Dog Training Interview with Caroline Woolley, Sheepdog Training, Behavior,

An Interview with top dog trainer Caroline Woolley…

Caroline Woolley in her beautiful surroundings

Today we are fortunate enough to be interviewing Caroline Woolley – a coordinator of Sheep dog Training and Handler classes throughout the south west. We asked Caroline to answer a few of our (your) questions and she agreed so as Caroline’s a very busy lady we won’t waste any more time…

Hi Caroline thanks for taking time out of your busy day…so lets get started if thats ok…

Q1. Sheepdog training is an area of dog training that is quite new to us and some of our readers, could you explain what takes place in sheepdog trials?

Sheepdog trials began in the late 1880’s as a test amongst shepherds to see who had the best working dog – but also as a social event. Many shepherds of long ago were also poets and singers. These gathering gave them a chance to shine.  The International Sheepdog Society is the governing body of these trials that are for working Border collies only.  Border Collies registered wit the Kennel Club only and not the ISDS  are not allowed to compete.

It takes many years of practice and a good dog to achieve the sort of ease of work that is achieved in these trials

The most important aspect of Trialling is the welfare of the sheep above all else – followed by that of the competing dogs.  All Trials are insured so that the welfare of  the general public is also covered.

The Course, which is divided into sections, replicates the sorts of task that is expected of the working collie and each section has a certain number of points allowed.  All dogs start with 100 points, each section is judged and points removed for mistakes. The whole is timed – usually about 12 – 15 minutes depending on the tasks to be performed.  The aforementioned ISDS have a set of Rules that all Trials must observe.

See my website section ‘Training’ – drop down ‘sheepdog trials’ for further information.

Q2. Caroline could you give our readers some advice and tips to consider when choosing a puppy?

There is always an element of luck attached to choosing a puppy but it is always a sensible move to see the parents working – even if the puppy has an illustrious pedigree.
The ISDS keep records of all registered matings and litters – these can be traced back for at least five generations.

Seeing the parents will give you a clue to the nature of the pup, its potential temperament – sometimes pups show early ‘interest’ in sheep –  and how they respond to being trained and their work role.  But ultimately, as before mentioned, it will be luck!

See my website section ‘breeding’ – drop down ‘choosing a puppy’

Q3. Should someone choose a pre-trained sheepdog or should they attempt to train their dog themselves?

The only ‘down side’ – beside cost – of buying a ready trained dog is that you will need to know how to work it!  They do not come with all the answers and you can ruin an expensive purchase in very little time if you do not know how to handle it correctly.  Therefore the novice handler still needs lessons even with the trained dog.  Mind you the dog will help a lot but it must pay you respect otherwise chaos will ensue. And after all you would not purchase a new tractor if you did not know how to drive the thing!

You can pay anything from £1500 – £2000 for a trained dog – and these are modest prices. A good dog is an investment and much less expensive to run than a tractor!

See my website (link at the bottom of the page) section ‘breeding’ – drop down ‘pre-trained dogs’

Q4. What is so special to you about Sheepdogs (Border Collies) and are they as intelligent as most people think?

I am glad you determined that it is Border collies we are talking about because there are other sheep dog breeds used in England – Bearded collie, Kelpie and the New Zealand Huntaway.

Most Border Collies are highly intelligent – some so intelligent that they cannot be bothered to work sheep at all and prefer some other dog to wear themselves out!

These dogs mainly want to work for you, to give of their best, to be praised for what they do, to keep sheep and lambs safe and to be your companion.  They are extremely loyal and prefer to work with just the one handler – although there are dogs trained to work for anyone.  Sheepdog Training Schools for example

Q5. How difficult are sheep to handle and how long does it take to train dogs to the standard when they can enter competitions (trials)?

One of the ‘essentials’ for working a dog with sheep is ‘sheep sense’ on the part of the handler. This is an understanding of how sheep operate.  They are flight animals and you need to know how your breed and age of sheep are going to react to the commands that you give your dog.  Dogs with long years of experience will have their own ideas of how to work and very often know more than their handler! Of course, there will be young dogs who think they know …….!

Without sheep you cannot train the dog for work.

My courses are for the working sheep dog.  There are some trainers who allow people with collies have weekly sessions at the training school but remember that you are awakening a deep urge in the dog and it is cruel to let them be trained for work and then for this not to be followed through on a regular basis.

So much better if you do not know anything at all about sheep to take the dog to Agility classes in order to keep your collies intellect up to speed.  I am not happy about Flyball as it over-stimulates although I am sure the dogs thoroughly enjoy the exercise!

Q6. Caroline if my dog started to chase sheep – what techniques should I use to cure this problem?

If you own or have access to sheep then you would get some training in order to work you dog but see the section about collies as pets on the all about sheepdogs website.

As the dog likes chasing and catching things then a ball would be good!

In severe cases there are trainers who specialize in sheep aversion work and there are electric collars but these I am not happy with and in Wales they have been banned.

Q7. Could you go into more detail some of the dog training commands that trainers use when training sheepdogs to herd sheep and how difficult is it to master using the sheepdog whistle?

Basically the commands are:

Stop – dog to stop or lie down, an essential command;
Away – dog moving anti-clockwise;
Come By – dog moving clockwise;
Walk On – dog to gather or drive sheep;
Steady or Slow – dog to slow down;
Look Back – dog to look back and be prepared to leave gathered sheep to fetch stragglers;
That’ll Do- dog to return directly to you.

Mastering a sheep dog whistle is not all that difficult once you have worked out how it operates!  However whistles are not vital to training or work if conducted in confined areas.  A dog has very keen hearing and even the softest whisper can be detected. Where a whistle is necessary is in the wide open spaces where the human voice would not be heard.

See website, Training section – drop down ‘sheepdogs in training’ on the website and follow the link to training route.

Q8. Are Border Collies susceptible to any specific behavioral problems?…..

No, only the handlers!

Border Collies are essentially herding dogs and not the ideal pet.  Therefore it follows that if it is not in its natural environment and has a handler that has no understanding of the type of dog then yes, you will get problems.

See website   Breeding section (website link at bottom of page) – drop down  ‘Sheepdogs as Pets’. There is a long list of the sorts of ways to handle collies and other websites to look to for advice.

One way of de-stressing your collie is to make sure that it is not receiving a high protein food.  For a non-working dog 18% protein is enough.  Giving it tinned dog food – except Chappie – is always questionable.  A good kibble is far better and please – do not overfeed your dog, you will kill it!

Q9. What are sheepdogs like as pets?

Not good pet material.  These dogs get very worried if they are not handled in a positive way. These dogs are not for the diffident handler.  Strong, gentle handling that is not too ‘lovey dovey’.  Collies have to respect their handler

There are always lots of Border Collies in Rescue centers.

See website Breeding section (website link below) – drop down ‘Sheepdogs as Pets’. There is a list of human behavior towards the dog and contacts for advice.

Q10. Caroline you have had great success starting and setting up sheepdog handler courses – could you elaborate on the course, what is involved and how long it takes a complete ‘newbie’ to learn how to train and handle sheepdog’s?…

There is no quick method of training a working sheepdog!

My courses are for five sessions of about two hours with four or five other people.  Even with practice between sessions, this will only give a very basic understanding.  And you need to have experience of working livestock – sheep – and understand also that different breeds and ages of sheep react in different ways.  (You would never believe how high a Manx Loaghtan sheep can jump!)