Sheepdog Training 25 – The Dog’s First Encounter With Sheep

Taking your dog to sheep for the first time.

Young sheepdog showing control of sheep

When you take your dog to sheep for the first time, remember he'll only have a very short attention span - sometimes just a few seconds but more usually a few minutes.

If the dog runs around the sheep for a little while and then walks or runs away to do something else (often eating sheep droppings) it's a fairly reliable sign that he's tired or bored. Try to get his attention back on the sheep but don't persist. Better to stop the session for a while - maybe an hour or until the next day.

It's probably safest for novice handlers to teach the dog to lie down before they take it to the sheep. This does not mean that the dog will lie down at this time - it's highly unlikely that it will - but it should respond more quickly to 'lie down' if it know what you mean. Some trainers argue that teaching a dog to lie down before you take it to the sheep can teach it to focus its attention on you rather than the sheep. If I found my dog was more interested in me than the sheep, I'd get another dog.

If you take a novice dog to sheep and simply let him go, he'll respond to them in one of several ways. Some just lie down and stare but more usually, the dog will run towards the sheep and either straight through them or start to circle them. In the case of the dog remaining motionless and staring at the sheep, you'll need to run around them yourself. The movement of the sheep should eventually stir the dog into action.

After a little while, the dog reacts according to the way the sheep and handler move - so by positioning yourself carefully, you can have a great influence on the dog's next movement. By anticipating which way your dog and the sheep will move and giving the appropriate command at the right time, you'll encourage the dog to move in a certain way when you tell it to. What you should be doing is using the position of your body together with commands to help the dog control the sheep.

As a novice, you'll be surprised how your dog moves and even more surprised at the way in which the sheep move. An ideal way to learn how sheep will react to where you put your dog is to drive them yourself. This is only really practical in a fairly confined space but if you're able to practice driving sheep around (alone) you'll gain a wealth of valuable experience to help with dog training and especially handling.

A yard or very small paddock is ideal for the task. Once you have the sheep in it, you simply decide where you want the sheep to go and try to drive them there. Not as easy as it sounds I can assure you!

If you don't have anywhere suitable to practice this, you may be able to help a local farmer when he's moving his sheep. If not, study every sheepdog video you can, taking careful note of the reaction of the sheep to the dog and handler.

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