Watching the sheep go by

Border Collie sheepdog puppy Jack perched high in a hedge, watching the sheep below him

Jack’s not ready to take an interest in sheep

Being a high drive yet biddable (obedient) border collie puppy, from excellent working parents, means that, on paper at least, Jack has the potential to be a good sheepdog.

Puppy Jack hides between Gill's boots and gazes at the sheep.
Safe haven! Jack watching the sheep from his safe position between Gill’s boots

Jack’s delightful character is a bonus for us, because we always prefer our dogs to have something special about them.

Jack certainly has something special in his nature; his extraordinary determination and aptitude for climbing is only part of it.

Assuming Jack doesn’t do himself a serious injury by falling from on high, the next few weeks and months will be critical in his development. We need him to take an interest in working sheep, but it’s something he’s shown no inclination towards so far.

Last Saturday we took some puppies to the sheep and, although Jack wasn’t the youngest there, he was the one who showed least interest in them.

He seemed to deliberately find things to play with, rather than get involved in the excitement, and when the sheep looked as though they were coming really close, Jack climbed up the hedge and watched from up there. Undeniably cute, but foolhardy and not very useful!

Puppy Jack has picked up a toy and is heading away from the sheep
“They’re getting too close for comfort.” Jack looks a little worried as he hurries away from the sheep with his toy

That Jack was distracting himself with toys really doesn’t worry us. In our experience, the only things that prevent a dog from working – if it’s inclined to work – are to be too hard on it in the early stages, or by allowing something to happen that either frightens or hurts it.

We actively encourage all our dogs to play with toys, and our best sheepdogs have often been those with the highest play drive. We’ve owned dogs who proved to have no interest in sheep (despite our best efforts) and who similarly took no interest in toys. Of course, we’ve also had dogs who’ll play but not work, and work but not play. These days we don’t put much attention on it, but we tend to prefer living and working with the dogs who’ll play.

Border collie sheepdog puppy Jack playing on a log while other dogs are working sheep behind him
Sheep? Where? Jack doesn’t want to know that the sheep are close behind as he plays on the log.

Anyone who’s bought or raised a puppy with the intention of teaching it to work sheep will know that, as the puppy gets older, waiting for it to “show” can be an anxious time, but as I said in Sunday’s blog, it’s early days.

There’s no hurry, but of course we’ll be relieved when (and if) Jack becomes “hooked” on sheep work.

If you have a puppy or young dog which seems slow to take an interest in sheep, don’t despair; let nature take its course. By all means gently encourage the dog to take an interest, but never try to force the issue. If you can work the sheep with another dog, so much the better, but tempting though it may be, take great care not to drive the sheep towards the pup as this can frighten it, and make it even less inclined to work.


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