Sheepdog Training 01 – How to Train a Sheepdog

A Beginners' Guide to Training a Dog to Herd Sheep

WARNING! Long Document - First uploaded Feb 8th 2003 - revised Feb 2nd 2016

Sheep taking shelter under the branches of an overgrown hedge
Sheep will use cover like this to shelter from a dog. The space under this hedge is a lot higher than the one Dot's sheep went under!

Introduction

There are over thirty pages to this article. Use the "NEXT" buttons at the bottom of every page to move forward, or use "CONTENTS" to return to this list.

Struggling on our hands and knees in the base of a very overgrown hedge one day, it occurred to Gillian and me that there ought to be more information for beginners to sheepdog training and handling.

We were vainly attempting to extract some Texel-cross ewes which had taken refuge by firmly wedging themselves among the thorny branches and were stubbornly refusing to come out and be worked. Who could blame them? Our over-zealous trainee dog Dot, had been giving them a hard time, and they'd had more than enough of it.

The last straw came when, trying to ignore the pain inflicted by countless thorns and using every ounce of our strength, we triumphantly heaved the first ewe into the open field - only for Dot, who we'd dragged by her collar into the hedge to help us remove the sheep but had done nothing thus far, suddenly shot out from beside us under the hedge, and promptly drove the sheep back into it!

Having already studied most of the books and videos available at the time, we were well versed with the theory of how to get a dog to lie down behind the sheep or to flank right or left - but none of the instructions we'd encountered mentioned how to reached such an advanced stage from where we were now!

This article was written in 2003 but here we are in 2016 and sadly, most of the information currently available on herding and sheepdog training is written by sheep farmers or sheepdog trials champions who go to great lengths to instruct us on the tiniest intricacies of training a sheepdog - but they overlook the fact that these days a growing number of sheepdog handlers are part-time smallholders with regular employment outside agriculture altogether. Not being experienced farmers or shepherds, these newcomers simply don't understand what the instructor's talking about.

They need much background information which the top handlers and trainers take for granted. Information which is second nature to the professional shepherd or sheep farmer. What was needed was a source of information on training sheepdogs - written by someone who's experienced the difficulties of sheepdog training as a complete novice.

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5 Replies to “Sheepdog Training 01 – How to Train a Sheepdog”

  1. Hi,
    I’m looking to buy some sheep, partly for breeding and partly for training my dogs.
    I’ve already used hebrideans so I know that they are good to train dogs with and intend to buy a group of these.
    I’d prefer to go with rare or primitive breeds if possible, such as castlemilk moorits or borerays, and I love herdwicks, but I’ve no idea which would be good for training and which wouldn’t.
    What other breeds would you recommend?
    Hope you can help.
    Rachel Rodgers

    1. Hebridean sheep can be very good, Rachel, but we avoid the “primitive” breeds because they can be very unpredictable – particularly with an inexperienced dog. Highland sheep in particular, tend to be very flighty and can scatter when they see a dog – but presumably, they settle down with time.
      Almost any sheep will be extremely difficult until they get used to being worked with dogs, but we find pure Welsh or Welsh “Mules” (I think that’s pure Welsh crossed with a Blue Faced Leicester ram or similar) have been consistently best for our purposes. The flock together well, and are not aggressive with the dogs. That’s very useful.

      1. Hi Andy,

        Thank you for your reply. When you say “pure Welsh”, would that be Welsh Mountain Sheep? If so, would that also include varieties of Welsh Mountain sheep such as the “badger-faced” Torwen? Or is it a differnet type of Welsh sheep?
        Sorry to be a pain but there seem to be quite a lot of different welsh breeds!!

        Rachel

        1. Welsh Mountain sheep would be the ones. We don’t like Badger-Faced – they can be very aggressive.
          You seem to favour the “pretty” breeds – but (as with choosing sheepdogs) in our experience that’s not a great idea.
          I suggest you get some boring but well behaved ones to start with, and then when the dog’s pretty good, go for whatever you like.

          1. Hi Andy,

            Yes, I am drawn to the more unusual breeds, but I guess they are unusual for a reason!
            Thanks again very much for your help.

            Rachel

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