Sheepdog Training 29 – Dog Gripping or Biting Sheep

What to do if the dog grips or bites or attacks the sheep.

Gripping is very common in dogs when they first encounter sheep. It's a confidence problem. Normally, gripping's a simple matter of the dog pulling at the wool but if not checked, it can become more agressive and dogs can easily pull large sheep to the ground. This is a very bad habit and is to be strongly avoided of course. We have video tutorials on how to cope with a dog which is attacking or gripping sheep.

It's best cured whilst the dog's young and before it becomes a habit. For this reason (and the fact that It's an aggressive act) there is a lot of emotion attached to gripping. Trainers and handlers tend to panic when it happens - often making the problem worse because a dog grips when it's nervous, confused, excited or frightened - so if you chase after it shouting and waving your arms, you'll only make matters worse.

As pack animals, dogs respond instantly to the mood or body language of other members of the pack - especially the senior ones. Your dog sees you as a member of its pack, and it should see you as the leader, or most senior member, so if you're giving off nervous or excited 'vibes' the dog will instantly know this, and will become more excitable itself.

Dogs respond best to clear, calm leadership, not nervous panic.

My first dog Dot was a gripper. Fortunately, she was only hanging on to wool and didn't do any harm, but I was so horrified at what she was doing that I eventually telephoned the man I bought her from and asked him to have her back. He said he would, but added that it really wasn't a major problem, in fact it showed that (with proper training) she was going to be a really good dog, and if I was more relaxed about it Dot would stop gripping. The next day, I took Dot to the sheep and when she gripped, I growled at her but immediately gave her a reassuring 'Come bye'. She gripped once or twice more in that session and I reacted in a similar way. Within two or three days, Dot had stopped gripping. The man was right. If your dog grips, better even to ignore it and give encouragement than to make a big fuss. The reason for this is that the dog which grips is off-balance mentally at the time, and screaming and shouting will generally only make matters worse.

Watch any trial. Gripping will normally result in disqualification but if you watch closely, it always happens when something goes wrong. A sheep dashing away from the group is a favourite - particularly during penning or shedding when the dog's physically and mentally tired after completing an arduous course.

If your dog has a tendancy to grip, you're probably pushing it too hard. Try to make work easier for the dog. Be more clear and encouraging. Talk to your dog as much as you can. If you're talking in a soft, reassuring voice, he's far less likely to grip. Watch him closely, does he grip at a particular time or after a certain move' If so, try to avoid that move for a while. If you try the laid-back approach and it doesn't work, you must obviously act quickly to stop the dog gripping. If you're a beginner or not sure of yourself, get help immediately. There are plenty of trainers and handlers who will offer you advice or you can go to a sheepdog training clinic.

For a small fee, they have the experience to sort the problem out while the dog's young. If you have an older dog which grips, the problem is more urgent but should be treated in the same way. Most importantly, the dog must not harm the sheep. If you cannot stop your dog gripping and harming the sheep, you must keep him away from them and get help or even sell the dog to someone capable of curing the problem. NEVER sell a dog with a serious grip without telling the buyer.

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