Basic Requirements for Sheepdog Training.
There are a few basic requirements you'll need to attend to if you wish to train a sheepdog. Apart from the dog, you'll need something for it to work with. Sheep, ducks or cattle are the usual animals to start your dog with, but all manner of other animals including goats, geese and turkeys are commonplace.
You may be interested to know that we produced our own sheepdog training DVD called
"First Steps in Border Collie Sheepdog Training" aimed specifically at beginners who want to learn how to train a sheepdog. The (2x) DVD set is different to others because it shows things going wrong (sometimes badly wrong) and then shows you how to put them right. It also spends time explaining how and why sheepdogs herd sheep and there's advice on choosing the best kind of sheep and which to avoid if possible.
The most important attribute a dog trainer can have is Patience.
The next: Determination.
If you want to train a border collie to work sheep, you should understand that it's a long term project and put aside any desire for instant gratification and results. Having said that, every dog is an individual and sometimes, a dog's progress can be meteoric.
If every dog is an individual, then just as with humans, some are sensitive and some are hard. A working border collie can be a tough cookie - to train one, you sometimes have to be even tougher!
Before you can properly train your first sheepdog, you should have some knowledge of the way their minds work and be prepared to take the blame for nearly everything that goes wrong because it will, in all probability, be your fault.
It's quite rare for a dog to be deliberately disobedient - more usually, they simply don't understand what we want them to do, so their instinct takes over.
A Working Border Collie Can Be A Tough Cookie!
To train one, sometimes you need to be even tougher!
There may be times when your dog ignores your commands and you would be justified in thinking he's just being disobedient - but the reason he's ignoring you is because he's not sufficiently bonded with you yet. He doesn't respect you sufficiently.
Work on gaining his total respect before anything else. It's up to you to demonstrate that by doing as you say, the job will be more efficient. And pleasurable for all concerned. This can take an awful lot of patience and understanding with some dogs be quite a quick process with others.
Some time ago, some neighbours stopped to watch a training session and asked me how I could get the dog to work so well and for so long without giving it some praise or reward. I know little of training other breeds but in the case of Border Collie Sheepdogs, the greatest rewards you can give are:
- To allow the dog to work or continue working.
- Show the dog you're pleased with its work by the using the tone of your voice when giving commands
- Verbally praising the dog when it's working well, with an enthusiastic, gentle voice.
My first dog Dot is a classic example. Like most working Border Collies, she was desperate to work sheep and responded well to praise. At home, she craved attention - desperate to be held or stroked - when there were no sheep around.
When she was working, Dot would immediately obey the "that'll do" command - and come racing back to me with the most joyful of expressions. In the early stages of Dot's training I encouraged this immediate response by crouching down and stretching my arms wide to welcome her whilst calling "that'll do" enthusiastically.
Quickly I realised she wasn't racing back for the congratulatory hug I had in mind for her! Inches before we made contact, she'd spin around and face the sheep again (completely ignoring me until I gave a command for her to work again).
Dot came racing back enthusiastically because once I'd called her off, it was her best chance of continuing to work the sheep! Dot flew to the USA in December 2003 where she worked on a cattle ranch.
Dogs need to be corrected during their training but it's important to note that just as we humans hate being bellowed at all the time, so does a dog - and just as we're more likely to be cooperative if we're instructed in a civil tone, so's our canine friend. (I wish I could remember this more often, myself)!
To train a sheepdog from a puppy is a long process and will take you through various stages from euphoria to utter despair. Sometimes, you'll think your dog can read your mind and at others, you'll feel utterly humiliated and think the dog's forgotten everything you taught it. You must be prepared for this (just like us) and remember that the bad times will become fewer if you believe in your dog and yourself. When you hear someone say: "I had to get rid of Fido - just couldn't stop him (doing this, that or the other)". What really happened is that they couldn't work out the reason Fido was behaving the way he was.
If you think carefully about your dog's behaviour, you can normally find a way to correct faults. It'll take time and patience but it can be done. Trials winners are the trainers who are best at this and of course, the clever trainers are the ones who can choose a young dog which is likely to have the least number of problems. I believe that almost any young Border Collie can make a useful sheepdog - in fact to test this theory, I advertised on our website for young Border Collies that people needed to rehome.
Whenever the advert appeared, the telephone didn't stop ringing - and over a year or so, we took on ten of these "rescues". If I remember correctly, I only turned one away from our gate (he bit me while I was talking to his owners).
I mention that because every one of those "rescues" became a sheepdog that I would take with me to get the sheep back in.
Some were certainly a lot better than others, but I'd have taken any of them to get my sheep in if I had no other dog. Having said that though, some of the ten dogs had big problems (not of their own making) which I had to overcome. If you start off with a young dog which is from good working stock, you're likely to find training a lot easier.