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Guide for New Handlers

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Many people are becoming interested in sheepdog handling and trialling.  Traditionally, it was shepherds and farmers who were the only people skilled to handle the dogs.  Today we have people from varying backgrounds becoming involved with sheepdogs, such as doctors, policemen, butchers, lorry drivers, builders and even a vicar, all enjoying working with their dog, and some become very good indeed.

It can seem very difficult to get involved, and it appears to be much easier if you have countryside contacts. However there are a growing number of sheepdog trainers making themselves available.  The ISDS does not have its own training scheme, but we list several trainers on our Breeders and Trainers Directory page; and we are familiar with the people who are listed there.

During the year there are an abundant number of sheep dog trials held throughout the world, sheep dog trials held in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales are listed within the trials diary. Sheep dog trials are a very social affair and spectators are welcome at most trials, they are an excellent place for a new handler to learn and gain vital knowledge to assist in their progression. Organisers and handlers of the trials are always very welcoming towards new handlers, they are enthusiastic and love to share their knowledge.

Attending sheep dog trials can certainly assist a new handler, by watching experienced handlers working their dogs, reading how the sheep react to the dogs, understanding the breeds of sheep used at trials and how they differ is all so important, the lay of the land can also be so significant. There are so many variants within a sheep dog trial and each location and course run is different.

There are no hard and fast rules of how to train a sheep dog, however most trainers will train the basics in a similar way. 

Glossary of basic sheep dog handling commands

Away Generally used for a right-hand command.
Come Bye Generally used as a left-hand command.
That'll Do A common recall command which has been used for hundreds of years by shepherds. The dog is being asked to stop what it is doing and return to the handler.
Stand Asking the dog stop, stand and wait for the next command, some handlers use the word 'Stop'.
Walk On Asking the dog to walk on to the sheep in a calm steady manner, some times 'Walk Up' and 'Get Up' are also used.
Lie Down Generally used to get the dog to stop and lie down in front of the sheep, staying there until the next command is given.
Steady This is used to get the dog to slow down, which in turn creates distance between the dog and the sheep. Reducing the stress on the sheep by the presence of the dog.


The ISDS shop stocks an excellent range of literature to assist new handlers in training dogs. A fantastic range of both books and DVD's are available, written by many of the top handlers from within the society. Our bi-monthly ISN Magazine is also full of information regarding trials and training, and is available as part of the annual membership package.


S is for Sheepdog

"ABC's" of Sheepdog Training and Handling 

Sue Maine


The Natural Way

 Building a good foundation from pup upwards

Julie Hill


Training the Sheep Dog

Selecting a puppy, training and trials.

T Longton & B Sykes


Sheepdog Trials and Trialling

A comprehensive look at training and trialling

Nij Vyas


Training Border Collies

A practical guide to training your Border Collie

Barbara Sykes



Come Bye! and Away!

The early stages of sheepdog training

H. Glyn Jones



A Shedding Clinic

From teaching the shed to competition shedding

Alasdair MacRae



Take Time!

Training your dog from farm work to trialling

H. Glyn Jones



The Natural Way

Training sheepdogs using their own language

Julie Hill



Time Well Spent

A start to finish method of training your sheepdog

Aled Owen



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