I’ve had one or two close calls with my young labrador when we’ve been picking-up near to sheep. He is a good working dog but will chase sheep if given the chance and while I have managed to avoid any serious incidents I know I must address this. What should I do?
Jeremy Hunt says: What makes some dogs chase sheep and others not has always puzzled me. Some youngsters quickly learn after they have caught sight of their first “woollies” and you have quelled any interest with a gruffly delivered command of “no” or “leave it”. On the other hand, sheep seem to send a buzz to some dogs that triggers the ultimate temptation to chase – but there are sheep chasers and those that, given the chance, could be sheep killers.
I don’t believe that the “killer” description means being hell-bent on ripping a sheep apart, but these dogs see bringing a sheep down as the goal. Sheep chasers – for the most part – are content to get their kicks from the fun of the chase.
Any form of sheep worrying must be stopped. Ideally, youngsters should be taken close to sheep on a lead (with a farmer’s permission) to test their level of interest and educated accordingly with firm vocal dissuasion.
It should be obvious to an owner if the message is getting through; I like to see the ears drop, the body language show relaxation and attention to me and what I am saying, rather than a body taut with excitement and ears cocked. If you can’t achieve, in several sessions, a clear indication from the dog that he has got the message and that sheep are a no-go area, you may need to try other tactics.
Putting a young dog in a pen with a feisty ewe or even a ram (heaven forbid) could well leave you with an injured dog, so that’s not something I would advise. Of course, if you have achieved a true level of “connection” between you and your dog it shouldn’t be difficult to diffuse any desire to chase because the dog is responsive to you above all other things.
Electric collars are used by some to combat sheep chasing. While I don’t agree with the use of shock collars per se, in the hands of an expert trainer – and provided the level of power is not excessive – this may have to be a necessary one-off option. But be careful: wreckless use of these devices can do more harm than good to a young dog.