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More on sheep herding

Lie down

Lie down

After a weekend of helping at the sheep herding trials, I’ve still got sheep herding on the brain. I can’t help it. There is so much I don’t know. So much I want to learn.

Watching all the dogs working with the sheep and moving them from place to place was fascinating. It made me want to get Jasper more seriously involved.

One of the things I found most interesting was the variation in and consistency of the commands between handlers. Some of the commands seemed to be standard among all the handlers:

  • Come-bye
  • That’ll do
  • Lie down
  • Stand
  • There
  • Here to me

While others used a variation of a similar command:

  • Away/Away to me
  • Get out / Get Back
  • Walk / Walk Up

I was able to easily figure out what most of the commands meant, but there were a few that I was unsure about (like “Get out” and “That’ll do”). Learning the commands, and their definitions, made it easier to understand what the handler was asking the dog to do.


Move around (circle) the sheep in a clockwise direction. From facing the sheep, the dog should turn squarely and keep at a constant distance from the sheep while flanking.

Away / Away to Me

Move around (circle) the sheep in an anti-clockwise direction. From facing the sheep, the dog should turn squarely and keep at a constant distance from the sheep while flanking.


It can mean stop, or sometimes just slow down! The dog must learn that with a sharp command, the handler wants it to actually stop but with a soft command it should just check its speed or allow the sheep to go further ahead of it.

Get Back / Get Out

The dog is working too close and likely to cause stress to the sheep. The command is used to send the dog further out and give the sheep more room.

Lie Down / Stand / Stop

Stop, lie down, slow down or just stand still. These are also often used to slow the dog down. Border Collies are intelligent things and good ones can usually tell which the handler means by the tone of voice.

Look Back

The dog must leave the sheep it’s working and turn around to look for more sheep. An advanced ‘look back’ can be done in such a way as to indicate to the dog which direction the new sheep are located.

Take Time

The dog should slow down. This is usually used to put more distance between dog and sheep when the dog’s eagerness is likely to panic or stress the sheep.

That’ll do

The dog must stop what it’s doing and return directly to the handler. This command can be a great help when training a dog to drive. Use ‘That’ll Do’ to keep the dog between you and the sheep.


Used by some handlers to tell the dog it has completed the required flanking manoeuvre (circling) and should turn squarely back towards the sheep.

Walk Up / Walk On

Requires the dog to move straight towards the sheep in a calm, steady fashion without spooking or stressing them.

Here is an example of a herding dog learning the Away command:

One of the handlers at the herding trial used a whistle to call out her commands to her dogs. She said it allowed her to be less frustrated and more able to stay calm with her dogs, and I soon saw what she meant. When a dog ran off course or got distracted or simply decided to take charge of the sheep on their own, you could hear the frustration in their handler’s voices. Their tone changed and often you would see the dog’s behavior change too. I saw a couple of situations in which the dog looked totally confused and just stopped working altogether. But with the woman using a whistle, there was no frustration conveyed to the dog.

Here is a really great video demonstrating how a whistle can be used to guide sheep herding dogs. What is really fascinating about this presentation is that the handler actually trained his dogs to know different whistles for the same command. So, “away to me” for one dog would have one whistle and for another dog it would have a completely different whistle. This allowed him to control both dogs’ movements separately while they worked together. Watch and see what I mean.

Perhaps the one thing I learned most this past weekend is how much of a role the handler’s mindset and confidence plays in the process. A handler has to be able to trust their dog. They have to have confidence in their skills, abilities and knowledge. A handler lacking in confidence transfers that lack of confidence to their dog. A handler who is confident in their dog allows the dog to be confident in their choices as well.

  1. July 9, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    I love watching dogs herd sheep. So interesting! “That’ll do” always reminds me of “Babe” – “That’ll do, Pig.” (I say that to my husband sometimes…) 🙂

    • July 9, 2013 at 10:38 AM

      …because his nickname is Piglet – not because he’s fat. :0)

      • Mel
        July 9, 2013 at 10:11 PM

        LOL! I wasn’t thinking it meant he was fat but perhaps a reference to Pooh. 🙂

    • Mel
      July 9, 2013 at 10:12 PM

      I love watching them too Jackie. The “That’ll do” also reminds me of Babe. At least now I know what it means. 🙂

  2. July 9, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    Love learning about how these amazing human/dog pairs get it done – thanks for sharing.

    • Mel
      July 9, 2013 at 10:11 PM

      Thanks for reading Will and Eko!

  3. July 9, 2013 at 3:01 PM

    Love this! “That’ll do” reminds me of Babe too!
    Diane and Rocco

    • Mel
      July 9, 2013 at 10:10 PM

      Me too. LOL!

  4. jan
    July 9, 2013 at 3:01 PM

    We once had an Old English Sheepdog who tried to herd everything, children, chickens, ants in the driveway. I always regret that we didn’t give her a chance to learn sheep.

    • Mel
      July 9, 2013 at 10:10 PM

      I am worried I will feel the same way if I don’t give Jasper a chance to try herding Jan. I bet your Old English Sheepdog was amazing and would have loved herding sheep, although from the sounds of it he was already using his herding skills.

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