Intermediate TrainingSheep Work

Starting the Drive

By February 17, 2015February 1st, 2016No Comments


by Melinda May, Dicky Renn, Jamie Burns, Maarten Walter, Kathi Schwengel

Melinda May
I have a problem training the drive . . . mostly on sheep. I can get Beau to drive pretty well on cattle with a few corrections when he starts to over flank. He’s not rough on cattle but he works real intense. On sheep he’s pretty tight and I spend all my time getting him out, slowing him down, working on getting him to stop cutting corners, etc. He doesn’t get in to tear stuff up . . . he’s pretty honest.

When I start to drive on sheep, I send him on an outrun, let him fetch. Then I send him again, stop him at the top (to show him its a different exercise) and I walk through the sheep, turn around, and walk him up. He won’t walk straight into the sheep. He tries to swing around to fetch. I have tried putting him on a line and he either falls into heel position or he won’t walk up on the sheep at all and keeps turning toward me.

I have tried Jack Knox’s method of flanking back and forth until he starts to wear and moves the stock off. But then he responds slowly to the cues (at this point he becomes hearing impaired) and over-flanks so that the sheep are making a box around me. I have tried Vergil Holland’s method of working in a square and only doing one flank so that he only has to control that side. That works pretty well, but we can’t get beyond working only one side. Even on the fence he works real hard to swing around to the head and fetch them back. The little bit of drive I do get is usually with me included in the flock…so I guess I can’t really call it a drive.

Tonight I tried to work only on the fence with me off to the shoulder of the sheep . . . . having him drive along behind (so that we were in a triangle), stop and then inside-flank and turn the sheep back down the other direction along the fence. This worked fairly well but I am afraid of using the fence too much and having it become a crutch. But somehow I’ve got to get him to understand that it’s okay to drive sheep . . . . that they don’t always have to be fetched. I have tried these different methods over a period of about 8 months. I think I have put off training this for too long. And I have a little dog that isn’t really a very good sheep dog. His forte is cattle and that’s great. But it sure would be nice if we could get that WTCH. <sigh>

Dicky Renn
Try an alley way so the dog can’t go around if you have one, or heavy non-dog broke sheep. One’s that will drive easy. A good THERE, so the dog will stop when you want them to.

Jamie Burns
I teach the drive the same as (Melinda’s) beginning post, ‘cept I have LOTS of sheep to do it with. I have found that less than 10 doesn’t get ya very far. Heavy sheep, those that have wool on the face are good for teaching the drive. I also get VERY impatient with a few step thing at a time and use a 20′ horse longe line. Saying “there” “drive ’em”. I try to down them BEFORE *THEY* make the decision to circle around and bring them back at a fetch to me. Then I make a definite body position change and send the dog on the outrun.

There are multiple ways to start the drive. Start with the fetch, down the dog on the top, call the dog to you as the sheep slowly move past you, then down the dog and ask the dog to walk a few steps in front of you, moving the sheep away slowly. When the dog starts acting uncomfortable, down and setup for a fetch. Let the dog relax with something it is comfortable with, then ask to do the same steps above. To me it is hard to take a few steps at a time then fetch, others have LOTS of success with this method. I start out this way then go to a small pen…..30 X 50 and put all my sheep in there. 37 head. The more sheep, less flighty….and the dog seems to understand what you are asking quicker………this may take ya about 6 months, (sooner the more you work ’em.) before the dog actually starts controlling the livestock instead of just following……..then you know you have succeeded. Make sure that you do not teach the dog to just follow…..which means, if you got livestock running away, natural instinct would tell the dog to go to the head turn it and bring it back, settle ’em then you can give your drive command again. =) Luck…….hope this helps. Virgil Holland has a good book you might pick up. Herding dogs, Progressive training.

Maarten Walter
How to start the drive. One could write a book on that topic. There’s a few methods. The tried and true, traditional Border Collie method, another approach more suited for loose-eyed dogs, and just get out on the farm and heel (obedience-style) those cows in one direction.

First the Border Collie method. The dog has to know its flanks, including inside flanks (in between the handler and the stock), both toward and away from the balance point. And the dog has to have a good, steady, straight walk-up. Then it’s just a matter of putting two and two together and voila, a drive. Unfortunately, this could take awhile.

The other approach is probably more suited for loose-eyed dogs. You start earlier, they don’t have to have perfect off-balance flanks, inside flanks, etc. You cheat by letting them work in front of you or by you calling them to you and allowing them or really, coaxing them to work in front of you. Now, that’s a very uncomfortable position for the dog to be in so be aware of what you do with the crook, with your body, etc. This is where you really want the dog to watch the stock and any step or move towards the stock is a good thing. If the dog decides to whip around to the balance point on the other side of the stock, start over. Try to stop them before they do that. Working in a round pen helps because the stock can’t get too far away. They should be light stock too, but not too light. Medium is good. That teaches a dog to do flanks in front of you, rather than behind you.

You also need to teach the dog to walk straight onto the stock. Typically you let the dog fetch the flock to you and let the flock pass you up, or step through them to that they’re on the other side of you. In other words, it’s the dog, then you, then the stock. Call the dog to you and then, as the dog comes, turn towards the stock and encourage the dog to walk on. First one step is good. Then you’ll get two, three, etc. Again, if they whip around to the balance point try to stop them (yeah, right) or just start over and try again. Patience is definitely required here. The third method is ok too. It’s called teaching the dog chores. And by doing that the dog gets comfortable working straight in front of you.

Now, some Aussies are fetching fools. Others, especially with a little more eye, are easier to teach how to drive because they focus harder on the stock, I think. I like to take a young dog with me when I do chores, like feeding grain to the sheep. I take the dog with me, perhaps with the leash tied to my belt and try to get the dog to push a little on the sheep. Most Aussies learn chores really fast and soon the dog will take a couple of steps at the sheep and pushes them off the feeder so you can put the grain in.

You should know that when you start teaching your dog how to drive, you will lose some of your flanks. This is ok. You can get them back later. I try not to mix flanking (outrun) work with my dog during the same training session that I’m working on driving. I haven’t taught a dog yet using lines or chutes, but I’ve seen those work well. Like any training exercise, too much is not good. Hope that helps and remember, slow progress is normal when driving, don’t expect too much all at once.

Kathi Schwengel
RE: Starting the drive, one technique I’ve used that helps Aussies get comfy coming between handler and stock is to get a group of stickier sheep. Put yourself against the fence with the sheep grouped in front of you and the dog on the far side holding the sheep to you. Give the dog a side, reaching over the sheep with your stick to block him if he goes the wrong way. Really encourage the dog to come around and between you and the stock. At first this is all you aim for. If at first they want to sneak behind, okay, but start insisting they come in front of you. Work them both directions this way.

Eventually, when they’ll come between you and the stock with no problem, you stop them as they come through and kick them back the other way, do this a step or two, encouraging the dog to now stay between you and the stock, pushing them away from you. It’s only natural they’ll dart around and bring them back but think little steps here and be patient! I’ve also used a long line but I this method seems to frustrate the dog more than others. I will use it here and there, only for very brief times before “rewarding” the dog by releasing it and letting it fetch.

There’s no feeling like watching your dog start to figure out this driving thing and actually accomplish a decent drive. All that hard work eventually pays off. (Now I just have to cure the sudden bout of over-flanking!)
This article’s contents originally appeared in the Yahoo discussion group Aussie-Herders