QUESTION: We have an eight year old border collie and now live on a smallholding where we will soon get our first flock of sheep. Will it be possible to train the dog to work sheep?
ANSWER: In theory, you can train any dog which has the necessary instinct for herding – but there are several factors which can complicate the training an older dog.
Basically, when dogs work sheep, they are using a hunting instinct which all dogs have – to a greater or lesser extent.
If the dog is from parents which worked sheep, cattle or other livestock, that should help but (being creatures of habit) the longer the dog goes without working stock, the more likely it is that its hunting instinct will go dormant. If the dog takes an interest in sheep, it can be a sign that the instinct is still alive. (If you get the feeling it’s fascinated by them, or wants to get at them). Don’t confuse this with the dog chasing toys, cars (please no) or other pets. These MAY be signs that the dog will work, but not necessarily.
Generally speaking, the older the dog is, the slower it will be to learn new things. The dog will be more ’set in its ways’.
If the hunting instinct is dormant, it can take longer to re-awaken it – and unfortunately, if the dog becomes aggressive with the sheep once the hunting instinct ‘kicks-in’, it can mean it’s harder to stop the dog’s aggression.
Having said that, I have trained several older dogs, often very successfully. I remember years ago when I used to run sheepdog training classes here, a woman brought a ten year old dog, and we spent much of the day trying to get it interested in working – then suddenly, late in the afternoon, the dog began working as though it had been doing it all its life! (Quite amazing).
I suggest you try it and see, but beware. When I talk of a hunting instinct, I really mean it. Sometimes, even the best trained, most obedient dogs become totally uncontrollable when first confronted with sheep. This can be shocking, upsetting and distressing for the owner. You may be lucky, I hope it doesn’t happen to you, but it does happen.
Of course, the welfare of the sheep must be paramount here. Don’t allow your dog to harm or unduly stress sheep or livestock.
You may be aware that we have Online Sheepdog Training Tutorials which may be ideal for you. If you take out monthly or a one year membership, I would recommend you watch them in the order they appear when you login to your account. That way you will get a clearer picture of how the dog works, and what to expect, how the sheep work, and how to go about training.
Sheepdog training is TOTALLY different to any other form of dog training, so you’re in for quite a learning curve if your dog shows an interest.
We have two Sheepdog Training Tutorials on how to awaken the dog’s hunting instinct if it’s dormant – and much more which will help you. Members can also leave questions below each tutorial and we do our best to reply within a day or so.
If you subscribe to the tutorials and decide you’ve had enough, cancelling your payments is very simple. The cancellation link is at the top of the Welcome Page which you go to when you login to your account.
This post is one of our Sheepdog Training FAQs
Click here for the full list of frequently asked questions.
Clear, inexpensive, sheep and cattle dog training instruction
Over 70 clearly explained, easy to follow sheep and cattle dog training videos for first time sheepdog trainers, farmers, and shepherds. Watch the preview here!
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.