Sheepdogs are definitely the brainboxes of the dog world! Sheepdogs like Border Collies are one of the most intelligent dog breeds, and you’re probably wondering how you should train them. Whether you are a farmer, a hobbyist, or simply want to enjoy the benefits of having a well-trained dog, this article will provide you with the essential tips and techniques for effectively training your sheepdog.

In this article we’re going to ‘talk herdy’ and let you know the benefits of owning a sheepdog, dive into what sheepdog commands are and why they’re different to other cues, discuss our top 12 sheepdog cues, and how to train a sheepdog, and last but not least talk about some of the most popular sheepdog breeds, and no they’re not all black and white and Border Collie shaped! 

In the Zigzag app we have a personalised training programme that’s built around your dog’s breed, whether you have a Border Collie, Bearded Collie, Rough Collie, or one of the smaller sheepdogs like Shelties and Corgis, we understand their herdy nature! We also have a team of professional dog trainers who can help you with all of your puppy-related queries.

The benefits of having a sheepdog

Sheepdogs are an intelligent group of breeds that are designed to work sheep, and also follow commands from a human, so training a sheepdog is relatively easy. Here are some benefits of owning a sheepdog.

  • Biddable and easy to train – Biddable is a word you’ll often hear associated with Sheepdogs. As a working breed of dog that has had generations of training by shepherds, they need to pick things up quickly. 
  • Affectionate – Sheepdogs are generally quite affectionate and like to be close to their owner or handler.
  • Exercise – Sheepdogs need a fair amount of physical exercise, which will keep you healthy and enjoying nature too.
  • Low coat maintenance – as a working breed of dog they have a fairly easy-to-care-for coat, they won’t need much bathing or grooming, though they’ll enjoy a bath and brush every now and again.
  • Protective – your sheepdog will likely tell you when someone’s at the door or intruders are coming. They can make great guard dogs as they’re protective of their family, and many Sheepdogs perform more of a guarding role as well as herding.
  • Herding – well if you’re lucky enough to have sheep they’ll herd them, but they can also be taught to herd ducks and geese too if that’s more your thing. If you don’t give them an outlet for their breed-specific behaviours, they might try herding people too.

What are sheepdog commands, and how are they different?

Sheepdog commands control the dog’s movement while working livestock and tell the dog which direction to go in and when to stop. The cues are taught in much the same way as pet dog obedience cues such as down or stay, but here’s where they differ:

  • Sheepdog commands require a higher amount of precision as if the dog does not follow the cue then they could put the sheep in danger. 
  • A sheepdog generally works outside in rural environments around livestock.
  • Sheepdog commands tap into what the dog’s instincts are, and the need to herd and control movement is something they have been evolved to do.
  • The handler will often have to shout to be heard across the fields or hillsides, and they will often repeat cues to tell the dog to keep going.

Sheepdog commands are taught in much the same way as pet dog obedience cues, with positive reinforcement, but often the rewards can differ depending on what the dog finds rewarding.

Top 12 sheepdog commands

The most popular sheepdog cues will vary depending on your goals, but these cues will provide a basic framework for moving or stopping sheep. The sheepdog commands listed below are commonly used when thinking about how to train a sheepdog; let’s learn what they are and what they do.


The come by sheepdog command instructs the dog to go around or circle the sheep in a clockwise direction. The C is for clockwise because shouting clockwise and anti-clockwise across a hillside would be a bit of a mouthful!

Away to me

The away to me, or away cue instructs the dog to go around or circle the sheep in an anti-clockwise direction. The A is for Anti-clockwise, we think you’ll agree Away to me or Away are much easier for a dog to understand.

Get back or get out

This sheepdog cue tells the dog that they are too close to the sheep, possibly worrying them and they should move further away.

Lie Down

Does what you think, tells the Sheepdog to lie down where they are.


If we cue ‘walk up’ then we want the sheepdog to move towards us, bringing the sheep with them but without scaring them.

Get up and walk on

The get-up and walk-on cue releases the dog from their down position and instructs them to walk forward and push the sheep on.


Sheep sometimes split off from the flock and get themselves into difficulty. The find sheepdog command is used to tell the dog to go and find the lost sheep.


It doesn’t need a whole lot of explanation, but the ‘bark’ sheepdog commands tells them to bark at the sheep in order to move them in a certain direction.

Look back

The look back cue tells the sheepdog ‘you need to find the other sheep’ and leave the group of sheep they’re currently working with and find the others.

Take time

This sheepdog cue tells them to slow down, as they might be scaring the flock by moving too fast.


If a shepherd tells their dog to hold it means to keep their position and stay where they are. The hold cue will vary between handlers but generally, it’s understood to mean that the dog should stop and pause, either to allow the handler to work out the next command for the sheepdog or to work out which way they want the sheep moved next.

That’ll do

The sheepdog command that’ll do generally means ‘you’re all done come to me’ and is a release cue that says the dog no longer needs to work the sheep and it’s time for a rest. It also means recall or return to the shepherd.

Read more in our guide to basic puppy training commands.

How to train a sheepdog

In order to train a sheepdog effectively, you’ll need to start early, provide a low-stress learning environment, find a reward your sheepdog likes, and teach basic cues first. You can then move on to training in more distracting environments and, finally, training your dog on sheep!

Start early with socialisation

Teach your sheepdog to be confident from the outset, by careful socialisation with sheep and other livestock, as well as introducing basic obedience training when in their socialisation period. 

Sheepdogs puppies are like sponges, so start training them when they’re in their socialisation period, some basic life skills cues like down.

Chose an area free of distractions

We can train on sheep later, for now, we want to teach our Sheepdog to learn in an environment that’s low-stress, comfortable and free of things they want to fixate on or control (like other animals or sheep!)

Pick a reward your sheepdog likes

Using positive reinforcement is the best way to train any dog, sheepdogs included. To begin with, this might be food, treats, or toys, later on, your sheepdog will do it for the reward of working. Herding is pretty instinctual for sheepdogs, so they find it a fun thing to do with no external rewards required.

Train the basics

Train basic sheepdog cues like get back, and away, and that’ll do so so that you can teach your Sheepdog to be safe around the sheep when the time comes and also understand the game is finished and to return to you.

Also worth teaching is a solid leave it, recall and drop for general basic obedience training. Teaching your Sheepdog to walk nicely on a lead and not pull is always worth doing, as this is an essential life skill for pet dogs and working dogs.

Move to a larger area

When your Sheepdog has learnt some basic cues, start training in larger areas as this is where they will traditionally work, like hillsides or fields. There will be a lot of distractions here, so be sure the cues are well rehearsed in calm environments first.

Teach the sheepdog cues

Teach more difficult cues from our sheepdog training command list, to extend your Sheepdogs herding behavioural repertoire. They’re so intelligent, they can learn all of this and more!

Test out on sheep

If you’ve done all the training and your cues are reliable, you can now test on sheep if it’s safe to do so. It’s wise to do this on a training flock or a small group who are used to novice dogs and won’t be worried.

Seek guidance from a professional

If you’ve never owned a sheepdog before and want to learn how to herd, then seek out a professional dog trainer who has Sheepdog experience or a shepherd who’s committed to using positive reinforcement methods.

Common herding breeds

Different herding breeds are used in different environments or on different types of livestock. Here’s a list of common herding breeds, and what they’re bred to do:

  • Border Collies – some might say the ultimate herding dog, Border Collies are known for their high levels of intelligence, fast response times and ability to move sheep around with a combination of genetic ability and training.
  • Shetland Sheepdogs (Shelties) – bred to herd the small sheep breeds of the Shetland Isles in Scotland, they’re also bred to guard and protect their home and are well known to have quite the loud bark.
  • Australian Shepherds – Known as Aussies and confusingly created in the USA, they are a larger and heavier set herding breed than others, and were bred to herd cattle and livestock such as sheep, on large ranches and farms.
  • Bearded Collie – also known as Beardies, are a breed from Scotland bred to move and control sheep.
  • Rough Collie – the original Lassie dog, another Scottish breed bred for herding sheep, and alerting us to someone drowning in the lake of course!
  • Belgian Shepherds – Malinois, Tervuren, Groenendael, and Laekenois – the four Belgian Shepherd breeds have slightly different appearances and temperaments, but all were developed for similar purposes and share similar herding and guarding instincts. 
  • German Shepherd – originally bred in Germany as herding dogs for livestock and as general-purpose farm dogs, they not only herd but also have a herd guarding capability, much like the Belgian Shepherds.
  • Corgis – Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the Cardigan Welsh Corgi – bred to herd cattle and sheep and drive them in the directed direction by nipping their heels. They are also bred to hunt vermin and game, and are feisty wee things! 
  • Bouvier des Flandres – bred in the Flanders region of Belgium to herd and protect sheep, they are strong and courageous dogs.

Training a sheepdog is a rewarding and challenging experience that requires patience, consistency, and a clear understanding of what herding breeds are bred to do.

By using positive reinforcement, clear and consistent cues, and regular training sessions, you can build a strong bond with your dog and establish clear communication. Socialisation is also important for any dog, and helps to build confidence and resilience, but in Sheepdogs, it must also be done with sheep in mind. If you are having difficulty training your sheepdog, consider seeking the help of a professional dog trainer who can provide guidance and support. 

If you have a Sheepdog but don’t intend on teaching them herding, they’ll need other jobs to do instead. Why not try reading about agility, or take a look at our training games library, we also see puzzle games and puppy brain games being pretty useful to you too.

Download the Zigzag puppy training app today, and you’ll get a dedicated puppy training and socialisation programme that’s made to suit your puppy’s needs, based on their breed. We also have a team of professional dog trainers 24/7 to talk you through any challenges you’re having with your dog.