How to Train Your Border Collie Dog to Herd Sheep

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Border collies are relatively easy to train to herd sheep because that is their natural inclination.

Border collies are relatively easy to train to herd sheep because that is their natural inclination.

You can start the basic training of your border collie puppy at about 10 months old.  But before you actually begin to introduce herding commands to him, you must first study the commands yourself and be able to distinguish between them.  The word you use for each individual command can be invented by you, the trainer, but many novice trainers like a list of herding terms to use as a guide.

Herding Terms

Flank:  Commands the dog to get up behind the sheep and to gather them in bunches.
Outrun:   The dog is at your side, and the sheep stand somewhere in front of you.  The dog must get to the other side of the sheep without crossing between them or disturbing them in any way.
Fetch:  The dog brings the sheep to you.
Driving:  The sheep’s heads are in front of you, and the dog is driving the flock towards you.
Pen:  The sheep are coming closer to you with each of the dog’s flanks.
Shed:  The dog is going through the midst of the sheep, using the flanking technique, and holding the sheep you have asked him to bring to you.  This should be the last, basic command taught to a young, sheep herding collie.
Go/Come Bye:  The dog is moving in a clockwise direction around the sheep.
Away to Me:  The dog is moving in a counter-clockwise direction around the sheep.
Steady On – Walk On:  The dog continues on but at a slower pace.
Get Up:  Stand up or get on with your herding.
There:  Hold the line.
Take Time:  Say this phrase sternly:  Slow down.
Listen:  You might include the dog’s name here; this word is best used when the dog is anxious.
Get Back:  The dog is too close to the sheep.
What Are You Doing:  The dog is behaving irrationally.
Basic Stages of Training
In the first stage, make the dog aware of you, the sheep, and his own proximity to the sheep.  The collie will naturally want to work on his own, but he must accept you as a teammate.

Permit your pup to flank, but be ready to give a verbal or a physical correction.  Your border collie doesn’t know right from wrong yet.  Be prepared to resort to a physical correction if a verbal correction doesn’t work.  Never hit the dog.  Merely yank him by the collar; grab his ears and give them a gentle shake; stand in the correct spot and nudge him over there.  A physical correction is often more memorable than a verbal one.  Watch the dog’s attitude:  it will tell you how much to discipline.

Allow the dog to flank instinctively; don’t give many directions at this time.  Instead, ask yourself, is he hurting sheep, and is he thinking about them instead of running just as fast as he can?

The dog’s attitude is most important in this stage.  Don’t rush through training.  He must learn to think and to approximate proper distance around the sheep.
Come Bye and Away to Me are logically taught next.  Use a physical correction to guide your dog into the right place: gently nudge him.  This stage takes time.  But it can be taught if each time he runs wild or just goes in the wrong direction, he is given a physical correction.

Teach him to pace in a sense.  Back up and let him bring the sheep to you.  He will learn how sheep behave and react.

Outruns comprise the next stage of learning in a border collie’s life.  If your dog is now flanking well, an outrun is the one end result.  This stage often teaches itself.
Shedding is the final step, but, if you have already drilled the dog on flanking and reading sheep, this last stage in beginning training should be simple. Take this stage slowly.  The dog needs to learn your body language to know which sheep you want to be brought to you and how to keep the chosen sheep away from the others.  Sorting, a more complicated procedure, will be taught on this foundation.

Practice

The ultimate goal of all this basic training does not result in a finished product.  The basic training process is ongoing as you will continually teach your dog to take time, to slow down and to think of you, his handler.