How to get sheep away from fences and hedges (FAQ)

Andy carrying the dog behind sheep to get them off a fence

Find out how to get stubborn sheep away from fences and hedges

QUESTION: How can I get my dog to move sheep away from fences?

ANSWER: Trying to train a dog to work sheep which simply cluster tightly on a fence or hedge, is frustrating for the dog and for the handler. If running away isn’t an option, sheep which are not accustomed to being worked by dogs will use fences as a refuge when confronted with a trainee dog.

Getting stubborn sheep away from a fence of some sort, requires a great deal of confidence on the dog’s part. Clustering tightly together is a common defence tactic used by sheep, to ward off predators. That’s exactly what the sheep are doing when they ‘glue’ themselves to a fence.

REMEMBER: Every time the sheep move away from the trainee dog, its confidence will improve a little. Conversely, if the sheep manage to get the dog to turn away, it will diminish the dog’s confidence. For this reason, you should do all you can to encourage your dog to go between the sheep and a fence. Once it becomes clear the dog’s not going to get closer to the sheep without assistance though, you should physically go and HELP the dog, giving it lots of encouragement at the same time.

Fortunately there are several methods of encouraging sheep to come into the centre of the training area. Hopefully you’ll be able to make at least one of them work for you.

THE No 1 RULE FOR GETTING SHEEP AWAY FROM OBSTACLES

When sheep cluster tightly against a fence or other obstacle, they usually all face in one direction. When they do this, if the dog approaches them from behind, they are much less vulnerable, and unlikely to move. If the dog approaches from the direction they are facing, the sheep are more likely to turn and go elsewhere.

The easiest way… ‘Dogged’ sheep

If the problem of sheep clustering on a fence is caused by the sheep being unfamiliar with being worked by dogs, then the simplest way to get sheep to come away from the edges of the training area, is to train with sheep which are ‘dogged‘. As you’ll see if you follow the link and read about them, heavily dogged sheep can be both a good and a bad thing. They’ll usually come away from a fence very easily. They’ve learned that the handler has more control over the dog when they’re close. They feel safer there.

Dogged sheep can be very useful for getting a dog used to moving sheep away from fences. If you can’t obtain sheep which are comfortable with being worked by dogs, maybe you could find someone who will let you use theirs. As the dog becomes more accomplished, and you want to move on to more advanced training though, heavily dogged sheep are unsuitable. Their lack of respect of the dog means they’re sluggish and even likely to refuse to move, at times.

Not many trainers are fortunate enough to be able to choose the sheep they train with though. Most have to manage with what they have.

Using an already trained dog

If you have a dog which has already been trained to work sheep, it might be able to help you. Especially if the trained dog will work well under its own initiative (rather than requiring constant commands).

Photo of a dog being used to control the sheep while another dog is being trained to work them.
Carew (right) controls the sheep while Isla is being trained to work them.

Try using it in the open field, to keep the sheep together and away from the boundary while the trainee goes around them. This can work very well, but if the trainer shouts a lot at the trainee, it can upset a trained dog. They seem to think it’s them who is being shouted at (even though they’re doing what they’ve been trained to to).

Use an UNTRAINED dog

If you have an untrained dog which will run after the sheep, you may be able to us it to help train the other dog. Build a training ring (as described in our Training Ring videos) and get the sheep into it (as shown in “Getting the sheep into the ring“) then let the untrained (helper) dog run around the ring. The dog should run towards the sheep wherever they get near to the hurdles. This will encourage the sheep to move into the middle of the ring. As long as the helper dog doesn’t jump into the ring, you should be able to use it in this way while you teach your trainee to go around the sheep in the ring.

Lead the dog between the sheep and the fence

It might not seem like it at the time, but a good way to help the dog is by leading it between the fence and the sheep. It doesn’t work every time, but it will often help to get them away from it.

A sheepdog handler leading his dog behind some sheep to move them away from a fence or hedge
The sheep have found a hiding place, but Andy’s leading Ludo close to the fence to get them away

The dog probably won’t like it, and will pull back on the lead at first. But it will learn that when it goes in between the sheep and the fence, the sheep move away. Each time this happens, the dog’s confidence will normally grow quickly. In the absence of a rope or lead, I hold the dog’s collar to lead it behind the sheep.

In the image at the top of this page, I’m carrying a young dog between the sheep and the fence. This helps me to move the sheep and builds the dog’s confidence at the same time.

Be ready! The sheep will try to get back onto the fence!

Apart from the dog pulling back on the lead, because it really doesn’t want to be led between the sheep and the fence, the sheep are likely to immediately re-group on the fence again! This can be disappointing for both dog and handler! I recommend you watch our sheepdog training tutorial “Get off the fence” for help with that. Place a hurdle or panel at ninety degrees to the fence, so that the sheep have to go around it. As they do this, release the dog. (Find out about the Magic Cord in our “Sheepdog Handler” tutorial. t the right moment, so that it can go between the hurdle and the sheep while they are off the fence.

Photo of trainer Andy Nickless releasing Ludo so that he can go around the sheep and keep them off the hedge or fence
Good timing! The sheep run out into the open training ring, and Andy releases the cord to allow Ludo to go around them.

Once the dog is released, the handler should quickly move into the centre of the ring. From there, encourage the dog to keep going around the sheep and keep them away from the edges. The sheep will be very keen to seek refuge on the fence once more, if they can!

Remember the rule though – PREFERABLY, the dog should approach the sheep from the way they are facing. Not from behind. But if the sheep move away in front of you as you’re leading the dog, then of course you will be behind them.

CALL THE DOG WITH YOU between the sheep and the fence

We recommend you build a very strong bond with your dog. Then encourage the dog to stay with you as you walk between the sheep and the fence.

NOT an illustration of a dog being called between the sheep and the fence, but this is similar to what’s required. Note the dog is very close to the handler, and next to the fence.

I have done this several times and (even though it probably looks very silly) it quite often works. As I have mentioned so often before, it’s CONFIDENCE the dog needs for this task, and the dog will feel far more confident when it’s really close to you.

I crouch down to make myself smaller (and less overbearing to the dog). Then, while patting my leg, I repeatedly call the dog very close to me. I use my most friendly and encouraging voice, as I walk towards the sheep. I try to get the dog as close to the hurdles as I can. If possible, putting myself between the dog and the sheep, to make the it feel protected from them.

Even if you approach from in front of the sheep they will probably move away from you, but that’s fine. You have them moving, and the dog will be more confident as a result. Keep following, as close as you can get yourself and the dog to the edge of the training area. With a bit of luck, the sheep will move out – especially if there’s some small obstacle in their path. That’s your cue to release the dog with perfect timing so that it can go around the sheep. NOW YOU MUST BE REALLY QUICK!

‘Waltz’ the sheep away from the fence

The video ‘Get off the fence‘ shows examples of ways to get sheep away from a fence or hedge. They using a trained (or untrained) dog to keep them away from the hurdles in a training ring. Quite often though, the dog will ‘muddle’ the sheep away from the fence or hedge. The trick here, is to keep the dog circling the sheep, and ‘waltz’ them away from the fence. You can also see this in ‘Get off the fence‘.

As long as the dog will get the sheep off the fence in one direction, it’s fairly easy to send it back the other way by blocking it. Your timing must be good really good, or the dog will end up holding the sheep AGAINST the fence! It’s easier at this stage, to keep the dog circling in one direction. Then you can ‘waltz’ the sheep out into the open.

With the dog going around the sheep, take one or two paces away from the fence on each circuit. Do this AS THE DOG GOES BETWEEN THE SHEEP AND THE FENCE. Don’t move towards the dog. The sheep won’t follow you closer to the dog but they’ll follow you AWAY from it. This is the time to move towards the centre of the training area. (Happy waltzing)!

Keep the sheep in the middle

Remember. The closer the sheep are to the fence, the more confidence the dog needs. To go between the sheep and the fence is scary for dogs! Ideally, once the sheep are in the middle of the ring, you can block and send it the other way. It’s important that the dog will flank in both directions around the sheep. Initially, just concentrate on getting the sheep away from the fence or hedge. We can sort the flanks out later.


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