From Pet to Sheepdog – in One Session!

Mike (from Sheffield) with Jack
Initially Jack preferred to go in the ‘away’ direction but by the end of the day was going ‘come bye’ without being told.

On our training courses, we see all kinds of dogs. There are the hardened sheepdogs whos attention locks onto the sheep from the first moment, and at the other extreme, we see the occasional dog which doesn’t show a scrap of interest in sheep all day.

Of course, we do everything we possibly can to spark the herding instinct which I believe is in all collies (and indeed, to a greater or lesser extent in most breeds). Our heroic little dog, Kay is an expert at working sheep around a disinterested dog but even that sometimes fails. On these occasions, the trainee is often more interested in playing with Kay than any entertainment the sheep can offer.

While it’s very hard struggling to protect the sheep from a dog that’s over-excited and very determined, it still gives me a lot more satisfaction than seeing a dog depart for home having shown not a glimmer of interest in sheep.

So when Mike arrived from Sheffield for a One-to-One training session with his two and a half year old collie, Jack, I was slightly apprehensive. Jack had barely set eyes on a sheep before, let alone been allowed to take any interest in them.

Jack's control of the sheep was good for a beginner
Jack’s control of the sheep was exceptionally good for a beginner

Having read the blurb on our training web page, Mike was fully aware that we couldn’t guarantee a result, but of course, when people are paying good money, I like to deliver if we possibly can.

The first few minutes with Jack in the training area, were not great.

At first Jack took no notice of the sheep at all but quite soon, he had a little bark at them, followed up with some exploratory ‘dive-bombing’. Mike found out just how much energy is required when your dog must be kept off the sheep, and encouraged to go around them too, so when I suggested we give Jack a few minutes break, Mike was more enthusiastic than I’d anticipated.

We rested dog and man for a while and on the second attempt, Jack was much more workmanlike. His enthusiasm had increased dramatically and he was circling the sheep enthusiastically but only anti clockwise. Jack was pretty determined that ‘Away’ was definitely the way to go but between us, Mike and I were able to convince him there was another practical route.

After a few more minutes’ break, I opened up the hurdles and Jack was keeping his sheep together in the open field. He got better and better, bringing the sheep up behind Mike very nicely and even dashing out to collect any errant sheep that thought it would go its own way.

So in the course of a morning, this pet dog which had barely glimpsed sheep, let alone worked them, was keeping sheep together, stopping, walking up and flanking both ways. Once or twice we noticed Jack go clockwise around the sheep on his own initiative.

What a lucky boy I am! Not only do I get to train sheepdogs, I teach people to train their dogs to work sheep. When it’s a pet dog that makes this much progress, the job satisfaction is immense.


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