Have you ever wondered why some trainers can get everything out of a dog that he has to offer … while others can’t even get their dog to lie down?
A top trainer has learned how to mold a calm, trusting, willing dog. One that is comfortable in knowing how to “handle” sheep and what is expected of him. Good trainers try to “stretch” their dogs but also work within the “parameters” they have i.e. … teaching a “hot” dog how to work cool, calm and with direction. Speeding up a slow dog without getting it “hyped” up and encouraging a soft one to keep trying.
Some trainers can only work with “one” type of dog. I’m not talking about preference of how a dog works – but “to the fact” some trainers don’t have a lot of “tools in the shed” (meaning different training techniques) that they can bring out if a dog doesn’t fit their “ideal dog”. Since they are missing a variety of tools they can’t fix issues that come up unless it happens to fit the tool they “have in hand”.
What does make a good trainer?
Partly it’s being consistent but it’s a lot more than that - because if you are consistently wrong on your timing all you will end up with is a very confused dog. OK, you say then it’s timing - but a good trainer will change their timing to fit the dog. Not only do they adjust the timing to fit the dog but also the sheep and sometimes the terrain (blind fetch … right timing to steady your dog without seeing him … outruns at 800 yards – timing it so you whistle sooner because it takes longer for the sound to carry). So, you say maybe it’s handling? I’ve seen handler/dog win a trial but couldn’t exhaust the sheep – so the dog really wasn’t trained to WORK sheep – more programmed to a trial course.
I think good trainers have the ability to “chip away” at problems. They don’t have the “all or nothing” attitude … all force or all ask. They combine asking and demanding until the dog yields to them readily … never allowing the dog to avoid pressure but to GIVE to it. The don’t take pressure away until the dog “gives” but they also don’t put so much pressure on the dog “breaks”. They try to give the dog enough time to find the answer not just “spoon feed” them one - “thereby” allowing them to develop instead of just obey. They understand no living creature “learns immediately” nor at the same rate and takes that into consideration. They are trying to change them mentally NOT just physically — sometimes using their body to get to their minds and sometimes the “other way around”. They use every tool at their disposal - they don’t just use the brake and gas pedal but the clutch and numerous gears to refine the dogs movements. They don’t just teach the dog left/right/walk up but allow the dog to develop a “sheep working system” that makes the dog comfortable in his own skin. “In other words” they allow the dog to control the sheep and they control the dog.
If you really want to be a good trainer – you need to always keep your mind open to “picking up new tools” that will allow you to communicate better with your dogs.
Since there are different “styles” of training that work equally well — you need to decide which will suit you. Try to remain receptive to a variety of techniques but only incorporate those elements that blend well with your own handling skills or training preferences. You can change your training style if you feel it doesn’t “fit” you but don’t change your style like you do your clothes or all you will end up with is a confused dog.
OH NO … downs again.
When novices first start out they tend to use the down just because they don’t know what else to do. So, I tell them don’t use down as a crutch … have a specific reason before you lie your dog down.
So, as they advance they do start trying to fix problems instead of just stopping their dogs and what happens … they lose the down. So, they really become confused when I say your dog is running through your down.
You have to have a down … and yes, you don’t use it to fix everything that goes wrong BUT you also don’t let the dog ignore it. Brakes on a car are good … driving around hitting the brakes every time you see something that looks like it might be an issue is bad. However, not being able to stop (because you burned your brakes out from overusing them :@) is even worse.
You can’t fix a flank IF you can’t stop the dog before he’s too close to the sheep. The same goes for an outrun or any other issues. It’s better to fix the problem not just down the dog but you HAVE to be able to down the dog in order to fix the problem. Confusing for Novices I know … but it does make sense once you get the “feel” for it.
Think of how dogs correct pups … they give a growl (warning correction) if ignored they will snarl and show teeth (stronger warning correction) if still ignored they will “nail” the pup (physical correction). That’s how pups learn that following that seemingly innocent growl comes teeth. So, WHEN they hear the growl … they self correct (knowing what comes next will not be a “suggestion” but a physical reality that bites).
So, use that analogy … give your growl (correction) before you down them (bite them). But never let them think you don’t have teeth to back it up. So, in other words DON’T lose your “real” down.
To make it even more confusing for novices is they see open handlers saying lie down, lie down and the dog really isn’t lying down … so they come to the conclusion – it’s OK to just let the dog “do it’s own thing” because “after all” he reads sheep better than they do. BUT believe me those handlers DO have a down and they and their dogs are on the same page as to WHAT it means. A soft lie down might not mean REALLY lie down but only “don’t put so much pressure on your sheep” where a sharp, hard lie down means “hit the dirt” now! But the point is they do have a down it’s not just the word but the tone the handler is using and the dog is reading.
Downs allow you to get in a position to correct a dog. If you have to repeat the down 3 or 4 times … think how much closer that dog will be to his sheep by the time he actually DOES down. So, if he’s cutting a flank and you need to walk out to correct him … the correction will NOT be that effective because he didn’t down WHERE he NEEDED the correction. It’s too late for a “correct” correction if he’s 10 feet closer to his sheep than where the actual correction SHOULD have taken place.
So, remember the down is a “piece of the puzzle” it’s not the whole picture but if you don’t have it you will never get all those puzzle pieces to fit.
P.S. It’s NOT just novices — as I was just reminded recently that my dog was running through his down :@) So, cheer up … it’s something we all need to work on.
I’ve had a few students that are having outrun issues so thought I would “touch” on that.
When you are working on an outrun be prepared to do a lot of walking (or running if you are of that “age group” :@). The minute a dog LOOKS in on an outrun – prepare yourself for a correction. If he looks in and then releases – allow him to continue on his path (assuming it was wide enough). If he looks in and casts out that’s even better (assuming he’s not a dog that runs too wide). BUT if he looks in and COMES in he’s WRONG … even if it’s just a step or two. Why you say … because if he comes in a couple of steps every time he looks at the sheep – it won’t be long until he’s pushing them sideways and not covering.
Also, If he looks in and KEEPS looking in even if he’s still going on the same path … he is putting PRESSURE on the sheep. This is the opposite of what an outrun is “all about”. The purpose of an outrun is to get to the other side of the sheep with as little pressure as possible – while staying in as close of contact as he can without upsetting his sheep (so, not running too wide). Looking to see where the sheep are in relationship to him and you is GREAT … looking trying to connect with the sheep before the outrun is completed is a problem.
So, if he looks in – and doesn’t look out again – correct him – BEFORE he gets closer to his sheep. The widest part of an outrun should be around 9 and 3 on the clock (so when he is even with the sheep) because that’s the spot that puts the most pressure on the sheep. It’s not how he starts out (although that does matter) but how he finishes that’s important. Wide on the bottom and tight on top is a lot more destructive than the other way around. Although with some dogs if they don’t break wide at the bottom (not backwards … just casting out wide from your feet) they tend to be tight at the top. You need (as with everything else in training) to know your dog.
If I’m having outrun “issues” I will start walking toward my sheep the minute I send my dog … watching him out of the corner of my eye. I’m looking for a smooth easy running style (less tension) and if I see he’s “getting tight” – I get ready to stop him. However, before I stop him … I give a correction (some dogs listen to a “growl” others it’s “hey” … play around with it until you get one that “fits” your dog). Then I lie him down (AFTER the correction) and tell him to “get out of that”. You have to give a correction NOT just a down. The reason being that if done enough and correctly all you will have to give is a “growl” to get him to bend off (or later on a redirect whistle on the run).
I personally have a correction down and it’s a HARD lie down (they KNOW they are in trouble and so when they stop they are receptive to actually HEARING what I say ) … then I wait and give a re-direct. I want him to KNOW he was wrong — not just down him and sent him on “his merry way”. However, “keep this in perspective” you don’t want them thinking a down is a correction or they will start to hesitate every time you say down (which is not what you want).
The biggest problem I see with students and outruns is two-fold. They wait to long to give the correction (dog is already tight NOT just thinking about it) and they don’t walk far enough out to correct the dog. So, catch him when he’s THINKING about coming in (not after he’s done it) and walk ALL the way out to make sure the top end is correct.
“Keep in the back of your mind” training dogs = walking and you will get more out of your dog.
As one of my students often states “never in my life have I’ve ever worked so hard to be so mediocre” :@). Training working dogs is difficult … no doubt about it. Especially for novices trying to understand dogs, sheep and how they interact.
So, what is IT that makes training Border Collies so complex? It’s a combination of different things. The first is that we are not training dogs how to make “just” a physical movement but hopefully allowing them to understand that each of their movements will cause a corresponding movement in the sheep. The second is, “all the while” we communicating “our wants and needs” .. the dog has inborn instincts that are “speaking” to them just as loudly as we are. Then throw in the sheep’s reactions “to all of this” and as they say you better be ready “to step up to the plate”.
When you were a child and looked at a book all you saw was squiggles on paper which was impossible to read until you learned each and every letter in the alphabet. Only then those squiggles become letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, and eventually you turned all you learned - into concepts. You can’t get anywhere in your training until you and the dog are ”on the same page” communicating with each other. So, first you have to learn the ABC’s of how to communicate what you need to the dog – while always trying to understand his method of work”.
Let’s use the flank is your beginning letter A. Learning how fast, far, tight, etc. your dog flanks will be a start to grasping your “working alphabet” … if you are saying THERE - to a slow wide flanking dog (while you are watching the sheep not the dog) then he will turn in a totally different spot than a tight fast edgy flanker would. You two need to come to an agreement and get in “sync” to the “timing” of the letter A – before you can make it the first letter of your alphabet.
So, spend the time watching your dog, the sheep’s reaction to the dog and try to get your timing perfected so when you tell him something it makes sense to him. If you are working on balance and you are telling him “there” to turn into the sheep and he’s “off balance” … you will erode the “letter” you are trying to build. You will need to reach an understanding” on each letter of the alphabet (and with EACH dog) and apply it to every phase of the work.
The same goes for buying a trained dog as to training one. When you first get a trained dog you need to come to an agreement to what ABC means before you can speak the words and then on to a sentences and paragraphs … eventually leading to a book. Again, If you are on “different pages’ in what the basics mean you will never be able to write that novel.
Just remember all of this takes time … just as it did to learn the alphabet and to read. So, don’t get discouraged just keep learning those letters and soon you will have enough words to form a sentence, a paragraph and in time “your” book. When things go wrong (as they will) just remember it’s just a chapter not the whole book.
One of the most common questions asked by novices is … HOW do you slow a dog down????
There are a number of ways to slow a dog down and each has its place in training – after all the more techniques you have to communicate what you want to your dog – the easier training will be for both of you.
The first and easiest “slow down” is of course the “good old-fashioned lie down”. However, if this is your “stand by” solution to the majorty of your problems … then you are very limited to how deep your training will be. If your dog downs just because you told him to and not because he understands the reason (he’s putting too much pressure on his sheep) then you are training for obedience not for sheep sense. In other words all you are doing is teaching a physical down not a mental correction — always remember you are trying to change them mentally not just physically.
A better way to teach pace is to put pressure on the sheep using them to allow him to grasp that too much pressure isn’t always good. So let’s say he’s behind his sheep fetching but pushing hard. If your voice is saying “take time” BUT you keep backing up you are giving him a “green light” to keep on pushing. STOP backing and walk forward putting pressure on the dog and sheep making them both stop their forward momentum (keep the sheep in front of you don’t let them get around you). When sheep split (in front of you not go around you) it tends to make a dog either lean sideways or “rock back” which slows them down (and the best part is it’s NOT because YOU made him but because the SHEEP required it). They can’t be going sideways and forward all at the same time (well, some dogs are fast enough it might feel like they are :@)
You need to learn to teach a dog NOT to push past your presence. I know it’s hard for a novice to realize they have a “bubble” around themselves as well as the sheep do, and your dog should not push those sheep into YOUR bubble. Which is what he is doing if the sheep go flying past you with the dog still pushing on.
Another subtle way to teach him not to push so hard … is when he is trying to push sheep hard you shift sideways to keep him flanking (really it’s more like bending that actually flanking). The point of this exercise is to not let him get any closer to his sheep by going straight at them — you do it by always changing the balance point. It’s to teach him NOT to “engage” his forward gear until you release pressure (by backing up) that allows him to “come on up”.
This is a hard concept to explain and often even harder to accomplish. The dog is trying to get to the balance point and what you are trying to do is keep him “off-balance” just enough (NOT so much he’s running in circles) that he stops putting any forward pressure on his sheep. You keep sliding sideways so that when he starts to turn IN the sheep’s heads have moved farther over since you (instead of backing up) have shifted which makes him feel uncomfortable about coming forward. So, he starts bending out instead of coming forward and “guess what” — all done without a down.
For those of you that aren’t Star Trek fans – it refers to Mr. Spock’s ability to access the mind of someone else that allows him to know what they are thinking. The perfect example of a handler and dog having a great run is embodied in Mr. Spock’s ritual “my mind to your mind” – wherein he establishes some sort of radio-like connection allowing him to eavesdrop another’s thoughts and/or to inject his own.
When you and your dog are in Sync that’s what it looks and feels like. Working a dog and connecting with a dog are two very different things. It’s like a relationship it’s ALL about chemistry. You can’t have it with every dog but when you find it … it is special.
Different people suit different dogs and you need to learn which “type” suits you. That will help you find a dog that will enable both you and the dog to enjoy working together. Why spend all the time and energy it takes to get a dog working correctly if he doesn’t fit you or your handling style? Why fight a dog that doesn’t suit you when he may just “fit” someone else? Where “more than likely” they would appreciate him more.
I’ve sold dogs that I thought were really nice dogs BUT didn’t “fit” my style of handling. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the dog … just I couldn’t connect with him enough to get the “mind mill thingy” going. :@)
If you’re an adrenaline junky and love running fast, sharp, high energy – high drive dogs but you are running a slow, smooth flanking, easy, quiet type … the odds are you are going to get irritated with him. It’s not his or your fault … it just means you don’t have “chemistry” with that particular dog. It’s very possible someone else would “completely click” with him. It’s not a matter of “right or wrong” – “good or bad” … it’s a matter of what suits your handling style.
We don’t all drive the same cars nor live in the same parts of the country. What you need is what feels the most like “home” to you … be it a house, a certain part of the country or a dog. I think it’s a comfortable feeling when are handling a dog that fits you “like a glove”.
What is the difference between a natural flank and a mechanical flank. Do you really need a mechanical flank. What happens if you only have natural flanks?
A lot of students seem to get stumped with flanks and then get frustrated – thinking if they can’t even “grasp” something as basic as flanks how will they ever get anything else.
The easiest test to see/understand what “type” of flanker you have is for you do the moving and let the dog do the *covering*. When you move away from the sheep’s heads the dog should counter balance the sheep by shouldering out enough to keep the sheep’s heads pointed toward you without pushing the sheep over you. This would be what is natural in the dog … of course not all dogs have that programed in them.
You have to have a visual of what the flank should look like, the distance that the dog should be and how fast he should be going. If the sheep jerk while he’s on his flank … he’s to fast or tight. If they put their head down and eat he’s not having an effect. Look for signs when he’s correct to help you both understand a correct flank. Watch him, the sheep, the results so you can begin to get a picture in your mind of what correct is.
Different flanks for different dogs. Some dogs don’t look at their sheep when they flank – you handle those “types” by calling their name, saying stand or anything to draw them back on their sheep. Some dogs eye sheep so much that every step they take puts a constant pressure on the sheep – those you need to growl or put enough “handler” pressure to keep them from pulling in on their sheep as they go.
So first figure out YOUR dog and the reaction the sheep have to his working style then start “fixing” any issues UP CLOSE. So, let’s say you have a dog that has too much eye and flanks very slowly around his sheep. If you just stand there and REPEAT the flank command … All you will teach him is to go slower and slower. Soon he will be taking two steps every time you give a flank and you have to give another flank command to get another two steps. You give the command ONE time then walk out and get in between him and his sheep to MAKE him go farther on that flank than he wanted to.
Every time you repeat a command and he doesn’t respond … you have “numbed him down” one more “notch” to ignoring you.
If your dog is one that flanks and doesn’t “check in” (flying pass balance) then you need to MAKE them turn the minute you say a command (stand, their name, lie down … whatever fits you and your dog). Don’t stand there and let them run with out thought.
If you give a command and they just keep running — it will be twice as hard next time to get through to them. So say it one time and then MOVE … go out and block them from running past balance (use a correction voice to let them know they were wrong not only in what they did but also wrong it ignoring a command).
So, yes try and develop all the natural they have but don’t just stand there and let them do it wrong all in the name of “natural”.