How to Train Sheepdogs

Keeping a watchful eye...
Keeping a watchful eye... (Image: collie image by Ivonne Wierink from

Many dog breeds fall into the "pastoral group" category, informing us that these dogs' instincts are finely tuned to movement of any kind. A good sheepdog will show a keeness of drive usually from a young age, getting much of his fun from circling and herding anything that moves--ducks, geese, cattle, sheep, other dogs and humans are all fair game! The number of stock animals you have, the type and size of property and your individual "herding" goals will influence what breed of sheepdog will best suit your individual needs.

Things You'll Need

  • Long lead
  • Long guiding cane or crook

Teach your dog the "sit," "down," and "steady" commands, and practice these regularly before you begin training your dog with sheep or cattle, so that these behaviors are crystal clear in your dog's mind before you introduce more formal herding commands and further stimulation.

Let's do some training!
Let's do some training! (Image: red border collie image by Earl Robbins from

Select a small group of sheep or other small animals to build up your dog's confidence in herding at first. Encourage your sheepdog to approach the animals, but disagree with any over excitement. When your dog moves around the sheep in a clockwise direction, guided by you and your crook, use a command like "come bye," or another of your choice, to teach him to move away from you in this way. Praise your dog for good behavior, practice the "wait," "steady," "sit" and "down" commands, and begin again.

When your dog moves in an counterclockwise direction, again guided by your body language, your positioning and crook, use the "away" or "away to me" command to build this association in your dog's mind. Now you have commands to instruct your dog to go left or right around the animals and should feel more in control. Use markers on the ground and invent a herding course so you and your dog can practice driving the animals away from and back to you again.

Train your dog to back off the animals being herded by using the "back" or "get off" command. As you say the command, move towards your dog and ask him to "stand" and "wait," allowing a greater gap to appear between dog and flock. If you are consistent in your body language and positioning, your dog will soon understand that "back" means "back off and give some space."

I find this "back" command a bit tricky...
I find this "back" command a bit tricky... (Image: Border Collie image by Scott Griessel from

Finish the "game" by asking your dog to come to you, and signal that you now want him to stop herding and to relax. "That'll do" is a common phrase used, but you can make up and use your own, provided that you are consistent.

Can we play the herding game again?
Can we play the herding game again? (Image: BORDER COLLIE image by francois50 from

Tips & Warnings

  • Exercise your dog with a tennis ball, or use another stimulating activity to drain some energy before you introduce your dog to the animals--this is particularly advisable if you have an excitable or a very keen dog.
  • Whistles can be introduced alongside verbal commands--an individual sound for each verbal command--and are really useful if guiding a dog at distance.
  • Practice is the key to progress when working a sheepdog--building a mutual rapport and understanding takes time.
  • Disagree with a sheepdog's behavior if he is too keen or if he makes contact with the animals, and convince your dog that his role is a herding one and not one that involves attacking stock. Use a long lead effectively, and position your crook to block a dog's approach if you have already asked him to "back" and he persists.

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