Find out about The Working Sheepdog Website and the people who have run it since May 2002
From professional photographer to sheepdog trainer!
The Working Sheepdog Website was created in May 2002 by Worcestershire-based partners Andy Nickless and Gill Watson. It was originally intended as a place to share their photographs and their experiences with an expanding collection of border collies. Since then it’s grown to become a hub for sheepdog training advice, DVDs, and video tutorials.
The Working Sheepdog Website and the people who run it
Before meeting Andy, Gill owned border collies and competed in local sheepdog trials. She previously “dabbled” in dog showing, obedience and agility. Andy would be first to admit that he didn’t really understand collies at all!
Andy had limited experiences with a range of dogs from Border Terriers to Great Danes. He was unprepared for the challenges and joys of living with such a workaholic breed though. Collies combine brains, beauty, athleticism, intuition, and a mischievous sense of humour!
Training Jill, his Greyhound Lurcher had been Andy’s greatest achievement with dogs up to this time. Jill chased everything that moved, but after Andy’s calm, persistent training could be trusted not to chase livestock (or rabbits)!
Andy joins in
Andy soon began to share Gill’s enthusiasm for border collies and sheepdog trials. He became frustrated by the slow progress of Gill’s latest dog Dot, and decided to see if he could help. Gill recalls, almost fondly, Andy ‘phoning her office to tell her he’d been working on Dot’s “stop” command. “It was like Mr Toad’s “poop-poop” moment; I knew I’d lost my dog”.
Dot’s training wasn’t an easy path from practice paddock to trials success. Arguably the stop was ever her weak point. Nevertheless, Gill and Andy acquired more dogs and soon realised Andy had a feel for training working sheepdogs.
Much as Andy was enjoying the competitive element of sheepdog trials, he was more fascinated by the training process itself. Every collie is different. Some shy, some confident, and some are just bluster. But Andy found that with time, patience and faith in the dog (however difficult that may be) he could train them all to become happy and helpful working dogs.
Photography takes a back seat!
Andy’s profession of freelance industrial and architectural photography began to take a back seat and, eventually but inevitably, he took the plunge to become a full-time sheepdog trainer, and run The Working Sheepdog Website while Gill continued to work full-time in industrial publishing.
Gill takes up the story:
“What we needed now was more border collies. We advertised on our website that we were interested in young dogs who, for whatever reason, found themselves in need of a new home.
We hoped we would be offered one or two, but were unprepared for the deluge of border collies who’d proved unsuitable for a domestic environment. At least, that’s how we viewed them to begin with. It quickly became clear that there was nothing whatsoever wrong with the dogs though. Their behaviour was entirely due to the humans in their lives.
Some dogs had been bought (or given as a present!) without any research into their needs. In other cases it was the fault of the breeder not providing adequate guidance or “after-sales” support. Whatever the reason, within a short time we’d been given or bought a variety of border collies who’d become “problems”. Usually they were male, and generally aged between 9 and 12 months old. In other words, adolescent! Some were older or younger; very few were ISDS or KC registered, but they were all real and individual characters.
A change of direction
“The pack needed to earn a living. So given Andy’s background in photography we thought we could make a video about the dogs. After all, how difficult could it be…?
“In 2005, armed only with our first video camera and our naivety, we created “Border Collie Sheepdogs – Off Duty”. In the process we learned a huge amount about filming, sound recording, narrating, editing and publishing. It all stood us in good stead for the venture that was to come.
Sheepdog training as it really is!
“Naturally, as well as collecting collies, we’d garnered a considerable collection of sheepdog training videos. Most of the videos were produced by acknowledged experts in the trials field. People who clearly knew how to train a variety of dogs and had the trophies and titles to prove it. All had something to offer, but they all had something else in common – everything was going right, first time. We weren’t seeing on video what we were witnessing every day when working with our own dogs: that if something can go wrong – it probably will!
First steps to first steps!
“In 2009 we started work on First Steps in Border Collie Sheepdog Training and, completely by accident, changed our lives”.
“We wanted to use our own experiences to prepare beginners for the difference between what they’d like to see, and what they should expect to see, from their young dogs, and how to prepare themselves and their environment to avoid the pitfalls arising in the first place”.
“The First Steps DVD takes newcomers, and especially non-farmers, through the process of selecting sheep and understanding a little of their behaviour; preparing the training area; preparing themselves, and learning their commands; and choosing a dog to train (if it isn’t too late). We knew it wouldn’t always be easy viewing for us (any mistakes were entirely ours, and we learned from them) but we were determined to show sheepdog training as it really is; typical things that go wrong during training and, just as importantly, how to put them right.
“The response to First Steps was overwhelming! So many messages and telephone calls from people who’d found, not simply information, but reassurance and encouragement. It was clear more than a few sheepdogs were getting that second chance they needed before being written-off as “untrainable”.
Gill comes on board!
“Andy began giving lessons and training clinics, and in October 2010 I left my job as an industrial publishing editor. I joined Andy full-time to look after the online shop at The Working Sheepdog Website, and the day-to-day care of the dogs.
“Technology moves on of course. Videos and, DVDs were moving to online hosting and downloads. We could see that the next step would need to be online tutorials to be watched by paying subscribers, so in November 2012 we began making and uploading video tutorials to what has become our Tutorials Library.
Restricted only by the attention span of the viewer, online videos give us more scope and flexibility than the DVDs ever could. Our online tutorials have far more detail, cover more topics, and are infinitely editable. New information, or more footage, can be added and made available immediately to our subscribers across the globe.
“English subtitles have always been included in our tutorials. In late 2021 we started a new venture adding Spanish subtitles, reflecting the increased interest we’re getting in South America. Australia, Canada and the US are home to many hundreds of our subscribers, and Europe continues to be a major market for us too. We added French subtitles in 2022.
We want you to enjoy our website!
“Feel free to enjoy The Working Sheepdog Website, it reflects who we are, what we do, and what we believe about dogs. Border collies in particular. Where would we be now without our dogs? They all deserve our sincere gratitude.”
If you’d like to leave comments, we’d love to hear from you. Your feedback is invaluable to help us develop the tutorials, subjects, content, and the website as a whole. Most blog pages and articles have comment sections, so look for the icon at the bottom of the page.
With nearly FOURTEEN HOURS of our SHEEPDOG TRAINING TUTORIALS now available as FOUR double DVD sets, you can SAVE up to 20% if you buy all four, together with our original “First Steps in Border Collie Sheepdog Training” DVD set. More details. OR BETTER-STILL – watch ONLINE!