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Case Studies
Kathleen Ward


The following case studies illustrate how owners unknowingly create or allow problems to develop. You might have heard that it is more difficult to raise a Border Collie/Kelpie correctly (to the age where it goes to sheep) than it is to train the dog. Now this is brought to the forefront with every dog that has not had the basic work done correctly.

The dog’s introduction to sheep done without a plan also creates problems.

Working with different dogs with different problems and watching them change and become ‘Sheepdogs’ HIGHLIGHTED the need for New Owners and even Experienced owners to reassess the way they raise their puppies and the situation in and around the home/yard and farm. There are no short cuts. Not enough emphasis can be placed that lead training and basic obedience must be done correctly. The dogs need to be socially balanced, he/she must be confident around the labourers, exposed to all the stock on a farm, to be able to climb through a fence, ride on the farm vehicle etc. There must be a safe place for the dog to stay when not under supervision so as not to be able to get to stock on its own and form habits.

With the following case studies I hope you will become aware of various pitfalls.


The owner could not get the dog to go around the sheep. She would (cast) run into the sheep and then receive the command no, no. The owner thinking she would grip. The sheep scattered in all directions, she would chase and when there were no more sheep, she would be called back. She became more and more timid and unsure. She heeled behind you when you approached the sheep and was so over-obedient it was difficult to get her out from behind your legs to go out to the sheep. When you did it was, as described above. To get her to just walk onto the sheep was impossible. She would also always cast more to the right hand side of the sheep. There was no way you could get her to go to the left. She had developed a way of going ‘at’ and ‘into’ the sheep.

This dog had a good lie down and came when called.

After working with her for a week I achieved the break through late one afternoon in getting her to sort of go round the sheep and staying on the other side for a short while. The joy the dog showed as we came away from the sheep showed me how pleased she was for actually working the sheep. She leaped in the air, wiggled and squeaked and talked and was as excited as a dog that had not seen its owner for a week. She knew she had achieved something and was very pleased. From the next day it just got better and better. As her confidence grew she would also jump up onto the bakkie which she would not do for the owner. She would just go and lie in the shrubs or crawl under the bakkie where she had to be fetched out. He was kind to her and worked gently with her it was all a lack self esteem from the sheep work that carried over to the rest of her life. She also ate very badly, but as she grew in confidence working sheep this also changed.

Her whole personality changed as she got better on the sheep. In fact she got so bold that she was not intimidated by corrections and even took chances. She heeled with confidence and did not sort of hide behind your legs.

When things started going well she cast better on her left side as she had never developed a “habit” in anyway on that side as she had on her right side (going too tight).

When went to a bigger flock in a camp. The wheels came off. NEW SITUATION and she reverted to the old habit. So it was back to more practice and then when she went out again she worked well.


This dog had been able to get to sheep on her own a few times. She would rush into the sheep scattering them. Then running after them and usually getting them into a corner where she would lie (Eye) and watch them.

When this dogs’ training started, she just wanted to rush to the sheep’s heads and also did not want to walk up onto sheep (she would rather eye the sheep). This meant she could not balance sheep as she only wanted to block the heads (their faces) all the time.

She had to be taken on a lead and a lot of time was spent just walking after sheep (driving them) until she learnt not to rush and to encourage her to walk up, when asked to and not to lie and eye them.

As the training progressed you always had to stop her from rushing to the heads. She would do this on the bring as well as the drive. She always over flanked behind the sheep. So practice on balancing and stopping her from over flanking and getting her to do a straight walk up all the time.

These “bad” habits developed from going to sheep on her own could easily have spoiled a very good dog. It also lengthened her training time as you had to constantly correct the old bad habit and get her to do the right thing.


This dog would run out on a cast up to about three o’ clock get uncertain and stop look at the owner and getting no encouragement would then come back to the owner. The owner would sometimes then run with her trying to help her run around the sheep but it added to the confusion and created more uncertainty.

When I took her…….

She learnt quickly how to go around the sheep as all she needed was encouragement at the right point.

She would sometimes lapse back into the old uncertainty but a command would send her on her way again. This happened every time you took her to a new situation. The old ‘habit’ was under the surface but a word of encouragement and she was off. The owner tried to work with her again and could not manage the dog so asked me to re-home her. I was glad I could find someone who had experience handling dogs, who found this dog to be so clever. The owner had to take her sheep to graze everyday on a field without fencing. She had to keep the sheep from going to fields planted with crops. This dog quickly learnt the routine and would lie and watch the sheep and as soon as they stepped off their field she would herd them back and then go back to waiting.


The raising of this pup was full of flaws. On the lead the dog took you for a walk so of course he had not been taught to heel. So the walking on either side of you had been neglected.

The “lie down” was something awful. When you got the dog to down, he would then plough into the ground roll sideways and play dead. (This stemmed from the fact that the dog knock over the grand child and was then told to lie down where he would lie (dead) on his side. He could not sit. (which was a good thing as there was no negative association with this). He did not come when called. Now when I get a dog in I realize it takes a few days for the dog to accept my voice. But this usually comes quickly as the commands are still the same it is an adjustment. When I took the dog to sheep the first time I walked on the leash to quite close and he turned his head away. Like pretending the sheep are not there. This said to me this dog had gone to sheep and whatever happened no one will know. The owner of course assures me he had never taken the dog to sheep, but we know dogs get out and then the contact they have with sheep handled incorrectly often leads to problems. This can happen when the owner is not at home. (Again the need for your kennel situation to be a safe enclosure.)

Another scenario which can also have happened in this case he was also called back when approaching sheep. After walking with the dog on the leash driving the sheep getting him use to being there and with a command to walk up, I got to a point where I felt I could released the dog, he then would not walk up on his own, he paced five to the right and then five to the left not moving one inch closer. Similar to a dog who has worked sheep from behind a fence. This turned out to be his kennel situation. He paced the fence all day long and now he did this at sheep.

Getting him to stay on his sheep was hard. He would go partially round the sheep and then keep a good distance away, he was also not responding to any encouragement to get him to go round sheep or come closer. In fact my voice was only getting a negative response from the dog. I changed to whistles and this brought about a breakthrough in movement. Then when I wanted to catch him and called him, he would just move further and further away. He would also only move in a semi anti-clockwise directions around the sheep. With only one intention when he could get passed me, was to bomb them. When the owner came to fetch the dog we discussed his negative reaction to my voice. He thought that maybe the older grand children had maybe chased the dog away from their playing. As he could think of no other situation where the dog could have been spoken to ‘loudly/harshly’. The dogs’ body language was also one of total depression. As he progressed I could add voice commands. The dogs’ body language improved and he showed excitement and started accepting things more readily. The lie down remained a problem as his association with this action put him into a negative mode. So ‘Sit’ became his ‘lie down’. This all slows down the training time as a tense uncertain dog does not learn. Everything that I taught him that was ‘new’ he caught on quickly. The old problems were the hard ones to get past.


This dog rushed at the sheep barking madly scattering the sheep in all the wind directions. Rushing after one then the other and when there were no sheep left you were lucky if you could call her back. This had gone on for a long time. This dog was an extreme challenge to get to stop barking and to get to her not to rush the sheep and get her excitement level down. One evening and I chased her out of the training paddock. Telling her to “go home” if she could not work sheep properly. (Believe, me I held my breath thinking now I had cooked my Goose as she would most probably not want to work again.) She stood outside the camp surveying everything. I let her stand there for a while and when I called her back things started to improve. Once she got the idea of going round sheep and she balanced them to me and concentrated on keeping the sheep together, she also stopped barking. The high state of excitement dropped. She improved quickly and in a few weeks could go back to her owner.


This dog could go around sheep but could not keep her sheep together. She was uncertain and with lack of eye and confidence, her sheep spread out and the owner telling her to bring them just added to the confusion. She just needed work on her balance and once she got that right, her Confidence grew and her ability to hold them with her eye and presence grew and she kept them together. The learning progress was quick once this problem was sorted out.


This little star had an owner who listened and had done an excellent job on her basics: Leash walking on both sides, heel, the lie, stay and come. (So Five stars to this owner as well)

She took four weeks to get to the stage where she could go out and collect a flock of sheep.

She had no tension in her and understood the commands practice from a young age so she had no issues.


This dog had no idea how to balance. He liked to rush sheep and chase. He started getting the idea of going around the sheep, but the balance was not there. He liked to run in circles with the occasional rushing in. His enthusiasm lasted about 5 minutes. Then he started showing he would rather come to me or was easily distracted. You had to learn to back off before this. The progress came faster when I stuck to a short two minute session and took him away while he still wanted to work. After two weeks he changed completely and progress came faster and I could stay longer with him on sheep and he was not so easily distracted.


This dog learnt quickly and worked well but she was a tense dog. Things started going progressively wrong with the owner and escalated to a stage where she was backing off the sheep and could not bring or drive. Under fast pressure situations, sheep running, she would take incorrect flank commands. If the owner was oozing moodiness, she picked up on his mood and took incorrect flank commands. The more she was corrected the worse the situation got. A stick in your hand and her attention was more on “the weapon”, than on the sheep. The owner thought the dog stupid and did not have the ability to remember what she was taught.

Quiet work and her confidence improved and she was in fact too intelligent. When cast out to sheep and you kept quiet, she worked everything out beautifully. She brought them nicely, drove for kilometres without commands. Quiet commands and she is fine, but placed under stress and the flanks go wrong. The owner also did not realize how he was waving his arms for flanks which also made her take her eye off the sheep, the sheep would use this opportunity to take different directions. Then getting the sheep back together if loud commands were given she shut off.


The Owner liked to take his dog with when working sheep in a kraal. He tied the dog up at the kraal. Result, one very difficult dog to get to move. This was compounded by being allowed to work the cat, which he would corner and lie and eye. He would walk up with you to sheep but then would lie down and not move even when the sheep ran. Again the owners not realising that this was incorrect exposure.


The owner said this dog had no interest in working sheep. It turned out that the dog walked with the owner to the ostrich chicks everyday. He was called back as he approached them and was then told to lie down and stay. When I took this dog to sheep he kept looking at the owner standing on the side of the work area. The uncertainty was very plain to see. Well just some fast moving sheep and encouragement and the dog quickly started working. Another action by an owner that the dog interpreted as, No, I do not want you to work.

As you can see with these case studies it is the lack of experience/understanding from owners that can create problems. Luckily most of them can be turned around by an experienced handler/trainer.

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