A Fine Sheep and Cattle Dog in the Making

Sheepdog in training, Dulcie looking very businesslike

Introducing Dulcie - daughter of Bronwen - granddaughter of Mel

Dulcie showing patience when walking up on some sheep
Dulcie's sheep control is excellent

The latest addition to our team of working dogs is Dulcie. She's the daughter of Bronwen and Oliver.

Bronwen was one of our best ever sheep and cattle dogs, and features in our "Bronwen and Scylla" tutorials where we compare the litter sisters Scylla (the naughty one who takes ages to train) and Bronwen (who got the sheep into the training ring in her very first training session!).

Both dogs ended up being really good sheep and cattle dogs, but the whole series of comparison tutorials are well worth watching.

Dulcie's grandparents are Meg and Ezra, so of course, her great grandmother is the sadly missed Mel.

A cheery looking Bronwen feeding her puppies
Dulcie's in there somewhere! Bronwen with her pups in May 2017

Whilst on the subject of comparisons, I cannot help but compare Dulcie with her family. Carew (Dulcie's great aunt) along with Mel and Bronwen, were among the very finest working dogs we've had, but of course, all of them had their faults.

Mel was very "pushy". She certainly got things done, but often worked too quickly. I used to say "if I take Mel, I know the job will be done", and that was true, but it took a lot of concentration to keep her back off the sheep. (Dulcie's pace is excellent She'll push hard if you ask her too, but she's equally happy to bring the sheep at a leisurely walk if you want her to).

In the open field, Carew's pace was too slow. Constant encouragement would speed her up, but it was wearing at times. She had the heart of a lion and would tackle the most aggressive sheep or cattle, but when gathering, she was s-l-o-w unless encouraged all the time. (Dulcie's pace is great - see above).

Dulcie in calm control of two sheep near a building
Firm but patient. Dulcie shows the qualities of a top class sheep and cattle dog

Bronwen. Well, possibly Bronwen was the best of them all. Tremendous outrun, good pace (perhaps a bit pushy) worked well in pens, but not great with aggressive ewes in the open field. (Dulcie's courage when working a flock has yet to be tested, but I'm confident she'll make the grade)!

Now, I know I get enthusiastic about lots of dogs, but Dulcie really does seem to be something special. Of course, Mel, Carew and Bronwen each had a wealth of other talents too numerous and varied to cover here, and only time will tell whether Dulcie will develop some or all of those, but she's begun her working career in excellent fashion. We'll keep you posted (I can't wait to take Dulcie to Dean Farm for some real flock work)!

Featured tutorial – the Point of Balance

Sheepdog moving sheep

Everyone's heard that the dog must balance the sheep, but what does it mean?

You'll often hear that the dog MUST stop at "12 o'clock". You need to imagine that the handler is standing at 6 o'clock on a clock face, with the dog directly opposite the handler (at 12 o'clock) on the other side of the sheep.

That's the theory.

In practise it isn't quite so simple, but rest assured that if the sheep are moving towards you, in a straight line, your dog has found the point of balance.

Watch the Balance tutorial to understand the basics of balance, and watch Driving Part 2 to see that the point of balance can be more than just watching the clock!

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.

New dogs – new opportunities

It feels like a new term at Kings Green.

This year’s puppies are ready to start training, and they’re giving us lots of filming and photo opportunities.

Without actually planning it we have a real mix of dogs to bring on and, of course, they’re presenting us with a range of natural talents and individual problems that we’ll reflect in our online training tutorials.

The puppy with the sheep at the top of the page is a Meg/Ezra daughter, Madge. She's too young for intense training, but she's keen and determined. Ideally we'd keep a puppy away from challenging situations such as this, but if a puppy goes looking for trouble it's important that the camera goes too!

In the Dogs chapter of First Steps in Border Collie Sheepdog Training we talk about the options available to a prospective puppy buyer - International Sheep Dog Society (ISDS) registered; UK Kennel Club (KC) registered; or unregistered, and look at the “fors and againsts”. Our Class of 2018 includes all three! It’s early days, but I have to say that the unregistered and KC youngsters are putting up a very strong show.

Smooth coated border collie dog, black and white, unregistered
Boz, born 18th November 2017 from Pippin and Oliver.
Smooth coated border collie black and white female with pricked ears
Phiz - Boz's litter sister. There's a definite family likeness!

Our unregistered puppies are Phiz and Boz; they're well connected to successful trials and working dogs, but their mother, Pippin, isn't registered.

Phiz and Boz could be registered on merit with the ISDS, of course, but that won't be necessary until they qualify for the International. Well, you never know.

We rarely buy dogs these days, but earlier this year we bought a couple of youngsters to add to the team.

Trials bred rough coated border collie, Glen
Glen, whose father was in this year's Welsh National.
Rough coated black and white border collie - sheepdog and family pet.
Rough coated Roy has taken well to his career change.

Glen (from Wales) and Roy (Yorkshire born and bred) are both well bred, but with very different backgrounds. Glen was bred from trials dogs, and Roy, although he's from trial and working dogs, started his career as a family pet*.

Both dogs have made an excellent start, as well as giving our established frisbee-retrieving team some competition.

Two dogs who are too busy chasing and wrestling to have any time for frisbees are home-bred Scout, and Glenalpine Dash.

Black and white kennel club registered border collie bitch
Brains and beauty - KC registered Dash looks likely to be a super working dog
Smooth coated small border collie puppy
Will Jet's daughter Scout be an equally smooth operator?

Dash is a daughter of Ezra and Nikki, a KC registered working trials champion. Dash has a lively personality; she earned the name "Dash" within hours of arriving.

Scout is a rich blend of four of our favourite dogs. She's the (tiny) daughter of Jet (from Kay and Oliver) and Odo (Meg and Ezra).

We have no idea what mix of her grandparents' strengths and foibles we're likely to see in Scout. When you breed a litter of puppies it's a voyage of discovery; there's no guarantee of what will turn up, and that's what makes breeding and training so fascinating.

Some of these dogs will almost certainly make an appearance in our long-planned revised edition of First Steps - the original is almost ten years old! What a thought...

Rough coated sheepdog Roy, working dog and family pet.
* A couple of people have asked why Roy changed homes: it was solely due to a change in circumstances, that would have left Roy "home alone" for long periods.
Roy's a well-socialised, polite and nicely brought up young dog; so nicely brought up, that when he's working with the sheep and Andy tells him to lie down, Roy insists on coming back to Andy's lefthand side to lie down beside him!
Roy will be an excellent sheepdog, but he'd probably be happy to be a pet again!

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.

New Tutorial: The Training Ring

Photo of sheepdog trainer Andy standing inside a training ring made from sheep hurdles

Correct size and shape of your training ring can make starting your dog far easier

Not only is the training ring one the most useful assets you can have when you start to train a sheepdog, it can also be a great help when the dog moves on to advanced work such as driving, pen work and circling sheep on command.

Our new tutorial "The Training Ring (Part 1)" clearly shows the dimensions we have found to be best for starting your dog off. Once some control is established and the dog is going around the sheep, rather than splitting them up, the addition of just a few more hurdles (or panels) transforms the ring into an oval which is ideal for "Walking Backwards".

Sheepdog training ring title image showing the availability of English subtitles
Optional English subtitles are available on all our Sheepdog Training Tutorials

The walking backwards exercise, (look for the tutorial "Backwards is the way forward") is the single most useful training exercise for dogs which have very basic control of the sheep. It teaches the dog self control, to keep its sheep together, to flank both ways, to work at a steady pace, and the correct working distance from the sheep.

It improves the dog's stop and teaches it to stay in place when told to.

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.

New Tutorial: How Can I Slow the Dog Down?

Photo of a trainee Kelpie sheepdog splitting up a bunch of sheep

Many people ask us how they can slow their dog down when it's working

It's essential that the dog learns to work stock steadily. During training, a dog which is calm is likely to learn much quicker than a dog which is excitedly racing around.

If sheep or other stock panic as a result of the dog working too fast and close to them, not only will it be far more difficult to get the stock where we want them to go, but the stress will cause them to be less productive, too.

English Subtitles are available on all of our training tutorials
English Subtitles are available on all our Sheepdog Training Tutorials

Unfortunately, teaching the dog to work steadily isn't something we can achieve overnight, but there are quite a number of things we can do to encourage the dog to be calm.

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.

More information about our sheepdog training tutorials in the video below.

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.

How to train a sheepdog to slow down

Training a dog to herd sheep - giving the sheep plenty of space

A dog working too fast and close, disrupts and stresses sheep and shepherd alike

For maximum working efficiency and minimum stress to the sheep, the herding dog should work with a calm authority, keeping a good distance between itself and the sheep, but not so far off that it loses control of them. This topic is covered in our online sheepdog training videos.

Training a sheepdog to slow down
Keeping the dog at the correct distance behind the sheep as you walk backwards is a great way to teach the dog self-control.

Not long ago, we received an email from a sheepdog handler in New Zealand who had bought our 'First Steps' sheepdog training DVD and had managed to get her headstrong dog to outrun and fetch the sheep, but the dog was working at breakneck speed and she wanted some advice on how to slow it down.

My first reaction to a problem like this is that the handler is allowing the dog to work too far away from them too soon. One of the vital rules of sheepdog training is that the further away from you the dog is working, the less control you have over the dog. Remember, the dog is using a primitive hunting instinct. When you train your dog, you're channelling that instinct into controlled work from the dog, but a trainee dog will usually only respect your control if you're very close. Dogs hunt quite close together in packs, so a dog that finds itself working a good distance from the rest of the pack (that's you) feels it's getting no backup. It will often revert to its hunting instinct, rather than listen to a pack member who's shouting orders from afar.

The dog needs leadership, and particularly in the early stages of its training, it wants its leader to be working alongside it - or at least close by. While on the subject of leadership, often when the dog's not doing what we want or expect, we revert to excitedly shouting at the dog - just at the moment when we should be calm and authoritative. It's hardly surprising the dog doesn't recognise us as its leader if we shout excitedly.

The dog working too fast is caused by two main factors. 1. The novelty of chasing, particularly something which moves quickly or runs away. 2. The fear of being attacked by the "prey". Often when hunting, the predator finds itself being attacked by the prey. Sometimes fatally.

The novelty aspect will reduce as the dog becomes more familiar with being close to sheep (or other livestock), so regular, controlled training will help a great deal but unfortunately, the more quickly and unpredictably the dog moves, the more frightened the sheep will be, so they'll react by making sudden, very fast movements. These result in the dog being still more excited. Somehow, we must break this chain reaction.

If the dog works sensibly close-bye, then the solution is to work the dog calmly, and praise it with a gentle voice when it's working steadily, but stop it the moment it gets excited. The dog will soon learn that it gets a lot more fun (work) if it remains calm.

Stopping the dog and keeping it in place for a few moments, or even up to about half a minute can also help. It teaches the dog that the fun will still be there, even if it pauses for a while.

Of course, if the dog won't stop, even close-bye, you need to concentrate on this issue first. Repeatedly flanking the dog a little way around the sheep and stopping it by blocking it, is the way to drum it into the dog that it must stop on command.

Kay driving sheep into a field
A dog which has the confidence to approach the sheep calmly will find it much easier to control them.

Once you can stop the dog fairly reliably on the far side of the sheep (point of balance), the best all-round exercise we know of to improve the dog's pace, stop and overall control over the sheep is to walk backwards, keeping the dog in place as the sheep follow you (to get away from the dog). When you have a few yards between the dog and the sheep, call the dog up quietly. The instant it begins to rush, stop the dog with a sharp command, then repeat the procedure until the dog follows the sheep at a steady pace. Sometimes the dog will learn this quickly, but other dogs take longer to oblige

The next step is to increase the distance between the dog and the sheep, before you call the dog up. This teaches the dog to control itself and you'll find that most dogs will learn to moderate their speed.

If at any time the dog reverts to tearing around, go back to the very close work again - walking backwards as the dog brings the sheep up to you calmly. Walking Backwards is covered comprehensively in the Sheepdog Training Tutorial entitled "Backwards is the Way Forward" which can be found in the Pace (Slowing) category.

If the dog has a good stop close-bye, but won't stop at the end of its outrun, the outrun was too long. Walk closer to the sheep next time and make sure the dog stops properly when commanded (not twenty paces later). Only then, should you begin to increase the outrun distance again (gradually). Improving the dog's stop is covered in several tutorial videos listed in the "Stopping" category.