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There is nothing like having an extra pair of hands, or in this case, a set of paws to help you move your sheep around your farm. Running a sheep farm is a lot of hard work, but imagine how much more you could get done if your pup could be trained to take care of the flock. German Shepherds are natural herding animals, all you have to do is train your dog to put these instincts to work.
Despite the fact your pooch is a natural herder (that's what they were bred for), it is going to take you several months to teach your young dog how to move the sheep around in an effective manner by following your commands. Be patient, work with him consistently and in time you will forget he never knew how to herd.
It takes a number of commands to herd sheep around the farm. You will need him to learn 'walk-up',' to me', 'away', and 'come by'. These represent approach the flock, bring to me from behind, move them to the right and move them to the left.
These are just the basic commands, there are a number of others you may want to teach your pooch once he has mastered these. Take your time, be patient and keep working with your pup until he has mastered these skills. Remember, German Shepherds like to work and giving them something useful to do is the best way to keep them happy.
You can start training your pup to herd sheep once the vet has determined he has physically matured enough to take on the task with minimal risk of injury. The biggest things you will need to train your pup to herd are plenty of time and patience. He will figure out his new job relatively quickly, from there it is simply a matter of working with him to refine his skills. You should also know the four basic herding commands:
- Walk up – Approach the flock and take up position two feet away from them.
- To me – Go around behind the flock and push them towards me.
- Away to me – Go to the left side of the flock and turn them to the right.
- Come by – Go to the right side of the flock and turn them to the left.
While there are several other commands you will need to teach your pooch over time, these are the most important four.
The Small Flock Method
Take a small flock
Take a small flock of your sheep and place them in a training pen.
Add your Shepherd
Put your pup on his leash and take him into the pen. Tell him to sit and make him stay until he relaxes. This helps him to get used the flock and they to him. Give him a treat to let him know he is doing well.
Give your pup the 'walk up' command and walk beside him until you are two feet away from the sheep. Stop and give him the 'sit' command. When he does, give him a treat and praise him.
Chasing my tail
Well, not quite, but you will have your pup going in circles around the sheep, use the 'come by' and 'away to me' commands to have your dog stop and switch directions on command. Keep working with him until he can follow all three of these commands.
On the outside
Take your pup and the flock outside of the pen where there is more space to work in, continue working with him on and then off-leash. To train the 'to me' command start with 'walk up', then take him around to the back of the flock. Make your pup stay, go back around the other side and give him the 'to me' command. Encourage your pup to bring the herd to you, backing up as he does so that he gets a clear picture of what is expected.
No pulling the wool
The time has come to start working your pooch with the whole flock. Keep working with him as often as you can until your pup has mastered the basics and is ready to move on to advanced training.
The Long Leash Method
You need the right leash
You need a long retractable leash or a long rope (a 20-footer is perfect).
Hook your pup to his long leash and take him into a pen holding no more than six sheep.
Walk up on the leash
Give your pup the walk up command and walk with him up to the flock, stopping two feet from them and make him sit. Repeat this over the course of several days until your pup can do it on his own while you stay back. Always give him a treat when he gets it right.
Work the angles
Keeping your dog on a short leash, work him in circles using the 'come by' and 'away to me' commands to work him through his paces.
When your dog is performing well with you walking alongside him, let out his leash begin practicing giving commands while standing still. The ultimate goal is for you to be able to give your dog all of the commands from a distance when he is off his leash. Be patient, the more you work with your pup the faster he will learn to work the small herd.
Take on the whole flock
Take your pup out to meet the whole flock and keep putting him through his paces until he can move your flock anywhere you need him to using nothing more than your verbal commands and his training.
The Around Me in Circles Method
Practice on you first
Put your hound on his leash and take him out into the sheep pen. Start having him walk around you in circles. Using the 'away to me' and 'come by' commands work with your pooch until he will reverse directions on command without any other prompts. When he does, give him lots of praise and a treat or two.
Teach him to walk up
The easy way to do this is to toss one of his favorite toys out in front of you about 15 to 20 feet. Then, with your pup on his leash, give him the 'walk up' command and take him to his toy. Give him a treat. Repeat this until your pup will walk up to the toy on your verbal command while you hang back.
Rubber ball time
For this you will need a fairly large rubber ball to teach the 'to me' command. Put your pup on one side of the ball from you. Give him the 'to me' command and encourage your pup to push the ball towards you. Keep working with him until he can push it to you over a long distance. Be sure to give him a treat when he gets it right.
Left and right
You can use the same method to teach your pup the 'come by' and 'away to me' commands until your pooch will move the ball in the appropriate direction, remember to reward his efforts with treats.
Take your dog over to your flock of sheep and start working your way back through the commands until he can move your sheep with nothing more than the verbal commands you give him. The rest is all about how much time you want to invest.
By PB Getz
Published: 03/07/2018, edited: 01/08/2021