Get to grips with gripping

Many novice handlers are horrified if their dog grips. It has to be stopped, of course, but help is on hand!

Gripping” is the euphemistic term we use to describe a dog that bites - literally “grips” - a sheep, but it covers a spectrum of behaviour from taking a nip at the fleece as the dog rushes past, to a determined hanging on to, usually, a leg or the tail.

Biting the sheep is unacceptable. It’s grounds for disqualification in a sheep dog trial, and if the veterinary inspection at an abattoir shows up bruising on a carcass, the farm is warned and the value of the carcass is reduced. So, even aside from issues of sheep welfare, there are very good reasons to stop your dog from gripping.

Many novice handlers, faced with a dog who grips, are inclined to panic, but shouting and screaming at the dog is only likely to make the dog go faster. So, calm down, and look for the signs. Forewarned really IS forearmed in this case.

The dog is most likely to grip when flanking in the direction it likes least - be it Come Bye or Away

In addition, the dog might grip when:

  • You change its direction
  • You ask it to stop
  • You turn your back on it

And the signs will be changes in the dog’s body language:

  • It might become longer, and lower
  • The tail goes up
  • The ears go back
  • It begins to run in straight and/or tight, with a different facial expression

Once you understand when the dog’s likely to grip you’re in a position to set up the situation, and if you’ve set up the situation then you’re ready to do something about it.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that a gripping dog is a strong dog. Very often the opposite is the truth, and the aggressive but sensitive dog can be very frustrating (though not impossible) to train.

Watch the Online Training Tutorials for more information and help for handling gripping, training sensitive dogs (“Calm But Firm”), and why “Sometimes, Nice is Not Enough”.

Of course, if you'd prefer to watch on a TV the tutorials are also available on two DVD collections, in both PAL and NTSC formats.

Sheepdog Training Videos:
"Online Sheepdog Training Tutorials"
A sheepdog showing confidence while working sheep Title image of the Calm but Firm sheepdog training tutorial

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Creating Sheepdog Videos For 10 Years!

It's ten years since we began producing videos about sheepdogs
Four dogs jumping through a fork in the trunk of an oak tree
The featured image at the top of this page came very close to being used on the cover of Border Collie Sheepdogs - Off Duty but eventually we settled for this one because it shows more of our favourite dogs at the time.

Many years ago, Gill and I realised that our love of border collie sheepdogs had given us something very special. We'd accumulated quite a number of dogs by this time, and because we made a point of taking them all out for a good run at least twice a day (whether they're being trained on that day or not) we saw them doing all sorts of things that a pet owner with just one or two dogs doesn't see.

The sight of thirty or more highly motivated dogs running freely along the bridleways and surrounding woodland was wonderful enough, but we also spent a great deal of time out in our orchard with the dogs. These opportunities were too good to miss and eventually provided us with wonderful action on video which we are still very proud of.

Border Collie Sheepdogs Off Duty
The Cover picture we settled on for Border Collie Sheepdogs Off Duty all those years ago

It's just over ten years since we brought out our first DVD Border Collie Sheepdogs - Off Duty and we're delighted that the sales are still ticking over nicely.

Recently I came across the original cover picture for Border Collie Sheepdogs - Off Duty and it was only then that I realised I took it in May 2005 - just over ten years ago!

We still have dear old Mel (the one at the very top of the main picture) and just a few months ago, we heard that Pearl (front) was still going strong, but sadly Glen (left) died in 2011. The other dog in the picture is Nobby who went to work on a farm in the Brecon Beacons.

The success of "Off Duty" and my success with training herding dogs inspired us to make a video about sheepdog training and so, First Steps in Border Collie Sheepdog Training was created. We followed this up with a "sequel" to "Off Duty" and called it Border Collie Sheepdogs and Friends - Still Off Duty!

Border Collie Sheepdogs and Friends - Still Off Duty

These two titles sold well, but it became clear that the future of video is not in DVDs. These days, more and more people are watching video online, so rather than bring out a sequel to "First Steps" on disk, we started making short videos about training a dog for herding sheep. These are available for watching at a very small monthly or annual subscription rate and we're pleased to say we have nearly fifty Sheepdog Training Tutorials available to our members.

For those who cannot watch the tutorials online, we have released DVDs containing the Sheepdog Training Tutorials.

Our Sheepdog Training Tutorial Videos
will help you train your sheepdog

We show how to train your dog & how to put things right if they go wrong!

Over FORTY sheepdog training videos to watch!
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Widen Outrun and Flanks with the Slingshot

Our technique for SERIOUSLY widening your dog out from sheep or cattle

Knowing where to stand and what to do, as you send your dog off to the sheep, can make a huge difference to the space the dog puts between itself and the stock but, if you want a sure-fire way to widen your dog's outrun and flanking, and provided the dog will reliably come away from the stock, you should be able to train it to do what we call "The Slingshot".

The slingshot is our own technique for putting distance between a herding dog and the stock

Years ago we noticed that sometimes, as we walked away from the sheep during a training session, a dog that was very keen to get back to the sheep would "zig-zag" backwards and forwards in front of us as we walked away.

The dog was often so keen to get back to the sheep it seemed to be pleading with the handler to send it off again. Once it was released, the dog would set off on its outrun with even more enthusiasm than it had before.

We found that by using their body language to suggest to the dog that they were about to send it off, but then calling the dog back onto line (in other words teasing or "winding-up" the dog) the handler could increase this "zig-zag" action and the dog would become so excited that by the time it was released, it would set off really wide.

Find out More!

Watch our professionally produced video tutorials on Sheepdog Training, including the new "SLINGSHOT" technique, by subscribing to our Online Sheepdog Training Tutorials.

By praising the dog as it goes out wide it's very simple for the handler can teach the dog that this is the correct way to go to the sheep. It should be noted that whilst the "Slingshot" is most effective for sending the dog off very wide, it's of limited use at the far end of the outrun if the dog's inclined to come in tight. However, if the dog sets off well it's much easier to teach the dog to maintain a wide path, than it is if it sets off straight towards the sheep.

So while it's by no means a "cure-all", the "Slingshot" can be an extremely useful tool for widening the dog's outrun and flanks.

Our Sheepdog Training Tutorial Videos
will help you train your sheepdog

We show how to train your dog & how to put things right if they go wrong!

Over FORTY sheepdog training videos to watch!
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Training a strong dog and struggling?

Does your sheepdog training sometimes feel like a fight to protect the sheep?

At just over fourteen weeks of age, Border Collie puppy Hayley naturally flanks round her sheep

We welcome questions from subscribers to the online tutorials, and a common problem (sometimes described as "the red mist") can be summed up by this extract from a recent email.

"We are training an 18 month old B/C bitch we have owned for three months. She is very strong willed. We struggle with the stop and don't trust her to work in a larger area or with more sheep as she is extremely fast and tight and has a tendency to grip.

"We move the sheep along a fence to prevent her from constantly circling but when she tires (after about 20 mins) we can get her to settle. She is still closer to them than I would like though.

"Away from the sheep she's obedient, and listens well."

Training a dog to herd sheep - giving the sheep plenty of space
A dog that gives the sheep space will find them easier

In the long run strong willed dogs can be among the best sheepdogs, but training them may be extremely trying and can feel like a thankless task when progress is slow.

Here's Andy's response to this particular trainer, and I hope others will find it helpful if faced with a similar situation.

"From what I read, you’re attempting to progress too quickly. If you’ve had an eighteen month old dog for only three months, she will not yet be fully bonded with you. She may be perfectly OK away from sheep, but she won't fully respect your authority when “hunting” - and that’s what she’s doing when she’s around sheep.

"To speed this bonding process, the main handler / trainer of the dog should have the dog with them whenever possible. A dog learns nothing while it’s in a pen.

"I recommend you use a training ring of the same size as ours, made from 28x1.8m (6 foot) sheep hurdles/panels, and have the dog inside the ring with no more than three or four sheep. You must train the dog to go round the sheep without diving in and splitting or gripping them.

"This is also a good time to teach the stop. If the dog won’t stop, you have to MAKE it stop. Move through the sheep towards the dog, if necessary, and block it firmly using the stick and/or your raised arms.

"You must be even stronger-willed than the dog, otherwise the dog will get its own way, as yours is now.

"Every time the dog gets its way, it’s learning that IT is the boss - not you (the trainer). The longer this goes on, the more the dog will be convinced that it knows best.

"Go back to the beginning with the dog. Teach her to go round the sheep and keep them together - but to keep back from them. You can also stop her on occasions, but the main thing is to MAKE her behave herself in the presence of the sheep.

"Until you can rely on her to do this, she’s not ready to go out of the ring.

"When you feel the dog is ready to come out of the ring, follow the instructions in the “Coming Out” tutorial. As the sheep run out the dog’s immediate reaction should be to gather them together and hold them to you. If the dog runs after one or more and chases it away, or grips and hangs on, the dog isn’t ready to work outside the ring yet.

"The closest tutorials that come to mind are "Starting a Strong Dog” and "Bronwen and Scylla" (Scylla being the relevant dog in your case) and, once you begin to get better control, “Walking Backwards".

train a training a herding dog to work stock

"For now, I wouldn’t walk the sheep along a fence - concentrate on getting her to go round the sheep and balance them to you. You can’t rush the training - particularly with a strong willed dog, but soon “the penny will drop” and the dog will begin to cooperate, and you’ll realise that it was all worthwhile."

It may seem to be taking advantage to continue to work the dog after you can see that it's clearly tiring, but often that last 10 minutes or so of a training session can be the most valuable.

Not only will the dog be slowing down, and more inclined to listen to you, this is your great opportunity to praise the dog. When it stops, goes out wider or is simply nicer to work with, you're able to show how pleased you are and even the strongest-willed dog wants to be praised.

A firm foundation in the basics is vital, and take your time. When problems arise it's helpful to take a good hard look at the dog's work and try to simplify the issues you're having.

Sometimes the dog being too fast; not stopping; "picking off" a single sheep; or gripping are the same issue expressing itself in different ways and the solution is often more simple than you'd expect - you just need to go back to basics.

Our Sheepdog Training Tutorial Videos
will help you train your sheepdog

We show how to train your dog & how to put things right if they go wrong!

Over FORTY sheepdog training videos to watch!
Info | Watch Preview | Subscribe | Subtitles

Border collie sheepdog training