Featured tutorial – the Point of Balance

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. To understand where this is, 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.

At least, 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, then wherever your dog is it has found the point of balance.

Watch the Balance tutorial to understand the basics of balance. Once you've mastered the point of balance Sending the Dog the Wrong Way looks at working OFF balance, and Driving Part 2 explains 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.

Featured tutorials – the dog and the handler

Silhouette image of a shepherd and dog moving a small bunch of sheep

The Sheepdog Selection and Preparation and Sheepdog Handler tutorials provide lots of helpful tips and advice.

Many handlers seem to find the early "puppy" months very stressful; they're anxious to raise the dog in a way that will spark and preserve the all-important working instinct, but worry about balancing that with the entirely natural desire to have a well behaved family playmate and companion

Training with a young collie and a few sheep

Sheepdog Selection and Preparation should answer these questions, and more, and help you develop the relationship with your working dog.

The Sheepdog Handler tutorial looks at the other end of the "magic cord" - you! For example, you need to be prepared to run, to help your dog balance the sheep or to maintain control. Body position is arguably your most important tool because it influences both the dog and the sheep, so it helps to be fairly fit.

A few simple steps will fully equip you to start training, and to be in the best position to guide your dog.

These two tutorials are based on the Handler and Sheepdog chapters from our First Steps in Border Collie Sheepdog Training DVD, with a few changes, and added subtitles.

If you need more help please leave a comment or question on the tutorial page. Remember, to watch the tutorials you'll need to be logged in as a paid member.

Featured tutorial – Get Off The Fence!

It's hard to make progress if your sheep just "stay put"

Sheep have a real talent for assessing a trainee dog, and for making life as difficult for it as possible. As a result, a very common problem for young dogs and inexperienced handlers is getting the sheep into the middle of the ring or field, and keeping them there.

It's a problem we've all had, and it's SO FRUSTRATING! Luckily, it isn't difficult to overcome.

how to train a sheepdog to get sheep off a fence or hedge

As with so much in sheepdog training, the dog's confidence is the key.

If your sheep are crowding into a corner, or pressing themselves up against a hedge in a (successful) attempt to foil the dog's gathering efforts, it'll probably be because your dog lacks the confidence to get between the sheep and the fence.

Don't despair! As with every other challenge, if you try to understand what's happening, and why it's happening, you'll overcome it with persistent, supportive training. Stay calm (your frustration or temper will only help to convince your dog that it's right to be scared) and practice the techniques you'll find in this tutorial.

With your newly co-operative sheep, and bolder, more confident dog, training will become so much easier!

Watch the Get Off The Fence tutorial to see how, with persistent, supportive training, your dog will learn to cope with sheep that "sit on the fence".

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 – 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.

Cammen Kay – our unsung hero?

Quietly in the background, with no fuss or bluster, we didn't always give Kay her due!

When we bought Kay, at about a year old, our intention was to train her but not, necessarily, to keep her forever. Yet I think Kay is probably the only dog we haven't ever suggested we could sell.

When Andy first started to plan First Steps in Border Collie Sheepdog Training (as much as we ever plan anything) we picked three dogs to use as demo dogs, and one of those was Kay. Anyone who's seen the DVD will probably remember Kay's debut in the introduction where, I think we can say, she demonstrated exactly what she thought of it all.

Lovely image of man and sheepdog. Border collie yawning.
Kay was quick to demonstrate that life in front of a camera isn't all it's cracked up to be!

Who could have guessed that she would prove to be the ideal pupil, and a lovely character too.

I remember when my son was at primary school. He'd produced an excellent story and, having been highly praised by his teacher, was pretty confident of receiving that week's class prize for achievement. Imagine his disappointment when a classmate was given the prize for seeing and recognising his own name?

I'm not suggesting it was unfair, but I often used to remember it when we were training and assessing sheepdogs!

Kay was surprisingly slow to learn to drive, but with perseverance (from both Kay and Andy) she eventually nailed it and continued to be an excellent driver of sheep throughout her working life. Everything else she just picked up in one or two lessons, so Kay's progress didn't attract much attention.

Sheepdog driving ewes and lambs along a farm track to the yard.
Kay always enjoyed driving our landlord's flock along the farm drive - not too fast, and not too slow.

On the other hand, a dog that was hard to work with (mentioning no names - Max), or frustrated us with a persistent and annoying problem (ditto Carew, Bronwen, Scylla, I could go on) would receive high praise and accolades when there was a perceptible improvement, however minute.

In the meantime, if we needed a job done, if we wanted to take puppies to the sheep in safety and with minimum effort (for ourselves) or if we were holding a training class and needed an assistant, we called on Kay.

Kay taught herself to watch from a distance (often relaxing under a tree), spot when the trainee dog lost control of the sheep, quietly run out to bring them back to the trainee and then simply melt away without interfering.

Sheepdog driving sheep into a paddock
It was easy to take Kay for granted, she was so reliable.

Kay's workmate, Carew, was/is a superb sheepdog - gentle and sensitive to the sheep she would move 200 ewes at a speed to accommodate the smallest, slowest lamb, and yet with power to spare when it was needed. Carew's work style drew your attention, but little Kay was always on hand to back her up.

When Carew left us to work with a dairy flock, Kay was promoted to Number One dog and we finally realised just how good she was, and how much we'd come to rely on her. Without our noticing, Kay had became our go-to dog.

At 12 years of age Kay's become rather deaf, and with her eyesight not what it was her working days are over, but she seems to enjoy her retirement. She takes an interest in her daughters, Jet and Maddie, and her granddaughter Scout, and still enjoys the traditional collie sport of "flattening" precocious young pups who try to take advantage of her good nature.

We have Ezra's daughter, Dulcie, making meteoric progress, and she, with Jet and Maddie, have taken over Kay's work duties, but we'll probably never know if they could be such accomplished training class assistants.

I hope Kay understand how much she's appreciated, and I can't help thinking that this photo suggests her answer is "YES! And rightly!"

Tricolour border collie looking majestic
"I think you'll find this is our best side"

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)!

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.