New Tutorial: Starting a Non-Starter!

A TWO-PART tutorial on how you can tempt your dog to start working sheep or cattle when it really doesn't want to!

Can anything be done if your collie isn't interested?
The short answer is "Yes!" and understanding the possible reasons why the dog won't work is a huge help to finding the cure.

It's very disappointing to find that your dog doesn't seem to want to work sheep or cattle, but it doesn't necessarily mean you won't be able to change its mind. As with most aspects of training dogs to work stock, if you understand what's happening and why, there's a much better chance of putting things right.

Photo of Slawek with Kay who didn't want to work sheep but then went on to win a sheepdog trial
Slawek's Kay wasn't at all interested in working sheep but went on to win a sheepdog trial within a year!

Our latest tutorial, Starting a Non-Starter, looks at how the hunting instinct gives us a working dog, and how that very instinct may be the reason why some dogs would rather not get involved.

On the other hand, by simulating a hunting situation we can trigger the instinct and, once that's done, you're on your way to a useful sheepdog. Simple, isn't it?

Starting a Non-Starter will not only help you get your non-starter started, it will also help you avoid the situation arising in the first place. Once you're aware of how collies learn you'll see how, despite your best intentions, what they learn isn't always what you thought you were teaching.

Collies take things literally, and that's both an advantage and disadvantage when it comes to training.

If your young dog doesn't want to work, the two-part Starting a Non-Starter is the place to start.

Follow this by watching Starting a Reluctant Dog, where we see Maisie overcoming her initial inhibitions to begin to work fluently around the sheep. Calm but Firm demonstrates the next step, working with a sensitive dog in the open field - not always as straightforward as you might hope.

2 Replies to “New Tutorial: Starting a Non-Starter!”

  1. Hello Andy and Gill,
    I’m in a bit of a standstill with one of my young dogs and I can’t seem to figure out how to fix the problem. I’m training two young bitches out of the same litter. They are now going on almost 2 yrs. old. One will work and outrun fine, however the other will do a beautiful outrun maybe two times, balance stock after the outrun, but if I set up for one more…she quits working, runs to the gate, and refuses to come back to work. I have tried all avenues of interest for her, and my sheep are quite light (Cheviot) when it comes to type. She will quit as though she is done for the day. Then if I work her the next day, she works fine for 2 or 3 outruns, then the same thing. I have tried giving her some time off, with no improvement. I have increased her training time with no improvement as well. Her health is excellent, so there is no physical problems. I just can’t figure it out. I have tried all that my trialing friends and mentors have suggested, but with no improvement. I don’t ask her to do more than she can handle, so I don’t think it is too much pressure or challenge for her. Any suggestions would be very much appreciated! Thanks Scott L.

    1. First, my apologies for not replying sooner, Scott. When I get a tricky question, I sometimes think about it for a day or so, but this one has completely slipped my mind.
      Two from the same litter is rarely a good idea. We don’t sell two pups to one home unless we’re convinced the owners know how to cope with litter-mates.
      They tend to “bond” with each other rather than with the handler unless you make a point of giving them a lot of one-on-one time – and it’s not a good idea to house litter-mates together. I’d hazard a guess that this lies at the heart of your problem. If the dogs spend most of their time together, one of them will be dominant over the other – and I’d guess the passive one is the one we’re talking about here (but that is just a guess).
      I suggest you give the dog different tasks after each outrun rather than just sending it off again. Try putting the sheep into a yard or enclosure, then getting them out again, and if the sheep run off, send her to gather them.
      It sounds to me as though the dog is bored. I’ve heard of similar behaviour with dogs that will retrieve a ball. After bringing it back a couple of times, they ignore it if you throw it again, as though the dog’s thinking, “I’ve brought it back twice for you, if you want it back again, go and get it yourself”.
      Flightier” sheep might be an answer. If the sheep run about, or are tricky to control, that can keep the dog’s interest far better than very placid sheep.
      It would be great to hear from you again whether you have resolved the situation or not – and apologies once more for the delay in replying.

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