QUESTION. My dog is keen to work sheep but refuses to go around them. How can I get the dog to go round the sheep and bring them to me?
ANSWER. Just as a dog which has been taught to go out and bring sheep to the handler or trainer, can find it difficult to learn to drive the sheep away, a dog which has only been taught to drive stock away, can find it difficult to learn to go out and gather them.
Not all ‘gathering‘ types of sheepdog do this instinctively though. If they don’t, we need to stimulate the dog’s instinct to ‘go and get the sheep’.
Reasons why the dog won’t go round sheep
There are various reasons why a dog might not want to go round sheep. A common cause is that the dog was trained to drive or drove sheep before being asked to gather them. It may also have been trained to stay close to the handler for some other reason, before it began sheepdog training.
Normally, we teach the dog to bring sheep to us first. This involves encouraging the dog to go out to the other side of the sheep (the point of balance) and gather them to us. Later, we teach the dog to stay closer to us, and drive the sheep away. Dogs often find this difficult to understand at first. Watch the ‘Driving‘ videos to find out more about this.
Most dogs get the idea fairly quickly. Some can be slower to see what’s required, however. Likewise, if the dog has been taught to drive sheep away first, it’s going to be reluctant to go and bring them back to the handler at first, but it simply needs training.
Use some trickery to get the dog going round the sheep
If the dog will chase sheep around the training ring, it’s not usually difficult to trick it into going behind the sheep. Often, the biggest problem with this is the dog’s fear of being trapped between the sheep and the fence. This is dealt with in the training video “Get off the fence“. Watch the ‘Training Ring‘ tutorials for more information on this valuable training aid.
A great way to get the dog to go to the other side of the sheep from you is to get the sheep circulating around inside the pen, then block the dog, and send it back the other way. As the dog approaches the sheep from their front, they will usually come away from the fence. This is your opportunity to encourage the dog to go between the sheep and the fence. Once you can do this, by keeping the action going in the ring, the dog’s enthusiasm will usually result in it going around the sheep without a problem.
If the dog still refuses to go round the sheep?
If you can’t get the dog to chase like this, don’t worry! As long as you’re able to make the dog stay in place, there’s another (slower) way. Stop the dog near to the sheep, and make it stay in place as YOU go round the to the other side of the sheep. The dog must stay in place – don’t allow it to come with you. If necessary, get someone to keep the dog in place while you go to the other side of the sheep.
Ideally it would be someone the dog doesn’t know very well. That way, the dog will be fully focussed on you, but unable to come to you. There are two examples of me putting myself on the point of balance (although in a different context) in the ‘Bronwen and Scylla” Part 5 video – It’s well worth watching all of the tutorial, but if you can’t spare the time, use the list below the video to find: 13:11: The sheep run towards nearby cattle.
The next move is to move back a little, and try to encourage the dog to come towards you, but still on the opposite side of the sheep from you. Give the dog lots of praise for staying in place. If it comes to you, get it back on the other side of the sheep, and keep doing this until the dog learns what you want it to do.
Watch the ‘Pack Behaviour‘ video to learn more about the dog’s hunting instinct.