Training starts as soon as the pup shows an interest in stock. From the age of six weeks well-bred heading pups will start eyeing anything that moves, and they and huntaways would be expected to take a serious interest in sheep by six months. They must not be injured or frightened at this stage, or their enthusiasm may be delayed.
Basic training covers commands to get the pup to come to the handler, sit and stay. It is critical that in these early stages the pup is socialised, and (under strictly controlled conditions) experiences all the environmental hazards it will be working with later – for example, travelling in vehicles or on bikes, and getting through fences and gates.
Training with sheep
A young dog is then taught to go around sheep, and learns right- and left-hand commands. With regular lessons, at first for about 10–15 minutes twice a day, the dog gains confidence and becomes strong enough to do full-time work as part of a team – usually one heading dog to two or three huntaways.
Training for trials
Dogs that are trained for trials need extra schooling on top of their daily work. The key in training is to build a strong bond between dog and handler, always making sure the dog sees the handler as its ‘pack leader’.
Here are some of the basic voice commands:
- ‘Stand’, ‘Stand there’ – Stop, and remain standing. This is preferred to ‘Sit’ or ‘Lie down’.
- ‘Away’, ‘Come away’ – Move to the right
- ‘Bye’ or ‘Come bye’ – Move to the left
- ‘Go back’ – Recast and gather more sheep
- ‘Get in behind’, ‘Get in’ – Move beside the handler and wait
- ‘Wayleggo’ – Leave the sheep and return to the handler
- ‘Keep out’ – Take a wider cast
- ‘Speak’, ‘Speak up’ – Bark.
Whistle commands are then added to the voice commands, and the dog responds to both.