Sheepdog School: A dog’s first introduction to sheep

Man’s best friend, a loyal companion, and a farm’s greatest asset – the value of a well-trained sheepdog cannot be overestimated.

But even the most experienced of collies can have their quirks, leaving farmers frustrated and unsure on the best course of correction.

Here to help with training challenges are shepherding husband-and-wife team Emma Gray and Ewan Irvine, who are known for breeding and training some of the country’s finest sheepdogs.

See also: Sheepdog School: Choosing the right pup

First introductions

“We believe that the more a puppy is handled and gets to experience, the more balanced it becomes,” says Emma. “Don’t think that you will spoil a pup for work by having fun with it as part of your family.

“You can achieve lots during foundation training before you even take your pup to sheep. Good manners, sit, lie down and a recall will all help you build a bond with your youngster and get them used to listening.

“Every dog is different, and we usually let our pups see sheep anywhere from four months old, but formal training won’t start until they are six months to a year depending on the pup.”

Emma says there is no need to worry about how they start, as long as they are not being too crazy or hurting the sheep. “A bit of wool pulling, tail in the air, or lack of interest does not mean they won’t end up a fine dog,” she says.

“The first sessions are all about keenness: if you get this right, you will lay a great foundation for when you start to add structure.

“Use a long line, it will help you keep control and catch up with your pup at the end of the session. Keep it short, keep it fun, and look after your sheep.”

Handlers should not expect too much in the beginning. “It is unlikely that your pup will stop or recall at this early stage, and try to avoid tight corners, as it can lead to confrontation or undesired behaviour,” says Emma.

“Using light, well dogged sheep will make everything easier,” she adds. “Avoid anything confrontational or sour. Tups might be in a nice group close by, but they are not suitable for a young dog.”

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