Happy sheepdog, happy shepherd & vice versa

Smooth coated, but no smooth operator, Max will be the focus of our next tutorial.

Smooth coated border collie sheepdog
What a sweetie! But when Max first joined us, this was his natural expression

In 2011 we bought a dog who’s since become famous (or infamous) in our household. We expected Max to be a problem, that was why we chose him, but he tested our resolve on more than one occasion!

We know, from our training days as well as from the emails and telephone calls we receive, that sheepdogs who grip are a big worry to their handlers, especially to a novice handler who can find it difficult to cope on their own.

Sheepdog attacking a sheep
Max was very quick to attack any sheep he could get his teeth into

We also know that a gripping dog is often interpreted as a strong dog, but in our experience a dog who grips is often quite worried about working sheep, and is taking a “get in first” approach that is neither strong nor confident.

Max confirmed our hunch, but we didn’t expect how much happier, in all areas of his life, Max became as his behaviour and training progressed. He became a quieter, more confident worker too, with no loss of power over the sheep.

Black and white smooth coated border collie sheepdog
Six months later & Max was taking his place amongst the workers, with a flair for cattle

Here (I think) we have the photographic proof that a confident dog, who understands and enjoys his work, is a happy dog. Max was always a delight away from sheep and, to me, was already beautiful, but I hope you can recognise the difference in these Before and After portraits, taken 6 months apart.

Look out for Max’s “gripping” tutorial in the next day or two.


  1. Hello Andy and Gill
    Sorry if this is in the wrong topic but i made a pen for training my 11 month old collie and was wondering if 30 ft is a good enough size of a pen to start with?

    1. It sounds very small to me, James. Our pens are about 16 metres across – that’s over fifty feet!
      Remember, the dog will be using its hunting instinct. The smaller the pen, the more the dog will feel as though it’s trapped in there with its prey, so the dog will be frightened. This fear can lead to the dog being aggressive with the sheep. At least it’s likely to be erratic in its behaviour, and it’ll be more difficult to train.
      In some cases the fear may lead to the dog not wanting anything to do with the sheep (although this is not so likely) unless you know how to encourage it.
      I strongly recommend you make the pen bigger – if you’re using panels or fencing and you don’t want to buy any more, why not utilise a nearby wall, hedge or fence as part of the ring?
      A larger pen allows you to train the dog to go out wider and give the sheep some space – making it much more likely to control the sheep when you take the sheep out into the open field.

      1. Thanks for your reply Andy. I can encourage him easily, and he is mad for work. Although he is gripping which I am weary of but I seem to have him controlled now. I have your dvd of first step of training which is very informative of anything that a pup could/does when starting out

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