Pippin – Super Little Sheepdog and Super Mum!

Smooth coated border collie Pippin's doing really well in her new home.

Great things come in small packages!

"Hi Andy. Just to let you know the dogs have settled in lovely. Pippin is already working groups of 300 ewes like she has been doing it for years. Thanks again. Brilliant dogs."

Smooth coated border collie puppy Phiz
Phiz very much takes after her mother Pippin.

This was the text message I received a few days ago from Pippin's new owner. It's always a great relief when we get a message like this, because some dogs take longer to settle into a new home than others and of course, not all dogs suit their new owners.

From the day we collected her as a somewhat nervous eight week old puppy, we've been very fond of Pippin. Gradually her confidence grew and although still remarkably small for a border collie, she showed signs of being a courageous dog. When she began working, the sheep showed her great respect.

Happily, Pippin produced and reared a (small) litter of lovely pups before she moved to her new home, and now these too are proving remarkably like their mum in terms of their courage-to-weight ratio.

Smooth coated border collie puppy Boz
If you can tell which is Boz and which is Phiz from the front, you're doing well! (Mew and Maddie in the background).

Phiz very much takes after her mother. At around twelve weeks, she's only showing a very casual interest in sheep at the moment, but we're optimistic that she'll be fine.

She absolutely adores playing with toys, particularly bouncing balls, so she's going to be just fine here.

Little Boz is a great chap, too. He shows a little more interest in the sheep than his sister Phiz, and every bit as much courage. Sadly we won't be able to keep him in the long term, but I'd like to get him at least partly trained before he goes to a new home.

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!

Sometimes I Really Miss Carew!

Sheepdog Carew standing on a tree stump - looking wonderful!

Since Carew left here, Kay's hearing has deteriorated badly, and occasionally we're stuck for a skilled dog

It's hard to believe that it's nearly two years since Carew left here and to be honest, there have been a few occasions when I've wished she was still here. One such occasion was only a week or so ago.

Our landlord John needed to move some very lively sheep from a field where one of the boundaries was a steep-sided brook with a dense wood on the other side. John warned me that the sheep were likely to "take fright" and disappear into the depths of the wood when they saw the dog, so I was keen to make sure they didn't.

sheepdog bringing about fifteen sheep towards the camera
Quietly in control as always! Carew brings a small bunch of sheep

Since Carew left here, my natural first choice for any difficult work like this has been Kay, but Kay's hearing has deteriorated so much recently that she works purely on instinct. I can only give her commands when she's very close. I've had limited success with hand signals, but of course, they depend on the dog looking towards you, and when Kay's concentrating hard, she's not looking at me, she's looking at the sheep!

Once Kay's more than thirty metres away from me, I can shout for all I'm worth but she can't hear me, so for this tricky work, I decided to take the young Odo with me instead. Poor Odo has been 'sold' twice, but he was returned to us on both occasions. The first time was when his owner couldn't get him to jump into the car (can you believe it?). We actually used Odo to make a training tutorial about it, to show others what to do if they get the same problem. The second time he came back to us was (I think) because the farmer's other dogs didn't like him. Either way, I was happy to buy Odo back. We're very fond of him, and he has great potential, but he lacks experience of "proper" farm work.

Sheepdog Kay awaits her next command
Kay would have been my first choice but I no longer have any control over her when she's more than a few yards away

We've got other dog's coming along nicely of course. Another of Kay's daughters, Maddie, shows great promise. She has a lovely pace, stops well (most of the time) and she's got plenty of confidence to push stubborn sheep. For this job though, I thought Maddie's lack of experience and her somewhat over-enthusiastic approach might be a problem. The same goes for Pippin, Mew and Jago. All are showing great potential, but lacking experience.

Much as my instinct was telling me Kay would be the safer choice, I felt I couldn't risk using her because although she has a fabulous outrun (just what was needed on this occasion) if things went even slightly wrong, I'd have no control over her at all. If Kay knows where you want the sheep to be, such as when she's working at home, she's unbeatable, but on new ground, she sometimes misunderstands what I want and I struggle to direct her.

Photo of Maddie lying in the grass looking very confident and pleased with life!
Maddie will be a natural first choice when she's a little more experienced

It also occurred to me that if Kay went chasing off into that wood and couldn't hear me, it could literally take hours to find her again!

My next choice would have been Jet, but she was heavily "in season" at the time and sometimes hormones can affect the work of female sheepdogs. If Jet's anything like her mother Kay (when Kay was younger) this could adversely affect her work.

These sheep needed a gentle, controlled touch. Carew would have been "in her element" with them, but she's not here.

Next choice was Odo, but it was risky because he'd only been back here for a few days, and he'd never worked in this field before, or with these particular sheep. What's more, I had only worked Odo for a very few minutes since he came back to us. It was a gamble, but I decided to go for it because Odo had been such a good worker before he left here.

It was a bad decision. Odo hadn't had time to re-settle with us.

Odo controlling sheep near some trees
Odo's sheep control is excellent.

When we reached the field, the sheep were in the worst possible place, right next to the brook at the bottom of the field. Odo has a pretty good outrun, so I guessed that would go reasonably well, but I wasn't sure I could stop him at that distance. If you can't stop the dog at the end of it's outrun, you should shorten the outrun to a suitable distance and if the dog stops well, gradually increase the distance. The closer you are to the dog, the more control you have over it - but that's when the dog's in training. This was farm work, and it was skilled farm work which Odo wasn't ready for. Although I could have walked down the field to get closer before I sent him off, the sheep were already looking uneasy. Our approach might provoke them to pop over the brook and into the wood.

Jet's a smooth coated prick-eared border collie sheepdog
With hindsight, I should have used Jet after all. I'm sure she'd have been fine!

I decided to trust Odo's outrun, and sure enough, he went out beautifully wide, but he was excited and clearly going too fast. Because the sheep were tight against the boundary, once he reached the brook on his outrun, he had to follow it. This meant he was coming straight at the sheep, and worse, I couldn't slow him down. He brought most of the sheep away from the brook and into the field well, but on occasions like this, most is not good enough. Two of the sheep dived over the brook and into the wood, and thick with undergrowth as it was, I couldn't get Odo to go in after them. Sadly, John and I made the decision to abandon the task and let the sheep settle for a few days.

I'll use Jet next time. She's got a good outrun, and I'm pretty certain she'd have gathered all of those sheep cleanly. I worked her the next day and her hormones weren't affecting her work at all. Poor Odo did his best but he was too excited. He went too fast, and too straight. He needs more work so that when he goes out it's not such a novelty.

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.

Scary Place 2 (The Sequel)

Herding Sheepdog Kay shows her great courage as she calmly and confidently removes some sheep from a very dark confined space

Kay shows her daughter Jet how to get sheep out of a Spooky Black Hole!
Watch the VIDEO below!

There was quite a stong response on social media when we posted a picture of a rather nervous looking Jet outside a dark hovel which was full of sheep.

Jet was contemplating the task of going into the hovel to remove the sheep. It's not a pleasant task for a trainee herding dog because the dog knows it will be trapped inside the building and if the sheep attack it, there's no escape.

Usually, the trainee dog's response is to attack the sheep closest to the entrance. In the ensuing chaos, most of the sheep will usually come out of the building, but often, the task has to be repeated to remove the remaining animals. Obviously, this is not good practice. At the least, it stresses the sheep and makes any further handling or movement of them all the more difficult.

In this video, Jet's mother, Kay demonstrates just how the job should be done, by quietly and confidently going round between the sheep and the wall. The sheep come out quietly with the minimum of stress.

  • ONLINE SHEEP AND CATTLE DOG TRAINING TUTORIALS
    Clear, inexpensive, herding sheepdog training instruction

    We now have 64 clearly explained, easy to follow sheep and cattle dog training videos for first time sheepdog trainers, farmers, and shepherds. Watch the preview here!

    Click icon at bottom-right of viewer for full-screen mode.

    For a very small monthly (or annual) subscription, watch many hours of expertly presented sheepdog training lessons. Not just theory - we show you what should happen, and what to do when things go wrong. Signup now You may cancel payments at any time and continue to watch for the period paid for.

Jet Joins the Dean Farm Set!

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

Jet's right on the ball with her first gather at Dean Farm

With her mother Kay being out of action because she's “in season” at the moment (Kay's one of those females who's work is sometimes affected by her seasons) it seemed like a good time to let young Jet try her paw at some 'proper' sheep gathering today. We thought it would be a good idea to video the operation because it was Jet's very first attempt at real farm work, but things didn't work out that way. Luckily, I got the photo (above) with my 'phone.

Kay sitting down on a large log with her daughter Jet standing over her
Kay (left) with her daughter Jet on a wet day in June this year.

Our first job was to gather sheep from three fields away, and I know from experience that these sheep are experts at finding shady corners and overgrown hedges to hide amongst. It would be madness to expect a trainee sheepdog to gather these fields cleanly, and it's important that every sheep is brought in for checking over and medication or treatment where required.

We decided to drive to the far end of the furthest field in the 4x4, and then Gill would drive the car back while Jet and I brought the sheep in. It worked very well.

At first, Jet was a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of sheep - the most she's ever seen before was thirty five, and there must have been two hundred altogether, but she quickly settled down, and I was impressed at her mature approach to the work. She flanked reasonably well, and although she's reluctant to actually stop, I could slow her down enough to keep her well back off the sheep.

Most of the sheep flocked together well, but sure enough, as we approached the gate into the field by the yard, I noticed a ewe and her lamb lying down in the corner. I cautiously sent Jet off to bring them,hoping she wouldn't give them a hard time, but I needn't have worried. She went just far enough to make them get up and move towards the flock, and then she just followed on behind them nicely.

Border collie sheepdogs under a tree. One of the dogs is looking up at a chair suspended from the trunk of the tree
"Who in their right mind would put a chair up a tree?" Trainee sheepdog Jet's curious about the chair hung on a tree trunk to prevent the sheep damaging it.

Even better was to come. Two big lambs had got themselves deep under a hedgerow - quite a scary place for a novice dog to go, but Jet didn't think twice about it, she went into the hedge when I asked her to, and once again, followed the pair along under the tunnel-like hedge until they reached the gate and the rest of the flock.

Getting the sheep into the yard proved quite a task. They really didn't want to go in, and half would run in one direction, while the remainder of the flock went the opposite way, but Jet coped really well, flanking wide and stopping very nearly where I asked her to!

Things had gone so well, I decided to see how Jet would cope with being in a yard crammed full with sheep - or rather, Jet decided. She just followed them in as though it was the most natural thing in the world to do. I was so proud of her.

The final job was pushing the sheep through the race, and Jet quickly adapted to this as well. A remarkable debut for “little Jet”. We had Scylla with us as a backup dog, and of course, Jet had done the bulk of the work, so Scylla had the consolation of taking the sheep back to the field. Two very happy dogs!

  • ONLINE SHEEP AND CATTLE DOG TRAINING TUTORIALS
    Clear, inexpensive, herding sheepdog training instruction

    We now have 64 clearly explained, easy to follow sheep and cattle dog training videos for first time sheepdog trainers, farmers, and shepherds. Watch the preview here!

    Click icon at bottom-right of viewer for full-screen mode.

    For a very small monthly (or annual) subscription, watch many hours of expertly presented sheepdog training lessons. Not just theory - we show you what should happen, and what to do when things go wrong. Signup now You may cancel payments at any time and continue to watch for the period paid for.

Kelpie Molly earns her wings!

Despite having little training to date, Molly's reached basic Sheepdog Status!

Sheepdog training sessions have been somewhat few and far between here recently, because we've been busy updating the sheepdog training tutorials as well as working on the website. So after a really good session with Scylla today, I thought it was high time Molly had a session.

Close up photo of Molly concentrating hard on her sheep
I was pleased to see that Molly was fully focussed on her sheep throughout today's training session

We were seriously impressed with Molly early in July, but in her next lesson, she seemed to have lost interest a little, so we gave her another break from working.

When I brought her out into the field today, the sheep were a good eighty metres away, but I didn't want to put any pressure on her at all, so rather than walk down the field to get closer and give Molly a better chance of success (as I normally would) I decided on this occasion to simply send her off, and see what happened.

At first, Molly seemed a little confused, as though she wasn't sure whether I wanted her to approach the sheep, or whether we were going to do something else, but making a “shushing” sound soon showed her what I wanted, and she went off towards the sheep on a lovely outrun, widening out as she approached them. She gathered the sheep together as though she'd been doing it all her life, before bringing them to me at a steady pace. I was astonished!

I gave Molly a good session consisting of flanking both ways, short outruns and bringing the sheep up behind me, and although she's clearly not what you'd call highly trained, I can honestly say that if our sheep had escaped into a neighbour's field and Molly was our only dog, I wouldn't hesitate to take her with me to help get the sheep back. This is my benchmark for a sheepdog, so as far as we're concerned, Molly qualifies as a basic sheepdog!

Clearly she needs a lot more training before she can be described as skilled, but when a dog is as easy to train as Molly, training's a real pleasure. I'm a little concerned about her lack of interest in her previous session of course, but if she enjoyed today's session as much as I did, she'll be fully focussed in future!

  • ONLINE SHEEP AND CATTLE DOG TRAINING TUTORIALS
    Clear, inexpensive, herding sheepdog training instruction

    We now have 64 clearly explained, easy to follow sheep and cattle dog training videos for first time sheepdog trainers, farmers, and shepherds. Watch the preview here!

    Click icon at bottom-right of viewer for full-screen mode.

    For a very small monthly (or annual) subscription, watch many hours of expertly presented sheepdog training lessons. Not just theory - we show you what should happen, and what to do when things go wrong. Signup now You may cancel payments at any time and continue to watch for the period paid for.

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.

  • ONLINE SHEEP AND CATTLE DOG TRAINING TUTORIALS
    Clear, inexpensive, herding sheepdog training instruction

    We now have 64 clearly explained, easy to follow sheep and cattle dog training videos for first time sheepdog trainers, farmers, and shepherds. Watch the preview here!

    Click icon at bottom-right of viewer for full-screen mode.

    For a very small monthly (or annual) subscription, watch many hours of expertly presented sheepdog training lessons. Not just theory - we show you what should happen, and what to do when things go wrong. Signup now You may cancel payments at any time and continue to watch for the period paid for.