Featured tutorials – Considering sheep

Don’t ever be tempted to think that sheep are stupid! They might not be deep thinkers, but they’re experts at protecting themselves from a dog – either by running away, or by standing and facing – and their size (and feet!) can be intimidating to an inexperienced or shy dog.

We talk about sheep on our First Steps DVD and the revised sheep chapter appears in the tutorial library. Sheep – Essential Facts for Trainers looks at how to find suitable sheep, where to keep them, and why sheep can be controlled by a dog. We also cover what types of sheep are easier to work with, and what types should be avoided (if possible).

Of course, we can’t all choose our perfect sheep and many of us simply have to work with what we’re given. Watch Woolly Jumpers for some ideas about coping with sheep who’ve discovered that escape is the best policy!

You don’t want your dog to cause distress to the sheep, for reasons of both welfare and productivity, so it must learn to control and move the stock with respect. Watch Give the Sheep Space to see the difference it makes when a dog keeps its distance; the sheep will be much calmer, and subsequently far easier to manage than excited or frightened animals will be.

Calmer sheep make for a calmer dog, and you’ll probably feel calmer too!

Give the Sheep Space can be found in the Where to Start; Flanking & Circling; and Working Distance categories of the online tutorials library.

If you need (or prefer) to watch on DVD you’ll find Give the Sheep Space
on the tutorials collection, Volume 1, where you’ll also find Close Work, The Outrun, Driving, and more.

Our suggested training programme

Trainee sheep and cattle herding dog Jet, calmly holding a dozen sheep in the corner of a yard

Tutorials that guide you through the maze of sheepdog training – what to do, and when to do it.

The early stages of sheepdog training, especially for a beginner, can seem daunting. There’s so much for the dog to learn, and it can be hard to decide on what to teach first – is good flanking more important than stopping on command? What needs to be taught now, and what can wait?

And, as we’ve said before, sheepdog training doesn’t happen in a vacuum; sometimes it will be almost impossible to concentrate on perfecting one aspect of the dog’s work when other skills are called into use at the same time!

Our What Shall I Do Next? tutorial shows the order of lessons that, in our experience of sheepdog training, has given us the best results – by gradually building on a firm foundation.

A companion tutorial, How Often, and for How Long? shows what to look for in your dog’s work so you can stop your training session before the dog becomes either physically or mentally tired.

Promotional pic of our Sheepdog Training Tutorials 2xDVD set

What Shall I Do Next? and How Often and How Long? appear in the Where to Start category of the online tutorials library, where you can also see other essential basics such as Starting a Young Puppy, Learn Your Commands, and The Training Stick.

If you need (or prefer) to watch on DVD you’ll find What Shall I Do Next? and How Often and How Long? on the tutorials collection, Volume 2.

Buy two or more of our training DVDs to receive a discount!

Featured tutorial – The Outrun

A sheepdog handler sending his dog off on its outrun to gather sheep

The outrun – the only training session you’ll hope will go “pear-shaped”!

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 down the field to drive your sheep to where you want them, you save your time, your temper and your legs.

Most dogs thoroughly enjoy this part of their training, and outrun practise is often a good way to relieve the tension when training becomes more intense.

Our three Outrun tutorials show you how to teach the outrun, and how to make it longer and wider as the dog’s skill and experience grow. As ever, don’t skimp on the basics. We have lots of emails and enquiries about the outrun “going wrong at the end”, when the answer is simple: Get it right at the START.

Part One – a real training session with a headstrong young dog, Jed, shows how to begin teaching the outrun, and how to make the best of it when things go wrong.

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

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.

Experiment a little, and discover how much control you can have over the outrun.

Part Three in the series demonstrates how we use our “Slingshot” technique to encourage a wider outrun.

The Slingshot will help to widen the dog’s flanks, too.

You’ll often hear that a sheepdog trial can be won at the pen, but it can be lost on the outrun. If you plan to compete, give your dog the best possible chance with a reliable and confident outrun.

Our video tutorials give members lots of guidance for starting a dog, progressing its training, and dealing with the challenges that arise.

NB: Tutorials are available to paid subscribers who are logged in to their account. There’s more information about our sheepdog training tutorials in the video below, or register for a free subscriber account to watch a sample tutorial, “Top Tips for Easier Training”.

Featured tutorial – Sometimes Nice is Not Enough

Sheepdog Bronwen lies down defiantly in front of some threatening sheep

It takes huge self-confidence for a dog to lie down in this situation, but even a cautious dog can learn to assert itself.

Sheep are natural “runners” when they’re being hunted, but certain situations, such as when held in a pen, or protecting their lambs, can make a sheep turn and fight back.

While sheep and dog welfare must always be a priority there are occasions when the dog, quite simply, needs to get the job done. But what if your dog naturally shies away from confrontation, or has the memory of a previous bad experience holding it back?

Even a shy dog can be taught to assert itself in this situation, but give it time.

Sometimes Nice is Not Enough was made in response to many emails, questions and comments left on the Training Tutorials pages. It features two dogs, Carew and Kay, with very different ways of controlling their sheep. Neither approach is perfect, but with training they both became extremely capable sheepdogs.

The tutorial looks at how their personalities dictate how Kay and Carew work; how to recognise the different ways a dog can demonstrate a lack of confidence; and how to build that much-needed self-confidence to deal with practical shepherding situations.

Our video tutorials give members lots of guidance for starting a dog, progressing its training, and dealing with the challenges that arise.

NB: Tutorials are available to paid subscribers who are logged in to their account. There’s more information about our sheepdog training tutorials in the video below.

Featured Tutorial – What Shall I Do Next?

Title image for our sheepdog training tutorial - What Shall I do Next?

Our recommended order for training sheep or cattle dogs

When you first start training a dog to work livestock, it can seem daunting to say the least! With the dog whirling around and refusing to stop while sheep or cattle run in all directions, the beginner can be forgiven for thinking they’ll never regain control, but attending to the most urgent points, and tackling them correctly, can quickly yield good results.

“What Shall I Do Next?” suggests a solid structure of priorities for setting the situation up correctly and maintaining (or regaining) control when the dog is released.

If you’re wondering what you should be teaching your dog now, and what can wait, or even whether you should be training all of the basics at once, watch “What Shall I Do Next?” to learn the order of lessons that many years of sheepdog training has given us the best results.

Interesting and Varied
The training order shouldn’t be inflexible though. Once you have good control of the dog (and the dog has good control of the stock) as the dog’s skill increases, it’s good practice to vary the training, the training venue, and if possible, the stock too. This keeps sessions fresh and interesting for both dog and trainer, and equally importantly, broaden’s the dog’s mind.

Image depicting sheepdog trial competitor with dog

Sheepdog Trials
For the aspiring sheepdog trials competitors, we have two tutorials which deal specifically with preparation for Sheepdog Trials and how they are run, and the things trials competitors are expected to know.

Our video tutorials give members lots of guidance for starting a dog, progressing its training, and dealing with the challenges that arise.

NB: Tutorials are available to paid subscribers who are logged in to their account. There’s more information about our sheepdog training tutorials in the video below.

Featured Tutorial – The Perfect Stop!

Improve the stop of your herding cattle or sheepdog without damaging the dog's confidence

Improve your dog’s stop without damaging its confidence

A dog which will stop instantly on command is a great asset on any livestock farm. The most common fault among working sheepdogs is that they’re too eager, and their handler cannot stop them precisely when and where they need to, but over-intense training can damage a sensitive dog’s confidence.

The Perfect Stop” tutorial points out ways in which you can improve your dog’s stop while maintaining or even building the dog’s confidence.

Close up photo of Dot, a tricolour Border Collie Sheepdog, lying in the grass
Andy nearly ruined his first dog Dot by “over training” her.

The tutorial also explains why Andy uses the “Lie down” command in preference to “Stand”, why he prefers his dogs to remain standing when they stop, and why he doesn’t always want the dog to stop when he gives it the “Lie down” command!

Confusing? Watch the tutorial!

Our latest tutorial video will give our members lots of guidance for building the dog’s confidence and encouraging it to work steadily

NB: Tutorials are available to paid subscribers who are logged in to their account. There’s more information about our sheepdog training tutorials in the video below.

The Sheepdog Whistle. Tune-in With Our Training Tutorials!

How to teach your herding dog to work on whistle commands

Watch the “Sheepdog Whistle” tutorials to get your dog moving

There are some common misconceptions about whistles and sheepdogs. The first, and very common, is that you must have a shepherd’s whistle to train and work a sheepdog – you don’t. If you have only a few sheep, and a relatively small area in which to keep and work them, you might never need to use a whistle at all.

Cover image of our sheepdog whistle tutorial, showing a typical whistle, and the title

Dogs’ hearing is far better than ours, and although your dog might appear not to hear you on occasions (mentioning no names – KAY) unless you’re working over 150 metres away, or shouting into a strong wind, the chances are that your dog’s perfectly aware of your commands.

An important part of basic training is to use a soft voice to tell the dog you’re pleased when it’s working well, and a sharper voice to let the dog know you’re not pleased when it’s working badly. It’s extremely difficult to express how you feel, by blowing a whistle!

Secondly, less common but still surprisingly frequent, is the belief that, in some spooky way, a collie is “wired” to understand and obey a whistle without any training. I can only imagine that this was born out of watching “One Man and His Dog” on TV. Of course the huge majority of sheepdog triallers, even at Nursery level, use a whistle, but the whistle commands have to be taught just as do any other commands in any other discipline.

Thirdly, that it’s a challenge to blow a sheepdog whistle, but it’s not challenging, exactly, any more than playing the trumpet is challenging. Blowing a sheepdog whistle simply involves learning a technique and then practising – far away from your dogs and your loved ones.

The final, fourth, misconception is that teaching whistle commands to your dog is difficult, but there’s no reason why teaching whistle commands should be any more difficult than teaching voice commands.

Andy prepares to work sheepdog Bronwen on whistle commands

For anyone who’s contemplating using a sheepdog whistle, and doesn’t know where to start, or who’s hoping to train whistle commands to their dog, we have two tutorials in the Online Training Tutorials library that will be a huge help. In “The Sheepdog Whistle” Andy demonstrates a tried and tested technique to get you blowing your whistle in minutes.

Once you can make a sound, any sound, you’ll find you quickly improve and can begin to invent your own whistle commands (or copy someone else’s, of course). This tutorial’s had lots of positive feedback from people who’ve finally discovered the key to their whistle – sometimes after years of trying and failing.

Teach Your Dog Whistle Commands” shows you that it’ll be harder to learn to blow your whistle than to teach the commands to your dog. Andy explains two methods of teaching the commands so you can pick whichever seems more natural to you. “Teach Your Dog Whistle Commands” has been greatly revised since it first appeared in the online tutorials library. It now includes a training session where Andy teaches Bronwen to work on whistle commands.

Too much eye? There’s a tutorial for that!

Closeup photo of a black and white rough coated sheepdog staring intensely at something. This can be a sign that the dog has what's known as too much eye

Watch the “Sticky Dogs” tutorial to get your dog moving

Some years ago I kept my first training sheep in a small paddock behind a large country house. Sometimes the children of the house would come out to watch my efforts, and shout their approval from the sidelines. They also frequently dismantled my hurdle ring, despite my requests that they didn’t, to make a “tent town”. I confess I wasn’t always very welcoming.

Sheepdog and handler standing at the entrance to the trials field
Nice stick – be careful where you leave it.

However, one afternoon I pulled into the drive and the children gathered around me, looking very grave. Apparently they’d “been out to check the sheep for you” and found something sticky in the hedge.

I pulled on my wellies and tried to make sense of what I was being told. The oldest child, a boy, took charge of the situation, sensing that his sisters were failing to do justice to the discovery. “It IS sticky,” he stressed, making an extravagant gesture with his arms, “And it’s brown…and there’s a tooth on it!” he announced. What fresh Hell was this? I prepared myself for the vet’s bill.

It was my shepherd’s crook, left stuck in the hedge where I’d left it the previous evening. I had to admit it WAS sticky, inasmuch as it was like a stick, and it WAS brown, but it didn’t have a tooth – it was a horn.

So when anyone describes their dog as sticky having too much eye isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind. But that’s my problem.

When an inexperienced handler realises they have a dog with eye it’s usually having too much eye that’s the problem. The dog might have a stop to die for, but won’t get up again; or you try to send it to gather from a few yards – and it just stares, and won’t leave your legs. This is a sticky dog.

Eye has its place.

Carew at work with sheep

Eye is said to be a unique feature of collies, allowing them to move even stubborn livestock with a penetrating stare and an attitude. We have mixed feelings about eye. Whilst strong-eyed dogs, slinking about with their chins at ground level, look jaw-droppingly gorgeous, a dog that works with confidence, with its head high and showing no eye whatsoever, can be a stronger worker, even if it wouldn’t win any points for artistic merit.

A dog whose strong eye makes it difficult to move often gives the impression of being afraid, and sheep are quick to assess this.

Whatever the arguments one way or another, if you find yourself with a sticky dog you need to get it moving smoothly around the sheep before you can hope to make any progress. Happily, we have a tutorial to help you do just this. Watch “Sticky Dogs!”

Cover image for the Sticky Dogs tutorial

In “Sticky Dogs!” Andy works with a lovely little bitch, Mab. Mab was late to take an interest in sheep, and when she did she clearly showed a lot of eye and worked in the typical stop-start manner.

In our tutorial Andy shows that with an assertive, but kind and encouraging, approach Mab learned to work fluently. The emphasis is always on movement – and sometimes it’s the trainer who has to do the moving.

Once you’re making progress watch our “Backwards is the way forward” and “Back to forwards” tutorials for a simple exercise that reaps huge benefits for any young dog. The walking backwards exercise teaches balance, sheep control, working distance, reinforces the flanking and stop commands, and, vitally, keeps the dog moving.

We recommend that you watch a couple of times before you put the technique into practice, and then watch again after you’ve tried it with your own dog, when it will mean so much more.

So don’t worry, finding you have something sticky doesn’t have to be bad news.