There are two thoughts on how to Shed. The Recall Shed: To simply fetch the sheep to you and recall the dog through the sheep splitting them; and/or you make the split in the sheep yourself then call the dog through the gap. Afterword, you drive one group of sheep away from the other. Simple. Anyone that depends on this method knows that it’s hit-or-miss. Sometimes, the person can’t make the sheep split for the call through. Sometimes, the sheep won’t orient to the handler because they’re too light or they’re too heavy and too handler oriented (e.g., knee knocker sheep) and every time the handler calls the dog, the entire group of sheep move as one or hug tightly to the handler. Pick an excuse, the Shed doesn’t happen.
There is another option… to actually train a shed. A Shed where the dog and handler work as a team to accomplish a mutual goal. Where the dog can be trained to target specific sheep and to push a hole through a group with control. Your choice. I’m going to train a real shed, not just a call through. For those that have sheep and do a lot of sorting the below will help target sheep for the sort and allow better usage of the dog.
To accomplish a Shed consistently and successfully on any type of sheep, there are specific training elements that are needed. I’m going to assume you’re training the below elements:
A straight Walk-Up
Possibly a Walk-In (not needed but can be added)
A square Flank (turns at a 90° angle)
Crisp short square Flanks (a step or two at a time on a flank)
A Here command (This is my recall command, but I tweak it for modifying another command or use as a steering wheel.)
Mark Behavior (understanding by both you and the dog, see my Marking Behavior article)
A There (stop forward motion and turn and reorient to stock)
The dog has to be Verbally Competent/Compliant without needing physical cues
Possibly an Out (see my Training an Out article)
Training the Shed is a progression of training exercises. Trained in the order set out below, by the end of training, the dog should understand the task of shedding. There is no way to guess all the scenarios that may happen when trialing. Many times, success depends on the handler’s decisions at the time. A good handler can compensate for a poorly trained dog but so also can a well-trained dog compensate for bad sheep or a novice handler. This article is what it takes for me to train a dog to an understanding of a Shed so that the dog is a willing participant.
I’ll try to set out the progression of training then explain how to train it:
Drive on a fenceline and practice holding sheep.
Recall to handler on the fenceline through a large group of sheep.
Walk-In toward the handler on the fenceline through a large group of sheep.
Walk-In toward the fence (handler removed) through large group of sheep.
Driving on fenceline with a Hold and Shed by dog on fenceline (no handler in area).
Hold and Shed out in the open with handler.
The Shed is an exercise where I tell handlers to use their words to help the dog. The dog needs to understand what you are asking and how you want it done. Without training specific commands for a specific response in the dog, you will truly be fighting with the dog during the whole Shed. If the dog understands what each command means and responds appropriately, then the Shed will come naturally and easily for the dog. Use your words to explain exactly what you want from the dog. If you haven’t trained those words, then at this point you need to go back and do it.
I use 10 to 20 head of sheep to start training the Shed. More would be even better, as it allows for easier Shedding/Splitting of stock at the start of your training.
You want to train the concept of the Shed to your dog first. Once the dog learns the concept it will be easier to manipulate the dog with commands.
Before I start training the Shed, I will teach the dog how to hold stock on a fenceline. I will drive (not fetch) stock along a fenceline and then flank the dog around so that it’s in a position that stops all motion from the stock. If the stock move, I will reposition the dog to again stop all motion from the stock, effectively holding the stock on the fence. I will do this repeatedly to get the dog used to flanking and then positioning and repositioning itself to hold stock in one place along a fenceline. I want the dog to get used to applying pressure on the stock to maintain control of them during the hold. This will set the dog up for a good Walk-Up/Walk-In when you start the Shed as well as teach the dog patience. I may have the dog Hold the stock for a few minutes in one place after the dog is comfortable and proficient at this exercise. We’re not walking the dog up yet, other than to position the dog to apply pressure appropriately. I just want to do a Hold on the fenceline.
Some dogs will “fall off the wagon” trying to do a Hold on the fenceline. Too much pressure. Remember the dog is doing this exercise by themselves. The handler is nor near the dog. The dog will fall into pressure and dive into the sheep or bounce out of pressure and not hold their position. If necessary, go back and do some packed pen work and train the dog to take the pressure. Go back and put the dog on a long line. Whenever you have a problem take a step back and train what the dog knows up to the point of the problem. Then deal with the problem before moving on. There are NO excuses for not being able to train anything in this article. All it takes is time and training.
To train the concept of a Shed, I start on a fenceline. I’ll hold stock on a fenceline with the dog and position myself on the fence behind the stock at approximately the midpoint. I will then simply recall the dog through the stock.
What I want to do with the recall is mark the behavior of the dog during the call-through. Every time I call the dog I want to mark when the dog turns its head to look either left or right at the stock as it recalls. I want to mark the behavior with a “No”. When the dog focuses back on the handler mark it with a “Yes”. A Recall is an “off contact” exercise where the dog is to simply recall directly to me and ignore its surroundings. The only reason I start this exercise with a Recall is to allow the dog to Split the sheep repeatedly without working either group of sheep and to get the dog used to allowing the sheep to wander off in either direction without working them. This exercise is part of the Pack Pen exercise too. I am creating a “picture” for the dog of the stock split into two groups. So, the dog is learning the concept of splitting the stock into two groups and its behavior is being reinforced through Marking.
As soon as I’m able to successfully call the dog through stock without problems, I’ll replace the Recall command with a Walk-Up command. I’ll use the Walk-Up command at THIS point, and you can also combine or replace it with a Walk-In command, using the word “In”. Some people say “Get In” some say “Walk In”. Whatever works for you! I’ll say Walk-Up/Walk-In. The difference here is that I’m targeting sheep on one side of the developing hole. At first, I will ask the dog to Walk-Up/Walk-In straight toward me. I may have to help the dog to get them to come straight in. MANY times I have to use the command Here with the Here orienting the dog toward me for the direction of the Walk-Up/Walk-In. The dog will quickly learn the Walk-In command is slightly different from the Walk-Up but is STILL working stock (not an off-contact element.) The dog is pushing the stock aside to create a hole and cause the sheep to split. Since the dog is actually pushing heads aside to create that hole the dog is ON contact and working stock. Thus, the need for a Walk-Up/Walk-In (on contact exercise) instead of a Recall (off contact exercise). As the dog walks in and creates the hole I’ll allow the dog to look left and mark it with a “Yes” but not to look right. I’ll mark a look to the right with a “No”. I’m choosing which side for the dog to work. As the dog walks in, the hole will form and a path will be cleared to the fence.
The second the hole becomes a clear path to me, the dog is Downed and that Walk-Up/Walk-In exercise is over. This means the dog does NOT come all the way to me nor do I initiate a Drive, but instead the dog is Downed when the path is cleared. I do not want the dog driving the sheep yet. Just Walk-Up/Walk-In until the hole is created then Down the dog. If done properly the dog should be oriented to the sheep you marked with a “Yes” and ignore the sheep you marked with a “No.” The Split and the Drive/Hold after the split should be considered separate exercises. I work them separately so the dog better understands its job. When the path is cleared the exercise is over.
Many a keen dog will have trouble allowing the stock to split. They will try to flank to regroup the stock or their head will whiplash from side to side trying to use body posture to keep the stock grouped. It is your job, as the handler, to Mark that behavior as wrong. When the dog turns its head to catch the stocks’ eye and/or tries to flank to regroup the stock, you Mark that behavior with a “No.” Then, redirect the dog with a Walk-Up/Walk-In command oriented in your direction. Once the dog starts punching a hole you can mark one side (left or right) with a Yes to allow the dog to understand you are going to work that side of the sheep. But I’ll say this again, it is important that the moment the path is cleared, you Down the dog and that exercise is over. If you try to use a Walk-Up/Walk-In command to bring the dog all the way to you, it confuses the dog. So don’t do that. This exercise should be done a step at a time and slowly, giving the dog time to digest your commands and respond appropriately. This exercise is what trains that good Shed. Don’t rush this part of the training.
I want short Walk-Ins with frequent stops. I don’t want a rushed Walk-In. I NEED to be able to stop the dog repeatedly during its Walk-In but I don’t really care what the body posture is at this point, so the dog can be left on its feet or downed during the Walk-In. Sometimes the Split is created one step at a time and not in one smooth Walk In.
I want my dog working the heads of the stock to create the split. I want him pushing the heads out of the way to create that hole. This also translates into the dog turning the heads loose on the group of stock he does not intend to drive, holding one group and turning the other loose.
When my dog will readily Walk-In and split the stock, I’ll start reorienting my body toward the group I want to drive. Since we are still on the fence this will be fairly easy and you should have plenty of time. At first this will happen very slowly but should become more fluid quickly. Wait to reorient your body until the dog is between the two groups. You’ve marked your groups and told the dog which he is going to drive so you then reorient and tell him to start his Drive. With experience you will be able to stand facing the direction you want the drive when you start your Shed but to start the training I want you facing the dog. You will also be able to change your mind mid-shed and reorient yourself in whatever direction you so choose. The dog will learn quickly to “check-in” and notice your body posture for the drive. Sometimes a sheep will bleed over to my two and before I start my Drive I’ll reorient the dog to the other set OR I just drive the three depending on what I want. Practice reorienting midstride so you can do it when trialing.
I’ll repeat, the whole time you are doing this exercise the dog will be questioning you as to which group of sheep he should be working. He will look from one to the other group as they split. Walk him in slowly. It is YOUR job to mark with a “No” the group you do NOT want him to drive and mark the group you DO want him to drive with a “Yes.” THIS IS IMPORTANT! This will speed up the learning process for the dog. He will quickly understand the end goal and start driving the group you are marking with a “Yes” and completely ignore the other group.
At this point I will also use my flanks to better reposition the dog behind the sheep I am driving. Marking behavior will allow you to reorient the dog to the proper group of sheep. If the dog tries to flank toward the group you are NOT driving mark it with a “No”. This is important when you start training your shed out in the open. Sometimes you will want the dog to reposition to prevent the sheep from getting back together. For instance, I’ll have successfully shed the sheep, but the other group is trying to circle around and get back together with the sheep I’m driving off. I may flank the dog so that it’s between the groups. The dog will try to reorient and regroup all the sheep. I don’t want this and will MARK with a “No” any behavior of the dog that shows he’s trying to reorient to the sheep I don’t want him to work. The dog should then ignore those sheep and only work those you are driving. I can even tweak my flanks with a Here if the dog gets too wide. I’ll mark the other group with a “No” then tweak my flank with a Here to reorient the dog where I need him. This ALL can be done because I MARK behavior and am constantly communicating with the dog confirming to the dog what I want him to do. A dog that has learned through Marking behavior is much easier to control and work.
When I’m only having to Mark a “Yes” or a “No” and the dog is turning and working the group I’ve marked with a “Yes” it is time to start extracting yourself from the equation.
When I extract myself from the equation it changes the picture a little for the dog BUT it doesn’t change the exercise, other than I’m now off to one side and out of the picture for the dog to orient to. I still want the dog to create the hole, but now I want the dog to Walk-Into the sheep to split them without me being there.
It is easier to do this when driving the sheep away from you down the fenceline, so plan on trying to do your split/shed at this point with the sheep moving away from you. The reason it is easier with the sheep moving away from you is that you are going to split/shed the sheep and bring the group closest to you back to you (fetch them.) This allows the dog to reorient the shed toward you and gives him a clearer picture. You’ll see why as I continue to explain.
Next, I’ll position myself at the edge of the group or even down the fenceline at a distance instead of the midpoint. I’ll then drive the stock up and down the fenceline and past me, doing multiple holds and using my square flanks to position the dog. Driving the stock past me takes me out of the picture for the dog because he is no longer orienting to me. I will use this driving time to make sure the dog is doing square flanks and board straight Walk-Ups. I’ll do multiple stops and holds in both directions while driving.
Practice stringing the sheep out on the fenceline while driving where they are not tightly bunched together. You’ll want to string them out in a line before attempting to shed them.
I realize that some dogs are awesome
at driving. These dogs will naturally
reset their Line so that they are not
walking into the sheep but paralleling
them while driving, naturally holding
them on the fence while driving. Be
that as it may, we are going to mess
with your dog’s head a little. When
I’m fixing to shed I say There, the
dog needs to reorient to the stock and
walk toward the fence, effectively
pushing the heads of the sheep away
and turning half the group around to change direction and leaving the other half to drive toward me. This is where the Walk-In command may be helpful to explain to the dog exactly what you are doing and what you are expecting. If you are only using a Walk-Up command, you can tweak the dog by calling a very short flank if you need the dog to get deeper into the group. Most likely, you will have to Mark his behavior because he’ll try to flank out off the stock to regroup them all. You cannot allow that since you are trying to split them. So, I’m going to tell my dog to Walk-Up. If he’s driving and not walking straight into the fence, I’ll try to flank him over toward the fence and redirect with another Walk-Up. I’m “using my words” to help explain to the dog what I want. Remember that. Most sheep will split when the dog encroaches on them just a little bit. You walk the dog In and then stop him and the sheep behind him will stop while the sheep in front of him will come toward me. I am the draw. I may, again, need to do a short Flank to get the dog deeper behind the stock or closer to the fenceline to keep sheep from the other group from bleeding back into my group. If you’ve done your job right the dog will turn loose of the group that is behind him (you’ve marked that group with a “No”) and simply drive his group of sheep directly to you (you marked this group with a “Yes”.
This exercise is done s-l-o-w-l-y. You walk the dog In a step at a time until the hole is created and there is a clear path to the fence. Then you reposition the dog to fetch/drive the sheep to you. When this can be done repeatedly with total success, you will walk to the other side of the sheep and do exactly the same exercise from the other direction. The dog is still Fetching/Driving the stock to you, but it is a different direction for the drive for the dog.
It is now time for me to start moving to different locations, BUT I will do the split/shed in the same location on the fenceline, (e.g., the sheep are on the east fence in the arena and I’ll move to the west fence, BUT the sheep will REMAIN on the east side of the arena). This is so that the picture remains the same for the dog AND the sheep. The only difference is that I’m not there. I’m somewhere else.
I have yet to find a dog that doesn’t love Shedding as it is done above. It is a power trip for the dog. Once the dog understands what is expected they will love shedding sheep along a fenceline then putting them back together again and then doing it again… and again and again and again…
Once the dog readily sheds the sheep this way, I’ll re-shed the same group multiple times until I’m down to just a couple of sheep for the dog to fetch/drive a few feet. This is when it gets HARD for the dog. Those sheep will want to go BACK to the main group. It is YOUR job to position the dog for success and to keep the sheep separated. It’s a game. Enjoy it!
Now, you are ready to move the stock to the middle of the arena and shed there. Almost the exact same scenario as above. You are now back with the sheep and I want you to AGAIN remember to string the sheep out in a line BEFORE attempting to shed. Don’t fetch the sheep to you and hold them in a clump at your feet. A dog doesn’t shed butts. It sheds heads. After the dog brings you the sheep move to about midpoint in the sheep with the dog on the opposite side
of the sheep. Don’t be in a hurry. Take your time. You are NOT calling the dog through but walking the dog In. You do NOT have to stand still but should be fluid in your own movements. You should walk back and forth on your side of the sheep helping the dog string them out and flanking the dog and stopping the dog at varying points attempting to stop the dog about midpoint. You are attempting to stop the dog where it will split the sheep when he walks in to make the hole. The visual you should see is the sheep slowly spreading out, making space between them while you are on one side and the dog is being flanked back and forth on the other side depending on the need.
One thing I see in watching people try to shed is they do NOT hold their side. This is a team effort. Do YOUR job too. Get down and hold your side. You are now effectively the fence, I’ll walk back and forth on my side and use flanks and short drives to get the sheep strung out. Then, I’ll help by getting down and holding my side while telling the dog to Walk-In at a point where I believe the shed will occur or where a hole has formed. I continually help the dog by marking behavior to guide his actions. In a perfect world the sheep are light enough to shed easily. The dog will flank to a point where some of the sheep will stop while others will move on and you simply Walk the dog In and drive the stock you want. Shed done. Now tell me, WHEN does that really occur?
Take that large group and shed them. Then take the group you’ve driven off and shed that group. Keep shedding those sheep until you have only two left and have successfully driven them away from the rest of the group. Then regroup and start over. HOLD YOUR SIDE. You’re not holding all the sheep, just part of the sheep to help the dog do the Shed. Use your body and stock stick to help you accomplish this. When you are proactive this way your dog needs to be responding to verbal commands. Get him used to you moving around and swinging the stock stick. You don’t want the dog cowering or responding to your swinging the crook. It all happens at the same time. I may be walking along with the sheep (I’m midpoint) while the dog is flanking back and forth on the other side of the sheep. Then I’ll say There and ask him to Walk-In. You never know when that hole will form. Be prepared to call the Walk-In.
I cannot repeat this enough… The
dog needs to understand that he’ll
have to allow some of the sheep
to leave while holding the rest.
MARK HIS BEHAVIOR to help
him understand which sheep you
want him to allow to leave. When
he LOOKS at the sheep you want
him to allow to leave MARK IT
with a “No”. Then when he looks
back at the sheep you want to
shed/drive away, MARK IT with a
“Yes”. HELP THE DOG understand what the game is!!!!
The key to Shedding is that most of the sheep should be facing the same direction and NOT have their heads turned toward the handler. Again, a dog does NOT shed butts. It sheds heads. Move the dog and sheep around until they are all facing a direction then work to create a hole both by holding your side (you’re holding only part of the sheep) and asking the dog to Walk-In WHILE you are holding your side. Be fluid in your shed. I may decide to face either direction depending on how the sheep are working. The dog and I may change sides several times. It just depends on what is happening. I may have the dog drive the sheep past me then flank him up to be midpoint to create a hole on a Walk-In. I may not be doing anything but getting out of my dog’s way. But be fluid in your mindset. Whatever is needed.
I hear complaints about shedding heavy sheep. Well, if the sheep are heavy to the handler you may wish to consider taking the handler out of the equation. Drive the sheep past you and step back away from the sheep. Then flank the dog to midpoint and LET the back sheep come back to you while the dog steps in between and holds the other sheep off. Think in fluid terms. I’ve seen heavy sheep become light when the handler is removed from the equation.
My personal complaint is that I have an upright loose-eyed dog and am unable to get him close enough to the sheep to facilitate a shed. I’ve had to be fluid in my thinking from creating the shed myself to flanking and working my dog at a distance and when the sheep split flanking him through from a distance. Whatever it takes.
Because I am not asking the dog to completely turn loose of the sheep (using a Walk Up/Walk-In vs a Recall), the dog is MUCH HAPPIER with the exercise. I am allowing the dog to continue to work. He just has to do it my way!
On head hunting Border Collies this method seriously reduces the head hunting. The dog under-stands to quit trying to put the group back together and let some of the sheep leave PLUS the dog is still in contact with the group you wish to drive and the dog is happy to oblige because he is allowed to work instead of having to completely turn loose of all the sheep to get a split. It just makes sense to the dog.
My forte is upright loose-eyed dogs,
though I’ve trained my share of eye
breeds. These dogs need more
training to be able to compete with
the eye breeds, but it can be done.
Training the Shed as discussed
above helps equalize the playing
field. But it takes time and training.
Your choice, as I first said. The
above is how I’ve modified my
training to be more competitive.
Happy shedding and much success to you.
Photos by Auriga Photography
Dog is a Berger Picard owned by Carolynn Cobb and Susan Frensely: GCh Ch Eclipse Jacks to Open Trips to Win HXABDs, HRD IIIs, HTD IIIs, HTAD IIIs, RLF IIIs, STDs, OTDs.
Pat Taylor has been an AHBA judge since 2004 and an AKC judge since 2005. She continues to actively train and trial. Pat’s personal breed since 1980 has been the Bouvier des Flandres with a love for the upright loose-eyed breeds. For more training articles and information on Pat see below contact information.
by Pat Taylor
Here I'm flanking Trips around to start stringing the sheep out after a pen.
Trips made his hole and is starting his drive/hold.