Two words I find invaluable when training dogs are “good dog”.
There seems to be something about small, frisky lambs and waggling long tails that will jolly up even the most half-hearted pup; to me anything is worth a go before reaching for a gun.
Often something simple can solve a problem and on occasions I have tried these tricks with great success.
It is important to have allowed your young dog to freely explore the empty area you are going to work in; he needs to be relaxed in the surroundings before introducing sheep into the equation.
Have four - eight ewes with their young undocked lambs in a secure medium sized yard; remove any troublemakers that are inclined to charge dogs. Initially lead your dog as you move the sheep about, and when they have his attention drop the rope.
It is important that he is trailing a thin rope at least 5m long; if things get a bit chaotic you are able to catch him.
Don’t look directly at your dog, look at the sheep and get them moving briskly around so those wee tails are waggling. Maybe make a few ‘shi shi’ sounds, but don’t talk to or distract your dog.
The whole idea of this is to encourage enthusiasm into your dog. Let him chase and play if he wants to. If you start shouting commands, correcting or growling you will defeat the purpose; you can tidy the rough edges later, just let him ‘want’ to chase.
That doesn’t mean chew and worry; if that happens, calmly get hold of the rope and quit for the day.
You will teach him not to bite by working with sheep in the race as I have described in a previous column. Shouting, hitting, throwing things and electrocuting, in my mind, is not the way to stop biting; you will probably do more harm than good.
Don’t let him chase them around until they are all exhausted or he gets bored. Short and sweet works wonders and a couple of these lessons will probably see him happy and keen, which he wasn’t before. Now he is ready for some ‘proper’ lessons on your normal training sheep.
A few years ago I acquired a young Heading dog that wasn’t in the slightest bit interested in sheep, even with lambs at foot; this led to a new idea that immediately worked a treat.
I carried a young frisky lamb into another pen away from its mother and called the dog over. I then knelt on the ground and held the lamb by the back leg. Naturally it tried to get away -- leaping and bouncing all over the place. Naturally instinct kicked in and the dog focused on and tried to get the lamb.
It was playing with it rather than worrying and we only did this for a couple of minutes. Combined with lots of praise it was all that was needed, the dog was now interested in sheep and I was able to start ‘proper’ training.
It is important to kneel on the ground rather than stand in an intimidating pose. Look at the lamb; the dog will see you are interested in it and hopefully copy. Don’t growl, speak or talk – maybe a quiet ‘sis sis, get it, get it’ – don’t distract the dog.
Important: only do any of this in small controlled environments; don’t let uncontrolled dogs chase lambs in open spaces.