Do you need to teach your sheepdog to work faster around stock?
QUESTION: I know most people have the opposite problem, but how can I get my dog to go faster when it’s working?
ANSWER: You’re right. Most trainers struggle to slow their dogs down, but if you have good control of the dog, and the biggest problem is that you’d like it to speed it up, consider yourself lucky!
What’s causing the dog to work slowly?
Before you begin teach your sheepdog to work faster, you need to think carefully about why it’s working slowly. For instance, if the dog was really aggressive with the sheep or cattle, and you were hard on it when you stopped it, that could cause the dog to slow down. It might be thinking that whatever it does around stock, it gets into trouble.
If this is the case, you need back-off with the discipline, to restore the dog’s confidence – and you also need to be more careful to praise the dog when it’s doing something right, instead of simply criticising the dog all the time.
Obviously, you need to protect the stock – especially sheep – but try to be less strict than you were before, whilst protecting the stock at the same time.
So how can I teach the sheepdog to work faster?
Remember! The closer you are to the dog, the more control you have over it, so keep the dog working close to you whenever possible. This will boost the dog’s confidence and consequently help to speed it up.
As the dog’s confidence grows, GRADUALLY increase the distance the dog works at, but if you find you’re losing control, reduce the distance again.
Sometimes dogs can get bored with training, particularly if they get a lot of criticism and little or no praise. Dogs ADORE praise, so it makes sense to give them lots of it when they’re working well.
Lots of excitement (from you) can help a lot, to. Training can get stale for some dogs, particularly if they train on the same sheep, in the same field, and only do the same lessons every day.
Try to make training more interesting for the dog – even exciting if you can. Whistling, clapping, laughing and anything else you can think of which will get your dog to think “this is great fun”!
Remember to work as close to the dog as possible at first, and give the dog the impression you’re really enjoying yourself.
The dog will speed up as its confidence grows
As the dog learns its confidence will grow, and the dog will speed up, but (in my opinion) it’s better to maintain control as the speed increases, starting now.
If the dog is too slow, but working reasonably well, we have two video tutorials which will help you a lot. The first one to watch is “How can I slow the dog down” – but what you need to do is the OPPOSITE of what is recommended in that video!
Another good tutorial for giving the dog more confidence is “Sometimes nice is not enough“ but be aware that as you increase the dog’s confidence, it might suddenly become over-confident – and even aggressive with the sheep or cattle. If it does, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get it under control again, but be aware of what’s happening!
Footnote: The dog in the picture at the top of this page is Quinn. He was a useful sheepdog, but extremely slow when he was working. At the time we had Quinn, I didn’t know how to “speed a dog up when working” but we sold him to a retired farmer (Herbie) in Norfolk who didn’t mind how slowly Quinn worked. He would sit in his pickup and wait for the dog to bring the sheep! Once a year, Herbie would call me and tell me how pleased he was with Quinn!