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HomeFarming NewsTraining sheepdogs: Expert advice covering the 6 stages
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Training sheepdogs: Expert advice covering the 6 stages

Sheepdog Training Tips

In this news article, Stephen Flanagan, CAFRE beef and sheep adviser, summarises tips from Michael Gawn, Parkgate, a sheepdog trainer.  

To some, training may seem like a lot of effort, time, and patience, and essentially it is.

Training the recently bought pup is not for everyone, and some may send the pup to professional trainers.

For others, who have the time and patience to develop the dog in its home environment, it can be a very rewarding experience.

The bond between man/woman and dog will last for many years, and one will wonder, ‘how did I ever farm sheep without that good dog by my side?”

Sheepdog training: 6 stages
  1. You move
  • With about six sheep inside the pen, position yourself outside the pen opposite the dog;
  • As they move around the pen, move to keep the balance position.;
  • Avoid talking too much;
  • Keep everything as calm as possible – over-excitement will end up in a loss of focus and aimless chasing;
  • A 10-minute session is long enough at this stage.
  1. Dog moves
  • Once the dog is confident moving around the sheep in a reasonably controlled manner, you can now start putting some pressure on it to force a change of direction;
  • Move towards the dog as they come around towards you – this will encourage them to turn the opposite way;
  • Do not be aggressive;
  • Remember, the dog is still young;
  • Do not worry if things do not go perfectly every time;
  • Try to end on a good note when things are going well.
  1. Commands
  • Once you can move around with the dog now holding the sheep to you, start to introduce commands;
  • With the sheep out in the paddock against a fence, move between them and the dog while blocking their access and command the dog to stop ‘lie down’.
  • Once they obey, reward them by moving away to allow them back to the sheep;
  • For ‘come bye’ and ‘away’, give the direction command when the dog moves that way. Then, try to stop them before giving the opposite command to avoid confusion at this stage
  1. Extending the outrun
  • As training progresses, you should be able to send the dog greater distances;
  • Start small at 5 to 10 meters with the outrun in a pear shape with the dog widening around the sheep;
  • Remember, some can require a lot of work;
  • Take this stage slow – too far too soon will create problems.
  1. Driving
  • Have patience – do not rush at this stage;
  • The dog will naturally want to head the sheep – walk alongside the dog calling it to you.;
  • A light rope or working along a fence can help at this stage;
  • Quiet sheep that do not bolt also help.
  1. Shedding/turn back
  • Easiest taught in a large group of sheep;
  • Lie the dog on the far side, make a gap between the sheep and call the dog towards you;
  • Gradually reduce the number you shed off;
  • Even drive the sheep a distance away to give some purpose to the exercise;
  • If your dog fails to bring all the sheep, stop them, walk towards them and command to ‘turn back’, some pressure may be needed at this stage;
  • You should eventually advance this session by allowing your dog to shed the two groups, stop them midway and command to ‘turn back’.
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