Fifteen years ago these two changed our lives

Close-up photo of two very smiley sheepdogs Glen and Dot, in the back seat of a car.

Little did we know what was around the corner!

This photo of Dot and Glen in the boot of Gill’s car, after a January training session, brought memories flooding back to us. Once Dot (left) and later Glen came along, our sheepdog training took on a much more serious and informed nature.

Four Border Collie Sheepdogs in a snow covered yard
(Left to right) Dot, Reiver, Mossie and Hattie

Gill and I had been living here at Kings Green Farm for a shade over a year. Dot had come into our lives at our previous home, and was an excellent farm dog, but as I was finding it hard to train her for sheepdog trials we bought Glen. He’d been successful in East of England nursery trials and we felt he’d help us to move things along in competitions.

He certainly did that. After a fairly lengthy settling-in period – he was four when we bought him, and older dogs take much longer to settle in with their new owners than puppies or young dogs do – Glen was quite successful in both novice and open trials.

He also proved that shortcuts in sheepdog training are of limited use. To get the best out of a sheepdog you really do need to understand dogs and how (and why) they work. You also need to know a surprising amount about sheep behaviour, and how they react to dogs. I wasn’t aware of any it at the time, while Glen’s experience and good nature were hiding my incompetence as a sheepdog handler.

Close up photo of a rough coated border collie sheepdog working very close to some sheep
Glen was very stylish! This photo appeared on our training DVD First Steps in Border Collie Sheepdog Training.

Glen had a completely different nature to Dot. He was very steady and reserved, while Dot’s approach could be fast and aggressive. Studying the two of them led me to realise that, although the basic principles are the same when you train a sheepdog, to get the very best out of your dog you need to understand your dog’s nature. Every dog is different.

Once I understood this I learned to assess each dog’s strong and weak points, and train them accordingly. A dog like Glen needed a gentle approach and lots of encouragement to increase his confidence, whereas Dot would interpret a polite, gentle word from me as license to carry on at top speed! I found that if I was firm though, she respected it. My ideas worked time and time again with other dogs, and they obviously work for others too because, quite soon, I gave up my work as a commercial photographer to concentrate on our growing pack of dogs and running the website.

Gill noticed that I had something to offer novice trainers, and encouraged me to make a DVD about training sheepdogs. First Steps in Border Collie Sheepdog Training was born!

After I’d spent a year or two of running the website, while juggling with increasing DVD sales, training our own dogs, and holding regular training courses, Gill left her full-time job as editor of an industrial magazine, to work with the dogs too. Not long after we began uploading tutorial videos to the internet so that people could watch them online. The tutorials have proved to be popular too, so Gill and I have been able to work together ever since!

What a huge change Dot and Glen brought about!

Too Many Puppies in One Bed!

Photo of ten or more puppies crowded into a bed. Nearly all of the pups are looking towards the camera and looking bright and cheerful!

Lots of memories, but was it really six years ago today?

We couldn’t resist showing you this photo of a whole bunch of puppies crowded into one bed! There are lots of fond memories here for us – and it’s a lovely picture too!

  • Audrey – “Calm But Firm”
  • Dulcie – “Get off the Fence”
  • Gloria – “Educating Gloria”
  • Rita – “Give the Sheep Space”

The pair at the front left are Dulcie (tricolour) and Gloria, who both showed great potential as sheepdogs, then there’s a pup with its tongue out who’s name escapes me, and Audrey, the red and white one on the right. Dulcie, Gloria, Audrey and Rita (behind Dulcie and Gloria) all feature heavily in our sheepdog training tutorials.

Most of the pups went on to be sheepdogs or agility dogs.

Is it wise to buy more than one puppy?

Two rough coated border collie puppies in the foreground facing the camera with another one sniffing around in the background

The short answer is “no – it’s a bad idea”.

From time to time, people ask if they can buy more than one puppy from us. It’s very rare that we say yes.

When you buy a puppy or even a trained sheepdog, it’s very important that the new dog ‘bonds’ with you as quickly as possible. All dogs are pack animals. That means they form a strong bond with the other members of the pack (whether they be dogs or humans).

Whether there are other dogs around or not, the dog should include its owner (and members of the owner’s family) as respected pack members, and it’s important that the dog sees its new owner as its pack leader.

A puppy lying on the concrete close to a brick pillar

Establishing yourself as pack leader doesn’t mean you need to be cruel to the dog. Far from it. All you need to do is be Firm, Fair and Consistent. Teach the dog good manners. This makes training far easier than it will be if there’s no bond

If you buy two puppies together, particularly pups from the same litter, they will already have a very strong bond between themselves and unless you know how to cope with this, their bond could be so strong that it will exclude you!

If you’re buying a puppy, it’s far better to get one, and establish a good bond with it. Then perhaps after about six months, get another puppy. You’ll find that there’s no problem with bonding, and in fact, the older dog will teach the younger one quite a lot about daily routine and how you like your dogs to behave.

Whether there are other dogs around or not, the dog should include its owner (and members of the owner’s family) as other pack members, and it’s important that the dog sees its new owner as its pack leader.

Big Fella in the Rain!

Lovely close up photo of the big sheepdog, Ezra looking to his right as he shelters from the rain under a tree

Ezra looking the part as he shelters from the rain

Out with the dogs a few days ago, Gill and I took shelter under our big oak tree as the light rain became heavy. The dogs joined us under there, and as I had the camera with me, I used the opportunity to take some photos.

Pick of the pics for both Gill and myself was clearly this one of Ezra looking over his right shoulder. The backlight makes his coat stand out beautifully, while you can see the raindrops too.

This image is already on a shortlist of our favourite pictures which will soon be added to our collection of Greetings Cards.

Visit our SHOP to see the Greetings Cards, DVDs and Books we have for sale.

Farewell to Bronwen (her talent was wasted here)!

Extreme close up photo of a cheerful looking Bronwen

Bronwen’s gone to a new home in Gloucestershire where she’ll have a much larger flock of sheep to look after

Close up photo of Bronwen in a grassy field
It’s difficult to take a bad picture of Bronwen

Training and selling sheepdogs is all very well, but, when it comes to selling a dog that you’re very fond of, it can be an extremely difficult decision.

For a long time we felt that Bronwen’s sheep herding skills were wasted here. During the summer we have around thirty five sheep, and through the long winter months we restrict it to twelve because there’s so little grazing at that time of year.

I’ve often talked of Mel and her daughter Carew as being clearly the two best sheepdogs we’ve ever had, but my goodness, Bronwen gave them a “run for their money ”. Admittedly she didn’t work with Carew’s precision, but on the other hand, rather like Mel, she had much more “push ” than Carew. She would get the job done in half the time!

A ewe tried to attack Bronwen, but she very quickly bit the sheep on its nose to send it away

Bronwen’s speciality was working in the yard.

She stood no nonsense from aggressive ewes and became an expert at pre-empting an attack with a swift nip on the nose.

She could also be relied upon to stay at the back of the yard and push the sheep through the sorting race in an orderly fashion. Unsupervised!

That takes a lot of courage.

Photo of Bronwen lying on the lawn looking happy while her puppies are feeding from her

Fortunately for us, Bronwen produced a litter of puppies with our Oliver before she left here.

She was a really good mother, even though we rarely saw her actually looking after, or feeding her pups. She always seemed to be at the front of her pen, looking out for any chance of working sheep. but the puppies thrived.

We kept no less than three of Bronwen’s puppies for ourselves because we’re so impressed with them. That speaks for itself because we’re trying to steadily reduce the number of dogs we have

We’ll introduce you to Bronwen’s puppies Daphne, Ducie and Frank in due course. Of course, we can’t keep all three for very long, but we’ll train them to work sheep and then make some hard decisions later.

Bronwen spectacularly catching a big Jolly Ball in mid air while her father Ezra and Aunt Carew look on

We already miss Bronwen’s herding skills. Her sister Scylla has taken on the mantle of number one sheepdog because poor old Kay’s not really able to work at a distance any longer. She’s fine when she’ working close, but appears to be unable to hear commands when she’s more than about fifty yards away, so Scylla’s doing all but the most skilled work these days.

Scylla is certainly learning about flock work quite quickly now, but she’s got a long way to go before she gets to Bronwen’s standard.

We also miss Bronwen’s amazing skills with frisbees and balls! Some of her catches were simply so spectacular that at times we worried she would injure herself.

We wish Bronwen every success – we know she’ll do her very best for her new owner, and that she’ll be very well looked after. That’s a very big consolation.

A Surprise Turnout to Move a Few Sheep!

Photo of three herding sheepdogs walking up on a group of sheep

Scylla and Ezra join Kay’s fun!

We only have five acres of land here (about two hectares) and at the moment there are just twelve sheep on it. (More sheep coming soon). Because the land is where we exercise the dogs twice a day for their recreation, we need to be careful that the dogs don’t chase the sheep. Normally they don’t. They learn that when the whole pack goes out together, they’re not allowed to chase sheep.

Occasionally though, one of the youngsters can’t resist temptation any longer (usually Maddy at the moment) so just to be sure, we move the sheep into an enclosure. Of course, the dogs can get through the hurdles, but they seem to offer enough of a psychological barrier to keep the dogs out.

I was using Kay to get the sheep in yesterday, when suddenly Scylla arrived on the scene and began walking up on the sheep alongside Kay. I saw this as something of a photo opportunity, and switched on the little compact camera I carry with me. To my surprise, Scylla’s father Ezra suddenly appeared – and trotted along quite happily with Scylla and Kay.

Now, this is no big deal really except that, as anyone who’s been following the Bronwen and Scylla sheepdog training tutorials will know, Scylla couldn’t be trusted anywhere near the sheep for quite some time, but recently she’s finally started to settle down and work properly. She’s showing a lot of potential as a first class dog. Not quite there yet though – she still has a way to go!

Border Collie Sheepdogs Come in Assorted Colours!

Close up photo of a very pretty black, white, tan and merle border collie with pricked ears (and her tongue out).

We love coloured dogs and we’ve had a few over the years!

Yesterday’s post about so-called mis-marked puppies sparked a lot of response, mostly on Facebook and Twitter.

One of the questions we were asked was whether we train Merle or Red and White dogs. Yes, we’ve trained quite a number over the years, but (and this may not go down too well in some quarters) we honestly feel that some (but not all) of them seem to be significantly harder to train than an average black and white or tri-colour collie.

Close up photo of a rough coated red and white ISDS registered working sheepdog, Buff
Buff was a very hard dog but once trained, he worked cattle and sheep.

For that reason, and remember, this is just our personal experience, we don’t breed red and white or merle dogs. Also, these days we don’t have as much time for training dogs as we did in the past, so we don’t buy-in dogs any more. Because of this, we have not had a coloured or merle collie for several years.

The tricolour merle at the head of the page is Molly. Believe it or not, Molly was dumped on us after the owner dubbed her (at one year old) “the dog from hell”. The man persuaded me to “have her for a few days” and we never saw or heard from him again! It was our gain. Molly was spayed before she came here and was very easy to train. I have no idea whether the spaying had any effect on her training but she had plenty of confidence and went to a farm as their number one sheepdog. We were very fond of Molly.

Buff, the big fella above, was very hard on his sheep, but we got the better of him eventually and he went to a farm not far from here to work cattle and sheep. We were very fond of Buff, but I didn’t look forward to training him until he started to respect the sheep more.

Closeup photo of Audrey. A rough coated red and white ISDS registered border collie sheepdog
Audrey was difficult to train, but had great potential as a sheepdog

Audrey (left) was another difficult dog. In fact, she’s the main subject of our sheepdog training tutorial video – Calm But Firm. Audrey was horrible to the sheep, but the moment you corrected her, she’d run back to the yard. How do you train a dog like that? Well, you’ll need to watch the tutorial to see how I did it, but the title’s a clue. Perhaps it should have been called Calm but Firm and VERY Patient. As with Buff, we were very fond of Audrey, but not when she was around sheep.

Our opinion hasn’t simply been formed by the dogs mentioned on this page, our experience goes much wider than that. There are a good number of other coloured dogs we’ve trained, as well as quite a lot which came here over the years when we ran sheepdog training courses.

Lastly, I should mention that some black and white or tricolour collies can be pretty horrible with stock too. A great example is Scylla. If you watch the Bronwen and Scylla training videos, you’ll see a comparison between Scylla (who is really aggressive with the sheep, and her litter sister Bronwen who was one of the easiest dog’s I’ve ever trained.

As I said earlier, this is just my personal experience. “Yer pays your money – and yer takes yer choice!”

How do you feel about mis-marked puppies?

Close up photo of two border collie puppies lying together. One has a white face and one of its eyes is blue

We love coloured dogs and we’ve had a few over the years!

Yesterday’s post about so-called mis-marked puppies sparked a lot of response, mostly on Facebook and Twitter.

Four border collie puppies looking over a barrier. One has a wall (blue) eye.
Guess which pup is Stan! He’ll be going to his new home soon.

There’s nothing unusual about this. We’ve noticed over the years that some people strongly dislike unusual markings on dogs. I can remember once when we had a really promising young sheepdog for sale which happened to have a wall eye, I asked a potential buyer who had called to see whether we had a dog for sale, what was more important to him, the looks of the dog, or the way it worked? He said he didn’t care what the dog looked like as long as it did a good job. When he came here to see the dog, I took him into the yard and showed him the dog which I honestly thought would be ideal for him. He quickly turned his face away from it, saying “I couldn’t live with that!”

I have to admit that in the early days when I hadn’t seen a dog with a wall eye before, it took me aback for a moment too. I didn’t let it cloud my judgement though, and we bought the dog. She was wonderful and I grew to regard her as one of the best looking dogs we’ve ever had.

Three ISDS registered border collie puppies - predominantly white with black markings on their faces
Isla (left) with her smoother-coated sister Sybil and brother Archie behind

The predominantly white pups you see in this picture were great too. When I first put a photo of them on Facebook, we received several comments to the effect that they would probably be deaf.

Well, I can assure those with doubts about their hearing that none of them had any apparent defects. We still have Isla and she produced a great litter of eight puppies with Ezra. Most of those pups were sold at eight weeks but the one that remains (Victor) will be coming up for sale as a partly trained sheepdog very shortly.