Too much eye? There’s a tutorial for that!

Watch the "Sticky Dogs" tutorial to get your dog moving

Some years ago I kept my first training sheep in a small paddock behind a large country house. Sometimes the children of the house would come out to watch my efforts, and shout their approval from the sidelines. They also frequently dismantled my hurdle ring, despite my requests that they didn’t, to make a “tent town”. I confess I wasn’t always very welcoming.

Sheepdog and handler standing at the entrance to the trials field
Nice stick - be careful where you leave it.

However, one afternoon I pulled into the drive and the children gathered around me, looking very grave. Apparently they’d “been out to check the sheep for you” and found something sticky in the hedge.

I pulled on my wellies and tried to make sense of what I was being told. The oldest child, a boy, took charge of the situation, sensing that his sisters were failing to do justice to the discovery. “It IS sticky,” he stressed, making an extravagant gesture with his arms, “And it’s brown…and there’s a tooth on it!” he announced. What fresh Hell was this? I prepared myself for the vet’s bill.

It was my shepherd’s crook, left stuck in the hedge where I’d left it the previous evening. I had to admit it WAS sticky, inasmuch as it was like a stick, and it WAS brown, but it didn’t have a tooth - it was a horn.

So when anyone describes their dog as sticky having too much eye isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind. But that’s my problem.

When an inexperienced handler realises they have a dog with eye it’s usually having too much eye that’s the problem. The dog might have a stop to die for, but won’t get up again; or you try to send it to gather from a few yards - and it just stares, and won’t leave your legs. This is a sticky dog.

Eye has its place.

Carew at work with sheep

Eye is said to be a unique feature of collies, allowing them to move even stubborn livestock with a penetrating stare and an attitude. We have mixed feelings about eye. Whilst strong-eyed dogs, slinking about with their chins at ground level, look jaw-droppingly gorgeous, a dog that works with confidence, with its head high and showing no eye whatsoever, can be a stronger worker, even if it wouldn’t win any points for artistic merit.

A dog whose strong eye makes it difficult to move often gives the impression of being afraid, and sheep are quick to assess this.

Whatever the arguments one way or another, if you find yourself with a sticky dog you need to get it moving smoothly around the sheep before you can hope to make any progress. Happily, we have a tutorial to help you do just this. Watch “Sticky Dogs!”

Cover image for the Sticky Dogs tutorial

In “Sticky Dogs!” Andy works with a lovely little bitch, Mab. Mab was late to take an interest in sheep, and when she did she clearly showed a lot of eye and worked in the typical stop-start manner.

In our tutorial Andy shows that with an assertive, but kind and encouraging, approach Mab learned to work fluently. The emphasis is always on movement - and sometimes it’s the trainer who has to do the moving.

Once you’re making progress watch our “Backwards is the way forward” and “Back to forwards” tutorials for a simple exercise that reaps huge benefits for any young dog. The walking backwards exercise teaches balance, sheep control, working distance, reinforces the flanking and stop commands, and, vitally, keeps the dog moving.

We recommend that you watch a couple of times before you put the technique into practice, and then watch again after you’ve tried it with your own dog, when it will mean so much more.

So don’t worry, finding you have something sticky doesn’t have to be bad news.

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3 Replies to “Too much eye? There’s a tutorial for that!”

  1. Hello Andy,
    very good article.
    I have 2 dogs, both totally different. Everybody loves my pup (13 months old) with a very strong eye, but my older dog is more ‘plain eyed’. She never has trouble to move stock, even stubborn cattle, whereas the younger one sometimes can’t shift stock. Therefore, I really admire my older dog for her ability to move everything and she gets on with the job, whereas the younger one takes her time and sometimes does not succeed . But she is still young and I am hoping that with age and the right training she will be just as good as my other one :-)

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