Come by! Away to me! If those mean nothing to you yet, they certainly will after your fantastic sheepdog training experience.
Those are the commands that border collies, one of the most intelligent breeds of dog, learn to follow as part of their training before being put to work doing what they love best, herding sheep. And you’ll find out what it’s like using them on real working dogs to make them turn left and right and control them with a degree of precision that will just amaze you.
My recommended Sheepdog training experience
We’ve not come across anybody who hasn’t absolutely loved this experience, and it’s available all the year round too.
If you want to check out the full list, here are all the dog-handling experiences you can get – some are the same one just sold by different people.
All prices are updated daily, so you can be sure of the best available prices.
So how does it work?
These sheepdog training experiences do just what it says on the tin, really.
A typical event would run something like this:
1 – You turn up on the day, dressed for the outdoors. Remember that these canny canines have to work in all weathers and on all terrain – work on a sheep farm doesn’t stop just because there’s a chill in the air or there’s a bit of a shower. So unless it’s a warm, dry day forecast, be prepared. The sheep have their wool, the dog has his thick coat, so you should be the same. And don’t forget your hat.
2 – You meet the dogs – there are usually a few of them on hand, including the one that you’ll be practising on. On the face of it, these are pretty much like the dogs you’d have at home, if you had a border collie. They’re bright eyed, bushy tailed, very clever indeed and just longing to get to work rounding those sheep up. It may be work to the shepherd, but to the dog it’s all fun, fun, fun. It’s what they were made for, and boy can you tell once you see them at work.
3 – You meet your instructor who’s an experienced sheepdog trialler, as well as a time-served working shepherd and dog-handler. So what he doesn’t know about running sheepdogs isn’t worth knowing. And he’ll start by telling you some of the basics about these wonderful creatures as well as inside secrets and tricks of the trade that you wouldn’t learn yourself without thirty years in the business. You’ll find out about the exercises that you’ll be doing on the day and start to put newly-learned skills into practice as you get used to controlling that deceptively furry bundle of steel and determination. The sheep won’t be scared of you, but one glance from your canine friend has them shaking in their fleeces, and together you and your dog will make a formidable sheep-herding force.
4 – There’s usually a short lunch break so that the dogs can have a rest and you can have a bit of a breather too. Take some sandwiches and a flask of tea or coffee as you’ll be enjoying your lunch in the field.
5 – Lunch will be followed by some more practical hands-on dog-handling and exercises and by this stage you’ll feel pretty much in control of the dog and the situation. You won’t be ready for unaided trialling or herding, but your newly learned skills will have given you a feel for the possibilities and a brilliant sense of achievement in being able to handle this lean, mean, herding machine with such exactness.
Mind you, the top dogs, left to their own devices, could probably bring in the sheep on their own, they’re so familiar with it. They have come to know what’s required after doing it so many times and just have that basic instinct that shepherds look for in a dog. So if you tell it to go left when it thinks it should go right, it will do as you tell it, but may well give you a look that in the days of former tennis star John McEnroe would have said “You cannot be serious”. That’s why the experienced handlers do leave an awful lot to the dog and try not to over-control it.
It’s only in competitive sheepdog trials that you often have to run the sheep and control the dogs into situations that don’t seem natural to the dog – for example why should you bother taking the sheep through a gateway that is off to one side, instead of bringing them the shortest route towards you. And that is where the dog’s confidence in his handler rather than himself comes into play. And after your experience day, you’ll appreciate even more the skill of the handler, the cleverness and wiliness of the dog, and how much really is involved in herding the sheep around the field, through and past set points, and finally into a closed pen. And if there’s anywhere that sheep really do not want to go, it’s into a closed pen!
There are surprisingly few commands involved in working a sheepdog, consisting mainly of sending him left or right, telling him to go forward or stop, and cooling his ardour a bit by slowing him down. You’ll probably not need anything else on the day, and you’ll see how well this small vocabulary works to do the job. And remember that in real life, the dog could well be several hundred metres away, so even with his amazing hearing abilities wouldn’t be able to pick up and long rambling instructions.
Can I whistle the dog instead of talking to it?
Well it’s true that some shepherds, and even experienced trialers, use whistle commands and many dogs learn these too. In bad weather and windy conditions, you often find that a whistle goes further so you can control the dog from a greater distance. Some old hands can simply whistle through their teeth to do the job, but others rely on a sheepdog-whistle. You may get to try one of these on your day, but your exercises and practical experiences will concentrate on voice commands which are easier for you to give and for the dog to understand.