To live with a collie is to love their style, dedication to work and to respect their heritage.
We may not provide a daily dose of sheep but there again most working dogs do not get a daily dose.
Sheepballs is learning to share their heritage and experience the pleasure of working in a balanced partnership with a dog.
Sheepballs teach us:
How to reward a collie-brain through doing the right job, in the right way and deliver top-job satisfaction.
Shape the learning through what we call a game but what is to them is a Most Important Work worthy of rolling up the sleeves.
Control without conflict
Arousal without stress
Learning to go with the grain not against it.
For any sport or activity there are foundation behaviours and skills that are needed before progress to more advanced stages can be considered. The foundation of these skills needs to be technically correct since all future learning will be based on this.
Skipping over or shortcuts will result in a need to return and tidy up. Advanced training is simply paying more attention to the fine details within the foundations.
For the trainer there needs to be a fundamental understanding of why these foundations are important and how they contribution to a successful future. The quality of the foundation is a direct reflection of the understanding of the person who guides that learning.
Sheepdogs can inherit a range of skills in various strengths. This is something of a lottery in that we do not know what has been inherited until the opportunities elicit the responses. When these strong instinctive behaviours are not understood they can quickly become unmanageable and make life restrictive and challenging.
Sheepballs uses specific toy-movement and interactive body language to elicit the foundation behaviours. This is balanced with the intrinsic rewards that performing these movements will give the dog. It is exhilarating, challenging and demanding for both participants to be able to enjoy and avoid frustration.
When Sheep/Balls are to be worked and when they are not.
AKA: Not Right Now.
Understanding the difference between Toys In Play and those that are not. This comes from our understanding of how Collies see their world and learning connection through body language.
This skill of discriminating the Balls in Play and Balls Not In Play is exactly the same skill as walking alongside traffic (Not in Play), skateboarders (Not in Play), litter mates (In Play). Being able to communicate to the dog the difference, and when the ball changes from In Play to Not in Play, can prevent your dog from trying to work everything from earwigs to cats.
They will always need some outlet for their inherited drive and these games must be regularly employed to prevent a life of extreme frustration.
Being too close is often a result of undesired requests to retrieve to hand or foot which are rewarded before the dog has regained their natural distance.
Holding distance should be the default, not a prompted response
Holding the wait-in-readiness
The anticipation wait, the dopamine bath, should be honoured and given sufficient duration to be effective. This is the foundation of the cooperative stop.
Sheep will always need to be given as much time as they need to gather their lambs, turn away from the threat, and choose a direction to move in. When they are not given time they will panic and bolt and this triggers overarousal in the dog. Patience in a dog should be developed.
Reading the balance point and moving into position
The dog should be able to reposition themselves without prompting to the balance point as a direct result of reading the person’s position relative to the ball.
When they re-position they should NEVER lose distance and come closer to the ball.
Turns both left and right at 90°
Although to the inexperienced eye it appear the dog runs in a clockwise/anticlockwise direction around the sheep, the whistle, or cue or command is the TURN, NOT THE RUNNING.
Do not fall into the trap of associating the running circuit with the cues.
Walk on …
After holding position the dog walks up to the ball as the person walks backwards pulling the ball towards themselves. The dog should be able to stop as the person stops without prompting.
The Foundation of cues for Wait or Stop, Turn left / Right to reposition to balance point, Walk on, That’ll Do.
Cues are added once the behaviour is reliable in response to the person-ball repositioning. Consider your set of cues carefully and do not confuse the dog with similar sounding words that have different meanings:
- Wait and Away = too confusing, one means move, one means stand still
- Come and Come Bye = too confusing, one means come towards me, the other make a turn and stay out
- Stand / down = stop, not the actual stand or down position. If you do want the dog to be able to Stand or Down then use something else for Stop.
Sit does not exist in this context.
Add some sheep
… and you will have a well prepared foundation before the sheep take over the teaching.
A good future
When the foundation behaviours are achieved to a good standard more elements of the game can be introduced. It is more about the journey and the understanding that develops along the way not a shortcut to “fix” undesirable behaviour
These Foundations contain all the skills needed to reduce the dog’s overarousal and focus on inappropriate sheep.
You will learn:
- how the dog is super-tuned and stimulated by movement
- awareness of how your own behaviour has a direct effect on the dog
- the intensity and focus the dog can give to their work and how to reduce and increase that
- diligence in teaching precision responses
- more respect for the learning capacity of the dogs to teach themselves rather than be trained
We chose to live with collies because they are amazing dogs that arrive as a whole package ready for us to explore and share their learning.
Sheep are like balls and can roll in the right direction, butt you in the face or bolt to the hills.
Satisfaction delivered where a dog can have all their balls where they like them.
Opportunties to Learn More …
If you are looking for help or courses to learn more about Sheepballs, always seek an approved member of our Teaching Team. They have proven their skills with their own dog, achieved a high standard of understanding and are skilful at arranging the learning to bring out the very best in your collie.
Individual tuition and coaching with the Sheepballs activities or for specialised help and support with your collie.
A practical course with individualised coaching to develop your skills and those of your sheepdog.
Use the games and interaction to release and shape the innate behaviours your dog has inherited.
Learning About Border Collies
Learn how to bring a good quality of life to your companion, enjoy games designed specifically for collies and understand their quirks and special needs …
Hello there, that was a fantastic video of your gorgeous dog. Could you tell me where you got those balls from? We also have to have 2 balls for our boy to play with, the problem is he keeps losing them because he’s easily distracted by squirrels etc and he pops full size footballs with ease. Any recommendations would be great. Thanks
The large soft green balls are IKEA, strong, tear resistantfabric but they pick up the wet very quickly, wet days I use the Hollee Rollers – large
Hi, I’d really like to learn more about this as I have a border collie that loves herding and I teach a lot of collie owners, are you running any courses ?
We look at individual dogs and the way they play in The Setter members groups. The game is very individual to each dog.
The Build The Learning course features Sheepballs as one of the Learning Play activities.
You were recommended to me as I have BC who has strong herding instinct I would like some tips ideas on how to promote his predictor instincts
Hi Ruth, I am not quite sure what you are looking for but I would recommend the course as a starting point: https://www.learningaboutdogs.com/product/learning-about-border-collies/
Does this explain why my six month old collie is obsessed by tennis games, running round the court perimeter fence and has zero interest in being called back?!
All the more enjoyable when people are running around too !
Advise them to make sure the gate is shut
I love your comment about them not being retrievers! I’ve always played with two balls bc she comes most of the way back in fetch but only to drop it near me to focus on the next ball. She also loves to play Soccer and is an awesome goalie:) I’m in the US so is there more video or print material??
We spend much of our time teaching the dog to stay out, as that is the best place to control the situation, difficult to change a human view of bringing it close! Both the courses Learning About Border Collies and Sheepballs has plenty of material, next Sheepballs taught course will be in April next year. We enjoy devising challenges as no collie enjoys a boring game!
Can I book onto the April course please. I have a Border Collie. He will be 2 years old in April.
Very many thanks
Certainly – here are the details: https://www.learningaboutdogs.com/product/sheepballs-3/
I live in Australia, have Koolie/Border Collie/Kelpie x with a strong herding instinct. Do you have an online course I can do?
If you would like to join a Sheepballs course, I would recommend you make a short video of your dog playing the sheepball games so that we can see if their innate responses would be suitable for the course?
Hello, this is a great resource, thank you. I have had Alan, my rescue collie for about 4 months. He is nearly 3 yrs and settling well. We are beginning to embark on some training now.
Could you clarify what you mean about the Sticky Ball being in the hot zone? I thought the idea was that the ball was only kicked back to the dog if s/he got to the 11-1 o clock position?
“Sticky” is the dog, not the ball. She was a little cautious about moving on that floor (it is hollow underneath), and a dog with more desire to eye than flank can become a little sticky – stays on the same spot. Once they see their “sheep” escaping to the hot zone, they will begin to anticipate and move into position.
Please can I have more information about the course content in the live sheepballs course?
Sure – I won’t copy it here as it is quite extensive – if you look under the “content” tab:
What you will cover will be dependent on what skills your dog is showing and your own skills.