Living and working in one of the world’s most beautiful places certainly has its advantages and with its unspoilt beaches and sweeping landscapes, the Western Isles are certainly a beauty to behold.

But when it comes to accessing specialist training, however, it can have its challenges. Lewis crofters, Kathleen Thomson and Sine Nicolson, have risen to the challenge and now access on-line sheepdog handler training via Zoom lessons and supported by Facebook groups.

Sine and Kathleen had previously travelled to the mainland and up to Caithness in the far north of Scotland to train at Braehillor Sheepdog Handler Training Centre, in Dunbeath, with Jasmine Grant. In addition, they trained in Lewis and Harris when Jasmine visited the islands in 2018 and 2019.

The coronavirus outbreak encouraged everyone to look at new and innovative ways of participating in events and sheepdog handler training courses have been no exception.

Delivered using a mixture of Zoom online meeting applications and the use of video clips and diagrams, Jasmine has been guiding her student handlers through the steps to develop training strategies for them and their dogs. It helped that, as well as having 40 years of experience of training and working sheepdogs at both work and trial level, that Jasmine also has a degree in education and a teaching qualification.

Developing her training courses into an online format had always been an ambition and Jasmine is particularly interested in finding ways of bringing like-minded folk together and reducing the social isolation that can occur with living in rural communities, especially at this difficult time with lockdown restrictions.

Both ladies participated in the pilot group to test out the technology and to give Jasmine feedback on their experiences as on-line learners. The strength of broadband connection can be varied throughout the Highlands and ways of reducing the availability required has been explored and implemented. The pilot was a tremendous success and both have now signed up for the next course.

These online course gives participants the opportunity to learn how to train and work dogs from the comfort of their own home. Handlers record short video clips on their mobile phones or other devices of their own dogs at a time convenient to them and send the clips on to Jasmine to critique and give feedback.

Instructions and support on how to do this is provided in advance and each online group will consist of six learners to ensure that everyone can participate and that they are supported both with the technology and the training element.

“Training on-line makes my courses accessible to anyone, anywhere. The courses run for six weeks, with two one hour meet-up sessions each week," said Jasmine.

"The group support gives encouragement and helps everyone keep on track. I critique everyone’s videos and send feedback and ideas for them to work on in the following week. Six weeks isn’t a huge commitment but it is enough time to make a considerable difference to a dog’s ability to work sheep and to an owner’s ability to handle their dog,” added Jasmine.

“There is no need for lengthy journeys to access training and that reduces the time for many folk who have busy lifestyles. I have developed different levels of training courses to ensure that there is one for all abilities – from eight-week-old puppy to fully trained sheepdog."

Kathleen Thomson is a full time crofter and mum, from the village of South Galson, 20 miles from the town of Stornoway, on Lewis. Brought up around sheepdogs, Kathleen starting training her own dogs 10 years ago, however she wanted to improve her technique and advance her handling skills so attended a course with Jasmine, in Bragar, in 2018 which was hosted and organised by Hannah and Norrie Mackay.

She then travelled to Braehillor, Dunbeath, to train with Jasmine and then again in October, 2019, in Borve, on Harris where the venue and sheep were provided by Richard and Lena MacLennan. The Covid-19 lockdown prompted the use of technology to be able to continue her training journey and now Kathleen is looking forward to the first of the new on-line training groups which starts next week.

“The online course is really good and certainly motivates you into putting the time in to train. Also, the support and guidance from Jasmine is crucial to it all coming together. You learn from others and vice-versa in your training group,” said Kathleen.

Part-time crofter, ambulance paramedic and dog trainer, Sine Nicolson, from Sheshader, Point, in the Isle of Lewis is a sheepdog enthusiast who has had been around working dogs all her life. She became even more interested in working dogs two years ago when she acquired a rescue working dog, Fly.

Sine joined Kathleen on the courses when Jasmine visited the islands and she too has trained in Caithness on Jasmine’s croft. “The on-line course was fantastic. I'm not technical in the slightest, however everything was explained so well I just couldn't go wrong," she said.

"I really enjoyed the course as it gave me something to look forward to and taking video clips is really good as you have them to look back on and can use the critique sheets from Jasmine to review your progress. My dog can be quite sharp, so I found this great for us.

"I could fully concentrate on what Jasmine was saying when giving feedback as I didn’t have to work Fly at the same time. It's also made me more confident to run in front of others – in fact it's actually quite a confidence boost as your videos are done at home in my own time and then others watch once they are uploaded.

"I feel that has enabled me not to put so much pressure on myself. Jasmine is very enthusiastic and encouraging and has a straight talking approach – but in a good way. The course is particularly great for bringing like-minded people together to support and encourage each other. It has given me the confidence to aim to trial in the future but most importantly enjoy my dog and get me through the challenges we have faced," said Sine.

* The online courses run on a rolling basis so to book your place contact Jasmine via the Facebook page – Braehillor Sheepdog Handler Training or by e-mail –