A common problem with keen sheepdogs is they work too fast, causing disruption and stress to sheep and shepherd alike. Teach your dog to work steadily.
For maximum working efficiency and minimum stress to the sheep, the herding dog should work with a calm authority, keeping a good distance between itself and the sheep, but not so far off that it loses control of them. This topic is covered in our online sheepdog training videos.
I received an email from a sheepdog handler in New Zealand yesterday. She had bought our 'First Steps' sheepdog training DVD and had managed to get her headstrong dog to outrun and fetch the sheep, but the dog is working at breakneck speed and she wanted some advice on how to slow it down.
My first reaction to a problem like this is that the handler is allowing the dog to work too far away from them. One of the vital rules of sheepdog training is that the further away from you the dog is working, the less control you have over the dog. Remember, the dog is using a primitive hunting instinct. When you train your dog, you're channelling that instinct into controlled work from the dog, but a trainee dog will usually only respect your control if you're very close. Dogs hunt in packs and a dog that is a good distance from the rest of the pack (that's you) feels it's getting no backup. It will often revert to its hunting instinct, rather than listen to a pack member who's shouting orders from afar.
If the dog works sensibly close-bye, then the solution is to work the dog calmly, and praise it with a gentle voice when it's working steadily, but stop it the moment it gets excited. The dog will soon learn that it gets a lot more fun (work) if it remains calm.
Of course, if the dog won't stop, even close-bye, you need to concentrate on this issue first. Repeatedly flanking the dog a little way around the sheep and stopping it by blocking it, is the way to drum it into the dog that it must stop on command.
Once you can stop the dog fairly reliably on the far side of the sheep (point of balance), walk backwards, keeping the dog in place as the sheep follow you (to get away from the dog). When you have a few yards between the dog and the sheep, call the dog up quietly. The instant it begins to rush, stop the dog with a sharp command, then repeat the procedure until the dog follows the sheep at a steady pace. Sometimes the dog will learn this quickly, but other dogs take longer to oblige
The next step is to increase the distance between the dog and the sheep, before you call the dog up. This teaches the dog to control itself and you'll find that most dogs will learn to moderate their speed.
If at any time the dog reverts to tearing around, go back to the very close work again - walking backwards as the dog brings the sheep up to you calmly.
If the dog has a good stop close-bye, but won't stop at the end of its outrun, the outrun was too long. Walk closer to the sheep next time and make sure the dog stops properly when commanded (not twenty paces later). Only then, should you begin to increase the outrun distance again (gradually).