QUESTION: Is it OK to walk my dog around the sheep every day? He’s not ready to work them yet but I want him to get used to being near them.
ANSWER: Familiarising the dog with sheep or cattle would seem like a good idea. After all, we want the dog to be relaxed when it’s with livestock, but unless you can trust the dog to actually work the stock, it’s not necessarily a good idea. The dog’s not ready – but there may be a way around the problem!
In the days when we used to run sheepdog training courses here, I sometimes received emails from people who had bought a puppy and were “walking it around the sheep on a lead every day to get it used to being near sheep”.
“Seems like a good idea!”
It seemed like a good idea, but we soon discovered that when these people eventually took the dog to the sheep for training, they found to their dismay that the dog wouldn’t have anything to do with the stock!
This is because even though they didn’t actually tell the dog not to do it, being restrained when walking around the sheep on a daily basis had eventually convinced the dog it wasn’t allowed to run after them!
Dogs begin learning from us the moment they first set eyes on us – and we should keep in mind that they learn from every single thing they see us do. Everything.
They don’t always learn the things we intend them to, either. They learn from whatever interpretation they put on our actions – not always the one we expect. Their minds work differently to ours, so sometimes the result can be far from what we hoped.
Allow the dog to ‘give chase’ occasionally
If we could take the dog to sheep and allow it to chase them around a little, that would keep the dog’s hunting instinct active but if you can’t trust the dog around livestock, keep it away from them until you can.
Don’t leave it too long though.
The longer a dog goes without the excitement of ‘working’ stock, the greater the chance that the dog won’t be interested when the time eventually comes.
Some of our Online Sheepdog Training Tutorials deal with the problem of dogs which don’t want to work sheep or other livestock. You can see a preview of the tutorials at the bottom of this page.
A happy compromise is to take the dog to stock on a long rope, so that you can encourage it to move the stock, but keep control of the dog. This will provide the excitement the dog requires, and it’ll go a long way towards preserving the dog’s burning desire to ‘chase’ livestock, whilst keeping the situation under control.
A stout rope, and leather gloves (not man-made) are essential to prevent burning your hands when you need to grip the rope to stop the dog! (Safety first)!