Shepherd Farm and Sheepdog, Words Commands and Terminology

A glossary of common sheepdog words and meanings, used by shepherds and farmers when training, teaching or working farm dogs.
SKIP INTRODUCTION

Sheepdog Mel brings the sheep at sunset. Title image for our sheep herding terminology words and meanings page

The purpose of this page

Newcomers to sheep herding, will benefit from the information on this page. It will help them understand the language, jargon, terms, and expressions commonly used by shepherds, farmers, drovers, stockmen, trainers, and sheepdog, or cattle dog handlers.

Where do herding dogs work

Herding dogs are usually to be found working on farms, smallholdings, crofts, ranches, sheep stations and of course, competing in sheepdog or stock dog trials.

Common types of herding dog

There are many names for working sheep dogs, such as herding dogs, stock dogs, farm dogs, ranch dogs and cattle dogs.

The animals sheepdogs work with

Farm livestock including sheep, cattle, goats, ducks, geese and other poultry are widely controlled by working dogs.

Farm dog control

The dogs are controlled by various types of sheepdog commands, orders, directions, bids and instructions. These can be given audibly by voice or whistle, and also to a limited extent, by hand signals and the handler’s body position.

Some of the farm dog training terms and meanings below have links to our relevant online sheep dog training videos. Month or yearly paid membership is required to watch the online tutorial videos.

Click a word below to discover sheepdog commands words and meaning. Clicking the up-arrow ⇧ will bring you back here!


Herding Terms – A to D


Herding Terms – E to G


Herding Terms – H to O


Herding Terms – P to S


Herding Terms – T to Y


Sheepdog commands words and meanings. Terminology and definitions, of the language used by farmers and shepherds, when training dogs for moving or herding sheep, cattle or other farm livestock.

Aggressive dog

Herding dogs use an ancient hunting instinct when they work sheep. As such, they know the ‘prey’ (ie, sheep) sometimes fight back. So dogs which are new to working sheep, often get very excited and even aggressive when they first work sheep. Fortunately it’s usually only a confidence problem. As long as the trainer helps to increase the dog’s confidence, the dog will normally settle down and work properly. There are several videos in our Tutorials Library to help increase your dog’s confidence and also reduce its aggression with livestock.

Aggressive sheep

Sheep have a reputation for being passive creatures. Indeed they often are, but not always. Adult sheep are determined, even aggressive at times. A ewe protecting her lambs wouldn’t think twice about killing a dog because it sees it as a predator. They’re tough enough to do it, too. If a dog is knocked down by a charging sheep, it risks being killed. Sheep can also be feisty when cornered, or confronted by a dog which they suspect lacks confidence. In fact the first reaction of sheep which are exposed to danger, is to group tightly together as a flock. If this fails to deter the predator, they will try to run away, but if the predator traps them, some will try to fight their way out.

Away / Away to me (command)

On this command, the dog must move around (circle) the stock in an anti-clockwise direction. Our “Learn Your Commands” tutorial will help you to understand sheepdog commands and remember which is which! Alternatively, you can learn more on the “Traditional Commands” page.

Biddable dog

A dog which is fully bonded with its owner or keeper, and seems to want nothing more than to please them. Biddable dogs are a pleasure to work with as a trainer, because they have a strong desire to do things the way the handler wants them done.

Bonding with the dog

All dogs have descended from hunting dogs. As such, they have a strong pack instinct, and packs need a leader. If there is no leader, one of the dogs in the pack will assume the role, but in a domestic situation, the responsible dog owner or handler should assume that role. It simply means you need to show your dog calm leadership. The best way to gain your dog’s respect as leader is to spend a lot of time with it. By all means play with the dog but it must obey you. In sheepdog and cattle dog training, being the pack leader is extremely important.

Close work

Once a trainee dog is heeding the shepherd or handler’s orders and direction, most sheepdog training takes place in fairly open spaces. This is comparatively easy for the dog. Wide open spaces mean the dog feels safe with the stock. Soon though, the dog will be expected to work in more confined spaces, such as around farm buildings, pens and sorting areas. Being confined tightly with the stock can be intimidating for a trainee dog. Introduce the dog to close work gradually, to maintain its confidence. The “Close work 1 and 2” tutorials cover this topic in detail.

Come bye (command)

The dog must move around (circle) the stock in a clockwise direction (in a few areas it’s the opposite way)!
Our Learn Your Commands tutorial gives more detail and will help you to understand and remember which is which! Alternatively, you can learn more on the “Traditional Commands” page.

Confidence

Close photo of a sheepdog working very near four sheep in a pen - farm shepherd word meanings and definitions
Mel showing remarkable confidence holding sheep in a pen

One of the most important assets of a good sheepdog is confidence. The dog’s hunting instinct correctly tells it that being very close to livestock (i.e. the prey)  is dangerous. Sometimes the prey fights back! Farm animals, especially mothers protecting their offspring, can be stubborn, even aggressive, when confronted with dogs. But they quickly recognise when they’ve met their match. This is where a confident dog scores. Confident dogs move stock with ease. They are usually respected by stock. Timid dogs are quickly identified by sheep. They therefore find it difficult to manage stubborn or aggressive stock. The best dogs apply just enough pressure to control farm animals without being unduly aggressive.

Crossdrive / Cross drive (trials)

Once through the first drive gates at a sheepdog trial, the sheep are turned tightly to face across the course. Then they driven across the course to another set drive gates. That section is called the cross drive. It must be as straight and orderly as possible. No retries are allowed at any of the gates. The cross drive is more difficult than it seems because the dog and its sheep are moving across the field, so it can be difficult to judge the distance they should be away from you, in relation to the second drive gates. There is a points penalty for any deviation from a straight line.

Crossing Over

Crossing over means the dog is changing ‘sides’ on an outrun. When a dog is sent on an outrun to gather sheep or other stock, it’s sent in whichever direction the handler chooses. Sometimes for a good reason. It’s important that the dog doesn’t disturb the stock. It should go out wide around them until it’s in a position to bring them to the handler. On the way to the stock, the dog should continue in the direction it was sent. If it crosses over because it prefers to approach the stock from a different direction, it will pass in front of them, and is likely to drive them further away.
The most common reason for a dog crossing over on its outrun is that the handler has sent the dog too far. Dogs need to build up confidence for long outruns, so the handler should only increase the length of the outrun gradually. Watch a good video example of a fairly long outrun.
There are three online video tutorials about the outrun in the tutorials library.

Disqualification (trials)

The point at a sheepdog trial when the judge asked the competitor to leave the course because of a rule infringement such as the dog leaving the course, or biting the sheep. Any points accumulated by that competitor in that run will be lost.

Distraction

Photo of a dog turning away from the sheep and looking for a distraction
Excellent example of a sheepdog sniffing around as a distraction

To avoid doing tasks they don’t like, dogs sometimes look around for a distraction. An interesting scent to sniff, for example. The dog might suddenly take a keen interest in an object on the ground which it previously ignored. If you call a dog to you but it doesn’t want to come, it might approach another nearby person instead. That’s a distraction. It’s not uncommon for the dog to deliberately approach the wrong animal in order to avoid one it fears. Sometimes the dog appears unaware of the intended animal, as though it can’t see it. Suddenly deciding to defecate, urinate or yawn are also typical distractions. In such situations, staying close to the dog and giving it lots of encouragement will help improve its confidence.

Dogged sheep

Sheep become ‘dogged’ after being used repeatedly for training sheepdogs. This means they are less likely to run away from the dog. Dogged sheep can be a real bonus when starting a young dog’s training but on the other hand, they can also be more stubborn and difficult to move. Lightly dogged sheep are very useful as they stay calm. It’s easier for the trainee dog to keep them together. Extremely dogged sheep will either rush to the handler as soon as the dog is sent off to fetch them or others will bunch together tightly and be near impossible for the dog to move. Sometimes, they will crowd around the handler’s legs, becoming extremely difficult to work with (and painful because they hurt your legs and tread on your feet).

Double gather (trials)

Double Gather is the name given to open trials where the dog has to gather two bunches of sheep. First, the dog must collect a group of sheep in the usual manner, and bring them to a specified point on the trials course. The dog is then commanded to ‘Look back‘ for a second group of sheep which are waiting at another location on the course. The dog must bring the second group and unite them with the first batch, before continuing around the course with the combined group.

Drive (trials)

Having completed the fetch (above) and driven the sheep around behind the handler in the direction dictated by the course director or judge, the dog then drives the sheep away from the handler to the first drive gates.

Driving

A sheepdog obeying commands and terminology to drive three sheep through the arch of a fallen apple tree
Sheepdog Carew driving three sheep through the arch of a fallen tree

Don’t confuse driving with droving. When driving, the dog works on its own ahead of the handler, pushing the sheep or cattle away. Sometimes a drive can cover considerable distances. Driving has a great number of uses on the farm, and is an important part of sheepdog trials. Unfortunately, driving has a reputation for being difficult to teach. A dog’s natural reaction is to bring the stock towards the handler, rather than drive them away, so the dog’s string instinct is to get ahead of the sheep and bring them back. With patience and an understanding of why the dog finds driving difficult, training becomes simpler. It’s usually wise to teach the dog to Drove first, and then graduate to Driving. There are no fewer than three tutorials on the subject of Driving in our online tutorials library.

Drive gates (trials)

A pair of gates or hurdles – through which the dog should direct the sheep as part of the drive section in sheepdog trialling. There are normally two sets of drive gates on each course.

Droving

Photo of Carew droving sheep to Dean Farm for our sheepdog farm shepherd word meanings and definitions page
Carew droving a flock of sheep at Dean Farm

Don’t confuse droving with driving! (above). Droving involves the dog working alongside or close to the handler, pushing the sheep or cattle ahead of them. Traditionally, professional drovers would herd cattle, sheep and other livestock many miles to market. Today, droving involves moving livestock down lanes, along tracks or through farm yards with the shepherd nearby. Droving is much easier to teach than driving, because the dog will be happy to work closely with the handler. The closer the dog is to the handler or shepherd, the more confident it will be. For this reason, it makes sense to teach the dog to Drove first, and then move on to driving. (Learn more about droving in our online Driving tutorials).

Ewe

An adult female sheep, used for breeding purposes.

Exhaust pen (trials)

At a sheepdog trial the sheep must be put away in the exhaust pen at the end of each run. It’s the responsibility of the competitor to ensure their sheep are returned to the pen. If there are not enough sheep available for the number of competitors, the sheep are allowed to collect in the exhaust pen until there are a large number, and then they are taken back to the letting out pen and re-used in the trial.

Eye / Too much eye

A good sheepdog must have ‘eye’. This is a kind of powerful glare the dog can fix on cattle or sheep to make them move in the direction the handler wants. “Too much eye”, means the trait is so strong in some dogs, that they become fixated and difficult to move as they stare at the stock. Good training will correct this confidence issue.

Fetch gates (trials)

A pair of gates or hurdles spaced a few metres apart, through which the dog brings the sheep during the fetch section at a sheepdog trial. The ‘fetch‘ normally follows the ‘lift‘.

Fetch (trials)

The dog brings the sheep down the course towards the handler, making sure all the sheep pass through the fetch gates. If any sheep fail to go through the gates, no retry is allowed. The sheep must not pass back through the gates. The sheep must pass close behind the handler at the post, and they are then driven towards some more gates. As the sheep reach a point directly behind the post, the drive section of the trial begins.

Electric fence

Fencing energised with high voltage (but low power and therefore harmless) electric current. Often used to keep farm animals within an enclosed space. We don’t recommend electric fencing for sheep which are being used for training dogs during the early stages of the dog’s training.
1. Unless the dog is fully familiar with electric fences, it’s almost certain to touch the wire at some point. If the dog’s unlucky enough to get a shock at this time, it’s likely to panic and blame the sheep for its pain. This could ruin its confidence for a long time. The dog might even refuse to go near sheep.
2. Electric fencing is very useful for calm sheep, but those which are fleeing a runaway dog will almost certainly crash into the electric fence, which will then fall down, and the sheep will scatter. Not an ideal start for a dog’s training! It’s much wiser to build a training ring to start your dog off.

Ewe

An adult female sheep, kept for breeding with rams.

Fell

Steep, rugged hill or mountain pasture. Usually in the North of the UK (such as Cumbria) and traditionally populated with sheep.

Flanking / Casting / Circling

Photo of sheepdog Kay obeying the command to flank around a group of sheep
Sheepdog Kay flanks around a group of sheep

Circling, flanking or casting are all terms for when the dog is moving around its cattle or sheep in a circular fashion. The dog should maintain a constant distance from the stock whilst flanking, so as not to alarm or panic them. When commanded, the dog should stop without moving closer to the stock. It’s also important the dog flanks equally well in both directions around the stock. A “one-sided” dog flanks better in one direction than the other. Our online training tutorials explain how to improve your dog’s flanks when working cattle, sheep, or other livestock.

Flighty / light sheep

Usually smaller breeds of free-running sheep from highland, hill or mountain farms. Flighty sheep are usually easy for a dog to move, but they can also be difficult to control. Sometimes they run away or scatter, with little or no provocation! Having said that, once flighty sheep get used to being worked with dogs (they settle down and become less panicky) they can be excellent for training sheepdogs because they move easily. They can be just as feisty as heavier breeds though, and will quickly defy or even attack a dog which they suspect lacks confidence.

Flock instinct

Prey animals such as sheep which are hunted by predators (such as wolves or dogs) have developed powerful instincts to protect themselves from attack. As such, sheep have a strong desire to bunch together in large numbers whenever they sense danger. They ‘flock’ together very tightly with their rear ends outwards, in the hope their thick wool will protect them. If this fails to dissuade the predator though, the sheep will resort to scattering. The sheep’s flocking instinct is so strong, farmers and shepherds have been able to train dogs to control the sheep, but the dog needs to work calmly to avoid scattering the flock. See Flock work.

Flock work

Close up photo of a herding dog bringing a flock of sheep through a farm gate on word of command
Carew brings a flock of sheep through a gateway at Dean Farm

Working a large number (a whole flock) of sheep as opposed to a small bunch. Use a small bunch for basic training, as used in sheepdog trials. It’s usually far easier for the dog to control a small group of sheep. Flock work involves the dog working much larger numbers – sometimes several hundred. It often requires quite different skills to those used at trials or in training. See Flock instinct. Read about our Flock Work Tutorial.

Fully trained dog

There is no such thing as a fully trained herding dog! Even the world champion sheepdog trials dog will have room for improvement in some skills. Just like humans, dogs are learning all the time. We have yet to find a dog which is fully skilled in every aspect of stock work. For instance, good cattle dogs are often too aggressive with sheep.
Of course, there are a great number of farm dogs that are highly skilled in many tasks. But every shepherd and sheep farmer has different requirements of their dogs. As an example, a dog whose work is faultless on a lowland farm would struggle if it were suddenly confronted with gathering sheep on a hill farm or mountain. It’s unwise to describe any dog as fully trained.

Gather

Photo of a sheep gather in Shropshire UK for our sheepdog farm shepherd word meanings and definitions page
Sometimes sheep need gathering from rugged places

Basically, a gather, involves the dog going out around the stock and bringing them to the handler. In practice, it usually refers to much larger operations on vast expanses of rugged or mountainous ground. Often on these occasions, groups of neighbouring farmers work together with several dogs and handlers moving the sheep to a designated place.

Get back / Go back / Get out (command)

Often used when the dog is working too close and likely to cause stress to the stock. The command is used to send the dog further out to give the animals more room. Read more.

Gimmer / Shearling

A young female sheep which has been sheared (clipped) once. Sheep in the United Kingdom are usually have their thick woollen coats sheared once a year.

Good stop

Close-up photo of Pip. A first class shepherd's dog with a great stop!
Pip stopped so quickly, she sometimes fell over!

A dog which stops immediately on command, has ‘a good stop’. Unfortunately, in their efforts to achieve a good stop, some trainers are so hard on the dog that they undermine the its confidence. To avoid damaging the dog’s confidence, we prefer to work on the stop gradually. Our three Stopping the Dog tutorials take an in-depth look at how to get your dog to stop on command, without damaging its confidence.

Grip / Gripping / Biting

Close up photo of a border collie farm sheepdog nipping stubborn cattle to move them
Sheepdog Carew gripping stubborn cattle in order to move them

Gripping means the dog biting the stock. Often caused by fear or excitement. Gripping can be a sign of lack of confidence shown by the dog. It’s not allowed in sheepdog trials – instant disqualification being the normal penalty. If the judge considers the sheep sufficiently awkward though, it’s sometimes acceptable for the dog to nip a difficult sheep. In cattle work, it’s often essential for the dog to nip the heels of the stock to get them to move in the required direction.
As with the good stop, especially with sheepdogs, many handlers try to completely eliminate any gripping. This can have a severely detrimental effect on the dog’s confidence. When dogs are faced with aggressive sheep (such as ewes with young lambs) they need some means of defending themselves. The sheep must be gathered-in for their own welfare, so the dog must be able to control them.
We prefer to put a command on the grip. We then discourage the dog from gripping unless we command it to. In our experience, dogs trained this way have far more confidence than dogs which have been totally forbidden to grip.
Management of the dog’s grip is covered in several of our online tutorials. Sometimes Nice is Not Enough and Training Max the Gripper (3 parts) are tutorials to help get your dog under control while maintaining its confidence.

Handler

The handler is the person controlling the sheepdog while it’s working or training. They might be a shepherd, farmer, drover, stockman (stockperson) herdsman (herdsperson) trainer, sheepdog trials competitor, or an enthusiast who has access to sheep.

Heading

Photo of a farm sheepdog heading some sheep on command
Glen showing a great example of heading sheep

Heading is the term used when the dog gets ahead or in front of moving sheep or cattle to stop them, or change their direction. It usually comes naturally to sheepdogs, especially when stock are (or appear to be) escaping. Sometimes trainee farm dogs need a little encouragement before they will get to the head of stock. Most trainee sheepdogs will naturally try stop an animal escaping, but they require training before they’ll allow livestock to move away.

Heavy sheep

Stubborn sheep which can sometimes be difficult for a dog to move. They will even attack a dog and can have a disastrous effect on its confidence. Heavy sheep are normally large, lowland types which keep together well but can be very stubborn. Generally they are not recommended for training sheepdogs.

Hedge runner

Terminology photo showing the space created under a hedge by sheep eating all the foliage
Sheep will use any chance to seek refuge under a hedge like this

Farm animals naturally spread out across a field as they browse in search of the best grazing. In hot weather, they seek refuge in the shade of trees, or thick undergrowth if there is any. For this reason, a good dog will run right around the boundary of a field when it’s sent to gather the stock. That way, it should spot any animals which are hidden amongst the undergrowth. By contrast, at a sheepdog trial, a ‘pear shaped‘ outrun is preferred, and a ‘hedge-runner’ may be penalised by the judge. Because the sheep are held near the peg before each run, there’s no need for the dog to run wide.

Hefted (sheep)

Most sheep prefer live together in a flock, and to stay in one place. This is useful for shepherds and sheep farmers who farm in vast areas of open country. Once their sheep become ‘hefted’ they will on the same patch of ground without fences! Sheep which live in a flock are not keen to mix with those of another flock. This means they will keep to their own territory, but it can take years to heft sheep somewhere new.

Hog

A hog is a young sheep (male or female) which has been weaned from its mother but has not yet been sheared. Once sheared, the female would become a gimmer.

Hogget

A hogget is a young sheep (of either sex) which is old enough to have been taken away from its mother but not yet sheared. Once it has been sheared, the female would become a gimmer.

Hunting instinct

Very close photo of a sheepdog with her face down in the grass as she awaits the shepherd's next command'
Sheepdog Pip eagerly awaits the shepherd’s next word!

All dogs are originally descended from hunting animals such as wolves. To a limited extent, domestication has suppressed the urge to hunt in most breeds. It’s still strong in dogs used for herding sheep and other livestock though. Over many centuries, shepherds and farmers have learned to combine the dog’s natural hunting instinct with its aptitude for being trained, into useful work. They’ve actively bred dogs to learn commands and preserve these instincts.

As possessors of a keen hunting instinct, dogs recognise that sometimes the ‘prey’ (in this case, the sheep) doesn’t want to be hunted, and will fight back. Sometimes with fatal results for the predator. As a result, trainee sheepdogs can be very wary of sheep when they first encounter them, particularly in a confined space. Huge excitement, and aggression towards the sheep can result. We need to get the dog under control and obeying our commands quickly to protect the livestock. See Flock instinct and Bonding. We have training videos in our Tutorials Library to help get your dog under control around livestock.

Hurdles

Often referred to in the USA as panels, hurdles are lightweight frames similar to a small gate. Multiple hurdles can be joined together to make a convenient enclosure for containing sheep.

In here (command)

Used during shedding or separating some animals (usually sheep) away from the main group. Watch our “Shedding tutorial” or learn more on the “Traditional Commands” page.

Inside flanks

A trainee farm dog usually learns to circle the animals and keep them together. As the dog runs around the stock it’s natural for it to pass behind the handler or trainer. This may be out of respect for the handler. Alternatively it may be because the dog feels more confident when the handler is closer to the stock than it is itself. The most likely reason is the dog’s strong instinct to work in a ‘pack’ situation where the ultimate goal is to bring the ‘prey’ to the pack leader. In a successful herding partnership, the dog will recognise the handler as the pack leader.
Their reluctance to flank between the handler / trainer and the stock, is one of the reasons it can be difficult to train sheepdogs or farm dogs to drive sheep away from the handler. Teaching the dog

International Sheep Dog Society (ISDS)

Based at Bedford, England. Keepers of the ISDS Stud Book (Border Collie type dogs only). Despite its long-term refusal to recognise herding dog breeds other than the Border Collie, the International Sheep Dog Society appears to have become the recognised body of sheepdog trialling. Their insistence that the dogs must look like Border Collies is laughable.

International (trials)

To qualify for the ‘International’, dogs must be registered with the ISDS and qualify to become members of their UK national team (see below). The winner of the annual International Sheepdog Trial becomes the ‘ISDS Supreme Champion’.
(word list ⇧)

Left-hand drive (trials)

On completion of the fetch, the sheep must pass behind the handler in a clockwise direction and be driven towards the left hand drive gates.

Letters-out (trials)

The letters-out are volunteers who look after the sheep in the letting-out pen. Before each run, the ‘letters-out’ remove the appropriate number of sheep from the pen (as instructed by the course director) and move them to the peg, where they endeavour to keep them steady until the dog collects them on its run. Often, the ‘letters-out’ will use a dog to keep the sheep close to the peg.

Lie down / Stand / Stop (command)

They all mean stop of course, but in practice they’re also used to slow the dog down! We have three in-depth “Stopping The Dog” tutorial videos, which will help you to stop your dog without damaging its confidence. You can also learn more on the “Traditional Commands” page.

Lift (trials)

At the end of its outrun, the dog should be behind the sheep on the ‘Point of balance‘. The lift is the point at which the sheep begin to move under the influence of the dog. It should be controlled and orderly. Once the sheep are moving towards the handler (who is still at the post) they are then on the fetch section.

Look back (command)

The dog must leave the sheep it’s working, and turn around to look for more sheep. Learn how to train your dog to ‘Look Back’ with our Sheepdog Training Tutorial – ‘Eve at the Pen. Alternatively, you can learn more on the “Traditional Commands” page.

Look back (trials)

The designated point at a double gather type of sheepdog trial where the dog must abandon the sheep currently under its control and turn around to look for more sheep. An advanced ‘look back’ can be done in such a way as to indicate to the dog which direction the new sheep lie in.
Several of our online training tutorials show you how to teach your dog to go back for sheep or cattle.

National (trials)

Run by the ISDS (International Sheep Dog Society) the ‘National’ is sheepdog trial in which dogs qualify to represent their country in the International Sheepdog Trials. To qualify, dogs must be ISDS registered and gain points by successfully competing in open trials in England, Scotland Ireland and Wales.

Novice (trials)

Open to less experienced dogs. Rules vary but normally for dogs which have not been placed in an open or won a novice trial. Will include outrun, lift, fetch, drive, shed and pen but not usually a single. ISDS registration is not required for dogs to compete in novice trials.

Nursery (trials)

Nursery trials are intended for young, inexperienced dogs. Rules of entry vary but usually for dogs which have not been placed in any novice or open trial. A nursery sheepdog trial will typically include outrun, lift, fetch, drive, shed and pen. Surprisingly, nursery sheepdog trials courses often have an outrun of equal length to novice or open trials. Dogs do not have to be ISDS registered to compete.

One-sided

Photo of a Bearded Collie sheepdog flanking around sheep
A good sheepdog flanks around stock in both directions

Just as humans can be left or right-handed, so sheepdogs often prefer to flank around stock in one direction or the other. It’s important to even-out this imbalance so that the dog works equally well in both directions. Sooner or later there will be a situation where the dog really must flank in a certain direction.

Being ‘one sided’ is a habit caused by the dog feeling more confident when it works in its preferred direction. It’s a simple problem cured by working the dog on it’s ‘weaker’ side as often as possible, to improve it’s confidence. There is a catch though. Because this is a confidence problem, the trainer should allow the dog to flank in its preferred direction if the task is difficult, but make a point of sending the dog its ‘worst’ way whenever the job is easy. As with most training problems, the longer a one-sided dog is left uncorrected, the harder it will be to break the habit.

Open trial (trials)

A sheepdog trial in which entry is open to any competitor and dog – will include outrun, lift, fetch, drive, shed, pen and sometimes a single. Points awarded in open trials count towards qualification for National Sheepdog Trials. Dogs do not need to be registered with the ISDS to compete in open trials but unregistered dogs will not be awarded points towards qualification for National trials.

Outrun

Photo of a sheepdog setting off on an outrun to gather sheep
Carew sets off on her outrun to gather the sheep in the distance

The outrun begins when a herding dog leaves the handler’s side and goes out around the stock in order to bring them back to the handler, or take them to some other place. If the dog were to run straight at the stock, it would probably frighten them further away. Ideally, the dog should run out wide enough to avoid stressing the stock. At the end of its outrun, the dog should be in a position to move all the sheep or cattle to the required place. There are 3 Outrun tutorials in our tutorials library.
Watch a video example of a trainee dog doing a fairly long outrun.

Outrun (trials)

Standing at ‘the post‘, the handler sends their dog to collect the sheep and start the run. The dog should go out in a pear shaped run, getting wider as it approaches the sheep. At the end of the outrun, the dog should top on the point of balance behind the sheep, close enough to gain control, but leaving enough room to avoid disturbing them. The dog should then approach the sheep steadily, keeping them under control as they begin to move towards the handler. This crucial part is called the lift.

Pace

The pace at which a sheepdog works, is important. On a sheep farm, the dog should bring sheep quickly and calmly, without stressing them. The same can be said for a sheepdog trial, but in addition, the dog should move the sheep in straight lines. Wandering off-line will be penalised by the loss of points.

Panels

Known in the UK as hurdles, panels are lightweight portable frames similar in design to a small gate. They can be fitted together, make an enclosure for containing sheep.

Partly trained dog

A partly trained dog is more skilled than a started dog. Usually reliably working around sheep from a short to medium outrun (rather than splitting them up) and stopping reasonably well on command. The partly trained dog will not usually have experience of pen or yard work, but it will be a useful dog, and should learn more skills quickly.

Pear-shaped outrun

Image for our sheepdog farm shepherd word meanings and definitions page, showing the path a dog should take to achieve a pear-shaped outrun
Yellow path illustrating a sheepdog’s pear-shaped outrun

For regular farm work, shepherds usually prefer the dog to be what’s known as a ‘hedge-runner‘, meaning when the dog is sent on it’s outrun, it goes straight out to the hedge or fence on the side it’s sent towards. The dog then follows the hedge around the edge of the field until it’s gathered all the sheep together.

In sheepdog trials however, judges prefer the dog to have a pear-shaped outrun. This is because at a sheepdog trial a small number of sheep are kept in one place before each run. Therefore the dog would be wasting time and energy if it were to run out wide for the whole outrun. It’s extremely important that the dog doesn’t run straight towards the sheep in a trial, or on a farm, and equally important that the outrun widens out, giving the sheep plenty of room by the end of it.

Peg (trials)

The “Peg” is the place to which a batch of sheep are brought, before each run at a sheepdog trial. In more advanced sheepdog trials the sheep may not be visible to the dog or sometimes even the handler, at this stage.

Pen (trials)

For centuries farmers and shepherds have used some kind of (temporary) enclosure, to put sheep into for activities like shearing, foot trimming, or medical examination. Pens are also used for sorting sheep, and small lambing pens are widely used at lambing time to keep ewes and their lambs close together and safe.

Pen / penning (trials)

The Pen at a sheepdog trial is an enclosure into which the sheep must be driven towards the end of each run. Usually the pen is a temporary construction but sometimes a trailer. To “Pen” the sheep the handler holds a rope which is attached to the pen gate. They must continue to hold the rope until the dog (and handler) have guided the sheep into the pen and the gate is closed. The handler is not allowed to touch the sheep or push them in to the pen using the gate (or anything else). More recently, some trials have a “chute” arrangement, where the sheep merely pass through. This is much easier for handler and dog. The sheep are more willing to go into the chute as there’s no back in it, so they can see a way of escape.

Point of balance

The point of balance is where the dog needs to be, to keep the stock in place, or move them as commanded by the handler. This is not necessarily directly behind the stock. Sheep or cattle often have a strong urge to go in a certain direction (sometimes they want to go towards other stock, or to a favourite spot) to avoid the attentions of a dog. In this case, the dog should stop in the correct position to prevent them from moving away. This is one of many reasons why sheepdog trials competitors should watch some of the runs which preceed their own, in order to gain some knowledge of how the stock will behave on that day.

Post

The “Post” is the point at a sheepdog trial where the handler stands to send the dog off on its outrun. Once the dog leaves the handler’s side, the handler must not move away from the post until the dog has collected the sheep, taken them right around the drive section, and then brought them to the shedding ring.

Powerful dog

A powerful or strong dog is a confident dog. One which works in a relaxed way and which commands instant respect from the stock. It will stand no nonsense. If they stop, it will just keep coming towards them in such a confident manner, the animals will continue on their way. The dog’s attitude and body language makes it clear to the stock that they have no choice.

Ram

An adult male sheep, kept for breeding with ewes.

Registered / Pedigree dog

The International Sheep Dog Society is the recognised Border Collie society in the UK and probably the world. Registering dogs with the ISDS goes some way towards ensuring good health, and a record of the dog’s ancestry (and any championship sheepdog trial wins) going back to 1949.

Release / Letting-out pen (trials)

The letting-out, or release pen, is usually located at the far end of a sheepdog trial ground, close to the peg. It’s normally a pen large enough to contain all of the sheep which will be used in the trial. Volunteer ‘letters-out‘ take care of the sheep during the trial. Their main responsibility is to remove a specified number of sheep (normally between three and five) from the pen just before each competitor’s run, and keep them nearby at the peg. The trials competitor then sends their dog on its outrun to gather the bunch of sheep and take them around the course.

Retired (trials)

If a run goes really badly, most competitors will signal their intention to the judge, and leave the course without completing it. The run will score no points. It should be noted that even though you retire, you are normally expected to take your sheep to the exhaust pen.

Right-hand drive (trials)

On completion of the fetch, the sheep must pass behind the handler in an anticlockwise direction. They must then be driven towards the right hand drive gates.

Shed sheep

If a farmer or shepherd needs to separate some sheep from a flock, the simple way is to run them through a sorting race. Such assets are not always available (or near enough) for highland or hill farmers though, so they will shed the sheep with a farm dog.
Shedding sheep entails moving the flock or bunch of sheep around until the required and unwanted animals can be divided into two groups. The shepherd will then call the dog through the gap between the two groups to part them still further. Then the dog will turn towards the required sheep and make sure they don’t run back to the main group.
That sounds difficult enough, but we must remember that it takes place in open moorland or on the side of a mountain with no walls or fences to help control the sheep. Shedding is a highly skilled operation.
Taking just one sheep away from a bunch is known as singling – an even more skilled operation, because one sheep separated from a bunch will be very determined to get back with them!

Shedding (trials)

After passing through the second drive gates (above) the sheep are turned towards the shedding ring where dog and handler sort out and separate a specified number of sheep. The handler shouldn’t leave the post until all the sheep are inside the shedding ring (about 40 yards in diameter). Until shedding is completed the sheep must stay within the ring, or points will be lost. Often, but not always, the judge will signal to the handler that the shed has been accepted, and the sheep must then be taken to the pen. We have a Shedding tutorial video as well as plenty of advice on shedding at a sheepdog trial, in the Sheepdog Trials tutorials.

Shedding ring (trials)

A 40 yard diameter circle (usually marked-out) close to the post, where the shed and / or singling takes place before or after ‘penning‘. No sheep must leave the shedding ring until shedding or singling is completed.

Sheepdog trial

A rural competition first recorded at Bala in north Wales in 1873. Sheepdog trials were designed to test the skill of sheepdogs and their handlers. Basically, sheep are let out of a pen at one end of a field, and the handler sends his dog away on an outrun to collect them, and take them around a set course. The course consists of the lift, fetch, drive, shed and pen sections. A judge awards points (or deducts them from a potential maximum score) to decide which dog / handler combination achieved the best run. In a trial the judge will choose the direction of the drive section but the handler can send their dog either left or right for the outrun.

Shepherd’s Whistle

Photo of a stainless steel sheepdog whistle as used by a great many farmers and shepherds throughout the world. Sheepdog farm shepherd word meanings and definitions

Shepherds have used whistle sounds to control sheepdogs for hundreds of years. This is because the shrill sound of a whistle is audible at far greater distances than voice commands. Some use a metal, wooden or plastic whistle, and others whistle by using their fingers in their mouths. Many new sheepdog trainers think that a whistle is essential for working dogs on sheep and other livestock, but this is not strictly true.

Dogs work perfectly well on voice commands, and its not until the dog is skilled enough to work at greater distances from the handler that they become necessary. Whistles can also be very useful when the dog’s working in a noisy environment, such as close to a main road, or on windy days. However, the shepherd’s whistle can be notoriously difficult for some people to master, so it’s worth learning to blow a sheepdog whistle well before you need to!

Single / singling (trials)

Singling is similar to shedding – but more difficult! At open trials, once penning is completed a single sheep may be required to be separated from the main group and driven away. This operation is carried out within the shedding ring, and the sheep must not leave the ring until one has been singled off. Watch the Shedding tutorial to learn more about ‘Singling’!

Sorting race

Photo of a sheep sorting pen
Sheep waiting in the sorting pen

A sorting race is usually a long narrow area, designed to (ideally) allow animals through in single-file. At the end of the race is a sorting gate which can be operated to direct some animals into one holding pen, and others into another. The operation is made much easier by the race only allowing animals through in single-file.

Sheep which are not used to walking through a race are likely to refuse at first, so rather than try to bludgeon the poor animals through with dogs, it’s wise to familiarise them with a race beforehand. A good way to get sheep confident with races is to shut them in a yard or pen, where the only way out is through the race. You then go away and leave them to quietly find their own way out, through the race. (Check to see that they are all safely through though – just in case). Find more sheepdog commands words and meanings using this link.

Square flanks

Photo for our sheepdog farm shepherd word meanings and definitions page, of sheepdog Fen demonstrating square flanks
Fen demonstrating what is meant by square flanks

If your dog is facing the stock when you instruct it to flank one way or the other, ideally it should turn through 90º and move around the stock at the same distance from them as it was when you gave the command. Many trainee dogs insist on moving closer to the stock when commanded to flank. This is a bad habit as can unsettle the stock. A dog with what’s known as “square flanks” is a joy to work.
Several of our online training tutorials explain how to improve your dog’s flanks when it works cattle, sheep, or other livestock.

Started dog

A dog which has been taught the very basics of stock work. A started dog will usually run reliably around stock (rather than splitting them up) if sent to them from a short distance away. The started dog can be stopped (sometimes with a little difficulty) and taken away from the stock.

Stud book

Books which have been kept by the ISDS for many years – recording the ancestry, registration and breeding details of all ISDS registered sheepdogs. (Border Collie types only).

Stud dog

Male dog – usually ISDS registered and from excellent working lines – used for breeding purposes as well as sheepdog trials and / or farm work.

Steady / Take time (command)

In response to this command, the dog should slow down and put more distance between itself and the stock. An excellent sheepdog training tutorial for this is Backwards Is The Way Forward. Alternatively, you can learn more on the “Traditional Commands” page.

Sticky / Too much eye

If a dog appears to become entranced – standing rooted to the spot, glaring at the stock and ignoring all commands, farmers and shepherds say the dog has “too much eye”. We dislike the term “too much eye” because it suggests the dog has some physical disability. ‘Freezing’, and glaring at the stock in this way is merely a symptom of the dog lacking confidence. The dog can be trained out of this habit, particularly if it’s young. ‘Sticky Dogs‘ is a video tutorial dealing specifically with dogs which are thought to have ‘too much eye’.

Teg

A young sheep (male or female) which has been weaned from its mother but has not yet been sheared. Once sheared, the female would become a gimmer.

Timed out (trials)

Most sheep dog trials specify a time for each run. If a competitor cannot complete the course in the allocated time, they must leave the field but the run still earns points and counts towards the results. It’s quite possible to win a trial even though you were timed out.

That’ll do (command)

The dog must stop what it’s doing and return directly to the handler. Watch our three online Driving tutorials to learn a lot more about teaching a dog to drive stock. Alternatively, you can learn more on the “Traditional Commands” page.

There (command)

Used by some handlers to tell the dog it has completed the required flanking manoeuvre, and should turn squarely back towards the stock. We prefer to use the ‘Lie down‘ command, to avoid confusing the dog (and possibly the handler too) with too many commands. When a dog’s going round the sheep and you stop it, the dog’s natural reaction is to then turn towards the sheep, so using the command “there” has no real benefit. Learn more on the “Traditional Commands” page.

Training ring

The training ring is a circular enclosure which will keep sheep together while a dog begins its training. The natural hunting instinct causes many trainee sheepdogs to be over-excited and even aggressive with the sheep when it’s first introduced to them. The sheep will invariably scatter and the training session descend into chaos. With training, time and experience close to sheep however, this initial excitement will soon reduce and the dog will become more controllable. For the early stages of training it’s wise to contain the sheep within an enclosure of 16 metres (17.5 yards) diameter. It makes controlling the dog much easier.

The training ring can be made from many different materials, the most usual being sheep hurdles (panels in the USA) or post and wire fencing. It’s important to avoid having corners in the ring where the sheep can cluster to foil the dog. Note that if the training ring is much smaller that the recommended size above, the dog will feel trapped close to the sheep, and as a result, more aggressive towards them. If the ring is too large, the handler won’t be close enough to the action, to keep control. (The closer you are to the dog, the more control you have over it). Watch our three Training Ring tutorials.

Unregistered dog

In sheepdog terms, an unregistered dog is simply one which has not been registered with the International Sheep Dog Society. It does NOT mean the dog is inferior in any way. Unregistered sheepdogs can be as good as any other dog when it comes to working, but not being registered means the dog’s eyes have not been tested, and its ancestry (and any sheepdog trial wins it, or its parents have achieved) are not recorded.

Walk-up / Get up (command)

These commands require the dog to move straight towards the sheep or cattle in a calm, steady fashion without spooking or stressing them. Often used when the dog is hesitating, unsure, or perhaps lacking a little confidence. A calm ‘get up’ command reassures the dog that it’s OK to move closer to the stock. It should NOT be used in an aggressive way, to make the dog move closer. If the dog’s lacking confidence, shouting at it will only make it worse. Learn more on the “Traditional Commands” page.

Weak dog

A dog that’s commonly called ‘weak’ is simply a dog that has little confidence around stock. It may be extremely obedient and work well with light or co-operative animals but when faced with a difficult situation a dog that has little confidence will either stop and stare, grip or even turn away from the stock altogether. Sheep can interpret weakness in a dog surprisingly quickly and will take advantage of it. Avoid putting a young dog in a position where it might be challenged or attacked by sheep. The dog’s confidence can be improved with a little care. ‘Sometimes Nice is Not Enough‘, ‘Calm But Firm‘ and ‘The Dog’s Confidence‘ are three videos that will help you increase your dog’s confidence when working stock.

Wearing

Photo of sheepdog Carew wearing the sheep
Carew wearing back and forth behind sheep to keep them moving

Larger numbers of sheep or cattle can be inclined to split up when they’re being moved with one or more dogs. When this happens it’s necessary for the dogs to flank wider in order to keep the stock together. A good dog will learn to ‘wear’ back and forth in this way without being commanded. It helps the dog to keep good control of its stock.
In sheepdog trials, wearing can be useful if the sheep are stubborn, but it runs the risk of the sheep deviating from their line, thus losing points for the run.

Working distance

The distance a dog works from the sheep is important. Generally, the closer the dog is, the more stress it will apply to the sheep. It’s not that simple though. Sheep become familiar with being worked with dogs. If they don’t see the dog as much of a threat, they might ignore it when it’s farther away from them. Other sheep will panic at the sight of a dog, even if it’s a long way away from them. A good dog will quickly assess the sheep it’s working, and keep at an appropriate distance to work them efficiently, without causing them stress.

World trial (trials)

Run every three years (the first was in 2002 at Bala in Wales) the ISDS World Sheepdog Trials are the pinnacle of sheepdog trials competitions. The best competitors from countries all over the world come together for a gruelling four days of intense competition.

Yard work / Pushing up

Photo of sheep and cattle dog Carew pushing up sheep in the yard
Carew pushing up sheep in the yard at Dean Farm

When sheep or cattle have been brought to a sorting yard or pen, they may not go through the sorting race unless there’s a dog ‘behind them ‘pushing them through’. The dog isn’t literally pushing the stock. Their fear of the dog makes them want to get away from it. It’s also frightening for an inexperienced dog to be ‘trapped’ in a confined space with the stock. Especially an inexperienced dog. Once the dog becomes confident in a yard, it will go on to be highly skilled at it. A good dog will only use just enough force to get the stock through the race without undue stress.

Yawning

Photo of a dog yawning
When a dog yawns like this, there’s something it’ not happy about

Surprisingly, yawning is a reliable sign that a dog isn’t happy about something. If a dog yawns or licks its mouth, it probably doesn’t like what’s happening at the time. More signs of a dog’s displeasure can be seen in the distractions section.


In the Tutorials Library, in addition to the regular Sheepdog Training videos there’s a Sheep Tutorial to help you understand sheep behaviour and choose the best type of sheep for training.

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