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.


Featured tutorials – Bronwen and Scylla

Close up photo of Bronwen in a grassy field

A tutorial series that demonstrates the differences in young dogs.

We took two puppies, Bronwen and Scylla, from a litter and thought we knew what to expect: we assumed their work would be similar to their parents' and that Bronwen and Scylla would be similar to each other. How wrong we were! Both girls developed into keen and useful sheepdogs, but their differing personalities, strengths and, yes, weaknesses, meant they each needed a different approach.

If you're training a young dog and are confused by its progress (or lack of progress), we recommend you watch the "Bronwen & Scylla" series of tutorials. Our intention was always the same - to have the dog flanking nicely around the sheep, keeping them together and not chasing them away, and then stopping when we ask. Because Bronwen and her sister were so different, you'll see that achieving our aims was sometimes hard and seemingly thankless work (Scylla) and sometimes gratifyingly easy (Bronwen).

Usually, it was somewhere in between!

Victor and Scylla love to share the same bedroom
Scylla (right) always enjoyed the company of other dogs

Tutorial One looks at early training, and the importance of supervising your puppy's early experiences with sheep. And does the temperament of your puppy give you any clues as to what sort of worker it will make? (Spoiler alert - we think so!)

Tutorial Two shows our techniques to prevent a young dog from developing the habit of gripping, and what to do when we're too late. We also look at early lessons in stopping; gathering; dealing with one-sidedness; and the tricky but essential issue of getting the dog between the sheep and the fence.

Plus a miscalculation shows why a small space and just a few sheep offer the best chance of early success.

Tutorial Three - reading your dog's tail (Bronwen and Scylla's tails tell very different stories); keeping the lessons short, and how to turn flanking practice into the first outruns.

Tutorial Four - getting a lesson off to a good start; learn to differentiate between confusion and disobedience; an easy walking exercise that builds confidence and fluency. Particularly important with Scylla's training - even when it feels as though nothing's going right try to recognise an improvement, and take heart.

Bronwen became a valued and trusted member of the team

Tutorial Five - we're over-ambitious with our new sheep, but it demonstrates the difference between using dogged and undogged sheep when you're training.We also see why the dog needs to learn to work in different circumstances, as Bronwen and Scylla both find their new neighbours very distracting.

Tutorial Six introduces the Look Back as we try to work the dogs outside the ring - with mixed results (naturally).

Tutorial Seven focuses on Bronwen's problem of flanking far too wide from the sheep, and losing contact with them.

We like to use practical tasks to make training more interesting for the dog, and for us, and hopefully Bronwen will learn that to get the job done she mustn't lose control of her sheep.

Tutorial Eight of our training comparison focuses on Scylla and points out the areas of her work which deserve praise and encouragement, as well as those which are still a long way below par.

Sometimes our best efforts are thwarted, and sometimes we get it wrong, but we take these opportunities to show you there's something to learn from every session - and not always learned by the dog!

NB: Tutorials are available to paid subscribers who are logged into their account. Paid subscribers may also submit short videos of their own training sessions for evaluation and advice. Please contact us for details.


Featured tutorials – My Dog’s No Good, and No Excuses Please!

Smooth coated border collie puppy Boz

Sheepdog training - with a little help from Johnny Mercer?

Take a look at two complementary short tutorials, My Dog's No Good and No Excuses Please!

My Dog's No Good warns against falling into the trap of believing your dog will never make a good sheepdog. So long as it's fit, healthy and keen, the only thing preventing your dog from achieving its potential is YOU! So if anyone tells you, "Your dog's no good!" you probably need to reassess your training technique. And don't be downhearted if your dog isn't progressing as quickly as people tell you it should: every dog and handler combination is unique.

No Excuses Please! takes a different angle - the risks of allowing your dog to perform poorly, either because it's easier to "just let him get on with it" or because you simply haven't noticed. Be realistic, but always aim for accuracy and constant improvement. The more times your dog is allowed to work badly, the more confident your dog will become that:"This is how we do it!"

So, what advice does Johnny Mercer have for sheepdog trainers?

"You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between."

NB: Tutorials are available to paid subscribers who are logged into their account. Paid subscribers may also submit short videos of their own training sessions for evaluation and advice. Please contact us for details.


Featured tutorial – Tess in the Open Field

Watching a real training session will show you the theory put into practice.

An over-excited and strong-willed Tess first appeared in our Starting a Strong Dog tutorial. In Tess in the Open Field she's made great progress, and has proved she's capable of working to a high standard, but Tess is still young and sheer novelty and enthusiasm makes her inconsistent.

In Tess in the Open Field you'll see the techniques we use to improve the dog's flanks and outrun, and to introduce the concept of driving, used in real-time in an actual training session. As you'd expect, Tess doesn't always get it right (for one reason or another) but she's making progress.

Watching an unedited training session is the next best thing to watching a session of your own. You'll see the theory of the tutorials actually put into practice, and it will help you understand what your dog's doing, and why, and how you can put it right.

If you recognise your own dog in this tutorial take heart - after a trying start, Tess developed into a useful and stylish sheep dog.

NB: Tutorials are available to paid subscribers who are logged into their account, and paid subscribers are also invited to submit short videos of their own training sessions for evaluation and advice. Please contact us for more details.


Special offer for one-year subscriptions

New subscriptions will be valid for up to 14 months.

A one-off 12 month subscription to our online training tutorials will make a super gift for anyone who's training, or is thinking of training, a sheepdog.

New one-year subscriptions, paid during November and December, will be valid until 1st January 2021 - it means that, regardless of when you buy, you can be sure your recipient will get a full 12 months' benefit.

It doesn't have to be a gift. Buy a year's subscription for yourself and take advantage of two extra months!

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.