Sheep training? Help!


12 Years
Jan 26, 2007
As you may know, we recently acquired 3 sheep . Two are skittish and slowly getting used to us, but the other (the mom, Maggie) is quite confident of herself. It was nice at first because it meant we could pet her, but she's become very brazen in her search for treats and has been butting the girls - knocking April over a couple times when we weren't watching closely enough and pinning Alana once (not hard, but it was scary for her).
I try to mostly withold rewards after these behaviors, but what else can I do to actually "train" them? I've seen in person and online videos which tell me sheep can be trained (
), but don't know that I want to spend hours leading the sheep around w/treats and a "clicker" device. I've tried pushing on Maggie's hard spot on her head where she butts the other sheep and saying a firm "NO", but I think that is beginning to make her more agitated.

Any ideas/experience with this?


I have experience with cows and goats not sheep. I don't know how you would break them. I am sorry your girls have been frightened by them.

You would be better served to teach your children to be very cautious around them and never let them around the animals without very close supervision. I have a 2 yr old and my greatest fear even with our sweet goats is that he has no fear of them. They do not watch for him at all and will run him ocver and trample him if I am not very cautious with him out with them. Feeding time can be a special time of frenzy and NOTHINg stands in their way.

You do have to keep in mind they are livestock and are not trainable beyond routine tasks and schedules. If they were not raised with small children as pets you may never break any habits. Livestock of any size can be very dangerous and small children can be seriously hurt. They give no warning when they butt or kick. They simply react. I even get stepped on in the frenzy to feed.

I am sorry to sound like sour grapes but I know of no way to train goats or cows to be careful around children and I can't image from what I do know from being around other people's sheep that they are not smarter nor more trainable than the said goats or cows.

I would try to teach and train the children to safely handle the sheep.
Thank you, MissPrissy. You're probably right. Both girls are pretty wary of the sheep now, and run the other way, but I'll keep reminding them. Last time we had friends visiting who wanted to feed the sheep, I just had all the girls reach their hands over a low fence to do so.

I'm starting to worry about Maggie butting me, but I guess I just keep holding the jar of grain away from my body and I'll be okay.
At least she's not a goat w/horns, right?
All of my goats are dehorned. I have spent many days as a child being chased by a horned billy and it was not funny! He was mean!

Keep your girls out feeding the sheep amd interacting with them so they don't develop a lingering fear. Help them past the hurdle of fear and teach them to be cautious. You will be glad you did in the long run.

My 2 yr old son has no fear. He scares me often. Anything we do he thinks he can do. He takes full sized dogs in hand by the collar and puts them out the back door. He tries to feed the goats and he is shorter than the feeders. He collects eggs and just puts them in his pockets (yes, he breaks them sometimes). He isn't afraid of a pecking hen. He'll take a sitting hens eggs. I have to watch him like a hawk at all times.

And he is hardheaded and only learns by getting hurt

I dread having to take him out to the barn by myself some days. I need to tether him to me to keep up with him.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for behavior problems.

What I have done with my sheep (and horses, and dogs and children) is make certain not to reward rude behavior. I don't wait for the butting to begin, but walk away with the bucket the instant they start crowding/pushing. It works especially well when coupled with a simple alternate behavior. For example, all my horses have a piece of tape on the wall of their stall. When I enter the stall with grain or whatever, they instantly turn and put their nose on the tape. I did shape it initially with a clicker, but now it's maintained just by every day routine. I don't dump the bucket until the nose is on the tape... it's pretty automatic.
No sheep experience here, but if they were horses I would say that the first step is to TOTALLY STOP giving them any food by hand. Even if you were using treats as a way to try to 'tame' them, you need to stop it completely... you are seeing why food rewards are not a good idea unless you're experienced enough with the particular species to catch the beginnings of misbehavior before it escalates.

Also stop directly dispensing food to them even on the ground or in buckets. Don't put food down for them while they are there waiting for it. Make 'em wait somewhere else while you put down the food and then let them into the feeder area.

If they were horses, and I doubt sheep are all that different in this regard, it will take a while before they realize you are no longer a food dispenser, but they *will* realize it in time, and stop bugging you so much.

Make friends with them in totally NON food related ways. A lawn chair and a good book (with half an eye always on the animals) works well with human-shy horses.

Good luck,

That's really great advice, Pat! Thank you! I think the previous owners conditioned them to associate people = food. The first 2 days after we got them we tried to stay away from doors/windows because they'd bleat for food anytime we came near. They're getting better, but definitely pushy about the food when it is around.

snugglepup, the way you've trained your horses/animals is really impressive. When I have more time/patience I may ask for some more advice.
My neighbor has around 180 ewes (with up to 450 lambs in a good year). In flocks that size, his animals are incredible skiddish and wild compared to my 10 ewes. Mine like a scratch under the chin; but still are scared of strangers. Sheep have very little natural defenses except for their innate skepticism.

But, I would say a grain bucket filled with alfalfa pellets or some all purpose feed will conqure your two sheep in a few weeks time.
MissPrissy: I would hate to see what they'd do if your two year old and my two year old got together. My daughtyer is 3 1/2 and she is wonderful with the animals. My little boy Max who just turned 2, not so much. He has single handedly turned our 4 yr old border collie from a sweet dog who lets kids do anything to an old grouch who leaves the room every time he seens Max.

NiftyChick: I have read a lot about this stuff lately as we're getting a couple goats soon, and I've read something somewhere recently where a goat owner recommends if you need to correct goats or move them, you should push them on the back end, not around the head as it encourages butting behavior. I tried to find it again to send you a link but of course I can't locate it now. I gather its a common enough problem you're having and there is a lot of discussion of it around. GOod luck, let us know how it goes.
Hi-Get in touch with 4-h'ers. When we raised sheep in 4h we learned to 'go with' instead of forcing. If the idea is to move sheep to another spot,you can place hand on the rump-just on /over the tail and nudge forward while some one leads the head,under the muzzle. Sheep also can be handled easier with a mask in front of their muzzle,this stops them from charging. Check out Nasco for mask. They can be fun,my daughter had one that could have been 'Mary's little lamb" it called for her when it saw her near the house.

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