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Life in a small town.

The New Dog

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Training the new dog.

Nelly the sheepdog is now 11 and has a swollen joint on her back leg – she is starting to slow down. This is a good thing in many ways because a steady dog often does its job better than an excitable one – and Nelly has been very excitable over the years (let's be kind and call it enthusiasm). Now at last I can gather sheep with her in a nice controlled manner instead of a mad rush –just like One Man and his Dog on the telly.

It's reminded me though that she can't go on forever, retirement is looming, and so a possible replacement has arrived.

Meg is a fully trained 3 year old, that has gone wrong – she has been under used and has spent too long shut up in a barn. Who can say what goes on in a dogs head, but the problems she has manifest themselves by her running unstoppably and very wide round and round the sheep, ignoring all commands as she goes. I mean VERY wide, sometimes not even in the same field. The farmer I got her off agreed that I should try her for a month or two and see if I can mek' owt ov 'er.

I've never trained a sheepdog that wasn't a pup before, so I'm not confident I'll be keeping Meg, but I'm hoping that the relaxed regime I run here will allow her to overcome her demons.

So far all I've done is take her for walks and try to get her to relax – and to get her to “Lie down” when told to – a command she must know, but seems to panic her – she thinks it is an admonishment for wrong doing at the moment. However there is some progress, she seems to be bonding with me, and is starting to listen.


I tried her with some sheep last night. She runs around them in fine style and comes on to them well, but as soon as I give any command after that, she turns and runs off and starts her wide circling.

I think the problem may lie with her previous superior training.

She has been professionally trained by a good trainer and has been taught the “Look Back”move where the dog must leave the sheep she has gathered and go off to find some more. This is the last and most difficult thing a dog learns, it is about the only thing a sheepdog has to do that is contrary to her natural urges – her instinct is to remain fixed on the sheep she has in front of her. It is also contrary to everything she will have been trained to do previously.

I never bother with it, if Nelly misses any sheep I call her back and set her out again, but sheepdog men set great store by this skill.

I imagine as a young dog she would've practised and practised the Look Back move over and over and it has become a default setting when she has sheep in front of her. She isn't listening to the next command but assuming it is going to be “Look Back” and so that is what she hears.

It's a theory anyway.


  1. Helga's Avatar
    I hope it works out with you two! I always feel so sorry for dogs when training 'goes wrong' or people give up on them for simple or even no reason. You are clearly doing everything you can to help her, I wish you two all the best and hope you'll write about her progress whatever it may be.
  2. Virgil's Avatar
    Sounds interesting. If she was trained once, I think it can come back. You may have to be a little persistent. Perhaps she needs to get back to the trainer for a few weeks. Is there a refresher course for sheepdogs?
  3. *Classic*Charm*'s Avatar
    What breed is she? Sounds like she has come to recognize a pattern, anticipates it, and panics when you ask for something that she perceives as out of order. If she was kept in an under-stimulating environment, she probably over-thinks her job and maybe doesn't trust you yet to give her the right commands. Try using your walks to build the trust relationship, and maybe work her with one sheep, giving commands out of the order you would in a normal herding setting so she learns that your command is the right one, not the one she thinks is coming. You could also have her watch Nelly work, since there are some things that dogs can learn by watching others. I love herding dogs- they're so bright, and so challenging. Good luck with her!
  4. prendrelemick's Avatar
    Thanks CC. In fact I've taken a step back and only doing walking at the moment - where we have fun chasing balls and the like and don't have to worry about sheep or doing right or wrong. She really needs to relax. I'm thinking hard about the next step. I'd like her former training to be an advantage to use, rather than a problem to overcome.

    She's a border collie, very intellegent and just a bit neurotic like they all are.
    Updated 06-19-2013 at 04:24 PM by prendrelemick
  5. *Classic*Charm*'s Avatar
    Yes, they definitely are both of those things. My favourite breed, though I haven't had the pleasure of owning one (I live in Suburbia haha).

    Definitely see your point about not wanting her training to become a problem, since she is supposed to be a worker. Sounds like she could use some time to just be a dog. Good on you for being patient with her. I hope she works out for you!