Featured tutorial – Get off the Fence!

Get off the Fence sheepdog training tutorial

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! While to the dog, the sheep are trapped and aren't going anywhere - what's there not to like?

Luckily, it isn't difficult to overcome.

As with so much in sheepdog training, the keys to success are the dog's confidence and your own timing.

The dog needs to put itself between the sheep and the hedge/wall/hurdle or fence, and to stay there, or at least slow down a little, while the sheep move away. Stuck between the sheep and a hard place can be very scary for a young dog, so you'll need to be quick on your feet - and with your commands - to encourage and guide the dog to bring the sheep out into the field. 

Then you need to move backwards, into the field, and be equally quick to stop your dog from putting the sheep back onto the fence again.

It's easier to understand if you see it, so watch the Get Off The Fence tutorial to see how, with persistent and patient guidance, your dog can learn to deal with sheep that "sit on the fence".



Featured tutorials – The Outrun

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 the length of the field (or up the hill) to drive your sheep to where you want them, you save your time, your temper and your legs.

Put simply, the outrun is the sheepdog leaving its handler, approaching the sheep in a manner that won't disturb them unnecessarily, and then (depending on the situation and command) either lying down to wait, or collecting and bringing the sheep back to its handler.

It sounds straightforward, but it has lots of elements. Watch our Outrun tutorials, and guide your dog to the perfect (or almost perfect) outrun.

Before you start you'll need to have the basics firmly in place, and then it's a gradual process of building confidence as the dog learns to work further and further away from you. As ever, the closer the dog is to the handler, the more confident it will be.

In Part One we demonstrate how to start teaching the outrun, and how to make the best of it when things go wrong. This is an actual training session with a keen, but headstrong, young dog.

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.

If you experiment a little, you'll discover how much influence and control you can have over the result.

Part Three in the series demonstrates how to use the "Slingshot" technique to encourage a wider outrun; it can also help to widen the dog's flanks. Some dogs do this naturally, and some need to be encouraged, but either way it's a very effective tool.

Most dogs thoroughly enjoy outruns, and outrun practise can be a good way to relieve the tension when training becomes more intense.

You'll probably find that teaching the outrun helps to improve other areas of the dog's work.



Featured tutorial – Sometimes Nice is Not Enough

sheep attacking a herding dog

Sheep are natural runners when they're being hunted, but some situations, such as when held in a pen, or protecting their lambs, can make a sheep turn, challenge, 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 some dogs naturally shy away from confrontation, and for others the memory of a previous bad experience can hold it back.

A ewe confronts Kay on the drive

We're not suggesting a licence to grip in this tutorial, but we're teaching the dog to move up a gear in its work, and be more assertive.Even a cautious dog can learn to cope with strong-minded ewes or tups, or even cattle if the handler is sympathetic and encouraging.

Dealing with stubborn stock is a perennial problem, and Sometimes Nice is Not Enough was made in response to emails and questions left on the Training Tutorials pages. 

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


Featured tutorial – Educating Gloria

A training session where we encourage the good, and make the best of the not-so-good!

Handlers who are new to sheepdog training can find it difficult to recognise what their dog's doing, and take the appropriate action at the right time - timing is everything! Your timing will improve with practice, and watching Gloria's training session will be a huge help.

This was Gloria's fourth lesson; she's headstrong and excited, but not uncontrollable. In this tutorial we see the complete training session twice, first at half-speed and then at its actual speed - demonstrating why new handlers often feel everything's happening too fast. Don't worry. You can't hope to get it right first time, every time, but with patience, persistence and a good temper, you and your dog will progress.

High drive dog! Gloria jumping fallen trees in a wood
Gloria has a high drive, and can always find ways to entertain herself when she isn't working

Watch Educating Gloria to see setting up the dog for a good start; use of the stick and body position to impose and maintain control; stepping up the discipline (and when to back off); how the handler's attitude influences the dog; establishing a good working distance from the sheep, despite the dog's best efforts; typical ways the dog may evade the stop command; and avoiding patterns in your commands.

For the highs and lows of a typical early lesson, with an equally typical trainee dog, watch Educating Gloria.

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


Featured tutorial – Sticky Dogs! with “too much” eye

Young sheepdog working off balance

It's time to get moving if your dog has "too much" eye.

To a greater or lesser degree, border collies use "eye" (a particularly intense and assertive stare) to move stock. In some dogs the look is very exaggerated, while other dogs work with their heads up and don't appear to be using eye at all.

Either type of dog is perfectly capable of getting the job done.

But when a handler finds, or more often is told, that their dog has "too much eye" it can seem like a big problem. The dog works in a stop-start fashion, frequently "sticking" on the point of balance, but it can be improved, and it isn't difficult if you understand what's happening.

If your dog has an excellent stop - but won't get up again - the chances are that the problem is "eye". This was exactly the problem we had with Mab, the subject of our Sticky Dogs! tutorial; Mab works with that typical stop-start action, sometimes rooted to the spot.

Andy demonstrates that with a kind, encouraging, but assertive approach, the dog learns that it needs to keep moving to get the job done.

The emphasis in this tutorial is on movement, and often it's the handler who needs to do the moving.

Don't be stuck with a stop-start dog - watch Sticky Dogs!

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


Featured tutorial – Inside Flanks (Circling the Sheep on Command)

Border collie working sheep in a field

Lift your dog's skill from average to excellent!

Once your dog's driving competently, teaching inside flanks (circling on command) is the next step. Make no mistake, good inside flanks can be the difference between having an average dog, and a great dog!

In the two-part tutorial, Train Your Dog to Circle the Sheep, we see Wyn learning to overcome her inhibitions to flank between Andy and the sheep.

It sounds simple enough, but having been taught NOT to come between us and the sheep in the early stages of training, many dogs are reluctant to circle the sheep.

Once your dog's driving fairly fluently you'll want to be able to steer it at a distance, and this is where a dog with good inside flanks comes into its own. If the dog will circle the sheep in either direction you can put the dog anywhere you want, and drive the sheep to anywhere you need.

It's a vital skill for trialling, where precision is important, but it's also very useful for farm and practical applications (and it's quite good fun too).

Part one shows training in the open field, but if this doesn't work with your particular dog and sheep combination, don't despair! Part two shows techniques to try while working inside the training ring.

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


Featured tutorials – Introducing Sheepdog Trials

Sheepdog moving sheep

Have you ever felt tempted to try sheepdog trialling?

The more prepared you are for your first competition, the less nerve-wracking it will be; it's reassuring to know what to expect, and what will be expected of you.

It seems unbelievable now, but when I entered my first sheepdog trial (oh, so many years ago) it wasn't until I stood at the post that I fully realised the sheep were now MY responsibility.

Whatever happened, however much of a mess my dog and I made of the run, those sheep weren't going anywhere if we didn't take them. It was a sobering thought, and I wished I'd thought it sooner!

Sheepdog trials demand control and precision, but are founded in the practical everyday work of the shepherd. Trials can be a hugely enjoyable, if sometimes frustrating, opportunity to see how your dog, and your handling, measure up.

But whether your interest is as competitor or spectator, our two-part Introduction to Sheepdog Trials will show you how a sheepdog trial works.

Part One covers what to do when you arrive at the field, studying the course, what a typical course looks like, and how to plan your run to your dog's advantage. We also tell you how points are most often lost, and what the judge will be looking for in a good run.

There's lots of great sheepdog footage to illustrate the Outrun, Lift and Fetch, with further explanations using clear animations.

Part Two takes you beyond the Fetch, through the Cross-drive, to the Pen. It will also help you understand how a sheepdog trial is run and how to prepare your dog for your first trial, as well as what to do when you get there, and what to avoid (if you can).

At my first trial I learned to take responsibility for the sheep, and to take responsibility for my dog's training and be more realistic about our progress. I also learned that if, finally, it all falls apart and you have to take The Long Walk (all the way up the field to the letting-out pen to collect your dog, and together drive the sheep to the exhaust pen with what feels like the eyes of the world on you) you won't be the first, and you definitely won't be the last. It's happened to every competitor at some point in their careers.

And if it's any comfort, hardly anyone will be watching you anyway - especially if there's a half-decent tea tent. Well, no one except your trainer, your partner, your parents, your children, and anyone who already knows you, of course ...

We're sure that An Introduction to Sheepdog Trials will interest potential spectators, as well as encourage potential competitors. Remember, to watch the tutorials you'll need to be logged in as a paid member, and if you need more help, leave a comment or question on the tutorial page.


How to Stop Your Dog Chasing Cars

picture of a car driving down a country lane, being chased by a sheepdog

How to stop your dog chasing cars or anything you don't want it to chase!

Chasing cars and other vehicles is a big problem for some dog owners. It can be extremely dangerous, both for the dog, and any humans involved. The drivers amongst us know they shouldn't swerve to avoid small animals which suddenly appear on the road, but it's a natural reflex. It could be fatal though.

Stopping a dog from chasing cars is very similar to stopping them chasing sheep, cattle, or other livestock. It can't be done quickly, except by physically restraining the dog or shutting it away.

Photo of Border Collie Scylla jumping to catch a ball
'High Drive' dogs will chase almost anything that they see as 'escaping'.

If you're a subscriber to our online sheepdog training tutorials, you'll understand that it's an ancient hunting instinct which makes the dog want to chase livestock, and that same instinct makes some dogs see a car or wheeled vehicle - or basically anything which moves - as "prey".

If you want your dog to retrieve a ball, you wave the ball tantalisingly close to the dog to excite it, then when the dog shows interest, you throw the ball. The dog sees the speeding ball as 'escaping' and chases after it to bring it back.

If we wanted the dog to ignore balls, we'd avoid making them interesting to the dog. We'd keep the ball still, and not temptingly close to the dog, until we were sure it would be ignored.

Likewise, we must encourage the dog to find moving vehicles boring. It works not only with vehicles and moving objects, but with sheep, cattle and other livestock too. I know this because in the years when we used to run sheepdog training courses here, we'd occasionally get well-meaning people who had walked their dog around a field of sheep every day since it was a puppy.

It quickly became apparent that when this had happened, the chances of the dog taking an interest in working sheep were very slim. By walking the dog around the sheep on a lead (and therefore restraining it) even without saying anything to the pup, they were sending a message to it that they didn't want it to go after the sheep.

NOTE:
It's not difficult to discourage the dog from chasing cars, but maintain its interest in sheep, simply by occasionally giving the dog a little training with sheep in between car-chasing lessons.

photo of a tightly-packed group of Border Collies looking very happy!

Being creatures of habit as dogs age, those habits become more difficult to break as the dog ages. Dissuading a puppy from chasing vehicles is simple. At eight to twelve months it will be a little more difficult, but if the dog's five or six years old, and it's been chasing cars for all that time, it's going to test your patience! It can be done if you're prepared to put the time in, but it won't be quick.

Whatever its age, you need to be really well bonded with the dog. By bonded, I don't mean the dog sits there while you give it treats or pat its head, I mean the dog accepts you as its leader and will come to you immediately. Even when it doesn't want to.

I don't mean when it's chasing a vehicle. By the time it gets to that stage, the "red mist" has descended and the dog's not listening to anything. I mean if the dog's playing with a toy or doing something it finds interesting and you call it to you, it should come immediately.

Don't use "tit-bits". If you use treats, the dog will be bonded with them, and not you. We never use tit-bits with our working dogs.

A good test of the bond between you and your dog, is walking on a lead. If the dog walks with the lead slack for about 90% of the time (away from livestock or cars) it's probably pretty well bonded with you. If it's pulling on the lead, it's trying to control you and therefore hasn't fully accepted you as its leader.

The easiest way to properly lead-train a dog is to start off somewhere boring (for the dog). If possible, eliminate any distractions. Walk about with the dog on the lead, this way and that. If it pulls on the lead, correct it with a gruff voice, and pull-back on the lead. Take care not to harm the dog, of course.

Take great care not to get cross with the dog, and make sure you behave like a good leader. Good leaders don't get excited when things are going wrong, they don't shout and scream, they remain calm and give praise when things are going well, but will also give stern correction when things are going wrong. Once they've given a stern correction though, it's forgotten. Good leaders don't bear grudges, they move on in a calm but firm manner.

That's exactly how you should behave with your dog.

Photo of two young border collie sheepdogs running and biting at each other in play as they run

Once you have the dog properly bonded with you, I suggest you very carefully expose it to moving vehicles, by making those moving vehicles as boring as possible to the dog.

All dog training basically entails making it as simple as possible for the dog to grasp the idea at first, and then very gradually move on to a more realistic scenario.

To help achieve this, the vehicle should be small, slow and QUIET at first. You should also do it initially, in a garden, a field, or at least somewhere away from public roads if possible.

The more control you have, the better, and you cannot control traffic on public roads, so it makes sense to start off somewhere safe.

An ideal start might be with a lawn mower in your garden! A ride-on mower would be perfect, but almost any mower will do provided it gets a response from the dog when it moves. Of course its blades shouldn't be working when you're training your dog. It should be driven or operated by someone who's willing to help you, and prepared to stop immediately if the dog should get away from you, or pull you over, for instance.

Not everyone has a garden large enough to do this in, but it's the principle that I want to describe - make it BORING!

The safety aspect is your responsibility and you must take it very seriously.

Basically, you take the dog up to a stationary vehicle - and probably get no reaction from the dog.

Next, the driver starts the engine. The dog should ignore it. If the dog reacts badly, the driver turns off the engine and you take the dog further away.

The engine starts again, and let's say the dog remains calm. You walk it quietly up to the vehicle (while the engine is still running).

As before (and in the following stages) if the dog remains calm, you can carefully move on to the next stage. If the dog becomes excited or difficult to control in any way, you go back however many stages it requires to get the dog calm again. (We're talking BORING here).

Once the dog will stand close to the stationary vehicle with its engine running, we take the dog away to a safe distance and ask the driver to move the vehicle forward by a couple of metres.

Assuming the dog's fine with this, we ask the driver to dive a little further this time - and so on. Eventually, the dog will be fine with the moving vehicle, so we can move on to a more realistic situation - but remember to go back however stages it requires to get the dog calm again.

Photo of a border collie sheepdog herding a bunch of sheep into a pen

Our training is intended mainly for farm situations. If your situation is different, you must adapt the training to suit your conditions, but safety must come first.

We know of one new owner who took on a particularly bad car chaser, and he literally sat by a road with the dog securely restrained, and gave it tit-bits or played with the dog whenever a car approached. It worked eventually, but the safety aspect makes me shudder. Try to train the dog away from public places if you possibly can, at least until you are sure you can control the dog at all times - especially where traffic is involved.

The safety of yourself, your dog, and of other people is YOUR responsibility.