The Irish National Sheepdog trials start this week, but what does it take to train a good sheepdog?
A sheepdog can be a valuable tool on a farm, but the ability to work must be in the dog’s genes to make it worthwhile training, according to sheepdog trainer Eamon Egan.
The Irish National Sheepdog Trials begin next Thursday, August 11, and the former Teagasc adviser has been running training courses for dogs and owners since the early 1990s at the Rockland Sheepdog Training Centre in Taughmaconnell, Co. Galway.
Before buying a pup it is important to see the parents working and to witness first hand whether or not the pup is from good breeding he says.
If a pup has good working parents, there’s a good chance the pup will be eager to work. The parents must have a good temperament and there must be power in them to move stock along.
“The chances of getting a good pup from a bitch after a random mating with the dog down the road are not good. Like all animals on a farm, genetics has a big part to play,” he said.
Eamon also said it is better to buy a registered pup from a breeder with a good reputation, which improves your chances of getting a pup with potential and a work ethic.
“Pups are normally sold between 8-10 weeks old, if I was buying a pup I would always choose the one that is friendly, a shy pup hiding in a corner will be harder to train,” he said.
Most pups are ready to start training before they are one-year-old, but a dog will not fully reach its prime until it is four or five year old, according to Eamon.
Rockland Sheepdog Training Centre provides a five-session training course for both the owner and their dogs, with Eamon placing as much emphasis on training the owner to handle the dog as training the dog itself.
By the end of the first session I will be able to tell whether the dog is worth training. I aim to have the owner out commanding the dog by the third session, as I stand and watch from the sidelines.
“Some owners come with dogs that they have stopped working with sheep by always calling them back, preventing the dog from reaching its potential,” he said.
A farmer can expect to pay around €350 for a registered pup, while a good starter dog can cost close to €500.
“A farmer should be able to buy a good quality sheepdog, that can do most farm work, for between €1,000-1,200. But the sky’s the limit for a fully trained dog in its prime, a dog bred in Mayo sold for £7,300 at the Skipton auction in the UK lately,” he said.
The top 150 dogs in the country will take part in the competition with the added incentive of the national final being a qualifier for the 2017 World trials, which will be held in The Netherlands in July, with 29 countries taking part.