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Good Morning- So I'm looking for opinions on whether I'm handling this situation correctly or if I should be doing something else.


In the past, if we had a sheep get singled off, we would go get rest of the group and bring them back to the vicinity of the single until it decided to join it's friends. I did this because I wasn't confident in our skills (mainly mine), but I am now feeling like we are working well enough together to deal with taking the single back to the group instead. Timber is very good about getting the single turned around and starts working with me to get it moving, but then he becomes concerned about rest of the group and wants to go to them instead. He begins scoping past the single until he can find the group and then any flank I give him is a big wide open flank, as if he's going to go gather the group, instead of the short flanks I'm asking for. What I have been doing is giving him a verbal correction, lying him down, talking to him until he 'see's' the close sheep again and than re-flanking or walking up. Typically after the 1st or 2nd time doing this he locks back in with the single and will work it for a few moments before he begins scoping again.


A specific example, a few days ago we were bringing some sheep back from grazing in a back pasture. When they went through the gate they took off to head back to their main pasture (the rest of the sheep are in that direction as well). I'm trying to work on the sheep not taking off for their pastures, so I sent Timber ahead to stop the head sheep. As he passed the other 4, they pivoted back and headed back out to graze. He got the single stopped and turned back, but after pushing the single a few feet he started scoping for the other 4 which were now back to grazing. I walked up closer to where he and the single were and followed the steps above to help him work the single.


Is this something that will improve as he gains experience and confidence? Is there something else I should be doing to guide him through this?



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I'm trying to envision the scenario you describe. Are you working a single toward the group? Or are you working the single away from the group? I would suggest that you work a single away from the group…..this provides more pressure for Timber to balance and push into. If he flanks off, he will lose his single. Many dogs learn to like the "keep away" game (keeping a single from re-joining). If you are working the single toward the group he might be more likely to flank out to join the two groups. For now and until Timber gains experience…..push the single away from the group. It sounds like you are doing the right thing to stop him from making a big casting flank when he wants to scoop up and join the others…..stop him, call his attention back to his single.

Perhaps I've misunderstood….if so, let me know.

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Like Elizabeth, I do train my dogs to hold a single away from the main flock in a similar manner to she describes.. (you never know when you may need your dog to be able to do this).


I also work on teaching my dog to use his initiative and turn a single ewe who breaks from the flock back into the group without waiting for my command to do so... something I find that dogs seem to really relish doing and that can be very useful for penning. I do this by holding a few sheep on the fence line, ask the dog to walk on until the pressure of our combined positions pushes a single ewe to break away. I then use my body language and encouraging words to encourage my dog to turn them back to me.


I also train my dogs to focus on specific sheep using a 'this' command. (and if they start to consider working the wrong sheep, I use a 'no.. this' command..(the 'no' to stop them looking at the wrong stock and the 'this' to refocus their attention on the sheep I want).


However, I have to admit that, in general for my 'routine' shepherding tasks, if I need to catch or move a specific single sheep any distance then I usually shed her into a small group to do this. So, I think that on many occasions, I would actually do what your dog does and gather several to the single and work from there.


This is because, I personally prefer to work in a way that keeps my stock as unstressed as possible - and as sheep are flock animals, they are much more likely to become pressurised and panicky if they are worked on their own. I also find that my Hebrideans tend to remember if they have been pressurised by a dog (and they consider being worked on their own as excess pressure!) and IME, if a dog has put excess pressure on one of my primitive-breed stock just once then she is much more likely to be wary of him on future occasions (even when I work her within a group) and much more likely to try to break away from the flock.


With regard to the specific example that you gave (sheep running too fast through a gate), personally, I would try to think like a sheep and consider why they are acting in this fashion.


The first thing, I would ask myself, is why are the sheep fleeing through the gate, are they just being drawn to your main pasture or perhaps they think that your dog and you are putting too much pressure on them as they move through the gate, so that they feel they need to 'escape'?


Secondly, if I have understood your example correctly, the initial problem is that your dog is not gathering all his sheep as they run through the gate, instead he is turning in too soon and stopping the few closest to him and leaving the lead sheep to continue running. If this is the case, then a couple of ideas spring to mind..

- perhaps he doesn't understand that he should gather all the stock and return them to you.. in which case, you could work on an 'out' command to make this initial flank (that stops the sheep escaping) wider.

- alternatively, the issuemay relate to his level of fitness and he perhaps is physically unable to catch up with the fleeing front ewe, so he just leaves her.


Anyway, these are just a few rambling thoughts, hope they are of some use.. YMMV

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Thank you both for taking the time to reply. My description wasn't real clear. The east side of the property is where the main pastures are that all the stock live on. The west side is one big pasture that I take various sheep out to graze on, at certain points throughout the year everyone gets to go, but this time of year they are in smaller groups because of lambing, etc so the majority are always left behind. When it's time for the ones who were out grazing to head back they hit a certain spot, typically at the gate area, where even if the dog isn't in the picture at all, they will just take off for their pastures. They don't all do this, I have a few runners (can you cull for this personality trait?). In the example I tried explaining but didn't do a real good job, Timber covers the runner/lead sheep, but the others, who aren't as crazy to go back turn off of the pressure of Timber going by and head back out to graze. So that's where we end up with a single, who is really between two draws 1. the draw he was running to back to the other sheep and home pastures 2. the draw of the smaller group he was out grazing with who are now back to grazing.


But it sounds like I can continue doing what I've been doing, sometimes I'll take the single to the group; sometimes the group to the single. And I'll continue reinforcing him that it's ok to ignore the others.


Maxi-We have done quiet a bit of that fence line exercise. It really helped him to come into the pressure without losing his mind, thank you for mentioning it, we haven't done it in a while.

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If you have known 'repeat' offenders in your stock who will attempt to flee at any given moment, then you could try 'training' her to think otherwise..either by turning her into one of your routine training sheep so that she gets more 'dogged' or else use her for the 'walk up to sheep on a fence' exercise - you can be pretty sure that she will be the one to break away and if your dog likes turning sheep back to the group, he will show her that fleeing just isn't an option.


It probably won't completely get rid of the draw that her favourite pasture has, but IME this kind of training makes a sheep think twice about running plus it should make it easier for the dog to convince her to flock with the others. (ETA..alternatively if you know which sheep are her particular pals, then moving her with these may also encourage her to stay with the others)


I also find moving ewes and with young lambs a very good learning experience for the dog to develop confidence and patience in working both singles and awkward groups (a ewe will often try to take her lamb away from the group). It helps teach the dog why keeping an appropriate distance while maintaining a calm attitude is important as we guide the sheep to where we want them to go.


Hope your lambing goes smoothly.

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