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!

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!

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.

Wow! Kelpie Molly gets our ‘Man of the Match’ Award!

Close up photo of Molly lying on the grass

It's taken a while, but Molly's showing real commitment and keeping her sheep together very well

If you've read our Kelpie vs Collie blog, you'll know that we've had our ups and downs with Kelpies over the years, and I've personally been on the receiving end of some bitter comments from enthusiasts for what I wrote about Kelpies.

Herding sheepdog trainees, Mossie and Kelpie Red
Our collie pup Mossie (left) was exceptionally easy to train, whereas Red's progress was erratic,. He was immature.

That's a pity, because the people who directed their vitriol and untrue accusations in my direction clearly hadn't taken the trouble to read any further than the part where we returned our young Kelpie to his breeder. The blog went on to describe some really impressive Kelpies that later came here on training courses. (We no longer run sheepdog training courses).

Putting the criticism aside, I learned from these promising young dogs that Kelpies are perfectly trainable using just the same methods that we use for training collies. Our mistake was expecting them to mature as quickly as collies. We're aware that there's very little information on training Kelpie to work stock, so we eventually decided to include the training of Kelpies in our sheepdog training tutorials.

Close up photo of Will coming towards the camera
Will was aggressive with sheep when he began his training.

We duly announced that we were looking for a Kelpie puppy and quite soon we had one on order, but then our pup and all his litter mates were stolen from their breeder in Shropshire! This was very upsetting for both ourselves and of course the breeder. We quickly assumed we'd never see the pup we'd ordered and being keen to get started with our Kelpie training programme, we approached Red's breeder to see whether he had anything suitable. Sure enough, he sold us Will who was just over six months old.

At the same time, we heard about another Kelpie pup (this time a female) who would be ready in May, so we took the plunge and ordered that one. Now we'd have two Kelpies to work with in our tutorials!

Soon after we ordered this female puppy, we had a call from the breeder of the original puppy to say that thanks to a huge response on social media, the entire litter of stolen pups had been tracked down to an address in North Wales and they were now on their way home to Shropshire!

Well, of course we couldn't possibly say we no longer needed the pup, so the next day we went and collected Tucker. Now we had two Kelpies in the yard (well, Tucker lived in the front porch for a while) and our name on another puppy which would bring our Kelpie 'pack' to three!

Kelpie Molly duly arrived in May 2016. Read about her on this link.

Will got off to a bad start.
After he'd settled in for a while, we took Will to the sheep and we were disappointed to find that he was extremely aggressive with the sheep. His behaviour was very similar to Red's but much worse. He didn't like being corrected and if you did correct him, he seemed to take his revenge out on the sheep as soon afterwards as he could. This was quite disturbing but after all, it was his first session. Doubtless he'd improve after a while.

Will's progress was very slow. I regularly train collies at six months of age, but Will was immature. I should have been more patient. His sessions with sheep were occasional and brief, because they were such an unpleasant experience. It was difficult to stop him from attacking the sheep constantly. It took a long time before he became more manageable around sheep, but once he settled down, he began to make satisfactory progress and went to work on a sheep farm a few weeks ago.

We loved will as a dog, but I hadn't liked him when he was around sheep. He's one of the most difficult dogs I've trained but having said that, now that he's more trustworthy, I can see great potential in him as a sheep and cattle dog.

Close up photo of black and tan Kelpie Tucker
He's fast and very noisy, but Tucker's a pleasure to train

Tucker on the other hand, has been a pleasure to train. When he was a puppy, he somehow found a way to get into the sheep pen and liked nothing more than to hassle them all up to one end of it. Fortunately he made such a noise while he was doing it, we knew immediately what was happening and we were able to capture him and take him away quickly.

Because of Will's aggression with sheep, I was apprehensive about training Tucker, but although he made a lot of noise and worked very fast, he wasn't actually attacking the sheep at all. It was fairly easy to get him to go round them and soon he would stop, too.

Molly on the other hand, was extremely disappointing. She was reluctant to go near the sheep, and then she'd charge at them, scattering them in all directions, and if corrected, she't stop working at all until your attention was off her, and then she'd scatter the sheep again. At least she wasn't biting them though.

Just as with Will, Molly was immature. We gave her a handful of lessons and then decided to leave her for a few months. It paid off handsomely.

Kelpie Mollie looks behind her
Molly got off to a slow start but she's fully committed to working now!

For the first time in a couple of months I took Molly to the sheep yesterday, and although she was reluctant to approach them at first, she quickly began to work well. I was so impressed I called Gill and asked her to come and watch! Molly was fully focussed on her sheep. She flanked beautifully, her pace was steady and I could stop her, but she sheep knew she meant business, and they showed her a lot of respect.

Our only problem was getting her away from the sheep at the end of the session. She refused to come to me, and sprang out of the way if I tried to catch her, so I asked Gill to go and fetch Scylla, thinking that Scylla would hold the sheep tight into a corner while I concentrated on catching Molly. It worked out easier than that though. Once Scylla was near, I could see that Molly had relaxed. I crouched down and called Molly, and she came to me immediately!

Man of the Match Award
Since we began training sheepdogs, Gill and I have often referred to whichever dog shows the most improvement in a training session as "Man of the Match". It's only a bit of fun, but it's great to note which dogs are learning quickly. With one exception (who will remain nameless for the time being) yesterday's session was excellent. Molly, Mew, Jago and Maddie all performed very well, but the clear "Man of the Match" was Molly! It's great to give that (albeit imaginary) award to a Kelpie at last.

Now I can't wait to take Molly to sheep again! Watch this space, and look out for Kelpies in our training tutorials soon.

All Safely Gathered in

Photo of Kay (lying down on the left) and Carew (standing) keeping an eye on the sheep they have just put into some buildings

Memories of Kay and Carew at Dean Farm on this day four years ago!

Regular readers will know that we often gather sheep for our landlord John, at Dean Farm. This is a typical picture of Kay (left) and Carew keeping an eye on the sheep which they've just put safely into a building.

Sheepdog Kay gathering a small flock of ewes and lambs on a sunny day.
Kay gathering a small flock of sheep on a sunny day at Dean Farm

Our regular readers will also know that Carew now works on a dairy sheep farm in the south of England. Kay's still with us, and working well, but at ten years of age, despite being desperately keen to work, we fear her hearing isn't what it was. This means we have to send Kay off and hope she knows what we want her to do because once she's more than about forty yards from me, she doesn't respond to commands!

Fortunately, Kay usually knows what to do, but it can be very funny to watch her when she gets it wrong. Putting the sheep in completely the wrong paddock is one of the common ones!

We have other dogs of course, but it's surprising how often we need Kay's big outrun, especially if there are a lot of sheep scattered over a wide area. The youngsters will have their work cut out to gather a large flock better than Kay.

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.