheep and a hard place can be very scary for a young dog, so you'll need to be quick on your feet - and with your commands - to encourage and guide the dog to bring the sheep out into the field. 

Then you need to move backwards, into the field, and be equally quick to stop your dog from putting the sheep back onto the fence again.

It's easier to understand if you see it, so watch the Get Off The Fence tutorial to see how, with persistent and patient guidance, your dog can learn to deal with sheep that "sit on the fence".



Featured tutorials – The Outrun

If there's one aspect of sheep work that demonstrates the joy and convenience of a working dog, it's a good outrun. When you no longer need to walk the length of the field (or up the hill) to drive your sheep to where you want them, you save your time, your temper and your legs.

Put simply, the outrun is the sheepdog leaving its handler, approaching the sheep in a manner that won't disturb them unnecessarily, and then (depending on the situation and command) either lying down to wait, or collecting and bringing the sheep back to its handler.

It sounds straightforward, but it has lots of elements. Watch our Outrun tutorials, and guide your dog to the perfect (or almost perfect) outrun.

Before you start you'll need to have the basics firmly in place, and then it's a gradual process of building confidence as the dog learns to work further and further away from you. As ever, the closer the dog is to the handler, the more confident it will be.

In Part One we demonstrate how to start teaching the outrun, and how to make the best of it when things go wrong. This is an actual training session with a keen, but headstrong, young dog.

Part Two shows how positioning yourself, your dog, and the sheep, in relation to each other, is the key to success when you're working on lengthening or widening your dog's outrun.

If you experiment a little, you'll discover how much influence and control you can have over the result.

Part Three in the series demonstrates how to use the "Slingshot" technique to encourage a wider outrun; it can also help to widen the dog's flanks. Some dogs do this naturally, and some need to be encouraged, but either way it's a very effective tool.

Most dogs thoroughly enjoy outruns, and outrun practise can be a good way to relieve the tension when training becomes more intense.

You'll probably find that teaching the outrun helps to improve other areas of the dog's work.



Featured tutorial – Educating Gloria

A training session where we encourage the good, and make the best of the not-so-good!

Handlers who are new to sheepdog training can find it difficult to recognise what their dog's doing, and take the appropriate action at the right time - timing is everything! Your timing will improve with practice, and watching Gloria's training session will be a huge help.

This was Gloria's fourth lesson; she's headstrong and excited, but not uncontrollable. In this tutorial we see the complete training session twice, first at half-speed and then at its actual speed - demonstrating why new handlers often feel everything's happening too fast. Don't worry. You can't hope to get it right first time, every time, but with patience, persistence and a good temper, you and your dog will progress.

High drive dog! Gloria jumping fallen trees in a wood
Gloria has a high drive, and can always find ways to entertain herself when she isn't working

Watch Educating Gloria to see setting up the dog for a good start; use of the stick and body position to impose and maintain control; stepping up the discipline (and when to back off); how the handler's attitude influences the dog; establishing a good working distance from the sheep, despite the dog's best efforts; typical ways the dog may evade the stop command; and avoiding patterns in your commands.

For the highs and lows of a typical early lesson, with an equally typical trainee dog, watch Educating Gloria.

To watch the tutorials you'll need to be logged in as a paid member, and if you need more help, leave a comment or question on the tutorial page.


Featured tutorial – Sticky Dogs! with “too much” eye

Young sheepdog working off balance

It's time to get moving if your dog has "too much" eye.

To a greater or lesser degree, border collies use "eye" (a particularly intense and assertive stare) to move stock. In some dogs the look is very exaggerated, while other dogs work with their heads up and don't appear to be using eye at all.

Either type of dog is perfectly capable of getting the job done.

But when a handler finds, or more often is told, that their dog has "too much eye" it can seem like a big problem. The dog works in a stop-start fashion, frequently "sticking" on the point of balance, but it can be improved, and it isn't difficult if you understand what's happening.

If your dog has an excellent stop - but won't get up again - the chances are that the problem is "eye". This was exactly the problem we had with Mab, the subject of our Sticky Dogs! tutorial; Mab works with that typical stop-start action, sometimes rooted to the spot.

Andy demonstrates that with a kind, encouraging, but assertive approach, the dog learns that it needs to keep moving to get the job done.

The emphasis in this tutorial is on movement, and often it's the handler who needs to do the moving.

Don't be stuck with a stop-start dog - watch Sticky Dogs!

To watch the tutorials you'll need to be logged in as a paid member, and if you need more help, leave a comment or question on the tutorial page.


Featured tutorial – Inside Flanks (Circling the Sheep on Command)

Border collie working sheep in a field

Lift your dog's skill from average to excellent!

Once your dog's driving competently, teaching inside flanks (circling on command) is the next step. Make no mistake, good inside flanks can be the difference between having an average dog, and a great dog!

In the two-part tutorial, Train Your Dog to Circle the Sheep, we see Wyn learning to overcome her inhibitions to flank between Andy and the sheep.

It sounds simple enough, but having been taught NOT to come between us and the sheep in the early stages of training, many dogs are reluctant to circle the sheep.

Once your dog's driving fairly fluently you'll want to be able to steer it at a distance, and this is where a dog with good inside flanks comes into its own. If the dog will circle the sheep in either direction you can put the dog anywhere you want, and drive the sheep to anywhere you need.

It's a vital skill for trialling, where precision is important, but it's also very useful for farm and practical applications (and it's quite good fun too).

Part one shows training in the open field, but if this doesn't work with your particular dog and sheep combination, don't despair! Part two shows techniques to try while working inside the training ring.

To watch the tutorials you'll need to be logged in as a paid member, and if you need more help, leave a comment or question on the tutorial page.


Featured tutorials – Introducing Sheepdog Trials

Sheepdog moving sheep

Have you ever felt tempted to try sheepdog trialling?

The more prepared you are for your first competition, the less nerve-wracking it will be; it's reassuring to know what to expect, and what will be expected of you.

It seems unbelievable now, but when I entered my first sheepdog trial (oh, so many years ago) it wasn't until I stood at the post that I fully realised the sheep were now MY responsibility.

Whatever happened, however much of a mess my dog and I made of the run, those sheep weren't going anywhere if we didn't take them. It was a sobering thought, and I wished I'd thought it sooner!

Sheepdog trials demand control and precision, but are founded in the practical everyday work of the shepherd. Trials can be a hugely enjoyable, if sometimes frustrating, opportunity to see how your dog, and your handling, measure up.

But whether your interest is as competitor or spectator, our two-part Introduction to Sheepdog Trials will show you how a sheepdog trial works.

Part One covers what to do when you arrive at the field, studying the course, what a typical course looks like, and how to plan your run to your dog's advantage. We also tell you how points are most often lost, and what the judge will be looking for in a good run.

There's lots of great sheepdog footage to illustrate the Outrun, Lift and Fetch, with further explanations using clear animations.

Part Two takes you beyond the Fetch, through the Cross-drive, to the Pen. It will also help you understand how a sheepdog trial is run and how to prepare your dog for your first trial, as well as what to do when you get there, and what to avoid (if you can).

At my first trial I learned to take responsibility for the sheep, and to take responsibility for my dog's training and be more realistic about our progress. I also learned that if, finally, it all falls apart and you have to take The Long Walk (all the way up the field to the letting-out pen to collect your dog, and together drive the sheep to the exhaust pen with what feels like the eyes of the world on you) you won't be the first, and you definitely won't be the last. It's happened to every competitor at some point in their careers.

And if it's any comfort, hardly anyone will be watching you anyway - especially if there's a half-decent tea tent. Well, no one except your trainer, your partner, your parents, your children, and anyone who already knows you, of course ...

We're sure that An Introduction to Sheepdog Trials will interest potential spectators, as well as encourage potential competitors. Remember, to watch the tutorials you'll need to be logged in as a paid member, and if you need more help, leave a comment or question on the tutorial page.


Featured tutorials – Bronwen and Scylla

Close up photo of Bronwen in a grassy field

A tutorial series that demonstrates the differences in young dogs.

We took two puppies, Bronwen and Scylla, from a litter and thought we knew what to expect: we assumed their work would be similar to their parents' and that Bronwen and Scylla would be similar to each other. How wrong we were! Both girls developed into keen and useful sheepdogs, but their differing personalities, strengths and, yes, weaknesses, meant they each needed a different approach.

If you're training a young dog and are confused by its progress (or lack of progress), we recommend you watch the "Bronwen & Scylla" series of tutorials. Our intention was always the same - to have the dog flanking nicely around the sheep, keeping them together and not chasing them away, and then stopping when we ask. Because Bronwen and her sister were so different, you'll see that achieving our aims was sometimes hard and seemingly thankless work (Scylla) and sometimes gratifyingly easy (Bronwen).

Usually, it was somewhere in between!

Victor and Scylla love to share the same bedroom
Scylla (right) always enjoyed the company of other dogs

Tutorial One looks at early training, and the importance of supervising your puppy's early experiences with sheep. And does the temperament of your puppy give you any clues as to what sort of worker it will make? (Spoiler alert - we think so!)

Tutorial Two shows our techniques to prevent a young dog from developing the habit of gripping, and what to do when we're too late. We also look at early lessons in stopping; gathering; dealing with one-sidedness; and the tricky but essential issue of getting the dog between the sheep and the fence.

Plus a miscalculation shows why a small space and just a few sheep offer the best chance of early success.

Tutorial Three - reading your dog's tail (Bronwen and Scylla's tails tell very different stories); keeping the lessons short, and how to turn flanking practice into the first outruns.

Tutorial Four - getting a lesson off to a good start; learn to differentiate between confusion and disobedience; an easy walking exercise that builds confidence and fluency. Particularly important with Scylla's training - even when it feels as though nothing's going right try to recognise an improvement, and take heart.

Bronwen became a valued and trusted member of the team

Tutorial Five - we're over-ambitious with our new sheep, but it demonstrates the difference between using dogged and undogged sheep when you're training.We also see why the dog needs to learn to work in different circumstances, as Bronwen and Scylla both find their new neighbours very distracting.

Tutorial Six introduces the Look Back as we try to work the dogs outside the ring - with mixed results (naturally).

Tutorial Seven focuses on Bronwen's problem of flanking far too wide from the sheep, and losing contact with them.

We like to use practical tasks to make training more interesting for the dog, and for us, and hopefully Bronwen will learn that to get the job done she mustn't lose control of her sheep.

Tutorial Eight of our training comparison focuses on Scylla and points out the areas of her work which deserve praise and encouragement, as well as those which are still a long way below par.

Sometimes our best efforts are thwarted, and sometimes we get it wrong, but we take these opportunities to show you there's something to learn from every session - and not always learned by the dog!

NB: Tutorials are available to paid subscribers who are logged into their account. Paid subscribers may also submit short videos of their own training sessions for evaluation and advice. Please contact us for details.


Featured tutorials – My Dog’s No Good, and No Excuses Please!

Smooth coated border collie puppy Boz

Sheepdog training - with a little help from Johnny Mercer?

Take a look at two complementary short tutorials, My Dog's No Good and No Excuses Please!

My Dog's No Good warns against falling into the trap of believing your dog will never make a good sheepdog. So long as it's fit, healthy and keen, the only thing preventing your dog from achieving its potential is YOU! So if anyone tells you, "Your dog's no good!" you probably need to reassess your training technique. And don't be downhearted if your dog isn't progressing as quickly as people tell you it should: every dog and handler combination is unique.

No Excuses Please! takes a different angle - the risks of allowing your dog to perform poorly, either because it's easier to "just let him get on with it" or because you simply haven't noticed. Be realistic, but always aim for accuracy and constant improvement. The more times your dog is allowed to work badly, the more confident your dog will become that:"This is how we do it!"

So, what advice does Johnny Mercer have for sheepdog trainers?

"You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between."

NB: Tutorials are available to paid subscribers who are logged into their account. Paid subscribers may also submit short videos of their own training sessions for evaluation and advice. Please contact us for details.