New Tutorial: The Training Ring

Photo of sheepdog trainer Andy standing inside a training ring made from sheep hurdles

Correct size and shape of your training ring can make starting your dog far easier

Not only is the training ring one the most useful assets you can have when you start to train a sheepdog, it can also be a great help when the dog moves on to advanced work such as driving, pen work and circling sheep on command.

Our new tutorial "The Training Ring (Part 1)" clearly shows the dimensions we have found to be best for starting your dog off. Once some control is established and the dog is going around the sheep, rather than splitting them up, the addition of just a few more hurdles (or panels) transforms the ring into an oval which is ideal for "Walking Backwards".

Sheepdog training ring title image showing the availability of English subtitles
Optional English subtitles are available on all our Sheepdog Training Tutorials

The walking backwards exercise, (look for the tutorial "Backwards is the way forward") is the single most useful training exercise for dogs which have very basic control of the sheep. It teaches the dog self control, to keep its sheep together, to flank both ways, to work at a steady pace, and the correct working distance from the sheep.

It improves the dog's stop and teaches it to stay in place when told to.

Our latest tutorial video will give our members lots of guidance for building the dog's confidence and encouraging it to work steadily

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.


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

    We now have 69 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.

New Tutorial: How Can I Slow the Dog Down?

Photo of a trainee Kelpie sheepdog splitting up a bunch of sheep

Many people ask us how they can slow their dog down when it's working

It's essential that the dog learns to work stock steadily. During training, a dog which is calm is likely to learn much quicker than a dog which is excitedly racing around.

If sheep or other stock panic as a result of the dog working too fast and close to them, not only will it be far more difficult to get the stock where we want them to go, but the stress will cause them to be less productive, too.

English Subtitles are available on all of our training tutorials
English Subtitles are available on all our Sheepdog Training Tutorials

Unfortunately, teaching the dog to work steadily isn't something we can achieve overnight, but there are quite a number of things we can do to encourage the dog to be calm.

Our latest tutorial video will give our members lots of guidance for building the dog's confidence and encouraging it to work steadily

NB: Tutorials are available to paid subscribers who are logged in to their account.

More information about our sheepdog training tutorials in the video below.


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

    We now have 69 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.

How to train a sheepdog to slow down

Training a dog to herd sheep - giving the sheep plenty of space

A dog working too fast and close, disrupts and stresses sheep and shepherd alike

For maximum working efficiency and minimum stress to the sheep, the herding dog should work with a calm authority, keeping a good distance between itself and the sheep, but not so far off that it loses control of them. This topic is covered in our online sheepdog training videos.

Training a sheepdog to slow down
Keeping the dog at the correct distance behind the sheep as you walk backwards is a great way to teach the dog self-control.

Not long ago, we received an email from a sheepdog handler in New Zealand who had bought our 'First Steps' sheepdog training DVD and had managed to get her headstrong dog to outrun and fetch the sheep, but the dog was working at breakneck speed and she wanted some advice on how to slow it down.

My first reaction to a problem like this is that the handler is allowing the dog to work too far away from them too soon. One of the vital rules of sheepdog training is that the further away from you the dog is working, the less control you have over the dog. Remember, the dog is using a primitive hunting instinct. When you train your dog, you're channelling that instinct into controlled work from the dog, but a trainee dog will usually only respect your control if you're very close. Dogs hunt quite close together in packs, so a dog that finds itself working a good distance from the rest of the pack (that's you) feels it's getting no backup. It will often revert to its hunting instinct, rather than listen to a pack member who's shouting orders from afar.

The dog needs leadership, and particularly in the early stages of its training, it wants its leader to be working alongside it - or at least close by. While on the subject of leadership, often when the dog's not doing what we want or expect, we revert to excitedly shouting at the dog - just at the moment when we should be calm and authoritative. It's hardly surprising the dog doesn't recognise us as its leader if we shout excitedly.

The dog working too fast is caused by two main factors. 1. The novelty of chasing, particularly something which moves quickly or runs away. 2. The fear of being attacked by the "prey". Often when hunting, the predator finds itself being attacked by the prey. Sometimes fatally.

The novelty aspect will reduce as the dog becomes more familiar with being close to sheep (or other livestock), so regular, controlled training will help a great deal but unfortunately, the more quickly and unpredictably the dog moves, the more frightened the sheep will be, so they'll react by making sudden, very fast movements. These result in the dog being still more excited. Somehow, we must break this chain reaction.

If the dog works sensibly close-bye, then the solution is to work the dog calmly, and praise it with a gentle voice when it's working steadily, but stop it the moment it gets excited. The dog will soon learn that it gets a lot more fun (work) if it remains calm.

Stopping the dog and keeping it in place for a few moments, or even up to about half a minute can also help. It teaches the dog that the fun will still be there, even if it pauses for a while.

Of course, if the dog won't stop, even close-bye, you need to concentrate on this issue first. Repeatedly flanking the dog a little way around the sheep and stopping it by blocking it, is the way to drum it into the dog that it must stop on command.

Kay driving sheep into a field
A dog which has the confidence to approach the sheep calmly will find it much easier to control them.

Once you can stop the dog fairly reliably on the far side of the sheep (point of balance), the best all-round exercise we know of to improve the dog's pace, stop and overall control over the sheep is to walk backwards, keeping the dog in place as the sheep follow you (to get away from the dog). When you have a few yards between the dog and the sheep, call the dog up quietly. The instant it begins to rush, stop the dog with a sharp command, then repeat the procedure until the dog follows the sheep at a steady pace. Sometimes the dog will learn this quickly, but other dogs take longer to oblige

The next step is to increase the distance between the dog and the sheep, before you call the dog up. This teaches the dog to control itself and you'll find that most dogs will learn to moderate their speed.

If at any time the dog reverts to tearing around, go back to the very close work again - walking backwards as the dog brings the sheep up to you calmly. Walking Backwards is covered comprehensively in the Sheepdog Training Tutorial entitled "Backwards is the Way Forward" which can be found in the Pace (Slowing) category.

If the dog has a good stop close-bye, but won't stop at the end of its outrun, the outrun was too long. Walk closer to the sheep next time and make sure the dog stops properly when commanded (not twenty paces later). Only then, should you begin to increase the outrun distance again (gradually). Improving the dog's stop is covered in several tutorial videos listed in the "Stopping" category.


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

    We now have 69 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.

New tutorial: The training area

Photo of a sheepdog trainer fastening the field gate, watched by Kay the trainee sheepdog. This is the title image of the training area tutorial

For beginners and beyond

The wide open spaces have their place, but NOT in the early stages of sheepdog training.

For the best chance of success, and to save your legs and temper, keep the dog and sheep contained. We stress, in our training tutorials, that: "The closer you are to the dog, the more control you have," but it's especially important in those vital, early lessons.

First steps in border collie sheepdog training dvd

The size, shape and nature of the training area can make a huge difference to your training experience, and will either help or hinder your dog's progress.

We covered the training area on our First Steps DVD and now, after a few minor changes and with the addition of a subtitled version, the training area chapter can be seen in the tutorial library. "The training area" looks at how to adapt the space you have available and suggests some alternatives, including using sheep hurdles to build a training ring.

Once built, we show you how to get your sheep into the ring and then take a first look at moving out into the field when your dog's ready.

To help you get the best out of your training ring, we recommend you watch "Get off the fence!" where we demonstrate how working inside the ring helps the dog learn to keep the sheep away from the fence or hurdles. Partly confidence and partly technique, this is an important skill for your dog to master before it can work successfully in an open field (although it's almost impossible to train in any situation when the sheep are pressed tight against the fence).

Don't dismantle the training ring once you start to make progress. Even as your dog becomes more advanced you'll often find it helpful to go back to the ring for a session or two, either to reinforce the commands or perhaps restore some confidence to the dog. If you watch "Teach your dog to circle the sheep (inside flanks) part two" you'll also see how useful the ring can be for introducing more advanced work.

Having covered sheep, dog, and training area, the final part of the equation is the handler - coming soon.

NB: Tutorials are available to paid subscribers who are logged in to their account.

You'll find more information about our sheepdog training tutorials in the video below.


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

    We now have 69 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.

The Sheepdog Whistle. Tune-in With Our Training Tutorials!

How to teach your herding dog to work on whistle commands

Watch the "Sheepdog Whistle" tutorials to get your dog moving

There are some common misconceptions about whistles and sheepdogs. The first, and very common, is that you must have a shepherd's whistle to train and work a sheepdog - you don't. If you have only a few sheep, and a relatively small area in which to keep and work them, you might never need to use a whistle at all.

Cover image of our sheepdog whistle tutorial, showing a typical whistle, and the title

Dogs' hearing is far better than ours, and although your dog might appear not to hear you on occasions (mentioning no names - KAY) unless you're working over 150 metres away, or shouting into a strong wind, the chances are that your dog's perfectly aware of your commands.

An important part of basic training is to use a soft voice to tell the dog you're pleased when it's working well, and a sharper voice to let the dog know you're not pleased when it's working badly. It's extremely difficult to express how you feel, by blowing a whistle!

Secondly, less common but still surprisingly frequent, is the belief that, in some spooky way, a collie is "wired" to understand and obey a whistle without any training. I can only imagine that this was born out of watching "One Man and His Dog" on TV. Of course the huge majority of sheepdog triallers, even at Nursery level, use a whistle, but the whistle commands have to be taught just as do any other commands in any other discipline.

Thirdly, that it's a challenge to blow a sheepdog whistle, but it's not challenging, exactly, any more than playing the trumpet is challenging. Blowing a sheepdog whistle simply involves learning a technique and then practising - far away from your dogs and your loved ones.

The final, fourth, misconception is that teaching whistle commands to your dog is difficult, but there's no reason why teaching whistle commands should be any more difficult than teaching voice commands.

Andy prepares to work sheepdog Bronwen on whistle commands

For anyone who's contemplating using a sheepdog whistle, and doesn't know where to start, or who's hoping to train whistle commands to their dog, we have two tutorials in the Online Training Tutorials library that will be a huge help. In "The Sheepdog Whistle" Andy demonstrates a tried and tested technique to get you blowing your whistle in minutes.

Once you can make a sound, any sound, you'll find you quickly improve and can begin to invent your own whistle commands (or copy someone else's, of course). This tutorial's had lots of positive feedback from people who've finally discovered the key to their whistle - sometimes after years of trying and failing.

"Teach Your Dog Whistle Commands" shows you that it'll be harder to learn to blow your whistle than to teach the commands to your dog. Andy explains two methods of teaching the commands so you can pick whichever seems more natural to you. "Teach Your Dog Whistle Commands" has been greatly revised since it first appeared in the online tutorials library. It now includes a training session where Andy teaches Bronwen to work on whistle commands.

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

    We now have 69 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.

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 much eye? There’s a tutorial for that!

Closeup photo of a black and white rough coated sheepdog staring intensely at something. This can be a sign that the dog has what's known as too much eye

Watch the "Sticky Dogs" tutorial to get your dog moving

Some years ago I kept my first training sheep in a small paddock behind a large country house. Sometimes the children of the house would come out to watch my efforts, and shout their approval from the sidelines. They also frequently dismantled my hurdle ring, despite my requests that they didn’t, to make a “tent town”. I confess I wasn’t always very welcoming.

Sheepdog and handler standing at the entrance to the trials field
Nice stick - be careful where you leave it.

However, one afternoon I pulled into the drive and the children gathered around me, looking very grave. Apparently they’d “been out to check the sheep for you” and found something sticky in the hedge.

I pulled on my wellies and tried to make sense of what I was being told. The oldest child, a boy, took charge of the situation, sensing that his sisters were failing to do justice to the discovery. “It IS sticky,” he stressed, making an extravagant gesture with his arms, “And it’s brown…and there’s a tooth on it!” he announced. What fresh Hell was this? I prepared myself for the vet’s bill.

It was my shepherd’s crook, left stuck in the hedge where I’d left it the previous evening. I had to admit it WAS sticky, inasmuch as it was like a stick, and it WAS brown, but it didn’t have a tooth - it was a horn.

So when anyone describes their dog as sticky having too much eye isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind. But that’s my problem.

When an inexperienced handler realises they have a dog with eye it’s usually having too much eye that’s the problem. The dog might have a stop to die for, but won’t get up again; or you try to send it to gather from a few yards - and it just stares, and won’t leave your legs. This is a sticky dog.

Eye has its place.

Carew at work with sheep

Eye is said to be a unique feature of collies, allowing them to move even stubborn livestock with a penetrating stare and an attitude. We have mixed feelings about eye. Whilst strong-eyed dogs, slinking about with their chins at ground level, look jaw-droppingly gorgeous, a dog that works with confidence, with its head high and showing no eye whatsoever, can be a stronger worker, even if it wouldn’t win any points for artistic merit.

A dog whose strong eye makes it difficult to move often gives the impression of being afraid, and sheep are quick to assess this.

Whatever the arguments one way or another, if you find yourself with a sticky dog you need to get it moving smoothly around the sheep before you can hope to make any progress. Happily, we have a tutorial to help you do just this. Watch “Sticky Dogs!”

Cover image for the Sticky Dogs tutorial

In “Sticky Dogs!” Andy works with a lovely little bitch, Mab. Mab was late to take an interest in sheep, and when she did she clearly showed a lot of eye and worked in the typical stop-start manner.

In our tutorial Andy shows that with an assertive, but kind and encouraging, approach Mab learned to work fluently. The emphasis is always on movement - and sometimes it’s the trainer who has to do the moving.

Once you’re making progress watch our “Backwards is the way forward” and “Back to forwards” tutorials for a simple exercise that reaps huge benefits for any young dog. The walking backwards exercise teaches balance, sheep control, working distance, reinforces the flanking and stop commands, and, vitally, keeps the dog moving.

We recommend that you watch a couple of times before you put the technique into practice, and then watch again after you’ve tried it with your own dog, when it will mean so much more.

So don’t worry, finding you have something sticky doesn’t have to be bad news.

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

    We now have 69 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.

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 69 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.