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Training dogs to ignore sheep!

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 JimR 30 Jun 2022

How do you do this? Our two springers are much too interested and have to be on the lead all the time anytime we might encounter any.

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In reply to JimR:

For us (cocker spaniel), when he was still young he went to a day care once a week. Once he was old enough (well trained enough) he was introduced to the sheep on a long line. 
 

The sheep were owned by the trainer and were very used to dogs which meant they would stand their ground and not run. He would have a bucket of feed and the sheep would come over. Once they were happily feeding he would play with the dogs (with a ball or whatever) and they learn that playing is more fun than the boring sheep which are just eating. If he was interested he could still go and smell them but they were too occupied to care.

I think not having the sheep running away is important as it makes them exciting from the start. Also harder to do if they have already chased sheep. I wouldn’t normally, but I’ve been able to walk through sheep (that I know won’t run) just holding his ball up and he has 100% focus on me. 

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In reply to JimR:

The traditional way is to chain the dog to a ram...

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 Trangia 30 Jun 2022
In reply to captain paranoia:

> The traditional way is to chain the dog to a ram...

Yes, I was going to say the same. Put the dog in with a ram.

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 Dave Ferguson 30 Jun 2022
In reply to JimR:

dogs will never ignore sheep but they can be effectively trained to walk to heel when they see them, its all about recall from day 1 and realising that if they do chase sheep they will be scolded.  Long lines can be useful as you can pull them back immediately they start chasing and scold immediately. Once they are off the lead its very hard to get them back and they've forgotten what they've done wrong. Rewarding instant recall is also really important. Its a long game for some dogs but worth it in the end.

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 lardy nick 30 Jun 2022
In reply to JimR:

You can't. If they're in a field with sheep they ought to be on lead. Unless they're a sheep dog. Any sheep farmer will tell you that.

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OP JimR 30 Jun 2022
In reply to lardy nick:

 "If they're in a field with sheep they ought to be on lead. Unless they're a sheep dog. Any sheep farmer will tell you that."

Nothing like stating the bleedin' obvious is there! But completely irrelevant to the original question, as I've met many people with dogs whose dogs are trained to ignore sheep, which makes walking with them on a lead near sheep much less stressful.

Post edited at 23:24
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 girlymonkey 30 Jun 2022
In reply to Trangia:

Our dog was put in with sheep when he was young. He got very scared. His fear reaction is to chase and bark and convince the scary thing that he is scarier! Hmmm, we now have a dog who doesn't just want play with the sheep!! Best not to try this method!

1
In reply to girlymonkey:

My post was a bit tongue in cheek. But it was a direct quote from a sheep farmer I encountered about forty years ago, who did actually have a dog chained to a ram. And I asked why...

 Jenny C 30 Jun 2022
In reply to captain paranoia:

Many years ago a friends technique was to walk the puppy on a long lead through a field with with ewes and lambs. The Ewes would attack the pup, who would quickly learn that sheep are scary and should be avoided at all costs.

 (He did know the farmer!)

 girlymonkey 01 Jul 2022
In reply to captain paranoia:

It is genuine advice from several farmers. That is how we ended up doing it with ours. It was our first dog and this farmer was a family friend who we trusted. He meant no harm by it, but it really was very bad advice!!

 Run_Ross_Run 01 Jul 2022
In reply to JimR:

Dogs should be on a lead when out in public. Its the only way to reduce the chance of any problems.

Spend a lot of time out running /cycling /walking and I can count the times on one hand where a dog owner who's dogs are off a lead actually managed to call them to sit as we pass. I always thank them but like I say it's very rare for dogs off leads to actually obey owners calls. 

Post edited at 06:26
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 Uncle Derek 01 Jul 2022
In reply to Run_Ross_Run:

> Dogs should be on a lead when out in public. Its the only way to reduce the chance of any problems.

> Spend a lot of time out running /cycling /walking and I can count the times on one hand where a dog owner who's dogs are off a lead actually managed to call them to sit as we pass. I always thank them but like I say it's very rare for dogs off leads to actually obey owners calls. 

Sadly, I would agree with this. When out cycling, dog owners if they take any action at all will have some sort of weird conversation with the dog, maybe more dogs speak Human than I think.
You can see the dog is quivering and barely containing it's self, but the owners seem unprepared to actually physically control the dog, preferring to use "the force". I do slow, and prepare to brake as I pass, but also mentally prepare to mow the dog down if it leaps forwards, if other action will put myself or other highway users in danger.

Dog threads on UKC are always ace.

7
In reply to JimR:

With our dog (a collie so wired differently) we did what you do for most things training, be the most exciting thing and lots of rewards.

Started off on a long line a fair way out from sheep, with a high value reward (chicken and cheese we used). Every time the dog looks at sheep call its name, and reward it for coming to you. Repeat, repeat some more, repeat a bit more, and move a bit closer. Over time the dog associates seeing sheep and getting cheese/chicken so comes back to you for their reward (which is a good thing especially with stealth sheep in the ferns). Doing basic obedience around the sheep is good too (sit, down, stay etc), it keeps the focus on you with the good stuff and the sheep are just background noise. Eventually we started to take out the constant  reward but he still gets a reward occasionally, it could now just be a ball dropped at my feet or away from the sheep. 

This was done with Beth whos business is all about training dogs with sheep (either work them or ignore them) https://www.kingsdeansheepdogs.com/ if you are close by then certainly worth getting a few sessions booked in

Post edited at 08:27
In reply to Run_Ross_Run:

> Its the only way to reduce the chance of any problems.

Or people could train their damn dogs?

You are all in shared space, all parties need to learn to share it

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 streapadair 01 Jul 2022
In reply to JimR:

Start early, be adamant, make even glancing at sheep forbidden.


 ianstevens 01 Jul 2022
In reply to JimR:

>  "If they're in a field with sheep they ought to be on lead. Unless they're a sheep dog. Any sheep farmer will tell you that."

> Nothing like stating the bleedin' obvious is there! But completely irrelevant to the original question, as I've met many people with dogs whose dogs are trained to ignore sheep, which makes walking with them on a lead near sheep much less stressful.

If it was obvious everyone would do it. Lots don't.

In reply to lardy nick:

The requirement is 'under control', and I've seen a few sheepdogs that shouldn't be off lead near livestock.

I always put my old dog on a lead in fields with stock (the current one is on a lead everywhere due to his prey drive), but if practicable dogs should always be trained to recall near stock in case they slip the leash.

1
 Phil79 01 Jul 2022
In reply to JimR:

Ours will ignore them, and he's a cockerpoo/labradoodle cross, and pretty mental generally.

But, its taken a fair while to get to that point. He had an incident as a pup when he was off lead and two sheep jumped out in front of him, he ran after them until I managed to catch him (entirely my fault, sheep were fine thankfully).

I gave him a good bollocking and after that took the time to make him heel/recall anytime we were anywhere near any sheep/livestock, and kept on a short or long lead for ages. Treats when he reacted calmly, a talking too when he didnt.

Gradually, let him have more freedom around them, and now I can walk within a few meters of sheep and he wont react. He'll stop and look but no inclination to chase, even if they surprise him.

So, I think its a combination of carrot and stick. He gets praise when he gets it right, and scolded if he reacts badly. 

Edit: should add he's on the lead whenever I'm crossing a field of livestock or around lots of sheep on the open moor, but often off the lead at other times when less sheep around.    

Post edited at 11:26
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 timjones 01 Jul 2022
In reply to JimR:

It's not about training them to ignore sheep, you need to train them to walk to heel when you ask them to regardless of the distractions.

What works for sheep will also work for cars, children etc.

In reply to JimR:

Slightly at a tangent here, but I hope relevant. I remember SARDA dogs being required to pass a final test judged by a local shepherd who had to be convinced that the highly trained search dogs would show no interest in sheep before being passed able to roam and do their rescue searches obviously off the lead and identifiable by a Swiss Cross. This was often heartbreaking for the trainer when his dog failed this one and only assessment chance, after many years of search training.

The point I am making is that dog owners must be prepared to do what shepherds require of them and not just train their dogs to 'ignore sheep'. Many lambs are lost each year when dogs startle pregnant ewes . However obedient your dog is, personally I would expect it to be on a leash anywhere near sheep out of respect.

 Cobra_Head 01 Jul 2022
In reply to JimR:

distraction, you train them to be more interested in you, not ewe

OP JimR 01 Jul 2022
In reply to Stairclimber:

Our dogs are always and always will be on the lead when near sheep. I canicross with them and also bikejor with them so it would be a lot  better if they completely ignore them. They are fine with other animals .. even rabbits .. but one seems to have an inordinate interest in sheep. I think it dates back to when Jack was a pup and he was off lead in an area where there should have been no sheep and he found one and they ran off together (code for chase) and I recovered him and lo and behold the sheep ambled up straight to us and stood nose to nose with Jack who was then back on the lead. No word of a lie, so I wonder if he sees them as playmates. Our other one just ignores them. However as I've said before they will remain on the lead in areas where there are any expectation of sheep. 

Post edited at 13:57
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 Marek 01 Jul 2022
In reply to JimR:

If you have a breed with a tendency to chase, training is really valuable, but...

Good training will mean the dog ignores sheep 90% of the time.

the best training (an constant vigilance on your part) will mean the dog ignores sheep 99% of the time.

Then one day, sooner or later, the urge will be too much or you'll be looking the other way and if you're lucky no one gets hurt. If less lucky you have a dead dog, or a dead sheep or both. Worth it? I would always recommend a lead if anywhere near livestock, however 'good' your dog is. Having a dog scared of sheep is no answer - it's then likely to be tempted to defend you from them. Dog that are 'obedient' will often revert to type if they think you're not paying attention. If you really need to let your dog off lead, then choose somewhere more appropriate to exercise them.

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OP JimR 01 Jul 2022
In reply to Marek:

> If you have a breed with a tendency to chase, training is really valuable, but...

> Good training will mean the dog ignores sheep 90% of the time.

> the best training (an constant vigilance on your part) will mean the dog ignores sheep 99% of the time.

> Then one day, sooner or later, the urge will be too much or you'll be looking the other way and if you're lucky no one gets hurt. If less lucky you have a dead dog, or a dead sheep or both. Worth it? I would always recommend a lead if anywhere near livestock, however 'good' your dog is. Having a dog scared of sheep is no answer - it's then likely to be tempted to defend you from them. Dog that are 'obedient' will often revert to type if they think you're not paying attention. If you really need to let your dog off lead, then choose somewhere more appropriate to exercise them.

Sigh ... have you actually read my posts ?   If so you would have seen I have absolutely no intention of letting my dogs off  lead now or in the future anywhere near sheep. What I was looking for was advice on training a dog to ignore sheep when on lead, This is partic useful when the lead is attached to oneself whilst on a bike!

1
 Billhook 01 Jul 2022
In reply to JimR:

When we first got our rescue  dog he moved so quickly when he saw his first ewe he pulled the lead from me, chased a big ewe and pinned it to a fence. (They were not in lamb!).

So I discussed what to do with our farmer - who I know and also has non sheep dogs..  His method which I used with his permission was as another poster said,  We put him on a long lead and we headed over to a very protective ewe with two lambs.  Our dog made for the lambs before running out of lead just before he got to them.  Mum came over and butted our dog who just managed to avoid being knocked over.  A little later we did it again to another very protective mother with another couple of lambs.  This time,  our dog was concentrating on the lambs and didn't notice the mother.  The ram didn't miss our dog and bowled him over.  Now he simply ignores sheep and doesn't even bother if inquisitive lambs walk right up to him.

 wilkesley 01 Jul 2022
In reply to JimR:

It's best just to keep them on a lead. We have a Fox Red lab that is a descendant of shooting dogs. We live on a dairy farm and he is absolutely fine with cows and heifers. However, despite years of training, he can sometimes chase anything else that starts to run like hares and pheasants. Most of the time he can be called back by whistling, but sometimes the red mist descends and he will carry on chasing.

I would never trust him off lead in a field with sheep or horses.

 Marek 01 Jul 2022
In reply to JimR:

> Sigh ... have you actually read my posts ?   If so you would have seen I have absolutely no intention of letting my dogs off  lead now or in the future anywhere near sheep. What I was looking for was advice on training a dog to ignore sheep when on lead, This is partic useful when the lead is attached to oneself whilst on a bike!

Sorry, no I missed that - your original post didn't mention bikes. Mea culpa and all that. But...

The point of the lead is that you can control the dog. I'd say that's not realistic on a bike - I thought about it with my dogs and realised that it's just not going to work - a twitch from the dog (for any reason) and you're down. Also, my point about training effectiveness still stands. The dog *will* twitch at sheep - particularly if you haven't got its total attention (which you can't on a bike*), so tie the lead to the bike (so the dog can't chase) and prepare to crash sooner or later. In my book it  was always bike OR dog, never both. YMMV.

One of the oddities I've found is that when you're on a bike wildlife (like car drivers) doesn't see you as a human being and tends to be much more willing to let you approach. I suspect it would be much the same with a dog, i.e., if you've been training it whilst standing around, then when you get on a bike it'll be far less well-behaved because *you* are not there. You may have to experiment with training-whilst-riding more than you think.

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 Hutson 01 Jul 2022
In reply to JimR:

My rescue dog unfortunately came to us wanting to chase anything that moved. Round here cyclists, joggers and e-scooters are more of a problem than sheep but I've used the method below on sheep too on our visits to countryside. I've been chased by dogs on my bike and it's not fun so I was determined to train it out of her.

As well as training a good recall, I have been using the Distract, Mark, Treat method. (You can google this for a better explanation than I can give, obviously I didn't invent it). It's not a quick fix though.

Basically as soon as they spot whatever it is they want to chase, (Distract), you Mark it with a word eg Nice! (or you can use a clicker) and then as they look at you, you Treat them (our dog gets most of her daily food allowance reserved for this to avoid it making her fat, I have to do all her walks with a silicone treat pouch clipped to me).

Eventually, if you are really consistent, their reaction on seeing something chase-worthy will be to look at you for a treat. Eventually you can phase out the treat and just use the word or clicker, though you should still treat every so often. You have to be really consistent though. It's hard work here where there is something to chase every 30 seconds.

I wasn't sure if this was working (because it takes a while) but she has started to react to chase-worthy things by pausing and looking at me. The other day she was a little way ahead in the park (on a trailing long line so I could step on it if necessary) and a jogger rounded the corner coming towards us. Dog spun around and came running over to me for a treat. I was impressed.

It's worth noting you need to start this when the chase-worthy thing is at a sufficient distance otherwise it will be just too exciting and they will likely be too excited to take food. You can then slowly decrease the distance. At first we would just sit in the park watching the chase-worthy things at a distance. If it is a very narrow path I have also trained 'Middle' (she sits between my feet while they pass).

You shouldn't let them 'rehearse' the behaviour as the more they do it, the more they want to do it.

(She still stays on the lead anywhere there is livestock or even a lot of people running/cycling/scooting about but obviously it's easier if she's looking to me rather than straining at her lead or barking at them - I always worry that even the stress of being barked at will be too much for a pregnant ewe).

Post edited at 17:03
In reply to JimR:

Just good recall and when young, provided interesting stimulation near boring sheep. To be honest we walk everyday near sheep and she is MUCH MORE interested in eating sheep poo than the sheep themselves... but that's the lab side shining past the small amount of collie.

OP JimR 01 Jul 2022
In reply to Marek:

I've done a lot of cycling with the dogs on the bike and you can control them, its just hard work if they want to chase something. You need good brakes, don't be clipped in, lowish saddle and have the leads round your wrist rather than attached to the bike. (25 years of experience cycling with dogs).

 ExiledScot 02 Jul 2022
In reply to JimR:

You need a 100% stop, lie down or recall. It's not really just sheep, it's any animal which could entice them into a chase. Train the commands first, then add in distraction with a long line as back up. Back garden, busy park and so on. Ideally watch the head, ears etc.. you can tell when they are thinking of going and that's your window of opportunity to get the command and praise in if they don't go for it. Distraction helps, but the goal is them learning not to, not you distracting them from it. 

 girlymonkey 02 Jul 2022
In reply to JimR:

> Sigh ... have you actually read my posts ?   If so you would have seen I have absolutely no intention of letting my dogs off  lead now or in the future anywhere near sheep. What I was looking for was advice on training a dog to ignore sheep when on lead, This is partic useful when the lead is attached to oneself whilst on a bike!

When attached to you on the bike, do you mean bike joring? I would only attach a dog to a bike with a proper bike joring attachment and with the dog properly trained in a pulling harness. This keeps you and them safe. 

OP JimR 02 Jul 2022
In reply to girlymonkey:

The dogs have proper harnesses but I use long  ish leads with a bit of bungee built in , they are trained to stay to one side rather than directly in front. I have gone for over 20 miles with them like that! I learned not to directly attach to the bike after a couple of over the handlebar incidents years ago when I could still bounce😀the main advantage of “proper” bikejor leads is that the equipment is kept clear of front wheel but I train them to stay to one side instead .. which they pick up very quickly Also very important on any road sections. 

 Tringa 02 Jul 2022
In reply to JimR:

I have no personal experience of trying to train dogs to ignore sheep but a comment above that something could happen that triggers the dog to chase is very true. Our crossed terrier has a both a strong prey drive and is startled by loud and sudden noises(and would then just run) so is never of an extender lead.

Even so there will be times on a walk when, for no reason I can see/understand(but clearly he can), something triggers him and without a restraint, he would be off.

I read online a piece from a breeder and trainer of deerhounds. She said that she was happy to walk any of her dogs off the lead in a field of sheep, but would never do it if she had two of them because the dynamic/relationship between them was just too much of a risk.

Dave

 Andy Cloquet 02 Jul 2022
In reply to lardy nick: Our fabulous members of SARDA train and maintain their dogs’ ability to ignore sheep off the lead - it’s one of their basic tests. https://mountainrescuesearchdogsengland.org.uk/training-information/


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