Students are always asking why doesn’t my dog listen to me? It all starts “up close and personal”.
In order for a dog to work with you … you have to be in his mind. He can’t hear what you are saying if he’s not listening. So, how do we go about teaching a dog to listen to us better — “communication and trust”.
When first starting a pup if your guidance gives him better control of his sheep (which is everything his instincts are compelling him to do) he will learn to rely on and trust that guidance. If everything you do/say makes him lose his sheep that trust will quickly be eroded. With young dogs the last thing you want is a conflict between what you are making him do and what his instincts are driving him to do. A “well bred” dog will do everything he can to listen to instincts before you. Which is great because this is what we use to mold him into the working dog he will become.
You don’t want to force his attention on you … his attention should be with the sheep. However, this doesn’t mean you have nothing to say about HOW the sheep are to be treated. He needs to know that they are YOUR sheep and you are allowing him to work them. So, he works the sheep and you work him – by controlling the sheep. You are working on his mind so you become an indispensable part of his wondrous experience called “sheep work”.
In the beginning you are developing his awareness that you can help him. The more he connects sheep work to you – the more he listens and trusts you – the more control you will have when you start increasing his distance from you. A dog at 800 yards DOES have a choice to listen or not.
If you insist on total control by doing nothing but giving orders until he “gives up” you are not building communication … because no actual communication took place. You might have a dog that obeys – but If all you are teaching is how to make random moves (flank/lie down, walk-up, etc) without the sheep reacting to HIS movements … then you are not using “instinct building blocks” that are logical to the dog.
That of course doesn’t mean he won’t make mistakes only that when mistakes are made – he will get a correction that allows him to work his sheep more effectively. Try to remember this is about WORKING sheep not making a dog move left/right. Working sheep is learned (more by you than the dog … since he at least has instinct to go on :@) by making mistakes then realizing your actions have repercussions and learning from these mistakes (actually – doesn’t that summarize life :@).
Eventually training has to go against his instincts (i.e. off balance flanks, stopping when sheep are running away, etc.) BUT hopefully by that time you will have built that “working relationship” that he trusts you enough to go to the next level.
A lot of novices tend NOT to watch the sheep’s reactions. Sheep are not inanimate objects for dogs to “play” with. They will learn “tricks of the trade” – and depending on your dog these can be good “tricks” or not. If your dog buzzes them with every flank – they learn to go sideways (trying to avoid the “buzz”). If your dog never takes pressure off – they will never learn to settle when worked. If your dog doesn’t put enough pressure on and then too much – they will learn to not move until chased. The “list” goes on … all the while your dog is learning all these wrong approaches to working sheep “up close” – he can’t wait to get some distance from you so he can become more proficient at them.
I know it’s not easy for a novice to combine the two at the same time … but if you want correct dog work … it’s a the only way. You communicate to the dog the correct way to work sheep and the dog communicates to the sheep that they will be treated with respect if they move.
It’s a decision that eventually has to made by all of us if we run dogs long enough. Not something to look forward to but something to accept - no matter how much we try not to think about it or put it off. It’s part of the responsibility of working dogs.
Moss is 10 years old. It’s “hard” decision time – should I retire him or keep running him for a bit longer? I don’t want to give up running a dog that has won so many trials for me – and I don’t want to “cut his career” short. But again I don’t want to run him if he can’t do the job. He deserves all my respect and to make sure he retires with honor.
It’s just so difficult to “let go” of what we had … I say “had” because sometimes I’ve watched him trying to take a fast flank and not be able to react like the Moss I’ve handled for all these years. Then, of course, my timing is off because he can’t respond as quickly as he use to – tending to frustrate us both. Then “other times” he’s “dead on”. So, I go back and forth – trying to balance the “two sides”.
I’ve got some nice young ones coming up but we aren’t (yet) on the same wavelength that Moss and I were. The young ones are fun and exciting to run as you never know what they are going to do. I have two sons of his that I’m enjoying very much … and I’ve been known to say if I could combine them … I would have Moss all over again :@) However, that’s not the way to look at it. I need to alter the way I handle – not expect them to become Moss.
When you have been “connected” to a dog for a long time it’s hard to remember it wasn’t always “that way”. It took hours and hours of working together before we started working stock “as one”. So, I need to focus on the old adage “time and miles” instead of what I’m losing. It’s just so difficult to let go of something that was special and so very comfortable. Time to “step out: of my comfort zone” and try to bring the young ones up to Moss’ level. Not an easy task as he was/is a special one.
These dogs give so much that we need to acknowledge that they will keep “giving” even when they physically aren’t able to live up to our expectations. It’s up to us to watch and make sure we don’t demand more than their bodies can give because we all know their hearts never stop giving.
Most people understand the concept of physical pressure more than psychological pressure. It seems to be easier for students to see someone “correct” a dog physically (because they can actually see it happen) than psychologically (which has to be interpreted ).
But, I think the best corrections are psychological not physical. If you don’t learn how to affect his mind (not just make him mind) you will lose training techniques that a good (notice I said good) trainer can offer you. They may be subtle but they are extremely valuable in shaping your dogs.
A trainer can exert psychological pressure on a dog in a lot of ways. You influence your dogs attitude before you ever send the dog for sheep. If you are tense, stiff, distracted, upset, not focused … your intended or unintended body language can affect your entire run or work session. The tone or volume of voice, your “frame of mind” and many other subtle things are interpreted by these very intuitive dog – even if YOU aren’t aware of it.
The dogs nature has a lot to do with how he reacts or accepts psychological pressure. Some dogs are so “wired” they tend to react to any “stress factor” with excitement – while another “more sensitive” one might react by shutting down. A good trainer will 1) apply psychological (or physical) pressures, 2) observe the dogs reaction, and then 3) modify that pressure.
In the psychological context, observing how a dog interacts with the trainer is telling. Sometimes, what you see is a well-trained dog but no connection … just a dog doing what he is told. The dog may be obedient to commands but neither handler nor dog are exchanging information.
Where a good trainer wants the dog as a teammate. So, no matter the “nature” of the dog, if trained correctly, he will understand that you and he are working together towards a common goal. I do believe that most people interested in working dogs really want the opportunity to build a relationship with their dog.
Learn to observe the interaction between a dog and trainer (including yourself). A dog’s body language is so telling if you are willing to spend the time to learn … it will teach you what you are really SAYING to your dog (not just what you “meant” to say). For instance, a dog bending away whenever the handler moves can say … he’s afraid of the handler OR he’s ready to go to work. Look at his ears, his expression, his attitude NOT just what he is physically doing … but what he is thinking. You need to understand that although a response from two dogs physically looks the same … it can psychologically mean something totally different.
Is that a bit like Deja vu all over again :@)
A couple of years ago I started 2 pups that were as different as can be. They both had talent and proved that the training time spent … was well worth the effort. Since I seem to be “at it” again … I’ve been asked to update on the “new two”.
One is biddable to the point of being soft – the other so driven he has a hard time remembering I’m “in the picture”. The are both young (8 and 10 months) so at “this stage” … all I am doing is letting them learn how to work sheep properly. I don’t train “per se” (no flanks, get outs, take time, etc.). Just using the sheep to teach them balance, distance, pressure, etc.
We will start with the softer one – named Cade. A LOT of natural talent but will have to be brought along very slowly. He can’t handle pressure (for now) so I put very little on him. He doesn’t want to be wrong and when he is – he just stops. All the confidence drains out of him and if I demanded “simple obedience” … I would ruin a really nice dog.
So, for now what I’m working on giving him more drive. So, when he gets a correction (and they all need it at some point) I can help him work through it without taking it so personally.
I put sheep up against a fence and ssssss him to just barrel through and get them out. NOT because he’s hesitant to go (he has NO issues with being afraid of sheep) but because it hypes him up. I push sheep and say “watch-watch” letting him flank back and forth trying to keep them together. He has so much feel this puts the chase in him – which is “the trick” I’m using to make him want to keep going when I see his confidence starting to drop. I will get to the point where I give a correction then a sssss and he will be able to take it and “bounce back”.
He has plenty of line but also good flanks (great combo :@) Too early to decide on the outrun but “think” he may have to be pushed out a bit (but not until we have our “confidence builder” in place).
Click HERE for video: of Cade just starting to work
The other guy named – it seems appropriately enough – Arco … is driven to work. If I walk out the door he says “you ready” and then runs to the sheep.
In “some ways” he’s the opposite “side of the coin” of Cade because when he’s wrong instead of stopping or slowing – he speeds up. He also takes it personally (just has a totally different nature and response). He can get him self in a frenzy if I don’t keep him in check but “getting on him” to much – makes him “run through” corrections. He needs to learn to take a correction and not try to “outrun” it.
He has one issue that I will keep “my eye on” … he never turns his head away when he flanks. Usually that puts pressure on the sheep but he’s bending enough that the sheep are held but not pushed. I may have to correct that later but for now – it’s working for him (and I don’t argue with what’s working :@) However, I think the issue may arise when we start working on outruns.
Click HERE for a video of Arco just starting to work.
For now – both are a lot of fun to work … different dogs – different issues – different year and yet “all so familiar”. I seem to spend 1/2 my life as a cheerleader and the other 1/2 as a truancy officer :@)
I’ve heard the word and used it for years and thought I had it “figured out” in my mind as to what it meant.
UNTIL, An incident gave me a totally different perspective on the concept.
I’ve sold a lot of dogs and they are always happy to see me again (even after years). Even the ones that I didn’t have long – if I’ve worked them they remember me.
Well, I ran into a dog I sold and went up to say hello and got no response. Which surprised me (I think shocked would have been a better term since I had him from a pup and raised and trained him). He was running around sniffing (just being a dog :@) when I walked up to him. He was polite and said “hi” like I was a person (not someone he knew) but went right back to what he was doing. This happened a couple of times … so I reached down got his collar … said his name and he looked up at me and then “the bell went off” and he fully recognized me and got very excited (to the point of trying to jump on me … which he had never done :@).
This got me thinking and gave me a little insight into his “thought process”. He was never a hard dog … he could take being wrong and handled correction very well … going right back to work without a grudge. He learned things quickly and easily and wasn’t hard to handle – but he wanted to work sheep more than anything in the world. He is an extremely talented dog but I would have never called him extremely biddable.
However, He DID want to work with you (which is one of the components of being biddable) but sometimes he just couldn’t “hear” what you were saying. I chalked some of it up to youth but most of it to him being so driven to work.
This particular incident (him being so focused something that he didn’t “tune in” what was going on around him) got me reflecting about the “word” biddable. Now, I wonder if being biddable means being able to multi-task. Not that they just want to work with you but they are capable of working and listening at the same time. Are some dogs we call NOT biddable just not able to combine those two things together all the time?
I know people who get so involved into what they are doing … you can walk into a room and talk to them and they never hear you. They aren’t ignoring you – they literally don’t hear you. They can only do “one thing at a time”. Other people can be totally focused and yet still know what is going on around them (sort of keeping things in the back of their mind without really paying attention unless it seems to be a “life and death” situation).
I know sometimes the adrenaline takes over and dogs can’t hear anything (and forget you are even in the equation) so are those type really biddable — until adrenaline overruns the thought process? Are there others that even if they are “calm” (not running on adrenaline) if the sheep are demanding a lot out of them they can’t “hear” your input. Why are some dogs “biddable” until they get to a certain distance (perhaps can’t hear you – if they can’t “feel” your presence?)
I do realize there are dogs that are just plain hard-headed and really don’t care what you want but those aren’t the type I was thinking of. I’m more interested in the ones that have so much ability and how to go about “drawing” that out of them … it is possible they can learn to multi-task or is that an inherited trait.
I enjoy trying to get into a dogs mind and anything that gets me “re-thinking” concepts I thought I understood — is a good thing “in my book” :@)
Let’s “throw in” heart also.
The never-ending discussion. What is power … is it different from courage? Push? What is presence? Does it take courage to have presence.
I wrote an article 20 some years ago about power but I still can’t answer the question. I do know – I’ve had one dog (out of hundreds and hundreds) that had all the above. One, out of all those dogs (of my own and in for training), that I could say “without a doubt” had power, push, presence and courage (along with a ton of heart). I’ve had some that had power and push but no heart. I had one that was all heart with a ton of courage but not enough push. They all taught me something about training because I was willing to “listen” and learn instead of judge and condemn (if I thought they were hopeless – I sent them home).
One of the most important things I have learned through the years is to look at the whole package. We tend to make comments when dog is running but the true JUDGE of a dog will be the sheep. If sheep like a dog then does our opinion really matter? We can say we like certain things in a dog that we train/buy/run but the sheep will have the final say. When I watch a dog run I endeavor to appreciate what they have to offer – even if it’s not my kind of dog.
One qualification I find essential is courage … I do not like dogs that run away from sheep (makes it difficult to get a job done when the dog is going in the wrong direction). However, I’ve seen sheep (some not all) melt off a weak dog and fight a strong one. So, it’s more than courage or power the sheep are reacting to. Maybe the strong dog has to much eye … so the sheep never feel comfortable enough to move? Sometimes a weak dog isn’t a threat and that’s what those sheep need to move. So, again it all adds up to “the whole package”.
I also like push which “usually” means looser eyed – but then just to contradict myself I also like a dog with feel. Finding that perfect balance of push with feel keeps me busy. Some sheep like feel more than push and “my type” of dog won’t suit them. However, I find it more comfortable (for me) to handle the push “out of a dog” than to put it in when needed.
Some people like to use the “stop and drift” method of working dogs – others “stop and go” and others “flank and go” – I prefer “flow and go”. It doesn’t matter which method you like as long as you, the dog and the sheep are all “on the same page”. I think issues occur when people buy dogs that don’t fit their “methods” and then get upset with the dog.
I find trialing an exceedingly complicated sport. I also find it astonishing at the number of people who seem think it’s only a matter of making a dog go “left/right/lie down/get up”. In my opinion that’s a bit like saying professional dancing is all about picking your feet up :@).
So, my advice to novices wanting to get into this sport — watch handlers and their dogs. Find the one that you think will suit you and ask about their dogs. If you just buy what’s the “hot” breeding at the moment – it might not suit you. Ask yourself questions: Are you capable and/or do you like giving a lot of commands fast? Or would you prefer slow and methodical? Do you like having a lot of control? Or do you like a dog that will take care of you. Watch runs/dogs/handlers and then decide which method will suit you personally. It will help you find a dog (or trainer) that will suit you and your handling style.
This is why I don’t judge trials … math and I are mortal enemies. OK, I can add but I sure wouldn’t be considered a linear or left brain person. However, one of the advantages of being mostly right-brained is you tend to be creative. I’ve found this comes in extremely handy for training dogs because it allows me to remain untethered in my thought process. I think it’s this “thought process” that makes me willing to try a lot of different techniques to solve a problem.
If you try to make training linear or just “black and white” without altering your training to fit the dog – it will limit the variety of dogs you can train. You can have two dogs with the same issue … one dog might need encouragement while another would need a firm hand. One of the best things I’ve learned through the years is to be flexible with a little patience thrown in.
All this is getting around to an update on the two 1/2 brother pups (that really aren’t pups anymore) I’m training.
Gear (just turned 2 in July):
Was/is “fast off the blocks”. Gear started running in nursery young and has won and placed on both hair sheep and range ewes. He’s a sharp, quick learner that was a pleasure to train. It was all about standing out-of-the-way and let him develop. He had all the right moves and tons of drive. His only fault is lack of push (and that’s more because of the way I like to run dogs). We have worked on that more for my comfort than his. He’s now shedding, sorting, and working on look-backs all without a lot of pressure from me.
Basically his training was all about “unwrapping a mind”.
However, it doesn’t mean everything went perfect. He had issues if he couldn’t “give” on an outrun he would stop (usually when a fence stopped him from “kicking out”). I had to walk out (over and over again) to encourage him to keep going even if a fence was “restricting” him from releasing pressure on the sheep. This was done to give him confidence – he didn’t need a correction – he needed information on how to accomplish what I had told him to do with what his instincts were telling him (a major conflict in his mind). This dog tries so very hard to be right that “getting on him” would have done nothing except “beat him down”.
Tech (will turn 2 in Sept):
He has hardly been “off the ranch” and sure hasn’t run in any trials. He is harder to train – not that he doesn’t have a ton of talent … but training was more teaching him how to listen so he could learn. I spent a lot of time trying to mold him into what I wanted. He’s not really hard-headed but he’s more inclined to get so involved with what he’s doing he tends to forget to listen.
Flanks are to him what math is to me “a un-comprehensible concept”. He’s just now understanding that “those” words being spoken to him actually have meaning. He’s still not set on his flanks but he’s beginning to understand that I’m asking him to change the sheeps direction. His original view of an outrun was “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line” - is now starting to shape and he’s giving room on his own.
Now, if I wasn’t flexible or I kept comparing him to Gear – we would have had major training issues. He has really good points – he’s ALL forward (which suits me) – he’s looser eyed (which I also tend to like). He has great feel on sheep (blended in with a bit of “chase”). The thing I’m trying to get across is “he’s NOT Gear” and that’s JUST fine! He is just going to take time to train up but he’s well worth the effort and time.
Basically his training was all about “shaping his mind”.
Talent is talent — it just comes in many different forms.
A friend and I decided we would try and “beat” the summer heat – headed north for a few trials. I’ve been to so few this year with Moss being “off/on sound” that I thought I would give him a go to see if he was ready to “rock and roll” again. We were gone for 12 days and thoroughly enjoyed our “summer vacation”. BUT we sure didn’t “beat the heat” we seemed to have taken it with us.
First trial we “hit” (only 13 hours from home :@) was Geri Byrne’s. She has been putting on trials all summer in order to make money for the Finals. No one has to worry about how well the Finals will go as Geri is as organized as ever. She also has a great group of “EverReady bunnies” that work tirelessly to keep everything going. Quick, even set out by John and Connie Fontaine (with great help from Lana’s son James :@), long days of judging by Mike Hubbard (Sat) and Lana Rowley (Sun).
The sheep were placed in rocks at the top of the field and it was intriguing how many dogs had trouble spotting/finding them. Many good outrunning dogs had issues. The field was a hill with green that faded to brown toward the top – which I think also added to the dogs confusion. Once found the sheep seemed like “ping-pong balls” – and were hard to get to “line”. Bouncing from “side to side” seemed to be the only way they knew how to move. Challenging at the pen the first day and the shed the second (guess they figured they better switch it up to keep us on our toes :@)
Then on to the next trial that spell check never recognized:@) It was in Oregon around Roseberg and called Umpqua Valley! No matter what it was called … it was a great trial. Held at Deborah Millsap farm and what a gorgeous farm it was! Well organized and extremely well run. Including a beautiful 400 yard outrun, great, challenging but tough sheep.
The only real issue was the heat. The local news kept reporting this was the first time in 700+ days that it would hit 100 degrees (trying to “cheer us up”? :@) Deb kept apologizing for the weather (as if she caused it :@). She and her crew re-doubled their efforts to made sure there was water everywhere for the dogs (they not only made sure the sheep had shade but gave them a mister). They had a sprayer at one tub so you could spray the dogs before you ran (seemed the handlers used it as much as the dogs :@)
Derek Fisher (our illustrious judge with shorts on trying to stay cool :@) announced at the handlers meeting that allowing the dogs to go to water would not be docked (but time/sheep lost would be). I think everyone’s concern for the dogs (and livestock) was very much appreciated.
With “western” ewes a pup needs to learn to push on. With these “type” of sheep “slow + eye” tends to draw the sheep back on the dog – turning fetches and drives into lifts every 10 feet. So, a young dog needs to learn to put pressure on and keep that steady pressure around the entire field. However, just to make it more challenging these same ewes will split and run if too much pressure is put on them. Hard for “young ones” to “walk that line”. Personally, I would rather have too much push than not enough. That’s just what suits me – not right or wrong … just fits me and my handling.
So, Gear and I have been working a lot on his push … then off to his first trial on range ewes. I expected nothing except the enjoyment of running him and watching how he handled things. He had never been on range ewes, never been on hills and never run at a trial. Nothing like picking Zamora for a debut. However, he was ready. I thought about “On the Border” trial in January but felt he would have been in “over his head”. I don’t/won’t push them just for a trial. Training is suppose to be about developing an open caliber dog – not how many ribbons they won when they were young.
Well, I can “report” working on pushing has been successful – so successful “in fact” we pushed range ewes all over the field. Never saw a line all weekend :@) I couldn’t have been happier. He took flanks, re-directs, and stops. He faced up to stomping ewes at the pen and didn’t flinch (even penned them one day and pens were hard to come by). Really happy about his redirect on the outrun as not only did he have to stop .. he had to bend out and climb a VERY steep hill to be correct … and did it all without hesitation.
Then off to “Hoof and Paw” trial the next weekend without time for practice “in-between”. He was a tad pushy on the first run (I had entered to run 4 times) and by the 2nd run … he lined them out and hit every panel. The same on the 3rd run – perfect pace, distance and with JUST enough push. So, I cancelled his 4th run … he had been “perfect” long enough. Back home to work on “un-perfect” push again :@). I don’t want those “edges” ground down too much at such a young age. Time will grind some of them off … so I don’t need to keep him that careful and precise just to do well at trials. He needs to understand, there is a time to use finesse and other times he needs to “get his game on”, and he will – IF I don’t keep him “ground down” to trial perfection every time I work him.
The thing I valued the most was how he figured things out and tried not to make the same mistake twice. On one of his runs when I gave a fast flank to turn the sheep after they made the drive away panel … he took it but went inside the panel upsetting his sheep. Second time he took the flank with much more thought … flanking quickly without putting pressure on the sheep. You can’t train that into a dog – but you sure can appreciate it.
Still trying to get a video done of Tech. He’s not anywhere near to trialing and it doesn’t bother me in the least. I figure next year will be his “time” and I’m in no rush to push him when he’s not ready. It’s not that he doesn’t have the want/drive (if anything he has too much of that :@). He isn’t set on flanks (he’s the one that thinks straight makes for an easier path) and not feeling forward pressure on his sheep well enough.
Here is a video that Carolyn (that owns Gear’s dam) took at “Hoof and Paw” trial.
A “quick update” …. well, sort of quick as it took a couple of hours to get the video “sorted” and uploaded. Then, I had to break it down into two parts (our internet speed is -0 :@). I tried to keep everything close up – so I could keep both dog and sheep in the frame but “as you will see” … I didn’t succeed (guess I better not quit my day job :@).
If you watch you can see how when the sheep stop he doesn’t keep walking (on the cross drive). Sometimes I have to flank him away from the eye to get him going again. As much as he likes to control sheep he’s so biddable he’s willing to release pressure when asked (always a good thing). He’s still not “pushing on” like I want but he’s always trying. He doesn’t have this issue on the fetch so I think age will improve it.
I will try and get a video of Tech to show the difference between him and Gear (this is what most people wanted to see). He is all forward and less “catch eye” than Gear. He controls his sheep as well but always with a forward motion.
Gear is 1 1/2 (Tech is a couple of months younger).
Repetition vs Concept
Through research teachers discovered that students have different “learning styles” (visual, auditory or touch).
I think one of the things that will make you a good trainer is understanding that dogs are not dissimilar. So, keep in mind it’s not only some learn quicker than others but also they need different methods in order to learn. Adjusting your training to HOW a dog learns will help you get the best out of him.
Some need structure and repetition to achieve their full potential. Often these dogs have a little too much chase or not enough eye to hold them off their sheep. Repetition creates a pattern which will allow them to develop a working method.
For instance: they may have talent but might not a “built it - guidance system” that tells them how far they need to be off their sheep to accomplish what you two are working on. This doesn’t mean they won’t mature into a good dog – but at this juncture of their training a “piece” is missing and it’s your job to develop whats lacking. It’s possible “the piece” is in there – but the dog doesn’t understand how to utilize it. With some dogs tension gets in the way of potential … so your job is to calm the dog down enough to allow him to focus. Maybe its a “very forward” dog that needs to “tone it down” … or a dog that doesn’t have pace and you need to repeat something enough times until he realizes his life will be easier if he will just do it your way. No matter what the reason it’s a matter of consistently repeating the command MAKING sure he does it correctly EVERY time until its “set in stone”. This allows the dog to work his stock in the best way possible for him.
A different dog may need to grasp the concept of “the job” to be able to move forward. They might be hesitant to try something because they truly don’t understand what you are trying to accomplish or where they “fit” into that picture. Often it’s the ones that are trying to control the stock from a distance that need be taught the concept (example: pushing harder on their sheep) before they become proficient at the task. So repetition will NOT work for this type … because just repeating a pattern does not let him grasp the reason behind the action. It’s your job to come up with a way to communicate the reason you need it done a certain way. These dogs will learn a LOT about “the work” from the sheep … IF you have the correct sheep (meaning NOT dog broke sheep that run to you just because a dog moves).
So, novice trainers what ever his “learning style” its your job as a trainer to read each dog and explore how to bring out the best in them. I personally think that’s a lot of the enjoyment of training these dogs … makes you keep your “thinking cap” on.
Lately I seem to be reading more comments from people who think a “ranch dog” is better than a “trial dog”. Or a trial dog can’t do the job a ranch dog can.
When asked … I always answer with yes, no or maybe.
I’ve heard and seen people brag how good their ranch dog is and those trial dogs could never “get er’ done”. All the while … their dog is doing nothing except harassing the stock .. and they think that’s a dog working “naturally” while those “trial dogs” have to be told every step to take.
I don’t disagree some dogs are started and trained on nothing but 3 sheep and total precision. They are never left to think, act, or work on their own. They become “little machines” with perfect obedience but can only work in “trial program” mode. I’ve personally seen “those type” win a trial and then couldn’t exhaust their own sheep … because THAT wasn’t programmed into the dog (or the person apparently :@). Do I think that would make a good ranch dog – no. BUT, I also don’t think that makes the best trial dog either. It might look good as long as the sheep are cooperative but if sheep decide to bolt back to the set-out at 600 yards – “more than likely” that dog would never be able handle it. Those “type” of dogs usually don’t do well with big trials and “double lifts” either.
If you start training a pup for perfection instead of trying to “carve” a rough draft of the end “product” … what you end up with will be so thin and weak it can be easily broken. So, let a young dog BE a young dog — don’t try to start with finesse. However, it’s just as important you don’t let him “run amok”. If you train for nothing but all fast action and brute force you will have a hard time putting the finesse in later on. Sometimes novices seem to believe if a dog is hard running, chasing and biting the stock – that must mean the dog has power … usually its just the opposite.
A rough draft does not mean chase livestock with tail flying in the air. It means working stock with more push than what you need for trial circumstances but with calm purpose. It does not mean “anything goes”. Neither people nor dogs process information or learn anything when their brain is in a frenzy.
A lot of people confuse a handler giving information to a dog (whistles to a dog) to making a mechanical robot. It’s NOT the same thing … giving information (verbal or whistles) is NOT necessarily making a dog “just” obey. Remember Information is power and it doesn’t necessarily mean you are trying to control his every move. Example: If you give a redirect on an outrun … you are giving the dog information that will make his life (and the sheep’s) easier. A cross over starts a dog in the wrong frame of mind and usually upsets the sheep. So, that “one redirect whistle” gave information that solved a lot of issues before they ever came up — for a ranch dog OR a trial dog. Sheep on a ranch don’t like to be “buzzed” by a dog tight on his outrun anymore than a trial sheep do. Might not bother them as much because they are so dog broke (or use to that particular dog but it IS still is unsettling).
Some novices also seem to be just as confused about pressure. They seem to think pressure/correction is all negative and thats not how they want to train their dog. Pressure (when done right) is nothing more than information.
However …. A dog needs to FEEL he can control the pressure … if he feels he has no say in the matter he will either give up or blow through it. He needs to know when he’s RIGHT pressure is OFF … when he’s WRONG pressure is ON. He learns that he is in control of that pressure by giving in to it.
The same can be said for information — it can be used to make you two a better team or used to control the dogs every step. It all depends on how you decide to use it.
I’ve always said it’s much easier to find a good ranch dog than it is a good trial dog – but there is no reason you can’t do both with the same dog if train correctly. It’s just easier to train for ranch work than it is trial work (basics are the same but you don’t need all the “bells and whistles”). Good top class trial dogs are not easily “come by” but I bet 90% make great ranch/farm dogs — BUT I sure don’t think it goes “the other way”.
I was going to update the pups with a video instead of writing about them. A number of people emailed and asked if they could visually see the difference between them … and I have trying for the last 2 weeks. It’s difficult enough to video the trained ones while trying to work them – but pups – make for “seasick” videos :@). Still working on it.
They are both progressing well and still very enjoyable because they allow me to work on different issues – which keeps my mind busy trying to figure out how to best let each dog grow and learn. It can get “stale” if you are working on the same thing day after day.
Gear is now in “testing” mode – which is a good thing. He’s the one that worries about being wrong so much he can be hesitant in his work. He’s now needing stronger corrections and starting to push back – and I like that. Resistance is good (not “futile” as the Borg say … for those Star Trek fans that speak Trekkie :@)
We are still working on his “push” on the drive. That’s his “hole” and he’s not sure how to “fill it” yet every once in a while he forgets to be cautious and just takes hold of them forges on … and I stand back *with a smile on my face* and let him. I am working on a “get up” (both verbal and whistle) command and that means “fast forward” … encouraging him to have more FORWARD … even if that means occasionally running through the middle of them. Later on I can refine this down to just a speed up command.
That’s one of the keys in training. Learn to put a “rough draft” on a movement or action you want FIRST then later on refine it down. Don’t try to start with the refine move and “rough it up” later. I believe pups need to be pups NOT perfect young dogs.
At one point we had an issue with his come-bye outrun. I have an area (depending on where you stand) that on the “come-bye” side the dog has to follow a fence and then take a hard 45 degree angle to his left to have a correct outrun. He is such a natural outrunner that would confuse him. He would run out trying to be correct and hit a fence and stop. So, I would walk out and encourage him on. Amazing what confuses them sometimes. I’ve had some that would cut in if there was a shadow on the ground.
Tech is going to be slower … not that he doesn’t have talent. Just his talent comes in a “different form” than Gear. Kind of having one kid that slowly plods along but each step he takes he is learning something – where another one shines from the very start. I’ve always said not how they start but how they finish that counts.
All this means is he will need to develop at a slower pace. He will have to learn how to outrun correctly before I can send him any distance which means walking for me .. “over and over” to make sure his “top” is correct … and that takes more time. He needs to learn how to bend off on a flank without leaning on his sheep … once again time. He wants to move sheep in a straight line (great for the drive) but when I need to change directions … straight doesn’t “cut it”.
He had an issue about pulling them off the fence if I wasn’t between him (again back to his straight line “theory”). So, we set it up … over and over again. I would use as little instruction as possible (but still try to keep him right). What I was “aiming for” – was for him to figure it out on his own. He ran through the middle, he stopped and held them up against the fence and did a few dozen other things wrong … but he WAS learning with each correction I gave him. He received a correction when he was wrong but then allowed to “motor on”. I was trying to develop an understanding of not only sheep and pressure but where I was (and keep me in the back of his mind). You give enough pressure/correction to let them know WHAT is wrong but enough freedom to let them learn as they go.
Some train up easy … some are more difficult but I think that is one of the things that makes training so thought provoking. Trying to “find clues” as to what works with each dog to bring out the best in them. I will keep working on and getting a video (that’s actually watchable) to show the difference in them.
I’m working two young dogs
and even though they are half-brothers — They couldn’t be more different if they tried. Both are talented and totally enjoyable to work but so very different – in personality and working style. I have to remind myself to change my method and attitude with each of them. If I tried to work them both the same – neither would progress as they should.
One is a big, long legged, easy going male. He tends to be independent with a mind of his own. When we go to the sheep he’s always trying to get to them before I send him. When called off he runs a distance and turns trying to get back to the sheep. But, at the same time he can be soft with a touch of “quit” about him if corrections get tough. A bit of a dichotomy to “blend” those two “issues” together when it comes to training.
He is all forward with very little flank about him. He will take 50 sheep and just drive them straight without flanking. He has so much forward he can split his sheep if not slowed down. However, he has enough feel that he will “rock back” if the sheep do split as he does have a desire to keep sheep together. He doesn’t have a lot of eye or pace … so I will have to work on “holding him back” trying to “install” pace. I won’t have a worry about him not pushing through “the bubble”.
I do love his forward but need to start putting some “sideways” in him. So flanks will be the number one thing I will work on with him. Driving and pushing will come naturally to him.
However, I will intermingle the things he’s good at (forward) with the things he’s not (flanks) making sure I keep his attitude right while I work on those “clean flanks”. I need to keep him happy and motivated and give him a reason to flank not just make him run in circles.
The second one is small, quick, sharp and reactive. He is extremely biddable and tries everything he can stay out of trouble. He simply does not like to be wrong. When we walk to the sheep he stays close to me waiting for me to send him. When called off he doesn’t run off but stays close to me. He can be sensitive and submissive to correction but luckily he needs very little being such a good listener. An easier combination to work with than the other pup.
He has great flanks, outruns and uncanny feel for sheep. He has plenty of pace and decent push on the fetch. However, he is lacking that forward on the drive. Some of that is lacking confidence “in the task” but some is his “bubble distance” – he doesn’t like to push through. When he actually pushes past this comfort zone … the tension comes out. So, instead of pushing on steadily he tends to do it in “spurts”. He’s a bit “wound” like a rubber band too tight that breaks and shoots forward.
So, I will put sheep up against the fence and teach him to keep walking closer and closer to his sheep … helping him to stay relaxed and calm while he pushing through his bubble.
I’m going to have to watch myself with him as he is one that excels at “guiding” sheep from a lot further back than I am comfortable with. So, I need to adjust my comfort zone to fit him not the other way around. If I try to MAKE him push on when he truly doesn’t NEED to – I will be taking away one of his most valuable assets. However, he will need to learn “push” as well as “feel” – so I need to “slip” in more forward without losing his distance feel.
The best thing about these pups is they are both very enjoyable to train. This makes you go out of your way to find time for them. It’s harder to train when you don’t enjoy the “clay” you have to work with.
No not like the nuns wear — although those are black and white :@)
Most of my students seem to understand the concept that every dog is different but most don’t seem to correlate (even after acknowledging the differences in their dogs) they need to learn to incorporate solutions that include the dog, the problem, the handler, the sheep and the response given to all the above.
So, just what does that mean for you and your dog? Simply … you need to acquire the ability to "stand back" and REALLY see/hear what you are doing and how your dog is responding. If you and your dogs problem keeps recurring … then maybe you have created a habit that needs to be broken.
I’ve read that out of an estimated 11,000 signals we receive from our senses, our brain only consciously processes 40. The rest are accomplished without actually thinking about it or in "other words" … a lot of actions have developed into a habit. A habit is any action that we have performed so often that it becomes almost an involuntary response. So, if you having "issues" you need to learn to be aware of your actions – so it ceases to be an involuntary act. This will allow you to make a choice instead of just responding every time you perform this action.
Example: at "one point" in my training I was having an issue with dogs not stopping with my down whistle so I started to pay attention to the interaction between myself, my dog and my whistling. The conclusion: I was whistling … dog wasn’t responding … so I verbally said lie down. Thereby teaching my dog the whistle was a warning … but not a command. It was a habit I had adopted from training young dogs before they knew what a whistle was. However, after I had the habit it wasn’t long before all my dogs had acquired MY bad habit. They waited until they heard "the word" and weren’t responding to the whistle. So, I stopped using the verbal and started walking out to correct them with just the whistle. It had become such a habit I wasn’t even aware of it until I made myself … take a step back and observe myself objectively.
If you are having "issues" try to find out if it’s something that has become a habit. I’ve seen students say "lie down" (same tone) 3 times and then (and only then) start walking toward the dog YELLING "lie down" and for some "unknown" reason only "then" the dog downs. The dog understands he really doesn’t have to lie down until they yell … then they wonder why the training session always ends in yelling.
You need to stop, step back and pay attention to you and your dogs interactions. This is what lessons/clinics are good for – someone that’s not emotionally involved can help you figure out the WHY … this hopefully will allow you to get to a solution. Why the dog is reacting as he is … is first on the agenda and once that is solved — then you can work on finding the "ammunition" you need to fix the problem.
BUT how they finish that counts.
I’ve always worried about pups that start out doing every thing with “precision” – my concern “stems” from if they are “this good” at a year – will there be enough “engine” by the time they are 4? I’ve seen a lot of really good young ones that started with a bang and ended with a whimper. Through the years I’ve had very few pups start out ”perfect” that went on to finish into a great Open dog. Usually the pups that look like a “trained” dog when first started don’t have enough push to be competitive in open (before you panic if you have a really nice starter … I did say “usually” … nothing is carved in stone).
NOW after saying that … dang it’s sure fun to work them when they start out so well. To see smooth natural flanks is so refreshing if you have been fighting to push dogs out. To see them “kick out” on an outrun instead of you having to correct them to get them right is wonderful to watch. To see a young dog show so much feel, pace and flow makes working them pure pleasure.
So what can you do to overcome the dreaded curse of the “perfect starter”?
First thoughts in the equation of the “when is good too good” … is just how much training pressure is put on them. JUST because they are capable of doing an advanced agenda - doesn’t mean they are really ready to be pushed for “trial training”. So, “one solution” don’t make them do it perfectly all the time. Stir it up. Teach them that pace is great but some sheep need push. Teach them that slow and methodical is wonderful but not always practical. If every work session is quiet, slow, smooth … how will he ever learn that some sheep will stand and graze if he’s that “polite” to them. He needs to learn there are different methods to work sheep. He can learn to have pace AND push at the same time … but if all you do is make him pace … he will find “his bubble” too far off for sheep that don’t just “move off” dogs.
Also, mix up the “type” of sheep along with the way he works them … making sure you don’t put them in over their heads (i.e. don’t put them on a ram just to see if they have enough power!)
This can go for older dogs also. If you crank them down every day making every move they take perfect … it takes the joy out of working. So balance “rough work” with “finesse work” to get the best out of your dogs. Work light sheep – heavy sheep – a few sheep – a flock of sheep, etc. to keep dogs fresh in their work. If you do “course work” on the same 5 sheep day after day … you will both get stale and be in for a big surprise when you get “trial sheep” that don’t just “go through the motions”.
Learn to ascertain if your young “protege” is emotionally mature enough to take what you are “dishing out”. Savor and enjoy the “easy” training but make sure you always keep in the back of your mind you’re developing a complete working dog. So, STAY focused — the “end game” is a good open dog not a great nursery dog. If you are willing to work on it you can have both.
There are a numerous issues that come up regularly through out the years of giving lessons – I will focus on a couple I’ve been running into lately.
The first is trying to make Novices understand training occurs even if they aren’t working sheep. For some reason they think that *training* only applies when they are *on* stock never realizing that habits are being formed (good and bad) before you take them to stock.
I’ve gotten dogs in for training that were allowed to work stock “in their mind” thereby making it impossible to get them to connect to me and work at the same time. Dogs can and will work sheep (mentally) even if they aren’t “physically moving” them. So, lying and staring at sheep for hours on end can and will cause issues “down the road”.
I’ve had some that were allowed to work stock (on their own) and then when the owner walked out they were corrected for working. So, the “association” they have with work — it’s only permitted when a person is NOT involved. Then they send it to a trainer expecting “a miracle”.
I’ve had dogs come in for training … that worked stock from the other side of the fence and when “taken” to sheep would only run back and forth … never casting around sheep. Their first exposure and experience of work was running crazily without thought in a straight line – not useful for moving livestock.
True, these are extremes but the “thought process” is the same even if it’s a “minor” thing like not coming the first time he’s called. If he won’t come when there isn’t a distraction as strong as sheep … what will he do when he’s in full “work mode”?
So, Novices need to adjust their thought process to understand that even if they aren’t “on” stock it is still considered “training” even if they choose not to acknowledge it.
Another issue is understanding good training means the handler adjusting themselves to “fit” the dog not the other way around. If you can’t be flexable you will only be able to train one *type* of dog. This seems to be something some of my students have difficulty understanding.
A couple of examples:
I have a dog that’s just starting to drive and isn’t confident about just taking them and going. However, every once in awhile when I call him off and walk away he will turn back and start driving them. If he was chasing or just flanking around to bring them I would “get after him”. What he is doing is exactly what we were working on … calmly driving on. So, instead of getting upset – I just allow it. Now, with other dogs I’ve trained I would never allow such a thing – because most of them would be the type that if you give them “an inch they take a mile” so it wouldn’t work. However, this dog is VERY biddable and needs very little correction. So, I know it will be much easier to put a “that’ll do” on later than it would be to try to instill the confidence and enjoyment of driving - if I take anything out of him at this stage of training.
Another dog I’m training I had to totally adjust my usual “routine”. I give my dogs a lot of freedom to just “be dogs”. I’m not one of those that makes them walk behind me or not allow them to be the first ones through a gate. However, this dog needed a lot stronger control than any I had trained before. So, I worked on my control “off stock” a lot harder than I normally do. I made him lay down in the crate and wait while I let all the other dogs out (VERY hard for him to do). I made him *heel* follow when I was out in the yard (while the other dogs were running around). I tied him out next to me while I gave lessons and MADE him remain calm (that was almost impossible for him at the start). I was working on his mind through his body … making him remain calm no matter what was going on around him.
Two totally different dogs requiring two opposite attitudes in training … with one … I let things *slide* and the other I don’t *give an inch*. By being flexible I try and *draw* out the best of each dog.
All the while I’m training I’m trying to incorporate the dog’s ability to control himself instead of leaning on me as the only controlling force. To me this is starting point for “teamwork”. These dogs have exceptional abilities so I always try to “harvest” each and every aspect of it. Of course, some have more talent than others and you do have to work with what you have. BUT, if you don’t try to develop his potential to interact with you – you will end up with less than a partner.
Never forget that self-control is a two-way street. You can’t be succesful at bringing out the best in a dog if you aren’t in control of yourself. This includes, mentally, physically and emotionally. You have to remain calm and give your corrections without infusing anger. Hard to accomplish sometimes but if you aren’t in control – how can you expect your dog to be? Here lies a “paradox ” — a lot of people training dogs are “high drive” – “type A” personalities and tend to be emotionally committed to perfection. This, of course, makes it difficult to allow a dog to “learn from his mistakes” instead of just “controlling every situation”. Even trainers that aren’t “type A” have a lot of emotional involvement and intensity of commitment which tends to make them emotionally over react. Dogs respond to emotion – so the “ball is in your court”.
With some dogs I find it very easy to stay in the calm-training-zone but then there are others that send me into “overdrive” :@) Then to compound that … once started it usually does nothing but ”ramp up” (which is exactly the opposite of what Is needed). I have tried every “trick of the trade” to stay cool-minded with the ones that set me off emotionally and it’s still not easy. I usually just lie them down and let us both cool off. I want the dog to know although I’m leading the dance I want a dance partner (and don’t want to be “fighting” him every step). This partnership will never happen if I spend all my time being frustrated, angry or upset with every thing he does. I try to look at training problems as opportunities to be explored – helps keep me in the right frame of mind. You know the old adage it’s not the destination but the journey.
A truly effective trainer must be emotionally committed to getting the job done correctly and will do “what ever is needed” to accomplish it. However, you need to acquire the ability to discipline yourself so your emotions don’t force the dog into something he is physically and mentally unable to master at that particular time. Look at it as a great way to teach yourself patience. Try to take everything one step at a time and then build on each step. Always remember if needed you can freely step backwards and start over without any harm being done in your training. Sometimes it’s the best solution for both of you.
I’ve always thought that good training was “Pretzel Logic” in that working dogs is such a physical act but in reality it’s amazing just how much mental and emotional energy is expended if it’s done correctly.
It’s “that” time of year where I spend more time mowing fields than actually working dogs. In some way it’s good as it gives the dogs a physical break and gives me some “mental time” working out issues I’m having with them. Although often I wonder if I “over think” things but to me figuring out the puzzle is 1/2 the fun of training. I’ve never been a “black and white” trainer and the “why” has always been a good mental exercise to get me “in the game”.
One dog I’m working is having occasional gripping issues. So, I’ve been trying to sort out what is happening prior to his gripping since I can’t fix the “what” without the “why”. Some trainers would just say “keep him out of the gripping zone” because if he’s not close he can’t grip — no argument there — but it’s more enjoyable to me to try and work through it. Takes longer and sometimes it doesn’t “fix” the problem. However, I enjoy the challenge of trying to figure out his thought process and correct it instead of just trying to keep it “controlled”.
Here are some of the things I’ve contemplated:@)
Is he just gripping on the fetch, the drive, the shed or just anywhere on the field?
Is it just at a certain distance – and if so is it because he can’t hear me or does he just get so “zoned” in on the sheep he forgets me?
Are my whistles too sharp, not clear and he’s not understanding them?
Is it when he gets to many commands in a row that he can’t mentally take all that “input”?
Is it when he feels he’s loosing control of his sheep?
Is it on heavy sheep, light sheep, running sheep – or ALL sheep.
Is it on both sides or just one direction?
Is it when he’s fresh and raring to go or when he gets tired and stops listening … or can’t hear because of pressure “overload”?
What is the correlation between the physical movement and the grip. What is he doing (thinking) that is causing him to react instead of think.
A lot of this particular dogs issue is tension which worsens by getting close to his sheep. When flanking he takes a couple of good flanks and then just reacts instead of flanking. This reaction causes a “slicey flank” and he finds himself in the middle of sheep and grips. So, yes, I could just lie him down before I flank him. However, since I’m trying to fix it (not control it) …. I SET IT UP to happen. I put him in close contact with his sheep and teach him how to move them without the panic, tension and fly by flanks. Most of his issues are in one direction and (on that flank) he’s either too wide or tight. So, I work up close with flank, stand, flank making sure he’s the correct distance, thinking calmly and with purpose. When he “looses it” and grips … he gets a CALM correction (me getting hyped isn’t going to help him flank calmly and thoughtfully).
Along the “same line” – I had a friend email me about downing her dogs. Her dogs work on their feet and she’s was trying to decide if she should push the issue and make them just “lie down”. My thoughts were to take in to consideration all the factors (instead of saying YES down the dog no matter what). Is her dog cheating on the stand? Is she saying down when she REALLY doesn’t mean it (and saying it in the same TONE as when she really needs a “panic” down?).
Is she using the down as a crutch so the dog is learning to lean on it? So, in my (always analyzing - never still) mind … she needs to sort what she WANTS from a down. What is she trying to communicate with her down “word” and what is the dog actually “hearing”. Her communication might be “fuzzy” and the dog truly doesn’t understand. Or, it could be the dog just doesn’t want to do it (some dogs have a hard time lying down because physically it’s awkward for them … others can lie down and stand up in one movement). What will she loose/gain if she gets a lie down instead of a stand? Downs can take the power away from some dogs but with other dogs it makes them think more calmly.
Sure, she can just say lie down and MAKE the dog and never worry about it .. but if she doesn’t take the time to understand what she wants/needs and communicate that to her dog … then all she will get is a physical down (and sometimes actually that’s all that’s needed).
So try to understand what you want from the dog before you put a word/action to it then communicate it clearly and calmly to your partner.
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.
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!
It takes a time, effort and a connection to develop a full communication system with your dog (notice I did not say “command” system).
It doesn’t start out that way. When you first start training the dog’s vocabulary is limited thereby putting limits as to what you can expect out of him. The more training he receives – the more knowledge he gains – the more you can expect. Eventually there will come a time when you have developed your communication blueprint with your dog, He understands what you are asking of him because you have spent the hours of training needed to make him flexible in both mind and body.
In the beginning of training a young dog has no conception of words — he needs physical pressure to help him grasp what we are trying to communicate to him. We don’t expect him to take a flank while we stand “in one spot” and say “away to me”. Its only when we apply pressure making him go that direction enough times – the word and the act start to congeal. It seems some trainers get “stuck” in this phase and never go any deeper in their training — their dogs physically make the “correct” moves but there is no understanding (from the dog) of why such an action was required. It’s closer to pattern training than actual teaching.
It’s important to recognize the difference between just teaching a dog a physical act and teaching a dog the combination of the physical and mental action. These dogs are special and need to understand WHAT and WHY there are doing something to truly absorb it. He may “be trained” to come running through on a shed (physical action) but that doesn’t mean he understands the “concept” (mental action) behind it. It just means he knows how to run through a gap between sheep.
Authentic training should make a dog understand “the purpose” of a maneuver. If a dog truly understands what you are asking there will not be conflict between the action and his acceptance of it. He will be comfortable in his “own skin”.
It’s our job to add new pressures one by one to “increase” his vocabulary. You break everything you want to teach him down into “slivers” of information. Then incorporate each of those “slivers” into what he already knows .. making sure these “slivers” combine both MENTAL and physical instruction to allow him to develop both mind and body.
As his training evolves he needs to learn which physical pressures are meant for him and which “just are” (i.e. a dog and person holding sheep on an outrun). Again its our job to clarify new information and give him the opportunity to grow and hone these new skills. Often, any dog “worth his salt” will resist new pressures and you will have to re-communicate what is expected of him. However, you can’t teach a dog that won’t listen to you
The dogs training routine should not be based on a set of programed exercises but should be based on the dogs reactions to your actions. A good training session “takes into account” the dogs attention span … is he learning and absorbing or just “going through the motions”.
We communicate to dogs by putting pressure on and taking it off at the correct moment and “guess what” – dogs do the same to sheep — pressure on/ pressure off.
For you to develop a good sense of timing, you first have to understand the exact sequence of events that constitutes good dog/sheep work. You can’t correct a dog if you don’t know he’s wrong. You have to watch the interaction between the dog and sheep and interpret what the dog is doing that is causing the reaction from the sheep you DON’T want. Then your correction must come before the sheep FEEL the dogs incorrect pressure.
When we train a dog by using pressure … we alter the pace and the direction we want the sheep to go. Removing pressure is the dogs “reward.” It is the way we communicate to the dog, “Yes! That’s it.” If your timing is off when you either apply pressure or remove it, your communication becomes garbled. The dog will not make a clear connection between the pressure you put on him and the response you expect from him.
This is why training sheepdogs is SO difficult – you are looking for a response from the dog BUT it’s the sheep that are dictating the CORRECT response and you are “the middle man”.
So applying pressure with the correct timing is just “step one”. You also need to remove that pressure the moment the dog responds correctly. A constant pressure numbs the dog down and he simply learns to ignore it because it has no meaning. Releasing pressure when the dog is still wrong rewards him at the incorrect moment.
As we train dogs, we first show them what we want. Then we ask them. Only when they understand the physical action behind the word can we use just voice/whistle commands. If at any point the “voice” isn’t communicating our intention then we go back to “showing” them (physically reinforcing what we want).
While giving a flank command may communicate to the dog that you want him to go “left/right” but it does not give him any information about shape, pace, or width of the flank. That’s where the finesse comes in – you need to learn how wide/tight a flank you need (in order to not upset the sheep) and then how to communicate that to him.
Keeping this “in mind” will curb the tendency of some handlers to think of commands as simply a direction for the dog to go instead of a reaction they want from the sheep. They think they can give a command for a right flank, for example, then just wait for the dog to end up in the exact spot they were envisioning without any more interaction from them. If between those start and stop commands, the dog gets no information from the handler … then he is on his own. Depending on his “nature”, he may decide to take over and do whatever he pleases or he may become anxious because he gets no reassuring feedback from his handler that he has done the correct thing.
Feedback works in both directions. A well-trained dog is the best teacher for a Novice learning to time their commands correctly. If you do not get the response you want when you apply your commands (and you know that the dog reads sheep better than you do) you can assume that the communication glitch comes from your side of the post.
The importance of timing the correction and the release of pressure correctly and of constantly receiving and interpreting feedback from the dog and sheep are two of the reasons that pairing a green dog with a green handler seldom works. However, not all handlers have the luxury of an open trained dog to refine their timing on. So, They often struggle to figure out if a lack of response to their commands is due to application of the wrong command, poor timing of their correction, or a dog that has learned to take advantage of its handlers uncertainty.
Almost everything stated about the interaction between you and your dog – can be applied to your dog and his sheep. Poor timing, late corrections, and “green sheep/green dog” can add up to the same problems that occur between handler and dog. Think about it … what happens when the dog puts too much pressure on the sheep or doesn’t put enough pressure on … puts pressure on but doesn’t take it off, etc.? Pressure on/Pressure off … this goes for you and your dog – and your dog and the sheep.
I’ve always said you can tell how someone works their dogs by watching how their sheep react to a dog … if well shepherded they will react to dogs without fear.