A small flock of sheep turns to face the sheepdogs

Gathering sheep in glorious October sun!

Kay and Carew both put in a good performance at Dean Farm

After the sheep gather was delayed by two days of really wet weather, we were rewarded with bright sunshine at Dean Farm today.

Herding dogs Carew and Kay drive the ewes towards the railway bridge
Carew and Kay driving the flock of sheep towards the farm. (Click to enlarge).

Kay and Carew worked very well together. In this picture they're driving a flock of ewes towards the railway bridge on the drive to the farm. I was especially pleased with Kay because she's been under-performing recently and I was getting concerned that she might not be well. I needn't have worried. Kay brought the weaned lambs into the buildings by herself, and later helped Carew to gather two flocks of ewes.

The sheep are trying to escape through an open door into the barn
"This way girls". Some of the sheep find their way into the buildings. (Click to enlarge).

This is what you get when you don't pay full attention to your work! I was busy taking photographs of the various breeds of sheep in the flock, when I realised that some of them were escaping into the barn through a door that's supposed to be securely shut.11

It's possible for the sheep to escape back to their field through these buildings, so I was glad when Carew quickly brought them back!

Two sheep staring at Carew in the buildings at Dean Farm
"Ils ne passerine pas" Carew defiantly stares back as two sheep gaze at her. (Click to enlarge).

Carew excels at working close to sheep. They've learned to respect her. Here two ewes are looking at her but not in an aggressive way. When we first started gathering at Dean Farm, the sheep were a real threat to Carew. In fact one ewe sneakily head-butted her from behind today when I called Carew out of the pen. Fortunately it was a glancing blow and no harm was done. The ewe wouldn't have attempted it if Carew had been facing her!

The ewes keep their distance as Carew and Kay keep watch over them in the handling pen
United we stand! Carew and Kay in the handling pen. (Click to enlarge).

I was particularly pleased to see Carew and Kay working well together in the handling pens. I noticed Kay was keen to stay as close as she could to Carew (just in case) but it was a big improvement on her work a few weeks ago, when she was reluctant to face the sheep at close quarters if they were stubborn. It's possible that she was attacked by a sheep at some stage, but if she was, I didn't see it.

With the lambs and the main flock dealt with, our final task was to find the thirty-five ewes that we had to separate from some cattle at the beginning of September.

A small flock of sheep turns to face the sheepdogs
The sheep turned to face Kay and Carew when they reached a gate which was closed. (Click to enlarge).

The ewes appear to be accomplished escape artists and are proving difficult to keep in one field. When Carew had to bring them back to the farm from the cattle field they were very stubborn, so today I was pleased to have Kay on hand to help Carew out.

The two dogs handled the task with ease, so I took the opportunity to improve their work as a brace. If you want to work two dogs together it's best to train them on different commands. Unfortunately, Kay and Carew work on very similar commands, except that Carew's work is more refined so I can control her to some extent without Kay understanding what I mean.

In the absence of definitive commands though, if I want to be sure each dog knows which one I'm referring to, I find it's best to say the dog's name and then the command - such as "Kay, Lie down, Carew, Come-bye". It works quite well, but unfortunately Kay works far more quickly than Carew, so I seem to be forever saying: "Kay Lie down, Carew Get-up". We're improving though.

a small flock of sheep walking in front of two sheepdogs
The sheep soon turned around when Kay and Carew began to walk up! (Click to enlarge).

The picture above (and the featured image at the top of the page) shows the thirty-five ewes turning defiantly towards the dogs when they found the gate they were being driven to was closed.

As you'll see from the picture beneath it, they soon turned away when I gave the dogs the "Walk up" command. I think they're both lovely pictures, showing Kay (left) and Carew working together well.

Herding sheep into and out of a pen is not easy for a young sheepdog

Eve at the Pen – Sheepdog Training Video

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Getting sheep into a tight spot, and then getting them out again, needs confidence and control
Close-up of trainee sheepdog Eve
Eve is a bright, intelligent and eager young dog. She's quick to learn and eager to please.

Practising any particular technique, time and time again, becomes boring for handler and dog, so don't be afraid to tackle something new with your young dog, even if you think he might not be quite ready. There's no harm in broadening the dog's horizons, and encouraging it to think.

In this tutorial we see Eve, a keen young dog whose training's progressing pretty well. The basics are in place; Eve flanks nicely and (usually) stops well, but she still shows some tyro weaknesses - she favours "Away" to "Come Bye", and her stop isn't so good when she feels under pressure. However, a lesson in and around the pen doesn't only teach penning, it gives us the opportunity to work on Eve's stop and flanks, to introduce the "Look Back" (when she fails to bring all her sheep cleanly to the pen) and to help build her confidence to get between the sheep and the fence.

sheepdog Eve brings a small flock of sheep into a pen
Eve's brought the sheep into the pen nicely but what happens when she tries to get them out again?

Although the work may be new and different for the dog, for the handler the rules are the same as ever. Just as when working in the training ring or out in the field, you must remain - or appear to remain - calm and confident, and to use the training stick in exactly the same way as usual to either block or support the dog's decisions.

The tutorial uses three camera angles and shows the entire lesson twice, making this one of our longest tutorials yet (over half an hour). To help you understand exactly what's happening, the first session is at half-speed with a full commentary. It's not always a slick performance (by man or dog - or sheep!) but then, training very rarely is.   Visit the Tutorials Library.

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