Sheepdog Training 3 – Why sheepdogs work stock

Closeup photo of Dot looking out over the Welsh mountains - find out why sheepdogs work stock

Find out why sheepdogs work stock – tirelessly for hours on end.

Many years ago, some neighbours stopped to watch a training session with my first dog, Dot. One of them asked me why Dot would work for so long without some kind of reward. I know little of training other breeds but the greatest rewards you can give are a Border Collie are:

  • To allow the dog to work or continue working.
  • Show the dog you’re pleased with its work by the using the tone of your voice when giving commands
  • Verbally praising the dog when it’s working well, with an enthusiastic, gentle voice.

Like most working Border Collies, my first dog Dot, was desperate to work sheep (and other stock) and she responded well to praise. At home, she craved attention – desperate to be held or stroked – when there were no sheep around.

When she was working, Dot would immediately obey the “that’ll do” command. She’d come racing back to me with the most joyful of expressions. In the early stages of Dot’s training I encouraged this immediate response by crouching down and stretching my arms wide to welcome her whilst calling “that’ll do” enthusiastically.

She wasn’t coming back for a hug!

Quickly I realised she wasn’t racing back for the congratulatory hug I had in mind for her! Inches before we made contact, she’d spin around and face the sheep again (completely ignoring me until I gave a command for her to work again).

Dot came racing back enthusiastically because once I’d called her off, it was her best chance of continuing to work the sheep! A sheep dog’s hunting instinct is very powerful, and understanding why sheepdogs work stock is key to training dogs to work sheep, cattle, or other livestock.

Dot flew to Idaho the USA in December 2003, where she worked on a cattle ranch.

Dogs need to be corrected during their training. But just as humans hate being bellowed at all the time, so do dogs. Likewise, just as we’re more likely to be cooperative if we’re instructed in a civil tone, so is our canine friend. (I wish I could remember this more often, myself)!

To train a sheepdog from a puppy is a long process. It will take you through various stages from euphoria to utter despair. Sometimes, you’ll think your dog can read your mind. At others, you’ll feel utterly humiliated and think the dog’s forgotten everything you taught it.

You must be prepared for this. Remember that the bad times will become fewer if you believe in your dog and yourself. When you hear someone say: “I had to get rid of Fido – just couldn’t stop him (doing this, that or the other)“. What really happened is that they couldn’t work out the reason Fido was behaving the way he was.

Careful thought solves problems

Think carefully about your dog’s behaviour and why sheepdogs work stock, you can normally find a way to correct faults. It’ll take time and patience, but it can be done. Trials winners are the trainers who are best at this. The clever trainers choose a young dog. They’re the ones most likely to have the least number of problems. I believe that almost any young Border Collie can make a useful sheepdog. To test this theory, I advertised on our website for young Border Collies that people needed to re-home.

Once the advert appeared, the telephone was very busy! Over the next year or so, we took on ten of these “rescues”. I only turned one away from our gate (he bit me while I was talking to his owners).

I mention that because every one of those “rescues” became what I would call a sheepdog. (The way I define a sheepdog is: If your sheep had escaped, and this were your only dog, would you take it with you to get those escaped sheep back, or would you seek the help of a friend or neighbour?).

I stopped taking the “rescue” dogs in because more often than not, we had problems with them barking.
Incessant barking is something I won’t tolerate, and I don’t expect our neighbours to have to endure it either.

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