The Blacksheep Homestead



Blacksheep Homestead Happenings and Ramblings :)

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My pup has a lot of drive and just doesn´┐Ż??t listen . . . now what?!

Posted by Tish Toren on January 15, 2016 at 7:10 PM Comments comments (0)



It’s been my observation that when a pup behaves as though he doesn’t care what you think, that he is not sufficiently bonded to you. He may have bonded to someone else, and often this someone else can be your other dog or dogs. This is why it is important to separate dogs for training when you have more than one, and why it is better for everyone concerned not to raise two pups together. In my experience, when pups have someone more fun than you to play with, it’s hard to convince them that your rules or opinions about what they are doing matter.



I’d put that willful, out of control pup on a long line and keep her there for a while. Tie it off to your waist if you need both hands free. Those plastic coated cables with a snap at each end are handy for this, and clean up easier than a web lead or length of clothesline after being dragged thru a barnyard. When you’re doing something that makes this too difficult or dangerous, tie her off to a post or tree where she can watch until you’re finished. Make sure the other dogs are put up so she isn’t distracted and doesn’t feel like getting away from you would be rewarding. Make yourself and what you’re doing the only interesting things going on, and she’ll get interested. When you get tired of dragging her around with you, put her in her kennel. If her options are limited to being on a line with you or being in “cold storage”, she’ll start looking forward to being with you. Substitute romping with other dogs or roaming at large for exercise like long walks or games of fetch with you. Deny her any contact whatsoever with other dogs or anyone who will spoil and make over her, give her food or treats, (making you look like the bad guy) until you start seeing some results, and even then, limit her free-with-the-pack time to brief romps for exercise (and only when she’s been very good!) until you have her completely under control. Be advised, this could take months, but the end result will be worth it. Later, when she’s doing well and will call off, the next step is to drop the line and let her drag it. Be ready to grab or step on the line if she gets overexcited and is not taking direction from you. When she gets to a point where you think you can trust her without the line, go for it, but be ready to take two steps back if she needs a “refresher”.



NILIF (nothing in life is free training) is a good way to establish a better bond and relationship with your working dog. It encourages her to focus on you by limiting her choices and making it clear that you control the resources and she must follow your rules in order to get things she wants. No food unless it comes from your hand. No fun unless it’s initiated by you. No petting unless it’s a reward for good behavior. Make her earn whatever she gets. The hardest part of all of this is getting your family and anyone else who comes around to get with the program and not undermine you because they “feel sorry for the poor little puppy”. Your pup has been “the leader of her own pack of one” , making her own rules, and this is not an acceptable or productive relationship. Now she needs boot camp in order to learn to respect you and your rules. This is for her own good because she will not have a home with you or anyone else if she cannot be trained. The trickle-down from a good leader/follower bond with your dog is extensive. Once you make this breakthrough, everything will get easier.



With any dog, or any living thing, lessons are not lessons unless they make an impression. A soft-natured pup may need only a gruff word or an “aangkh” to extinguish an unwanted or dangerous behavior. And I know this will be an unpopular statement, but there ARE some dogs, not all but some, at the opposite end of the spectrum or so convinced by previous triumphs they can get away from you and go right back to having inappropriate “fun” with your livestock that they need strong, attention-grabbing, corrections at key moments in order to get through to them. You will need to find a level that makes an impression on your pup, neither too weak nor too overwhelming. You may need to make her believe that if she fails to take you seriously and follow your rules her life with you is in jeopardy. Think of how frightening wild canines or even a mother dog can be when correcting a rude pup, and then, if nothing else has worked, give her a real attitude adjustment the next time she does something you KNOW she knows is wrong. In my experience, strong, clear corrections seldom have to be repeated. Here’s where it becomes critical that you are hand feeding and controlling all other resources, all the GOOD STUFF, too. IF you aren’t necessary to her existence, she’ll just avoid you.



Being allowed to work is a reward for high-drive dogs, not a chore. She’ll associate the joy of working with obeying you and being a good pack member, and will learn that if she’s naughty that joy is denied her. That’s a strong bargaining chip! I know what it’s like to work a strong-minded dog that loves to boss and herd so much it makes them deaf. There are times I had to grab one of my dogs by the scruff to get her to stop, and once, had to hurl an empty plastic bucket between her and the sheep to snap her out of it so I could get her to stop working too fast and rough (she apparently couldn’t “hear” me and I couldn’t catch her!). It landed on the ground right in front of her with a *BONK!*, which got her to stop and look at me again. I even had to chase that dog out of the pen with a rake once, but heck, after that when I said “out”, she’d disengage and get on outta there! She was very a grippy dog, too, unnecessarily so, and needed a lot of work on the “easy” command. This dog could have been a nightmare for someone that wasn’t prepared to dig in and get stubborn about doing whatever it took to get her to respect the rules. She was extremely powerful and could be extremely hardheaded at times. But, if you have the patience, determination and stamina to take that boldness, drive, and strong resolve and teach the dog to apply them appropriately, you’ll have yourself an awesome working partner, the kind of dog that will take on a charging ram to protect your back… Your girl could BE that kind of dog someday. Please don’t give up on her!


My pup just killed a chicken . . . what do I do now?!

Posted by Tish Toren on January 15, 2016 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Don’t despair! Your pup sounds like a good boy who just needs more guidance. A three- or four- month-old pup is still very much a baby. He has a baby’s short memory and a baby’s difficulty with impulse control. English Shepherds generally have moderate-to-strong herding drive. In a young pup what often happens is his instinct to follow along behind and control the livestock or desire to play with them escalates to a hunt/chase stage. Because birds are fragile, injuries and even casualties can result. This is why it’s so important to keep a young pup under “surveillance” or on a long line during early exposure to poultry. Even though English Shepherds CAN learn not to bother, even to protect free-range fowl, they aren’t born knowing your rules or thinking of chickens as pack or littermates. It’s a behavior that tends to develop with maturity and as a result of calm, consistent training. It’s always best if they never get the chance to kill something, but they are certainly not permanently ruined by it, and most certainly not as young as your pup is.



We’ve lived with working ES long enough we’ve been through all the various stages of chicken desensitization and relative trust. We’ve even had a few birds slobbered to death or close to it. With time and work, we’ve gotten to where, not only can we trust any or all of our dogs loose while the birds are ranging, they will actively watch over and protect them from predators if necessary.



Your pup is a smart boy. Most English Shepherds are, and this can give the impression that he has more maturity and resolve than he really does. The problem you are having is a very common one. It’s easy to look at his brilliance in other areas and think he’ll catch on as quickly to everything you try to teach him. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. I assume your pup’s breeder does not have livestock, or at least does not have free-range poultry, or I’m sure he would have instructed you on how to safely introduce him to your flock. Chickens are the most tempting of all livestock for dogs to deal with (even dogs as biddable and smart as English Shepherds). Chickens move in a jerky, silly way, they are small, look and smell very different from pup’s other friends and family (like prey or even toys rather than pack). They run and squawk in an exciting, enticing way. It can take an otherwise average English Shepherd pup close to a year to be completely impervious to the temptations of chicken chasing. Some will learn quicker, others will take even longer. Much depends upon how much time you spend with your puppy. If he is allowed to follow you around all day, constantly receiving feedback and having his behavior shaped he will reach milestones long before a pup who spends most of the week in a yard or crate while you’re away.



Immediately, TODAY, all unsupervised contact with poultry must stop. Pup must be watched and/or kept on a long line whenever he’s outside and poultry are loose. This way, a correction/redirection can be given whenever the pup even looks at the birds wrong. This will be much easier and much more effective than giving him enough freedom to get into trouble and then having to UNtrain the problem. Later, you can drop the line, letting it drag along behind him to make it easier for you to get him under control quickly should he have a weak moment. This may sound like a “drag” to deal with (sorry, couldn’t resist!), but as long as you are patient and consistent in your training, time will fly. Your pup will grow up, and you will be able to gradually allow him more and more freedom until he proves himself completely trustworthy.



Later, as pup progresses, the line can be left off, but pup should still be WATCHED. A soda can with a handful of pennies or pebbles sealed inside is an effective tool for breaking the pup’s attention when he’s focused on the birds in an inappropriate way. It can be shaken or even tossed in between him and his quarry for a startling correction if necessary. There have been times I’ve had to toss whatever I had on hand in between to disengage a playful pup from chasing– empty bucket, grain scoop, whatever. The most important thing is that he consistently is stopped from doing this again. There must be no further reward in chasing. If you are lax in this area and he is allowed to sneak off to have more “fun”, it will only reinforce the bad behavior and make your job harder, perhaps even impossible.



If you were thinking of using your pup to actually herd the poultry later on, you should know that to overcorrect may give him the idea that poultry are off limits altogether. In my opinion, considering what’s happened, it’s most important to get him off the idea of chasing and harassing them NOW. I’ve found that my English Shepherds have more than enough herding drive and desire to help that even after being “in trouble” at some point for bothering birds they will still work them as needed .



Again, the ability to discern when and how to approach the birds is something that comes with maturity and as a result of clear consistent training.

Introducing Young Dog to New Stock

Posted by Tish Toren on September 2, 2015 at 2:25 AM Comments comments (0)

It is always best to begin exposing and socializing your English Shepherd puppy with your livestock from the time you bring him home. Other-breed herding trainers may advocate keeping pup away from stock until he is older to ensure he will be “keen” enough to herd, but this is not an approach intended to help a multi-purpose, working farm dog like the English Shepherd learn to accept and treat young or vulnerable stock with consideration. Delaying exposure can have the consequence of missing critical developmental/bonding windows. By the time your pup is six or eight months old, she/he should already have learned the rules of your farm and been taught that “full-tilt” is not an appropriate way to approach YOUR livestock! A pen or isolated yard is not a good substitute for the important early training and socialization necessary for pups intended to serve as loose-on-the-farm, *trustworthy* working dogs. But it’s never too late to work on this, a good dog of almost any age will still want to please you, his leader, to learn and follow your rules. In my experience, controlled contact with newborns and time taken to teach the dog that these babies are part of family pack, to be nurtured and protected, can be a very good way to influence the way an overenthusiastic, untrained dog may perceive and approach your flock. 

First, put your pup on a line and make a habit of taking her with you as you feed and care for your stock. Make up reasons to go into the pen, if necessary. Spend time “just hanging out” in the pasture watching stock graze/forage. Praise relaxed body language and calm observation. Your pup needs enough exposure to get over the novelty and excitement of being around livestock. Remember, “keen” is for herding trials and other sports. Pups that are super-keen need super-secure containment, so they will not get loose to harass and injure your flock. When the wellbeing and humane management of your sheep is the primary goal, you will want them handled as calmly, slowly and gently as possible. Teach your pup that livestock are not just there for her to herd. She must learn that there will be times she must walk among them at your heel without posturing, lunging or even giving them any kind of intense or predatory LOOKS. When a dog tenses and stares at livestock like a predator, this causes the stock to repel away in fear and causes them unnecessary stress. Smart, well bred, well trained, well socialized English Shepherd farm dogs easily learn that when they direct their gaze down or away and drop their heads and tails in a more relaxed way, the stock do not feel hunted or harassed, and may not even get up from lounging, chewing cud as you and your dog walk the paddock, observing the flock. Praise this kind of demeanor! Continue to work at this calmly and diligently until pup can walk through the sheep pen at your heel on a slack lead without any reminders to “leave it”, always praise for calm and self-control. 

At some point, your pup will go thru that “teenage” stage, where pup can seem to have completely lost its brain… But, don’t let this influence you to wait for her to outgrow bad behavior. There is no magic age she will suddenly understand how she is supposed to behave around your livestock without training. NOW is the time to address this, it will not go away on its own. If she is too out of control to bring into the paddock even on a line, put her on NILIF (nothing in life is free) until you achieve a better bond and some control over her behavior, and a rock-solid recall or “out” command. Tire her out daily, doing something else before training on stock, so that she will be able to relax and focus on you and the behaviors you want from her. She must accept that *you* are in control of when or IF she gets to herd, that the stock are *yours* to be respected and not approached unless you have directed her to do so, or if they are breaking *your rules* as she understands them, such as by escaping their enclosure. 

I take young or new dogs in to meet new lambs while they are still wet, as this is the time the new babies are most likely to bring out a nurturing response from the dog, when they are so obviously helpless and in need of protection. When they are bigger and frantically bouncing and darting around, they tend to evoke a prey/play/chase response instead. So don’t wait to do this. Lambs that are accustomed to the dogs don’t act like terrified prey, and dogs that are accustomed to and accepting of the lambs don’t focus on them like a fox on a field mouse. Take the lamb out of the pen, and work just far enough away so that they are not baa-ing frantically for each other, but mama can’t whomp the dog and elicit a fight-or-flight response, either. This should be very controlled, dog on a line, you holding the lamb in your lap ready to correct her for anything but gentle curiosity. You may need an extra person for this, but try to keep your energy levels low, breathe slowly and calmly, move deliberately, don’t get panicky and nervous, or she will get keyed up, too. Licking is good, but don’t let go of your protective hold on the lamb until you are positive that the dog is not going to get excited and chomp. Whenever she gets too excited, you come down on her with a mother’s protective response, as if the lamb is YOUR baby. This could take several sessions, or even weeks of daily repetition, maybe even a few scuff shakes or rolls if the dog is a particularly hardheaded or predatory one. Don’t give up, I’d be very surprised if your ES pup has NO guardian instinct at all. Choose a command or some language you’ll go on using when you introduce your dog to other new flock members. I use a soft, crooning voice, like the one I use to speak lovingly to the pups when they’re little, and keep repeating “look (dog’s name) it’s a baby, what a niiice baby, such a goood baby”, as I stroke and cuddle the lamb (poultry, kitten, or whatever). Don’t worry about disrupting the ewe/lamb bond, you won’t, as long as you remain within sight of mama and keep training sessions brief. An old shepherd’s trick for kicking in mothering instinct in a ewe that’s not sure she wants to claim her lamb is to bring in the dog and tie it within sight. More often than not, mama will plant herself protectively between the “wolf” and her suddenly very precious baby. 

Bottle lambs or kids, or a brooder full of baby chicks are great for teaching your pup that babies belong and are to be cared for and watched over, especially if they can be kept in close proximity for a time, perhaps in a corner of the farmhouse kitchen, mudroom or on a porch, where you can spend plenty of time overseeing your pup’s behavior around them. 

Working with the pup on a line, I like one at least 10-15’ long, so the pup can have “enough rope” to offer behaviors and begin to learn rules about how to approach the stock. This could take weeks or even months of patience and repetition. Be firm, consistent, resolved, and don’t lose your temper. If the pup goes after the stock like they are prey or toys to be run around the pen or chewed on, she should meet up hard with the end of the lead and get a stern “Leave it” every time. Allowing your pup an opportunity to run loose and chase for fun will only reinforce these inappropriate behaviors and undo all your hard work, as chasing is exciting, rewarding and can become an ingrained habit very quickly. Supervise your pup when loose! If you will be tied up doing something else and unable to keep an eye, put pup on a line, in her yard or in her crate with a chewy until you are ready to resume supervised activity. The dog has to accept that the stock are *yours*, you are the one making the rules, not her, and that the livestock do not exist solely for her entertainment. Appropriate behaviors, controlled positioning to assist you in keeping the stock from pushing out of the pen as you go in or out, keeping stock from coming up behind you or shoving you around when you go in with your grain bucket, helping circle and drive in a controlled way as you put animals through a gate to another paddock, into the barn or out to graze, these things should be lavishly praised, and always try to end training sessions on a postive note.

It will take time, patience, and repetition for raw instinct to be molded into useful behaviors, until your little puppy has matured, learned the rules of your farm, and can be a trusted, reliable stockdog, guardian and farm manager.



Training Your Pup to Help on the Farm: Learning by Doing

Posted by Tish Toren on September 2, 2015 at 2:10 AM Comments comments (0)

I’ve found our pups are always more interested in helping us do what they see *us* trying to do than they are in learning abstract commands (stop, go, lie down, get up, right, left, etc). In a practical setting, English Shepherd pups can learn an impressive amount just by watching and following us along every day at chore time. As pups grow in size, maturity and confidence, they will learn our rules and offer behaviors, useful or not, that we then have the opportunity to praise or discourage. This is the way working farm dogs have been trained since time out of mind.


Our pups learn “on the job” by following us throughout our day from the time they are old enough to toddle along without being stepped on. Little puppies care more about what you think of what they are doing, and are easy to catch/redirect if they head the wrong way. An older pup or adult dog can be difficult to control and could do significant damage to free range chickens or little lambs before you can chase him down or call him off. The older pups/dogs I’ve started, I’ve put on a long line for better control at first, but the process is the same. They watch you do the job until they feel confident enough to help, then you do it together awhile, allowing the pup to do more and more of the work. Later on you are just along for the ride, in case pup needs reminding that he should slow down or go get that split (“easy” and psst and point, or “hey, look”;), and you work this way until he is capable of doing it entirely on his own. Along the way, pups are consistently praised when they offer appropriate behaviors. When they’re headed off base or in the wrong direction, I redirect with a verbal “hey” to get their attention, and, importantly, this gives them the chance to size up the situation and think about and understand what it is that needs to be done, rather than taking that thought process away from them by giving more specific instructions. You can add a directional command here, or anywhere, if you like. But I usually give the pup a chance to puzzle things out for himself before I tell him what to do, praise like crazy for the right choice, redirect again if he’s not on the right track. This encourages the dog to think for himself and figure out the best way to accomplish the goal, and later on, should the stock get out when you are not there to direct him, you’re more likely to find them back where they belong by the time you get home if you have trained your dog this way. In my experience, a dog that’s never been allowed to problem solve on his own will always need you right there to tell him what to do. That’s not what I need, so that’s not how I train.

Some of the best dog training advice I’ve ever gotten was “Shut up”… Yeah, I admit it :) If you talk constantly at the dog, he’ll just learn to tune you out. If you want him to hear you when you are telling him something important, keep it to a minimum and as simple as possible, and never give a young dog a command you are not prepared to make him do, should he get it in his head to test your rules to see if they really are rules. If he’s doing something naughty, like unnecessary herding or harassment of critters, or refusing to tone it down when told to take it “easy”, give him an “aangkh” (like the game show buzzer noise for WRONG) and be prepared to go and * get* him if he does not call off when told to. “No” is usually something I reserve for puddles in the house, tearing up the trash, rude jumping up, all that fun stuff we never, ever want pup to do again. I avoid using “no” when we are working stock because I’m concerned that, as sensitive as some of these dogs can be, they might get the idea they are not supposed to be herding at all. But sneaking into the pasture and having fun at the expense of your stock, or roughing up/injuring young or vulnerable stock while you are working, are serious offenses, so warrant serious corrections, corrections your dog will take seriously and remember. 

My dogs enforce my “no climb” rule for my goats, because they have seen me fuss and flap at the goats when they put their feet up on the panels at feeding time. They know that poultry is never allowed on the porch or in the flower beds, because they’ve seen me shoo them away and fuss at them (“Oh no, get out of here, you bad, baad chickens!”;), and they are lavishly praised for taking on these simple jobs as their own. If they’re too rough, they get a “Hey, EASY.”, and then lavish praise when they do it just right. If the pup takes it upon herself to block animals from escaping through an open gate while you are working with them, praise! If you’d like her to, but she doesn’t do it on her own yet, you can practice by placing her there and saying, “watchem”, “gate” or whatever command you’d like to use, and “stay”, then fuss at the stock and demonstrate pushing them back yourself when they surge toward the gate. My dogs all seem to pick up “watchem” long before we have a good “stay”, probably because one is something that’s active and interesting (“go ahead, see if you can get past me, make my day!”;), while the other removes the dog from the action and makes him sit and wait (BORing!). Whatever you’re working on, try not to turn it into *not fun*, endless drill, which can shut a smart dog down. It doesn’t take many repetitions for an English Shepherd to learn something. They are quick studies and have good memories. Little by little you’ll find yourself spending less time doing the jobs yourself, and more time saying “Good Dog!!” 

This isn’t meant to be a blueprint by any means, pups, humans, preferences and situations differ. You’ll need to try different things and find what appeals to and works best for YOU. . . Here on my place, once the pup has learned the basics, I can pretty much draw from what he knows and get more and more out of him as we both learn to understand each other better. This is what’s most effective and most comfortable for me.




Posted by Tish Toren on March 26, 2012 at 4:35 PM Comments comments (4)

Well, been  a while since I posted anything here, have had so much going on in addition to all the usual kid-  and farm-related work and bustle... My older brother passed away suddenly in November, just after his 59th birthday, and I am just now beginning to get over the shock. Then we lost our good ol' Suzy to apparent heart failure about a month ago. She'd gained a little too much weight, been acting a little off, tired and out of breath after what used to be light work for her, and I came home from errands one afternoon to find her gone before we got her in to the vet for a work-up. The good ones are never with us long enough.

We have sheep on the farm again, registered Clun Forest and old-fashioned Border Cheviots (aka barrels on pegs, lol) both well-known for alertness and good mothering, fleece and carcass traits. And, in line with our farm philosophy, both are heritage breeds recognized for thrift and sustainable production on grass alone. We've also got a few commercial-cross ewes and adopted an older Romney/Shetland ewe named Haystack Hannah  with a lovely black&silver fleece. I'd rather feed all this good grass to sheep than to the gas-guzzling lawnmower, lol. Our first lambs in quite awhile are arriving, always a happy, exciting time, but a lot of work and worry, too. Hope to have sheepish pix up soon. And please check back in a couple of months for pix of available lambs.

Betty Boop had a litter of pups last month, most are spoken for but there are still a few we have not received deposits on yet. We have some baby pix posted in the photo gallery and will be updating them as we're able. Please e-mail me directly with any questions- [email protected]

more puppy pix

Posted by Tish Toren on May 24, 2011 at 6:15 PM Comments comments (7)

Here are a couple of quickies of Suzy and the Brood at 4 1/2 weeks:

re: pup pic

Posted by Tish Toren on May 16, 2011 at 11:03 AM Comments comments (0)

Aaargh, I can't figure out why the image was upright in the folder and is not now.... I am such a feeb with this kind of thing, need to get one of the kids to help, lol. But they ARE cute, aren't they, even sideways ;-)  The "headless" handler is my son, Stevie, who was late for marching band practice and unwilling to wrangle all of them. More pix soon!

puppies :-)

Posted by Tish Toren on May 16, 2011 at 11:01 AM Comments comments (0)

Here are a couple of the Suzy/Rowdy pups at three weeks :-)

Starting over...

Posted by Tish Toren on May 5, 2011 at 10:20 PM Comments comments (2)

Starting over on several different levels...

When Yahoo closed Geocities I lost the ability to edit or update our old website. There are still some pix and info links located at, but we are in the process of moving/reconstructing what we need here. Please bear with me as I figure out all the new editing tools and options available (and spare me the "old dog, new tricks" jokes, lol :-)

I had to farm out or sell all of our livestock last year after a cattle-handling accident left me busted up and in need of hip replacement surgery. Have recovered and been thru PT so that I can get around some but it'll be a while before I'll be able to put in a full day like I used to.

But we have chickens again, hooray, some broilers, a flock of red sexlink layers, a dozen Buff Orp ladies (anyone have a nice Buff Orp roo? These girls want to go broody and I would love to hatch out some little ones :-) turkeys and more chooks on the way.

Sophie's sweet Nubian goat, Brownie, will be returning from her stay at the neighbors' soon now that we have pasture greening up, and we have two little hi% Boer bottle babies that are growing like weeds. Am shopping for sheep, have missed having sheep on the farm and know I'll miss them more and more as the grass gets further and further ahead of me, WILL NOT spend the whole growing season running back and forth between a lawnmower and the extra off-farm job I would need to be able to afford to run it, lol!

Record April rainfall has gotten in the way of regular garden chores, but we have some blueberries planted and lots of heirloom tomatoes and other goodies started and waiting to go in as soon as it's dry enough.

Suzy and Rowdy's litter arrived on 4/21, pups are two weeks old, fat as hogs, lol, and their little eyes are open now :-) Will try to get pix posted over the weekend.