Will my puppy work sheep or cattle? (FAQ)

Photo of a puppy gazing at sheep through a fence

QUESTION: I have a young Border Collie puppy which I want to use for herding our sheep. How can I tell if he’s interested in working?

ANSWER: If one or more of your pup’s parents works sheep or other livestock, there’s a very good chance your pup will too. Probably the first sign you’ll have of its interest will be when the pup stands and stares at the stock- but this is also the time when the pup’s most vulnerable to being put-off working altogether!

Generally, most pups from parents which work livestock will work stock themselves when they grow up, but there are a few points to look out for along the way.

Protect the pup from aggression

The first, and perhaps most important rule, is never let the puppy be frightened or harmed by the stock. It’s tempting to allow your puppy the freedom of the farm, but it’s a bad idea. As well as the obvious danger from machinery, or more recently of being stolen, unconstrained puppies are very curious creatures, and they’ll investigate every corner of the farm. If they happen to get close to sheep or cattle, eventually, the stock are likely to chase them away, and might even injure the pup.

photo of two Border Collie puppies standing close to a bunch of sheep
Puppies can be extremely vulnerable when they get close to sheep

Strictly keeping the dog away from the stock would seem to be the obvious answer, but it’s not. Keeping the dog away from animals on the farm can result in the dog losing interest in working. In fact, even walking the dog around livestock on a lead, will often result in the dog getting the idea it’s not allowed to work them!

When a puppy begins to stare at the sheep, there’s a very good chance it will work

We’ve found over the years that once the pup begins to take an interest in our sheep, it’s best to keep it away from them most of the time, but occasionally deliberately take the youngster to the sheep under close supervision, and encourage it to run around after them.

This works very well in theory, but its success depends on the owner or trainer being able (and close enough) to prevent the sheep from attacking or threatening the young dog. This is not as easy as it sounds. You need to be really close to the dog at all times, and very alert to any threat from the sheep.

There’s a lot more detail on how to care for your young sheepdog in our “Starting a Young Puppy” Tutorial.


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