Guide to Training a Sheep Dog

A behind-the-scenes look at the process of training a sheep dog, including basic commands, the duck pen, diagrams of procedures, the outrun, driving sheep, penning sheep, and do's and don'ts of dog training.

| September/October 1987

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    Before sending Nell on her outrun, I said, "Look, Nell, look for the sheep." When I was sure she saw them, I sent her around them.
    PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    Figure 2: The outrun.
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
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    Figure 1: Teaching the dog to line up ducks.
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD

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It takes patience when training a sheep dog to teach a young sheep dog its job. 

Guide to Training a Sheep Dog

I live on a small, hilltop farmstead in Ohio and have kept sheep ever since I was three years old (I'm 13 now). I've built my flock up slowly over the years and now have one ram and 14 ewes, which produce about 16 to 20 lambs a year.

Two years ago I realized how much time I spent chasing my sheep. I was running them off muddy pastures in springtime, cornering ewes to check their feet in the heat of summer, trying to catch quick little lambs that squeezed through the barn door in January and constantly trying to get sheep into the barn to trim their hoofs or give them injections.I needed help.

I tried using Zak, our Labrador retriever, as a sheep dog—but he chased the lambs away from me instead of to me. An Australian shepherd puppy I located at a nearby farm didn't do much better. Then a local sheep dog trainer, Pat Welsh, found a registered border collie puppy for me to work with. I named her Nell. As Pat pointed out, the border collie has the instinct (bred into it for generations) to bring stock to its master.



I've had good results with Nell, but it took a lot of time and careful work when training a sheep dog. I'll tell you the story of how I trained her, and I'll include portions of my day-to-day journal as I go along.

Feb. 2: I got Nell today for my birthday! She's a four-month-old border collie. I am being quiet and calm around her because she is a little scared.  






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