Improve a bad outrun, by going back to basics (FAQ)

Photo of a sheepdog setting off on an outrun to gather sheep

QUESTION: What is the best way of improving a bad outrun?

ANSWER: The most common reason for your dog doing a bad outrun is: you sent it too far, too soon. Read on for more details.

Ways of improving a bad outrun

There are many opportunities for things to go wrong when you send your dog to gather sheep, so let’s look at ways of improving a bad outrun.

It’s important to keep the outrun tidy. The quality of the outrun can make a huge difference to the way the whole operation goes when you’re gathering sheep, or even cattle. The outrun is also critical in a sheepdog trial.

Here are some of the most common faults that sheepdog handlers sometimes have problems with:

The dog doesn’t reach the sheep

  • The dog starts on its outrun, but turns before it reaches the sheep and returns to the handler.
  • The dog stops on its outrun.
  • The dog is reluctant to run out, and persistently looks back to the handler. 

Crossing over on the outrun

  • The dog will outrun only in one or other direction, i.e. the dog “crosses over’ on its outrun. If it’s sent on a Come Bye outrun it runs only a short distance before cutting across the handler and continuing towards the sheep in the Away direction (or vice versa). Crossing over often disturbs the sheep, sending them further away or pushing them to somewhere that the handler was deliberately trying to avoid.

Not bringing the sheep back to the handler

  • The dog runs straight at the sheep, usually scattering them, instead of running smoothly around and taking up a position behind them. 
  • The dog runs out to the sheep well, but cuts in too tight at the top of its outrun and comes in too close to the sheep. Cutting in disturbs and startles the sheep, and often scatters them across the field. This approach can be seen in a dog who tends to rush in to grip.
  • The dog reaches the sheep but then simply chases them around.
  • The dog reaches the sheep but runs through them, and gathers only a few.
  • The dog does what appears to be a reasonable outrun, but then circles round the sheep instead of bringing them to the handler.

Too fast!

  • The dog runs out, lifts the sheep, but brings them back far too fast. This often results in the sheep rushing past the handler and taking flight to the other end of the field with the dog in hot pursuit.

It’s quite a list, isn’t it? But they’re all just manifestations of sending the dog “TOO FAR, TOO SOON”.

The farther away the trainee dog is from the handler, the less confidence it will have.

To improve a bad outrun, the first thing to do is reduce the distance to what you know the dog can cope with.

Photo of Kelpie Red holding a small bunch of sheep to trainer, while he is being taught to improve his bad outrun
You may not think it’s an outrun, but your young dog’s first outruns will collect the sheep from just a few feet away from you

A bad outrun can be easily avoided.

A good outrun is a gradual development; the first outruns will be only a few feet. You need to build a dog’s confidence before it’s ready to leave the safety of your legs and run, perhaps 400m or more, to collect the sheep for you. Extend the outrun by a yard or two every week, or every session, if the dog is consistently performing well.

Increasing the difficulty

Of course your dog needs to be given increasingly difficult tasks to develop its skills, but if the outrun starts to go wrong reduce the distance. Be content with a shorter, but perfect, outrun for a few days before you lengthen it again. But don’t lengthen it too far.

Whatever the task, if your dog throws up a new problem (or revisits an old one) THINK: “Am I asking more than the dog is ready for?” 

Close up of sheep with a sheepdog in the background
You can send the dog on a short outrun but run a few paces backwards, so the dog has further to bring the sheep back to you

The Outrun is covered in three online training tutorials as well as on DVD. The Outrun parts 1 and 2 appear on the Tutorials Volume One DVD, while part 3, “The Slingshot” is included on Volume 3 and demonstrates an invaluable and fun exercise to enthuse the dog and widen its outrun. You’ll find more help and advice about teaching the outrun in our FAQ section.


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