Training – An Overview
It has always been the aim of All About Sheepdogs to create a handler training culture throughout shepherding (plus anyone who is working sheep) within the changing nature of the Sheep Industry and in relation to the practical and social needs of the modern shepherd paying particular attention to the encouragement of young handlers.
While we no longer hold group training sessions, we have instead a network of trainers whom we can contact for your specific requirements. We can therefore possibly find one close to your location.
All the Trainers with whom I am in contact are flexible in their approach to Training and will suit their help to you and your dog. The learning experience is much easier and also important if you enjoy the whole process. So ENJOY!
Sheepdogs in Training
The training of a young dog is time-consuming but, with a suitable dog and determination, the process will be rewarding for both handler and dog. Structured training sessions will enable you, the Handler to perform basic stock tasks with minimum stress to the sheep, to your dog and to yourself. A course an help you achieve a basic understanding of the process working a sheepdog and with a higher level of competence in sheep dog handling you will attain the maximum level of work from the individual animal.
Having achieved these basic skills much of the training can be undertaken during normal daily work. The emphasis in training is on the Handler but it is essential for dog and handler to have a strong bond upon which their working relationship can be based.
A sheep dog will be between 8 months to 18 months, but this depends on the individual animal and whether or not they have shown an ‘interest’ in sheep. Some older dogs have been successfully trained by their handlers.
By having an initial assessment with your Trainer you will find out what to expect from the dog’s first experience with sheep. You will ascertain your dog’s potential and how that potential may match your aspirations. If you are not an experienced shepherd you will also gain knowledge of working with sheep.
Beginners and novices
‘Beginners and novice’ covers a wide range of handler ability. For example when we ran group course, experienced handlers would come along to establish a working relationship with a new dog.
Some trainers favour the ‘Pen’ as a training aid. This means that a circular pen made of hurdles is erected and about 5 or 6 sheep placed within. Your dog will then move around the outside of the pen with you endeavouring to ‘balance’ the dog and introduce commands for left and right – traditionally ‘come-by’ and ‘away’.
Once the trainer is satisfied that you are in control of your dog and your dog is in control of itself, he will progress you to a flock of – say – 20 to 30 sheep in a small field. This is where your ability to ‘read’ sheep will come into more prominence!
Again, balancing the dog is paramount. With the confidence that the dog has gained through working the ‘pen’ it is always hoped that ‘gripping’ a sheep will not take place. This sometimes happens when a young dog gets over anxious that the sheep are not doing what it wants them to do and attaches itself to the sheep’s fleece.
Obviously this is not to be encouraged but is a natural response when training a young dog. This is one reason why trainers are careful about the group of sheep they use for training! Prized pedigree stock might not be the first choice! Some trainers prefer not to use this method and will introduce a young dog to a mob of 40 or 50 sheep from the outset. In terms of success this method does depend more on the handlers’ ability to ‘read’ the sheep. But all trainers have their individual methods and you can always put together a pen at home if you prefer, for practice!
There is always the concern that the sheep are being stressed when used for training sessions. We must reassure our readers that the welfare of the sheep is paramount. Constant re-appraisal of sheep is carried out throughout the session and a group can be replaced if stress is noted within the flock.
A Well Trained Dog
You can appreciate that once fully trained; the working sheepdog is the right hand of the shepherd and will help the keeping of sheep less difficult and more pleasurable.
And remember, at all times – Practice makes Perfect.