QUESTION: We have an eight year old border collie and now live on a smallholding where we will soon get our first flock of sheep. Will it be possible to train the dog to work sheep?
ANSWER: In theory, you can train any dog which has the necessary instinct for herding – but there are several factors which can complicate the training an older dog.
Basically, when dogs work sheep, they are using a hunting instinct which all dogs have – to a greater or lesser extent.
It’s an advantage if the dog is from parents which worked sheep, cattle or other livestock, but (being creatures of habit) the longer the dog goes without working stock, the more likely it is that its hunting instinct will go dormant.
If the dog takes any interest in sheep at all, it can be a sign that the instinct is still alive.
You might notice that the dog’s fascinated by the animals, or wants to get at them – or even just stares at them. These can be good signs as far as training the dog to work sheep or cattle is concerned, but don’t thing the same applies if the dog chases toys, cars (please no) or other pets. They MIGHT be signs that the dog will work, but not necessarily.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!
Don’t believe the old saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It’s not true – of course you can! If you started feeding an old dog in a different room, for instance, how long would it take for the dog to learn where the new feeding place was?
Generally speaking, the older the dog is, the longer it will take to learn new things. The dog will be more ’set in its ways’.
If the hunting instinct is dormant, it can take longer to re-awaken it – and unfortunately, if the dog becomes aggressive with the sheep once the hunting instinct ‘kicks-in’, it can mean it’s harder to control the dog’s aggression, too.
Having said that, I have trained several older dogs, often very successfully. I remember years ago when I used to run sheepdog training classes here, a woman brought a ten year old dog, and we spent much of the day trying to get it interested in working – then suddenly, late in the afternoon, the dog began working as though it had been doing it all its life! (Quite amazing).
I suggest you try it and see, but beware. When I talk of a hunting instinct, I really mean it. Sometimes, even the best trained, most obedient dogs become totally uncontrollable when first confronted with sheep. This can be shocking, upsetting and distressing for the owner. You may be lucky, I hope it doesn’t happen to you, but it does happen.
Of course, the welfare of the sheep must be paramount here. Don’t allow your dog to harm or unduly stress sheep or livestock.
You may be aware that we have Online Sheepdog Training Tutorials which may be ideal for you. If you take out monthly or a one year membership, I would recommend you watch them in the order they appear when you login to your account. That way you will get a clearer picture of how the dog works, and what to expect, how the sheep work, and how to go about training.
Sheepdog training is TOTALLY different to any other form of dog training, so you’re in for quite a learning curve if your dog shows an interest.
We have two Sheepdog Training Tutorials on how to awaken the dog’s hunting instinct if it’s dormant – and much more which will help you. Members can also leave questions below each tutorial and we do our best to reply within a day or so.
If you subscribe to the tutorials and decide you’ve had enough, cancelling your payments is very simple. The cancellation link is at the top of the Welcome Page which you go to when you login to your account.