I have a few young dogs that are just starting and thought I would comment on what I’m looking at/for when I work them at this young stage. All I’m looking for is a glimmering of “things to come”. I’m not expecting a pup to work like trained dog … but I am looking for the potential of one. There are things I will “note” so I will have an idea of what I’m are going to need to “adjust” in my training to get the best out of them.
I want to “see” the kind of eye that holds the dog back “just enough” that allows him to keep his sheep together but not so much he won’t push into his sheep.
I want to see him trying to control the direction and speed of the sheep.
I’m wanting a natural cast … meaning “at this stage” … he doesn’t run straight for them but curves around trying to contain the entire “bunch”. “In other words” seeing if he wants to go around ALL the sheep not just what his eye catches.
I want to see if he will push pass “pressure point” to keep them moving (even if that means coming in for a little wool grabbing). Or will he just keep flanking around trying to hold the sheep instead of making them move forward.
I want to see if how much he cares that I’m in the picture – also if he moves away (or towards) my pressure. Some dogs don’t move away from pressure but towards it (so you need to note that so you can work around it as training progresses).
I’m looking to see if he he likes to cover his sheep? Does he cover both sides “equally” or tend to eye up the first/ last sheep one one side or another. Does he always want to go to the head or is he comfortable controlling heads from the back of the sheep?
If he happens to get one off by itself … does he try to control or just “forget it” and come back toward the others (might give “insight” if he will like to shed)?
How much drive/desire he has. When you finish does he keep trying to “go back for more”.
How well does he “read” sheep?
His thought process. Does he process information and correct himself … or do I need to give a growl to help him “figure it out”.
How well does he learn/retain training information.
Is he flexible - when I move does he counter - balance or does he eye up one sheep and ignore the others as they move away.
If one falls behind … does he try to tuck the one back with the group or flank and take the group back to the one? Or just leave the one behind and work the rest.
Does he take correction well or does he get tense, sulk, pout, or “fade out” when ever he is faced with a correction?
How much tension does he carry? When/where does he carry it?
Can he speed up and slow down when the sheep “call for it” or does he only have one speed no matter what the sheep are doing?
How does he respond to sheep breaking or if they stand and face him?
At “last but not least” … actually one of THE most important things “in my book” at all times, I’m trying to ascertain his METHOD on sheep.
Of course, all the above is in “raw puppy form”.
I’m sure a lot of you are saying that’s all very nice but I’m not starting a pup …. BUT I do exactly the same thing with every dog I work. I spend a lot of training time asking questions.
So, if you will “ask” these (and other) questions about your dog “each and every time” you go out to work - you will begin to get clues as to what you need to work on.
Is he slow on his flanks when he needs to be quick and sharp and that’s why you are missing panels?
Does he not put enough pressure on sheep to keep their “thought process” moving forward … if not … maybe that’s why you are running out of time at the pen?
Is he eying up as he flanks around … causing a fight or a grip off.
Is he stiff on his flanks and not flexible so you never get the sheep penned?
Is he flanking too wide/tight causing problems?
Is he “drawing” his sheep back on him so much that you are stalling out?
If you don’t look and analyze each work session trying to “sort” what he’s doing right from what he’s doing wrong … you can’t correct “the wrong”. The “first step” to correcting a problem is to figure out “why” something is going wrong … then start looking for solutions. IF every time you go out to work you never REALLY observe what the dog is doing that is causing you problems … you’re NOT training you’re just moving sheep around.
Zamora is always one of the most enjoyable and challenging dog trials around. This year it was challenging in “more ways than one” … the weather took charge and everything had to revolve around it.
It all started with the rain they had received in Northern California. The Slaven’s were lambing so they had to rent sheep and try to haul them in. Almost couldn’t “get er done” with all wet weather and mud – so had to bring what they could before it became impossible. This meant there weren’t enough sheep for all the dogs to have fresh if 5 were run … so it was cut down to 3. This was the first time this had been tried so everyone was wondering what the difference would be. Somehow the thought of 3 range ewes seemed a little daunting — surprisingly they worked fine. The first couple of runs the sheep were eyeing the dogs on the lift but then seemed to flow off the top better as the day wore on. They were lighter than 5 usually are.
With 80+ dogs to run everything was scheduled to go like clock-work to get all the dogs in … well, that is until “weather struck again” … the fog rolled in for a couple of hours on the first day sending all plans into a “tailspin”. It was decided to drop the time (the usual 12 down to 9 minutes) and the shed to try to “fit” the time that was left. As dogs “came and went” it became obvious the biggest problem seemed to be getting the drive finished (usually we are more worried about the 650 yard outrun :@) with the majory of dogs stalling out on the drive. There was a creek that the sheep were suppose to cross to get to the pen. It was decided that just getting to the creek would be the end of the drive (only a “handful” of dogs got them across the creek) and fewer yet actually got to make an attempt at the pen (none penned).
The second run we had almost “caught up” but “the powers to be” still had to find a way to get through all the dogs. So, it was decided to have the handlers walk across the creek (instead of the sheep :@) This shortened the outrun and drive considerably but was the only logical thing to do in order to finish. I think most handlers preferred that to a standard … everyone wants to give the Zamora hill “a go” and so it allowed everyone to get another full run in.
I emailed a friend of mine a picture of the course and she said “it looks like the borders in Scotland” (I didn’t tell her the Slaven’s are originally from Ireland) and I couldn’t agree more (including the rain :@) It’s a trial well worth the trip – it will challenge and stretch you and your dog.
I was recently emailed and asked if I had written any articles on “eye”. I said I had referred to it in a number of articles but never really written one exclusively about the difference in eye and how I work dogs to “fit” their eye.
It got me thinking why I hadn’t done an article on it and came to the conclusion – because if you try to confine your training issues to “just eye” the you are missing the “whole” picture. There are many different “kinds” of eye but its NOT just the eye it’s the rest of “the package” combined with the eye that you have to deal with.
However, I thought I would “touch on” some of the issues I’ve run up against through the years.
There are dogs with the kind of eye that always wants to head. When you first start fetching they will make a circle around you trying to get to the head of the sheep. It’s a battle to keep them on the other side to fetch. Sometimes in the beginning they won’t even “go around” the sheep if they catch the sheep’s heads when they’re first brought out.
Eye that doesn’t want to come inside the bubble and lies down. Sometimes these are flanking dogs will keep a certain distance around the sheep. When you try to make them “walk up” they want to flank to move their sheep instead of push on straight.
Eye that freezes and won’t move. The prefer to lie there as long as they “feel” the sheep are under control and not moving. Usually these”type” if forced to come into the bubble … totally break all eye contact and come in fast and often gripping.
Eye that will keep moving but never releases pressure. These are the type that while flanking are “leaning” on their sheep with eye. They may not get closer to the sheep with their body … but their mind and eye are putting pressure on the entire time.
Eye that makes a dog “kick out” and keep “kicking out”. These kind will look at sheep and go wider every time they look … ending up totally out of contact with the sheep.
Eye that won’t finish a flank. These type don’t flank they “lean” … go 3 steps and stop to eye some more. However, some of these only have that eye on the flank and if asked to walk straight will push the sheep straight without hesitance.
Eye that goes past balance. They look and leave correctly but then “get lost” and forget what they are doing. But when brought back “into the picture” will eye up again.
So loose eyed they will just keep walking until they are in the middle of their sheep. Usually these “type” have no feel or balance. Often even after trained these type flop around behind their sheep.
Strong eyed but no style. Most people “think” that if a dog show eye he’s stylish. I’ve seen a number of dogs freeze with their eye but stand totally upright (head up – shoulder up, etc.). Some of these can show style as long as they aren’t “personal and up close” with their sheep.
After saying “all that”, it’s never wise to bring a working dog down to “one” attribute. Because everything can change by adding one more element into the “eye equations” above. Say a dog with too much eye but also has a lot of forward … you won’t run into the same issues with that dog as you would with one that has very little forward.
So, how do you work with all this “eye”? In a “nutshell” direct the action so you can direct the eye.
I find it easier to work on eye at the same time I’m working on flanks. My goal is to create rhythmic and relaxed “flank” in the dog with calm, quiet, even pressure. Teaching him to stop on pressure (not running past it or trying to go the other way) will help with loose eyed dogs. Keeping me, the sheep and the dog moving helps strong eyed dogs. Eying up on a flank or flying about with no thought needs to be corrected UP CLOSE first. The dog’s body AND thought process needs to be collected. Avoidance will create a flank in the dog but shouldn’t be mistaken for actually learning his flanks. He must understand that pressure/correction is there to help him “problem solve”.
So, if he “eyes” up in the wrong spot … correction (pressure) … release only when he gives to that pressure - then encourage him to go on with the flank. Until, the eye “creeps” in again then repeat the correction “over and over” again. You are trying to shape his “programming”. It’s not as if he’s going out of his way to do something wrong … he’s trying to control sheep the only way he knows and you need to convince him there is another way of handling sheep.
Once the dog is “in-tune” with your body language and understands the you are there to give guidance … use your body language to create the shape of flank you want THEN put the command with it. So, don’t give a “come-bye” if he’s NOT flanking correctly. You don’t want him to associate the “flank command” to an incorrect movement. You have to be consist with your body, your words and your whistles. If sometimes you let him show more eye than he needs then correct him other times … the flank (and later the outrun) will never have the shape you want.
So, as you can “see” no dog is perfect but it’s your job to “draw out” the best in him. If you can look at the “whole dog” and work with what he has … he will be a better dog and you will end up a better trainer.
I’ve been asked why do I emphasize communicating with a dog instead of just “making” the dog obey. Sure, you can train a dog to work livestock by controlling every move he makes but why would you want to? You end up with a mechanical dog that although he is able to do what he’s told – will be incapable of “thinking outside of the box”.
I’m not saying you don’t have to PUT the “mechanics” on a dog to train him. I’m saying that while you are training a dog use the dogs instincts until he understands (words = actions) and you have a bond of trust going. Then you start putting the commands on (making him work against his instincts). First, let him learn how sheep react to his body movements … let him learn that when he is tight sheep split … let him think … let him work. That doesn’t mean let him “run wild” and just chase — you can control his movements by controlling the sheep.
Then progress to “command center”. If you give a flank and the dog flanks the opposite direction (because that’s what his instincts are telling him to do) … it won’t help you get the sheep where you want them. “On the other hand” a flank is NOT just a command to circle the sheep without any reference of what the sheep are doing or going to do. If you teach a dog that a flank is nothing more than a “circle” - what happens when the sheep need a “wider circle” or “smaller circle”? If you are trying to load sheep in a trailer and a dog has the “mechanics” to go left/right but not in context of the job at hand … you may be standing there for a LONG time saying “come-bye” – “away to me” before those sheep get loaded.
Example: when I first teach a dog to flank off balance I will MAKE him go past balance (and he will fight me on it) but once he releases pressure and does what he was asked … I will flank him all the way back to balance and let him bring the sheep. This helps a young dog relax on his flanks because he learns … even if he’s taken away from “the spot” he KNOWS he can control the sheep – he will be allowed back as soon as he GIVES and releases the pressure. This builds confidence and communication mentally and physically and relaxes him so he’s not fighting taking an off balance flank. Allowing for relaxed flanks and a willing attitude towards releasing pressure.
You could also teach him off balance flanks by force … a mindless circle, circle, circle until he “gives up” (I didn’t say “gives to you”). If done with no regard to how the dog is re-acting to this – it tends to break a dog down instead of building him up. I’m not saying “never” do this (as some dogs need to free up and circling is one way to make them flank freer) but it’s not going to give you a connection to the dog … it’s only making him do as he is told (again some dogs – sometimes). If that’s your only training method … your depth of training will be very shallow – as the dogs NOT thinking only doing what he’s told. So you are making him physically flank the sheep but not mentally.
If you learn to train by communication you will develop a dog that can not only work with you but think on his own as well. I don’t think there is anything greater than working with a dog on “something” and seeing the moment he actually GETS it. You can see him say “oh” that’s what she was wanting and GIVES to you.
Getting there takes longer and more thought than mechanical training (and truthfully some dogs will never get there and will have to be made mechanical).
Part of communication is discovering and working with what is natural in a dog. You won’t communicate effectively if you don’t put the effort into trying to understand how they think and react. What is important to them … what did “mother nature” give them and what will you have to supplement?
Dogs are interactive animals and luckily for us they interact with us as well as “their pack”. They take cues from the rest of the pact as to what is needed. So we need to learn and use these “cues” to our advantage. You need to read and respond to what the dog is communicating. Your job is to be observant to his body language and what he is thinking and feeling. Some dogs will lift their tails when they are thinking about diving in, some lay their ears back. others turn their heads away. Observe and learn what YOUR dog is communicating to you and use it to help train him. “At the same time” a lot of interactions between dog and handler happens when there isn’t trust … making the person anticipate what might happen and thereby making it happen (you are tense and communicate this on to your dogs).
A dog that enjoys working with you will look and listen for input. If you are a good trainer you will also listen to the dog. Force training only works when you are 100 percent in control but there comes a time when the dogs mind is full engaged with the sheep and you become secondary. That’s why communication/connection is so valuable in a working dog. He enjoys the interaction and WANTS your input!
Sometimes there is a fine line between correction and over-correction. It’s often hard for a novice to know when they are correctly on the “line”, when they have gone over the line or sometimes … which side of the line they are on.
Unfortunately in some dogs this line is razor-thin between getting your point across and shutting your dog down and making him harder to correct in the future. You need to make sure that the dog understands your correction but not at the expense of pushing him over “his” line.
So, how do you make sure your corrections are “correct”? Take your clues from your dog … what are his ears doing, his eyes, his body. Do his eyes have panic look in them? Then you are putting too much pressure on or he’s just not understanding what you are asking of him. Is his body trying to lean away from you because he’s trying to go wider? Or is he just trying to avoid you because he doesn’t want to acknowledge your input. Is he leaning toward the sheep and the only “thing on his mind” is when does he get to move again (implying he’s really not all that interested in what you have to say). If so then he’s not taking your correction seriously.
Your correction needs to get into his MIND and what he’s THINKING not just his body. You may have gotten him to lie down BUT if all he’s thinking about is getting back up … he didn’t get a correction … you just stopped the action. A lot of people train by making the body correct but never get into the dogs mind. This either transfers into a dog that won’t move without being told or one that spends all his energy fighting the handler – never working with them. He needs to acknowledge you and try to understand what he did wrong and what you want from him.
Some times a hard dog will respond better to a soft correction … the harder you push … the harder it makes him. However, “sometimes” hard dogs need someone to convince them they can’t always have it their way or they won’t get to work. It takes experience to know the difference. Of course, the only way to get experience is by doing it … which is a bit of a dichotomy for novices :@).
Learn to read your dog to see if your corrections are “hitting home”. Then to complicate things you need to keep the sheep “in the back of your mind” during a correction. If the sheep are running off it’s going to be hard for a dog to pay total attention to your correction. Like everything else is life … timing is critical :@)
I’ve always used my voice a lot when training. I often joke about running “name dogs” … meaning I use their name a lot.
I use their name to slow them down, have them walk up, or remind them I’m in the picture.
Obviously, it’s the same word … but means TOTALLY different things to the dog. A soft Moss, Moss will make him take very slow, soft and calm steps at the pen and if said ”firmer” he will walk up stronger. A hard MOSS will slow him down when he’s starting to push to hard on a fetch or drive. A medium Moss will remind him at the shed that he doesn’t need to put that much pressure on the sheep.
Tone is what dogs respond to … not just words. You need to vary your tone with both your words and whistles if you want to get the best out of a dog.
A soft lie down doesn’t mean the same thing as a hard LIE DOWN to the dog and it shouldn’t to you either. If you never vary your tone … the dog can’t read you as well as he should. Which means you two aren’t as connected as you could be. If you are monotone you lose a lot of communication with your dog. Try and vary your words and whistles to let the dog know how you FEEL.
If the sheep are running away … come bye, come bye said very softly and slowly is NOT going to communicate to the dog that you need a FAST flank to catch them. If the sheep are ready to bolt you giving a HARD flank isn’t going to settle them … as it causes the to dog flank hard and sharp (which often – after it happens – is blamed on the dog for taking a hard flank :@).
When teaching outruns … if I see the dog is going to be tight I give a medium “lie down”, if he doesn’t take it he gets a HARD “lie DOWN”. When he downs … I will give a very soft “lie down” – “lie down” that actually reassures him that I’m not mad (even with the hard lie down) and that is what I want. Hearing my voice allows him to stop and think before I try to redirect him. It’s a “listen to me” and I will help you tone.
If I kept saying “lie down” with a hard, abrasive tone it would make him feel the pressure was STILL on and cause his next move to be erratic. You need the dogs mind receptive and calm before he takes his next physical action. It’s my TONE (not the words) that conveys this and allows him feel comfortable enough that he can listen and respond with not just his body but also his MIND.
Think of your voice and whistles as a musical scale and have your tones go up and down that scale. Vary each whistle and word to the intensity of what you require. If you need a hard flank … convey that to the dog. If you need yielding quiet flank … then your tone should reflect that. You will never get a soft movement from the dog with a hard tone … the dog will physically react to what he hears.
To be a good trainers I guess we all need a little Jekyll and Hyde in us.
Shaping the flanks …
Just what do trainers mean when they say that. It will be hard for a novice to recognize an incorrect flank if they can’t visualize what a correct flank looks like.
The first thing to remember is shape means more than just distance from the sheep. Why … because different sheep will need different distances … “as well” as different dogs needing greater/lesser distance from their sheep. So, “one size doesn’t fit all”!
A good flank is smooth (no ragged edges) thoughtful (not flying around in a circle as fast as they can) even (not going out to wide nor coming in every time they look at their sheep) relaxed (not tense and jerky) and most important “with the correct attitude and with purpose”. It’s NOT just a circle around the sheep … it’s to change the dogs position in relationship to the sheep.
A dog should be looking at his sheep when you start the flank. When he leaves your side he should take off at an angle away from you - with good speed but not just running. He can glance in to check to see where the sheep are and what they are doing. However, he shouldn’t put pressure on the sheep with either eye nor physically cutting in. He should gauge if he needs to go wider if the sheep “call for it” … trying to release a little pressure.
Watch his shoulder and head … if they are turning in then he’s getting closer to his sheep (He should not turn in at all untill the flank is completed). Watch his feet … is he “digging in” running as fast as he can (flanks are not a race). Watch his body … is it tense and tight (relaxed flanks don’t upset sheep). When ending the flank … don’t let the dog “bore in” or the entire flank will be ruined.
A dog will tend to want to turn in and slice if the sheep are running towards you. So you if you only work dog broke sheep … you might think your dog is flanking correctly but he’s curving in at the end of the flank but your sheep aren’t reacting. It’s not until you get to the trial with fresh sheep you will find that “hole”.
Through the years many of my students had trouble understanding how to take advantage of a dog making mistakes. If handled correctly a dog (AND student) will learn as much from being “wrong” as being right.
Your dog should NEVER be afraid to make a mistake or he will be hesitate at *those* times when you need a positive approach.
Think about when you are trying to learn something new. Do you do it right every time – of course not. However, I bet the things that stick in your mind “the most” are the things you do wrong. Unless carried to an extreme – I don’t see that as a negative thing.
To this day … when I walk off a trial course I can tell you everything I did wrong – even when I have a good run. I need to remember what went wrong so I can go home and “fix” it. If I only remember the *good* I would never get better. I never think “gee, how did I make that panel” … but do I ever “mull over” WHY I missed it :@)
That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the run or my dog … only that I’m always striving to get better and improve my dog and my handling.
However, if a dog *fears* to make a mistake it can become a critical hole in his training. When a dog fears doing something wrong … he’s NOT going to be giving it his “all”. It’s like walking on ice expecting it to break any moment … are you going to stride out with all the confidence in the world if you expect to fall through at any moment?
Making mistakes and using those mistakes to your advantage to show the dog the CORRECT way to do something … will build a strong bond of trust between you two. This will encourage him to look to you for guidance when things start going “down hill”. However, getting angry at his mistakes will make him turn away from you when things go wrong … just when he needs direction the most.
Let’s take outruns … he’s running out to where he thinks he saw sheep but he’s wrong (seeing … maybe … rocks or cattle on the other side of the road, etc.). He doesn’t need a handler yelling or getting upset. He needs information … calm helpful direction and *that’s where YOU come in*.
Go back to the basics (to make him comfortable with things he knows) and walk out towards the sheep trying to get him to look in a different direction. Just like you did at the very start of his outrun training. When he finally finds his sheep it will be because of teamwork between you and him.
After all to Err isn’t just human – it’s also canine.
Real work is about what is practical and efficient. Trialing attempts to take what is practical and efficient to precise and perfect. That’s why it requires more interaction and entails such mental discipline on the part of a handler/dog team.
I have never understood the “thought process” that trialing isn’t practical. The phases of work that transpires at a trial are common occurrences in every day shepherding. The difference is your work is being judged and has to be brought up to a higher standard.
Separating ewes out that are bred (in order to feed them extra) is one maneuver that is used frequently (shedding). Driving sheep through gates simulates driving sheep to the next field through a gate. Much easier “at home” because there is a fence on “either side” of “those” gates funneling the sheep through also the sheep KNOW where the gate is. Penning, driving, outruns are all necessary to any sheep operation. I’ve always thought trialing was one of the best ways to improve the genetics of working dogs. It’s a place to see numerous dogs work and see their strengths and weakness. Hopefully allowing us to see potential breeding quality we need to improve the working dog.
Why people trial is another story. For some it’s the “glory” for others it’s a to see how their dogs measure up to other dogs.
I’ve always try to look at trials as a gauge to see where my dogs are in their training and to find what I need to work on. Winning is great and we all enjoy it but it doesn’t make you nor your dog any better/worse than before you walked to that post.
Then, there are some people that make trialing miserable for everyone attending. Instead of watching dogs looking for the special ones -no, instead - they use it as a time to put down everything and everybody. Each and every dog and handler has good and bad qualities. To look for the negative in every run in order to say how much better they could do … is a way to try and build themselves up by putting others down. I understand not liking a dog or a way a handler handles a dog … everyone has their preferences — but to go out of your way to LOOK for faults … isn’t good for trialing.
There is a top handler I admire very much as I’ve never heard him put down either handler nor a dog. He looks at dogs and if you ask him what he thinks he will point out the good parts of the run. He’s a pleasure to be around and makes a trial an enjoyable place. I wish there were more like him as I think he’s the best PR there is for dog trialing.