You can’t beat flock work for developing a dog’s character

Carew’s strength of character has improved drastically with flock work

Sheepdog Carew holding a stick as she faces sheep in a pen
Sheepdog Carew holding a stick as she faces sheep in a pen. (Click to enlarge image)

As the run of unusually hot weather continues in the UK, I’m grateful (and I’m sure the dogs are too) that we can do the bulk of our training and flock work in the early morning.

This morning was no exception. At five-thirty Carew, Kay and I were in the car once again, following John’s pickup and stock trailer to Dean Farm where we gather and sort the lambs for market.

Fortunately, each time we do this operation it seems to go better. Previously we’ve had some difficulty because the dogs didn’t know the fields, and they couldn’t see the sheep because the grass is too long, but this time they seemed to know just what to do – both dogs outrunning really wide and noticeably checking areas where sheep were hiding on previous gathers.

Sheepdog driving sheep along a farm track to buildings
Sheep dogs quickly learn the daily routine. Kay knows the sheep have to be driven down this track to the farm yard.

As always, the first bunch was no problem. The appearance of the two vehicles was their signal to make their way to the railway bridge, from where Kay simply drove them down the drive to the farmyard. There was a brief delay when about twenty of them found a gap in the fence and took a detour around the buildings, but Kay quickly had them back in hand and the flock went into the sorting pens soon after.

I was delighted to find that John had already tagged the lambs in this bunch, so all we had to do was sort them out and load them onto the trailer. Once the lambs were drafted out of the first bunch, we set off in pursuit of the main flock. For this second gather I’d already decided on some new tactics to prevent the sheep from dodging between the six fields they were grazing. I took both dogs with me in the car, because my inability to move quickly from one place to another had been something of a handicap on previous occasions.

Sheepdog Carew waits outside a crowded sheep sorting pen
Carew keeps watch as we draft out the lambs for market.

The new tactics worked out better than I’d expected. Instead of gathering all the sheep into one central field, from where they tried to escape to all corners, I drove the dogs to the farthest field before evicting them from the car. Together we worked our way from one field to the other, driving the rapidly growing mob before us as we went. Of course, the old Peugeot 406 estate I use for the dogs (and as a substitute tractor at times) would be useless in winter, so I fully appreciate the benefits of quad bikes for shepherding.

The most serious incident involved around fifty sheep that decided to mosey off towards the first field, but Carew spotted them before I did and sped off to retrieve them without delay. In the few weeks that we’ve been gathering, penning and sorting sheep for John, Carew’s work has improved immeasurably. The sheep rarely face her now, simply because they sense her confidence. If one does turn towards her she’ll simply dodge away, but quickly turn back, put her head down and walk up in such a way that the sheep retreat. She seems to positively enjoy the challenge.

When we first started to push the sheep up in the pens a few weeks ago, Kay had been my first choice because she doesn’t mind using her teeth in a difficult situation. Carew’s much more sensitive. Sensitive away from sheep doesn’t mean sensitive at work though, and last week, when I gave Carew a chance, she was simply amazing. This week she proved that it had been no fluke. She applied just the right amount of pressure, where and when it was needed – and I was delighted to be able to get a picture of her, stick in mouth, holding the ewes and lambs at bay.

Thanks largely to Carew, the remaining work went without a hitch – a very satisfying morning!



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2 responses to “You can’t beat flock work for developing a dog’s character”

  1. Muriel Naughton avatar
    Muriel Naughton

    All my sheep – about 60 in all, ewes and lambs – are still all together in one flock, in a difficult steep field with trees and corners but it’s all I have to work with at the moment for my new dog, year old Poppy. However, she seems to prefer working a bigger group, I think they stay as a group better. This morning there were no sheep to be seen, I knew they’d be under the trees but Poppy didn’t, however, I was delighted as she went off round the field looking for them. This was the furthest she had gone from me when working so I think her confidence is growing. She has great natural instinct. however, I’m finding it hard to teach her flanking commands with such a big group – I guess we’ll wean them soon so I might be able to have a smaller group.

    Thank you for your tutorials I find them so helpful, I’m much more relaxed as a result when things don’t go to plan and I just try to use whatever goes wrong as extra training. Excellent resource for inexperienced trainers like me.

    1. Hi Muriel, It’s really good to hear that you’re finding the tutorials useful – thanks for taking the time to tell us.
      It sounds as though Poppy’s going well, especially for such a young dog, and you’ll probably see huge progress when you can sort out a smaller group of sheep to work with. Wading through 60 sheep to enforce a command can be very tiring…
      Best wishes,


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