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Basic herding dog commands

A Border Collie at work with hair sheep.

Come-bye or just bye - go to the left of the stock, or clockwise around them.
Away to me, or just away or 'way - go to the right of the stock, or counterclockwise around them.

Stand - stop, although when said gently may also mean just to slow down.

Wait, (lie) down or sit - stop.

Steady or take time - slow down.

Cast - gather the stock into a group. Good working dogs will cast over a large area.

Find - search for stock. A good dog will hold the stock until the shepherd arrives. Some will bark
when the stock have been located.

Hold - keep stock where they are.

Bark or speak up - bark at stock. Useful when more force is needed, and usually essential for
working cattle and sheep.

Look back - return for a missed animal.

In there - go through a gap.

Walk up, walk on or just walk - move in closer to the stock.

That'll do - stop working and return to handler.

These commands may be indicated by a hand movement, whistle or voice. There are many other commands
that are also used when working stock and in general use away from stock. Herding dog commands are
generally taught using livestock as the modus operandi. Urban owners without access to livestock are able to
teach basic commands through herding games.[2]
These are not the only commands used; there are many variations. In New Zealand each dog has a different
set of commands to avoid confusion when more than one dog is being worked at one time.

Border collies are relatively easy to train to herd sheep because that is their natural inclination.
You can start the basic training of your border collie puppy at about 10 months old. But before you
actually begin to introduce herding commands to him, you must first study the commands yourself
and be able to distinguish between them. The word you use for each individual command can be
invented by you, the trainer, but many novice trainers like a list of herding terms to use as a guide.

Herding Terms

Flank: Commands the dog to get up behind the sheep and to gather them in bunches.
Outrun: The dog is at your side, and the sheep stand somewhere in front of you. The dog must get to
the other side of the sheep without crossing between them or disturbing them in anyway.

Fetch: The dog brings the sheep to you.

Driving: The sheeps heads are in front of you, and the dog is driving the flock towards you.

Pen: The sheep are coming closer to you with each of the dogs flanks.

Shed: The dog is going through the midst of the sheep, using the flanking technique, and holding the
sheep you have asked him to bring to you. This should be the last, basic command taught to a young,
sheep herding collie.

Go/Come Bye: The dog is moving in a clockwise direction around the sheep.

Away to Me: The dog is moving in a counter-clockwise direction around the sheep.

Steady On Walk On: The dog continues on but at a slower pace.

Get Up: Stand up or get on with your herding.

There: Hold the line.

Take Time: Say this phrase sternly: Slow down.

Listen: You might include the dogs name here; this word is best used when the dog is anxious.

Get Back: The dog is too close to the sheep.

What Are You Doing: The dog is behaving irrationally.

Basic Stages of Training

In the first stage, make the dog aware of you, the sheep, and his own proximity to the sheep. The
collie will naturally want to work on his own, but he must accept you as a team mate.

Permit your pup to flank, but be ready to give a verbal or a physical correction. Your border collie
doesnt know right from wrong yet. Be prepared to resort to a physical correction if a verbal
correction doesnt work. Never hit the dog. Merely yank him by the collar; grab his ears and give
them a gentle shake; stand in the correct spot and nudge him over there. A physical correction is often
more memorable than a verbal one. Watch the dogs attitude: it will tell you how much to discipline.

Allow the dog to flank instinctively; dont give many directions at this time. Instead ask yourself, is
he hurting sheep, and is he thinking about them instead of running just as fast as he can?

The dogs attitude is most important in this stage. Dont rush through training. He must learn to think
and to approximate proper distance around the sheep.

Come Bye and Away to Me are logically taught next. Use a physical correction to guide your dog into
the right place: gently nudge him. This stage takes time. But it can be taught if each time he runs wild
or just goes in the wrong direction, he is given a physical correction.
Teach him to pace in a sense. Back up and let him bring the sheep to you. He will learn how sheep
behave and react.

Outruns comprise the next stage of learning in a border collies life. If your dog is now flanking well,
an outrun is the one end result. This stage often teaches itself.

Shedding is the final step, but, if you have already drilled the dog on flanking and reading sheep, this
last stage in beginning training should be simple. Take this stage slowly. The dog needs to learn your
body language to know which sheep you want brought to you and how to keep the chosen sheep
away from the others. Sorting, a more complicated procedure, will be taught on this foundation.


The ultimate goal of all this basic training does not result in a finished product. The basic training
process is ongoing as you will continually teach your dog to take time, to slow down and to think of
you, his handler.

1. 1
Learn the basic commands for herding breeds. These can be used for training whether or not you are
training with stock.
2. 2
Teach your dog basic obedience skills like sit, stay and come. This is especially important in the
presence of livestock.
3. 3
Work on balance with your dog in the presence of the herd. Balance refers to proper position of the
dog in relation to the stock to prevent them from escaping. This is usually done with the dog, handler
and stock in a straight line. Balance is reached when the stock do not move.
4. 4
Practice "Come bye" which means the dog always goes clockwise no matter where the handler is in
relation to the stock. This can be done with an object if practiced without stock.
5. 5

Train dog to "Away to me," which means the dog always goes counter clockwise no matter where the
handler is in relation to the stock.
6. 6
Get your dog to learn that you are the alpha dog or lead dog. Dogs are pack animals and their
instincts tell them to follow the pack leader at all times.
7. 7
Maximize your dog's herding instincts by offering him opportunities to use his skills. This can be
done through competitions or classes that train on specific skills like leading stock through a predesigned course.

Tips & Warnings

Dogs have an instinct to work. All dogs are bred for a particular function and when given the chance
to use their instincts they will be happier, healthier and make better pets.

The benefits to herding dog training are very plentiful. Fencing for your pastures can be very expensive and
requires consistent maintenance. Training a dog or a group of dogs for herding takes time and effort but not
only is highly useful, it is rewarding as well.
Some dogs have a certain amount of herding dog training bread into them. This makes the training process
easier but it still requires time and effort. Research on herding dog breeds will go a long ways. Once you
have found a good pup you should start to familiarize the dog with the mechanics of sheep farming.
Simply taking the dog with you to the fields is a good start. If an older dog has never been around larger
animals they can sometimes be frighted. Dogs which are frighted may lash out and become unruly to train. If
you happen to be trying to train an older dog who is afraid at first you will need to do a bit more work to
correct this problem.
While having a pack of dogs (two or three) is much more efficient when herding, only train one pup at a
time. Trying to control, praise, and scold several dogs at once is not only frustrating for you but it will also
be confusing for the dogs.
If you already have a dog who is trained for herding this can be very beneficial for a new pup to watch. Often
times dogs learn from other dogs behavior. If you are training your dog for competitions you may already
have friends with trained dogs. It may be possible to have training sessions with these dogs.
Herding dog training can be some what frustrating if you have never done it before. One thing you will want
to make sure of is that you always correct your canine when he/she makes mistakes. It may get a bit tiresome
after a while correcting the same mistake over and over again but if you do not your dog will develop bad
habits. When a herding dog develops bad habits it can be dangerous for the sheep as well as the security of
your flock. Avoid this at all costs.
While teaching one command at a time seems less confusing for your puppy it can cause them to become
board. Try and alternate two or three commands at a time. Once your pup has mastered these commands you
can start to work on more complicated commands.

Dogs are working animals. Their reward for commands well done should be praise but keep in mind that
dogs just wants to work. When a canine is working you will notice that their posture changes. They are alert
and focused. You will notice the changes in your dogs behavior right away. Once you can tell when they are
in working mode it becomes much easier to teach them new commands.