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Sheep Dog Commands

Sheep dog in the middle of a herd of sheep

Herding is one of the oldest jobs and certain dog breeds are an integral part of it. Humans (handler) control the herding dogs through a series of commands. These commands make it easier for the dog to manage the livestock, such as sheep and goats. we use a combination of commands for training sheepdogs.

What is a Herding Dog?

Herding (or sheep) dogs belong to specific breeds that are either developed or trained for herding. These pups are also called the shepherd dogs because they control the livestock for their owners.

Although the natural inclination of dogs is to hunt the sheep, their behavior can be changed by selective breeding or training. Both these techniques allow us to use the hunting skills of dogs to protect and control the livestock. This is why herding dogs are considered responsible and reliable keepers of sheep and other farm animals.

Benefits of Using Herding Dogs

2 herding dogs with sheep in a fenced off field of grass

Dogs Life explains that sheep dogs are beneficial for shepherds because they cut the workload and save time and money. Likewise, canines are most suitable for shepherding due to their agility, excellent gardening skills, and loyal behavior. Last but not least, they are easier to train for herding because they give better responses to commands and whistles.

Common Sheep Dog Commands

border collie laying in grass

The following are some of the most common herding commands.


This command is used to signal the dog to go clockwise around the stock. It is one of the traditional sheep dog commands and is generally used to gather the stock closer. Likewise, it can also be used to move (the livestock) in a specific direction.

Away to me

This is another traditional command and is used to make your dog go anti-clockwise around the stock. Both these signals are used to set the stock and move it in a specific direction.

Get back or Get out

Australian Cattle Dog sitting next to flock of sheep

This command is used to move the sheep dog away from the stock. It is needed only if the dog is working too close and causing stress in the sheep.

Keep away or keep

This sheep dog command is used to alert your pooch to keep away from the farm animals.


This command is used to signal the canine to move closer to the stock.

Get up and walk on

This command means that the sheep dog must get up and move straight towards the stock.


This command is used to locate the missing stock. The sheep dog will start searching through the livestock as soon as he/she gets this signal.


This command is rarely used because it refers to the use of power and aggression. It allows the dog to bark on the stock to get proper control.

Look back

It alerts the sheep dog to add more sheep into the stock. Alternatively, it is used on the return of missing sheep.

Take time

Close up of border collie laying in grass

This command is used to slow down the working pace of a herding dog. Sometimes, your pup may become too fast and will need to be controlled.


It alerts the sheep dog to hold the stock at one place or don’t allow the animals to move.

That’ll do

Handlers use this command to ask the dog to quit the job and wait until the next command. It’s a call off command and the dog should simply stop working and move back to the handler.

Steps to Train a Herding Dog

Herding dog with people in pen with flock of sheep

You should teach your furry companion some basic dog commands (like away and alert) before training him/her for herding livestock. Once your dog is responding well to these instructions, you can use the following steps to train a herding dog.

Select a Large Area

We need to train a sheep dog in a large area to resemble the situation of a grazing field. This is because the dog needs to circulate the flock in wide space with swift movements. Likewise, he/she should able to move in or out of the flock without threatening (or putting stress) on the sheep.

You should keep a close eye on your under-training dog to ensure that your livestock feels safe. You can use commands, like get back, lie down, or away, to keep the dog away from the sheep.

Train Sheep Dog Commands

Shepherd walking in field with sheep and border collie

Once you have found a suitable area to train, start teaching your pup the herding commands. These signals tell the dog to move in a wide arch around the sheep, without causing any stress. Train the dog from a distance of 10-20 feet and make sure that the ‘balance point’ is at a suitable position. This means that the dog can move quickly without any disturbance or delay.

Balance Point is a position that a herding dog should take once he has fulfilled the owner’s requirement (waiting position).

For best results, you should dry practicing on different terrains to train your pup for various conditions. Likewise, schedule a daily practice session to leave a long-lasting impression on your dog’s mind. Last but not least, always reward the good work of your dog as it will fasten the training process.

Final Test

Place a proper setup (including a path on which the flock will move) to test your training. Use your sheep dog commands to signal your pup and see if he/she can move the flock in a particular direction. Never push too hard in the beginning because it can hamper the training process. Instead, start with a small flock and treat your dog generously to get better results.

Common Herding Breeds

Border collie in a grassy field with house in the background laying next to a set of human legs in dirty boots

Several dog breeds, like German Shepherd, can be used for herding sheep. The most popular ones among them are listed below.

  • Australian Cattle Dog
  • Australian Shepherd
  • German Shepherd
  • Old English Sheepdog
  • Australian Kelpie
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Border Collie
  • Finnish Lapphund
  • Giant Schnauzer
  • Norwegian Buhund
  • Rottweilers
  • Welsh Corgi

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