Sheep Dog Training

australian sheep dog stevendepolo flickr

Many breeds are accustomed and bred to support the herding sheep and cattle. Many will be familiar with the these dog breeds that are known as working dogs. If you want to teach a dog to learn the basics of herding, driving and penning, then you need to consider various aspects of dog training.

The Basics of Sheep Dog Training

No matter whether you want to train a dog for obedience, show ring or for herding, you need to get your dog to do the basics from a puppy. Begin by training your dog to heel so that he walks close to your side. If your dog walks ahead of you, then you need to check him and draw him back to heel. If your puppy keeps going ahead of you, then get him to sit frequently. As with all pups, do short training sessions only lasting about ten minutes a day, building up over time to two ten minute training sessions per day, then increase the time to twenty minutes. You will be guided by how attentive your pup is. It is also worth teaching your dog to lie down and stay, as these will be useful commands later on. Always praise your puppy when he is doing something that you want and ignore behaviour that you do not want. Repeat your dog’s name, then the command. Next, you will want to have your dog to lie down, stay down and walk away from him, increasing the time away from him each time. If he gets up, return him to the desired position, get him to lie down and tell him to stay.

sheep and dog - Sam Beebe Ecotrust - flickr dog and sheep - BotheredByBees - flickr dog and lamb - kiwinz - flickr

Mastering the Sheep Dog’s Herding Instinct

Sheep can be a bit awkward to begin with training your pup to herd them. Many people try to herd ducks, especially if they have them on the farm, as they are much easier to work with. Trim some of the duck’s wing feathers so that they cannot fly away. Your pup would be keen to chase the ducks as this is a natural instinct too. However, if you keep the ducks in a pen, you can walk around the pen trying to keep your dog’s attention, and get him to lie down frequently as you work to control his urges to go after your ducks. Border collies and other dogs that have been bred to herd sheep will want to line the birds up between you and them. Two other commands that you will need to teach are about the movement of your dog to the left and right. If you watch shepherds, they will use terms such as come by to go left and way to me to go right. Guiding the ducks, you can align the commands to the direction that the dog travels while keeping him on a long lead.

Getting Your Sheep Dog to Outrun

The process of the outrun is to get your dog to go behind the herd. The dog should approach the herd and move around it one way to get behind them. This will be a combination of working your dog’s left and right commands along with lying down and staying in place.

lambs and sheep dogs - NatalieMaynor - Flickr dog and flock - donjd2 - flickr border collie - Hitchster - flickr

Getting Your Sheep Dog Accustomed to Sheep

While you have been working with ducks, you should also try to get your sheep dog accustomed to sheep. Sheep can be quite bullish around dogs, especially pups and try chasing them or butting them. Do not let your pup get too close to the flock to begin with or only have your dog near two or three sheep in a pen or field to begin with. If you know your flock, you may want to choose the most docile members of the flock to work with. You will also want room to allow your dog and sheep to move around. The commands are the same. You might have to keep repeating commands and working with the sheep often, as they can be awkward. You need to be watching your dog for behaviours that are not appropriate such as nipping at the sheep’s hocks. With practice, your sheep dog will be able to manoeuvre the sheep around the field to where you want them.

Other Herding Tips for Your Sheep Dog

When driving sheep around, you may want to move them away from you before bringing them in to you. Some dogs struggle with this, as they naturally want to herd the flock back to you. You may want the sheep to be settled in one location or you may want to split one sheep from the flock. You may also work more than one part of the flock in the field or deal with a stray member of the flock. Really, managing these situations comes with practise and using a range of the commands that you have been working on.

Training Your Sheep Dog Do’s and Don’ts

Patience is something that you will need at your disposal. If you are not good at being patient and doing repetitive commands and actions, then perhaps training a sheep dog is not for you. There are many shepherds who can provide you with advice. If you feel that you need support, then you should consider some professional training to support your work so that you do not allow bad habits to creep into your training. For many, a sheep dog is a working dog and not a pet, so he will have his own kennel and run placed outside when he is not working sheep. You should design the run so that your dog cannot see any sheep so that he does not get too worked up. Work your dog each day and encourage time among sheep. Remember that your dog will need the best nutrition to remain healthy and alert, so do not skimp on his food and make sure he is getting sufficient calories for his energetic sessions with you in the field. Keep the dog kennel and run area clean and tidy. If your dog loses interest in what he is doing during a session, then take him back to his kennel. Lastly, never beat or abuse your dog if he does wrong – you can say “no” in a firm voice, but you should focus on positive behaviour and praise him when he does well.
With positive encouragement, your dog will react well to training and you will soon have a sheep dog to be proud of working. Enjoy working with your dog and remember that it takes time and patience to achieve results.

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