Intro to FF Herding (on-line)

Intro to Force-Free Herding: Foundation “Flatwork” (no stock required)

Registration opening soon (December, 2017)

This course will begin again in January, 2018

To be added to the notification list, please email me (Hélène) at:

Thanks to requests by people who have been interested in our workshops but too far away to attend them, I have been inspired to create an on-line course that expands upon our foundation workshop!

Hannah and her ducks (1)

Intro to Force-Free Herding: Foundation “Flatwork” offers a unique blend of positive reinforcement based training methods and games from the dog sport world applied to the more traditional work of herding livestock.

What is Force-Free Herding (FFH)?

I define FFH as…

the application of the science of learning theory to stock dog training, using the stock as positive reinforcement so as to minimize (and ideally eliminate) the need for the use of aversives or punishment in training.

In other words, FFH is a method of teaching dogs to herd using the best possible positive reinforcement we can offer them: sheep.

What is “Herding Flatwork”?

Flatwork is the set of skills dogs need prior to going to stock (or, if your dog is already started, that you can develop in parallel with working stock). The stronger the flatwork foundation your dog has, the less need you will have for aversive techniques.

Course Goals

This course will give you the tools and understanding you need to prepare your dog for herding, using force-free games and exercises. My goal is to teach you the tools to create a foundation in your dog – and in your understanding – that you can bring with you to any instructor. Having strong flatwork skills in your dog will help minimize the need for aversive methods once your dog is on stock.

The tools and techniques taught in this course also offer positive reinforcement (+R) based solutions to challenges experienced by dogs already started on their stock work.

The course is 6 weeks long, beginning on June 23rd and wraps up on August 3th, 2017. New material – written lectures and videos – will be released every Friday for you to work through at your own pace. All discussion and feedback will take place on a private Facebook page.



Week 1: Introduction: Understanding the lingo
– A review of basic herding terminology
– What the heck is “pressure”?
– A brief intro to sheep
– Understanding the dog
– Foundation games and tools

Week 2: How dogs learn and why +R matters
– Classical vs. operant conditioning: which to use when
– Making sense of the 4 quadrants (+R, -R, -P, +P)
– Shaping/luring/capturing: what we are doing around stock, and why
– More foundation games

Week 3: Premack is your new best friend
– The power of Premack
– Teaching ‘That’ll Do’
– Building on foundation games

Week 4: Dynamic Impulse Control (DIC)
– Dynamic vs. Static Impulse Control, and why you need both
– Building value for YOU (or, why you should play with your dog)
– Jaw-dropping downs at a distance

Week 5: Head Games!
– Where the nose goes, the dog goes
– Three games to shape great flanks, confidence, and the look-back

Week 6: DIC revisited – Putting it all together.
– The loose-leash walk-up
– The shedding game


Choose between two course levels

1) Working participant:You will have access to all lecture and video material, post videos of your dog working, and receive feedback to all your videos, homework, and questions

2) Discussion participant: You will have access to all lecture and video material and be able to ask questions and participate in all discussions. You will not post your own videos or homework

Registration is opening soon (December, 2017). To be added to the notification list, please email Hélène at:

A little About Me

Griffin2My name is Hélène Lawler and I’ve been working with animals my whole life. When I was young and still living at home, I wasn’t allowed to have a dog so I trained my cats instead! When I was 12 years old, I taught my Abyssinian, Selket, to use the toilet instead of a litter box. (Sorry, no photos! And that scheme kinda backfired when she refused to ever use a litter box again, so I don’t recommend it… but I digress).

I got my first dog – a Border Collie named Jake – back in 1989 and have been training dogs ever since. I began herding in 2005, shortly before the birth of my first herding dog, Hannah.

Hannah OBCC Champion

Hannah and I had a very successful career together, winning the Ontario novice herding championship in 2008, after just two years of training. We went on to become an Open level team (the top level of USBCHA herding) while simultaneously competing in agility to the Masters level and qualifying for the AAC (agility) Canadian Nationals.

Hannah is living proof that sport and herding training are indeed compatible! In fact, I attribute much of our success to the combination of skills I learned in both venues.

Today I run a working mixed livestock farm, with sheep, goats, horses, and poultry. Hannah – now retired from competition but still going strong at 11.5 years of age – is my right hand, and my highly talented bitch, Kestrel (who also has trained and competed in agility) is my left. I also have several young dogs in various stages of training both in farm work and dog sports, and teach private and occasional group lessons and workshops.


My overarching mission is to build and strengthen the human-animal bond through deep understanding and clear communication, and to share what I learn with others so that they may do the same. I strive to take the most current understandings around learning and teaching, and apply it to my relationship with my dogs. And I am constantly seeking to improve my skills, and to find new and innovative ways to work with my animal companions.

I am also deeply committed to the philosophy of natural rearing as a major component of dog training, as I believe a clear, sound mind and a strong, healthy body results in a calm, confident, eager to learn animal partner.

Frequently asked questions

Who is this course for? Anyone who is interested in getting started in herding, with a commitment to using positive reinforcement training methods! This course is aimed at the novice herding handler, or experienced hands looking for new ways to train foundation work.

Do I have to have a Border Collie? Nope! All breeds welcome. While I work with Border Collies and Kelpies, both strong-eyed breeds, the techniques, theories, and exercises presented in this course are applicable to all breeds. There will also be enough theory in this course that if you don’t have a dog to train right now, you may still enjoy the learning.

Do I need access to sheep or other livestock? Again, nope! This course is all about “flatwork”, or the herding equivalent thereof. No stock is required, although we will cover how you can apply these exercises on stock should you have access or are already working.

How much training does my dog need? Technically, your dog doesn’t need any training to start this course. We will be going over the foundations skills you need. If your dog already has a strong foundation, terrific! We will build on that. It will be helpful if your dog enjoys treats and playing tug or fetch.

Who is the course NOT for? While I strongly believe that even the most experienced trainer should re-visit foundation work often, those with advanced herding skills may find the course too fundamental for their level. That said, even though I am at a competitive level, I still play the same games I teach in this class with each new dog. In fact, I am working through this program with my dogs who were trained using traditional methods, and seeing great improvement in both their responsiveness during work, and in our relationship off stock! Feel free to email me to determine if this course is for you.

How long will I have access to the material? You will have access to all course materials and the discussion group at least through the end of September, 2017.

Will you be offering the course again? At this point I don’t have any set plans to run the course again (i.e. maybe I will, maybe I won’t!).

To be notified when this and other courses will be run, email Hélène at