Novice Sheepdog Owner

When I first met Ben (Ali’s Hungarian Vizla) I was still carrying a fair bit of my childhood fear of dogs. Ben is a pretty friendly dog, but I quickly realised that in order to feel safe around him I needed him to submit to me….and after a 1 hour stand-off on the stairs the first time I was left alone with him, we have got on pretty well ever since. Our bond was strengthened when I had the opportunity to go beating and began the process of training Ben to find and flush pheasant. He has a strong instinctive talent, but we started too late. Ben always believed (usually correctly) that he knew more about what we were doing than I did…the consequence was a degree of selective deafness that caused me a lot of red faces….and on one occassion we were asked to go home!!

Ali and Ben relaxing in the barn

One of the many things that Ben taught me during our hunting work was what a magical thing it is to work with a dog in a team towards a common goal. I knew then that one day I wanted to train a young dog in a discipline…the question has always been which one? As we moved to Willow Farm I felt the time for my own dog was approaching. Ben is getting older and his inevitable departure, although hard to think about, is getting closer all the time. We have the space for a dog to live well as well as having room to train it.

When it came down to it there was a dilemma to face – gun dog or sheep dog? I love beating and would like to try picking up (Ben always lost interest once the birds were down), but my opportunities in this area are limitted as all my shooting contacts are back up in Derbyshire. When I was a kid, despite being afraid of dogs, my fantasy dog pal was always a Border Collie – probably inspired by Shep on Blue Peter. Long before we got involved in smallholding matters, in fact since childhood, I have always been mesmerised by sheep trialling on the TV. We have sheep, and through the week I am on my own with any livestock tasks that need to be carried out – a working sheepdog that could help me get them in would certainly be a boon.

So a Border Collie from working lines it is! We did some research and found a local breeder and trainer Andy Nickless (see After lots of discussion with Gill (Andy’s partner) we agreed that a six month old dog called Russell was probably the right chap for us. So yesterday we went over to meet Andy and Gill and the dogs. After a long chat we had an opportunity to see Andy work Russell (who has had no training to speak of) and demonstrate his potential.

Russell is going to make a great sheepdog (I have to say that don’t I?), he’s a bit wary and my job over the next couple of months is to build his confidence up. He’s a sensitive wee soul and I need him to be brave with the sheep. That said he is very interested in the sheep and managed to move our wether lambs by just glancing at them through the fence. Tomorow we are going to have our first little training session.

Now I know all most of you want is some pictures of the lad…so here they are:

Russell arriving home for the first time
That's my good lad!

2 thoughts on “Novice Sheepdog Owner

  1. Uncle John

    Welcome Russsell.
    Make sure that that big brown Austrian thing knows his place (in the caravan) and that the two humans are properly trained to feed you at 6pm every day without reminding. Keep that Ali in check and don’t let her think she’s boss. make sure she knows that ears need scratching every time you meet and a good rub along the belly is always welcome. You will be alright in this pad mate as long as you leave them B….y chickens alone.
    See you soon Russ,
    Happy scratching !

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