What Are the Whistle Signals for Sheep Dogs?

Written by paul cartmell
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What Are the Whistle Signals for Sheep Dogs?
Sheep-herding dogs such as collies are selected for work because of their agility, instinctive herding skills and problem-solving ability. (Apple Tree House/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Sheepdogs, also known as working sheepdogs, are a group of dogs whose history can be traced to the U.K.'s border region between England and Scotland. There, selection of the best working dogs by shepherds over many centuries of practical herding work has heightened a natural instinct to herd livestock and to respond to human commands, whether voice, hand or whistle signals.


Working sheepdogs, such as border collies and Icelandic sheepdogs, can be taught to respond to a variety of commands produced by the handler's ability to whistle or through the use of a specialised sheepdog mouth-whistle. Nine basic commands are used to control the movements of a working sheepdog. The basic commands include "lie down," which is represented by one long blast on the whistle; "come here," two short blasts and one longer blast; and "walk up," which is two short whistles. "Come by" is ordered by a whistle sounding like wheet-wheeoo; "way to me" is whistled as whee-who; while "get out" is signalled as wheet-wheeo-wheet-wheet. Other commands include "look back," which is whistled as who-hee-who. The commands "take time" and "that'll do" are both four short whistles.


Whistles are used in sheepdog work to order the dog to move in a certain direction or to stop moving, which is the "lie down" command. Movement commands include "come here," which brings the dog to the livestock; and "walk up," which is the order to move straight toward the livestock. A sheepdog's actions to move the herd are controlled with the basic commands of "come by," which sends the dog in a clockwise direction around the livestock; and "way to me," which sends the dog in a counter-clockwise direction around the herd. The command "get out" sends the sheepdog away from the herd, while "look back" orders the dog to turn around and gather more sheep. The commands ordered with the same whistle of "take time" and "that'll do" order the dog to slow to a steady space and quit working.


Sheepdog commands are used in situations where livestock, such as sheep, cattle, and horses, are herded together to be moved by the sheepdog and its handler. The dog may herd livestock as his work on a ranch or farm, or when an owner competes with him at a sheepdog trial.


There are several sheepdog breeds, including collies, border collies and Australian, American and Icelandic sheepdogs. Different breeds will herd livestock in different ways. The border collie herds livestock using movement and eye contact with the animals to send them in the required direction. In contrast, an Icelandic sheepdog herds livestock from behind, using its voice to move the herd.

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