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Herding sheep is a time-honored tradition; and, of course, dogs are often linked to that honor. Training a dog to play a part in this tradition, however, is not easy. It requires patience and desire from both the dog and its owner. But, if you are willing to work with your pet and give him the training that he will need, it can be a rewarding experience.

Before you even begin training, you have to see if your dog is capable of it–some breeds are natural herders, while others are not. Some are born with the instinct to protect and direct a flock; some merely want to play. You have to see what kind of dog you have. Will he be up to the challenge? Will he be able to concentrate his energies toward the flock? If you believe he can, then training can begin. Just remember to be honest with yourself about your dog.

Shepherding requires diligence and obedience. Your dog must respond to your commands. When beginning training, you must be sure that your dog understands the basics of “sit”, “stay” and “heel”. These become the building blocks of teaching. Once those basics are learned, you can move on to more advanced training techniques; many trainers will use a stick to teach their dogs how to move in specific directions. They tie their dogs to the end of the stick so it learns to go where the stick goes. Eventually, the dog will follow the stick’s command without being tied to it. All you will have to do is tap the stick to the ground and your dog will respond.

With the basic commands learned and directions understood, you can more on to verbal commands. Your dog will associate your words with specific behaviors. As you go along, you will be able to wean your dog off of words and onto whistles. Whistling is the preferred form of communication among herders; it carries farther and saves their voices.

Once this part of training is completed, your dog should be ready for his first test–place him as protector of young sheep, usually no more than a year old. These creatures are the most obedient of sheep and any dog can handle them. Your dog will gain the confidence and experience that he needs. You must watch your dog carefully, however, and note any problems he may have. You can help guide him through the experience, teaching him what he may be lacking in. Also, it is important that you work with the sheep and reinforce your dog’s commands on them. This builds confidence. Remember to keep the sheep in a small paddock so your dog learns to focus only on them and will not be distracted.

With this phase of training completed, you can move onto the final test: field training. This is where you place your dog in the normal, day-to-day operations of herding that you would both face. It is recommended that you, once again, remind your dog of the basic commands, going through the stick process and whistling techniques again. It is also recommended that you watch your dog carefully; many young herders will be tempted to ignore your commands, especially as they set out on their own a little. You must show them that this is unacceptable, whether by not allowing him to do his work or by going through initial training again.

Shepherding requires many eyes; your dog can be a wonderful advantage to have. You must go through the long phases of training, however. If you are willing to work, your dog will be too.

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