FAQ – Stop at the top of the outrun without command?

QUESTION: Should my trainee sheepdog stop at the top of its outrun without a command from me?

ANSWER: It’s nice to think the young dog will stop at the top of its outrun without a command, and indeed, it sometimes happens. But I’m inclined to think the dog is likely to be stopping because its confidence is flagging, rather than wanting to do things perfectly!

The top of the outrun
A long way from the pack! This dog has reached the end of its outrun at Worcester Sheepdog Trials (Mar 2004). The dog will now take the sheep down the field towards the tents and vehicles in the background.

Nice though it might be to see the dog stop at the end of its outrun, for perfection, the dog would slow right down as it approaches the point of balance, then turn confidently but steadily towards the sheep – ‘lifting‘ them very gently (without upsetting them) and bringing them down the field towards me, at a steady pace.

Don’t expect a trainee sheepdog to do this though – it’s highly advanced and rarely happens in practice!

Remember, the farther away from the handler the (trainee) dog is working, the less control the handler has over it. This is because dogs like to work in a pack, and being out on a long outrun means the dog is completely on its own with no support from the pack (in this case the handler).

So an interesting test of this might be sending the dog on a much shorter outrun and seeing whether it stops by itself or not. I doubt it.

Most trainee dogs can’t wait to bring the sheep closer to the handler when they’re at the end of their outrun. For this reason, it’s more usual for them to be very hard to stop – especially when the trial is somewhere new to them.

In sheepdog trials, if the handler gives a single stop command at the end of the dog’s outrun, there’s no penalty, so obviously it’s expected in the sheepdog trials world (unlike any commands given during the outrun itself. These are penalised). More than one stop command will be penalised though!

There are two chapters on preparing your dog for sheepdog trials, in our tutorials library. (Paid membership required to watch the videos).

This post is one of our Sheepdog Training FAQs
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