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.
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 :@)
It was the worse of times”. I would give “odds” anyone that has ever trialed has connected with that famous quote from “Tale of two cities”. Zamora was like “Tale of two cities” :@) The first trial had a totally different winner than the second – moral of the trial (or life) – never give up trying!
The weather was perfect (tad hot on Monday Nursery/PN day) which is always special at Zamora – because handlers can sit out to watch dogs crest 3 hills to find 4 sheep 700 yards away. Outruns are dramatic enough but watching dogs trying to hold pressure and fetch down hill between two ridges – is seeing dog work at it’s finest. I think the main draw for Zamora is the course (of course :@) and dog work. Sure, handling always helps - but I have always appreciated watching dogs handle sheep more than watching people handle them and you get to see that at this amazing hill trial.
As they say a picture is worth a thousand words … so here are a couple. One at a distance and one up close (well as close as you can get to 6-7 hundred yards).
Or if you appreciate the “printed word” more … here are a couple of newspaper articles:
We will “end it off” with more of the quote – sounds like dog trialing to me :@)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way” …
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” :@)
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’ve been asked to update on “the kids” every so often … and since they are in the “fun stage” that they learn something new everyday I thought I would give a quick update.
TECH: is working on learning what “out” means. When I flank him and he looks in I give him an “out” and insist that he turn his head away from the sheep. This will come in “to play” when we start working on outruns but for now it’s “up close and personal” so I can communicate to him what I’m asking and make sure he follows through … each and every time.
He doesn’t like lying down and I don’t make him (he’s a long-legged guy and watching him lie down is a little like watching a giraffe try to lie down) BUT I do make him completely STOP (on his feet) without any forward movement when I say lie down. This “lie down” is not a flexible one … it means NO forward movement (standing tends to encourage more forward than when they are “flat” on the ground). If I don’t need a total stop I use stand (and I’m a lot more flexible with the stand).
With him … corrections have to be VERY firm to get through to him … slap your hat on your leg and his reaction is … I’m a little busy right now can I get back to you on that one :@) BUT he’s the one that when he perceives you are angry would “think” about quitting. So, once I get though to him and he realizes he’s being corrected … I have to back off (verbally and physically) FAST. However, getting through to him is much more difficult than Gear. He’s not really “hard headed” just independent and more focused on the sheep than me.
GEAR: Working on lining out on both the fetch and drive (more so on the drive). I use “there-there-steady” on the fetch and then if he tries to flank instead of walk on straight … I make him stand. This stops him from trying to overreact to his every perceived movement from his sheep. He’s very reactionary which can be good if “harnessed” but cause problems if I allow it to “take over”. He will cover a breaking sheep before I can say a word … but he can also cause a sheep to break by trying to hard.
On the drive I use the fence to keep him walking straight instead of letting him push by flanking. This really seems to help him understand that he doesn’t need to go “sideways” to make the sheep to go forward. An issue that happens with the fence is he tends to over-flank and head them – so I have to “fall back” to making him stand. I try and work all my dogs “free flowing” (with very little stopping) but to “get there” they need to understand that: yes, you can just keep things moving until you do something incorrectly.
Also, early on I take 50 (or so) sheep out to the middle of the pasture and make a HUGE hole and teach them to come through to me. Gear is already learning to work at holding them apart. Keeping them apart is helping him understand driving … “just so happens” this seems to make more sense to him. However, with a lot of pups they just get confused when trying to drive that way — so I will just lie them down (between the two groups of sheep) and walk around and have him fetch to me. Then I go work that group. This will make dog broke sheep less likely to come to me (as they are drawn toward the big bunch). So the dog has to learn to hold and push sheep (instead of just follow sheep).
A correction for Gear is HEY … anything more and the ears are “pinned” back and he is backed off too much. He’s not soft … he just wants to be right and doesn’t like to be in trouble. I enjoy this about him as it means he’s connected and wants me in the picture.
I’m also working on both of them having them learn to “pen sort” (meaning I use a gate to let only the sheep I want in) … both are pushy and having a difficult time learning patience (totally understand … not one of my strong suits :@) and I MUCH prefer that with young dogs than “get up – get up”.
BUT most of all I’m allowing them to learn about sheep. That every move they make causes a reaction in their sheep and that they are responsible for their actions. If they cause a mess – they have to clean it up (with corrections from me). The best teachers are sheep (that is …. if you are using sheep that aren’t “dead dog broke”).
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!
(Click on picture to enlarge)
Last week in class we were working on penning and I happen to remember some pictures taken for the ABCN magazine (15-20 years ago at the Buellton, Ca trial) we used as a visual to go with a penning article.
I thought I would re-use them … hoping to help my visual/nonverbal students :@)
1.) In the first picture the sheep have been brought to the mouth of the pen and are in the great spot for both the handlers side and the dogs. This spot will allow the handler to move back and forth if needed. It also allows the dog to put forward pressure while covering his side. The dog (walking on straight but leaning left) is putting more pressure on the ONE sheep that has not committed to the pen opening … while easing the rest of the sheep forward. The sheep aren’t facing the handler or dog but are thinking about going in the direction you want them to.
2.) In the second picture where the ONE sheep is looking at the dog (the rest have decided to go in) the dog is in a perfect spot to catch THAT sheep’s eye – but not so far ahead that it turns the other ones back. A couple more steps and the ewe closest to the dog would have stopped (she is looking into the pen but her head is high, and her eye and ear are ”cocked” toward the dog). Compare her to the sheep in the middle whose heads are down because they are not looking for an escape. Once you have stopped them from WANTING to go into the pen … it makes it “twice as hard” to convince them again. So, always try to keep heads pointed toward the pen – don’t block that forward progress.
2.) The last picture shows ALL the sheep accepting the pen and the handler slowly curling around to tuck them into the pen and close the gate. The dog is not putting pressure on as he knows they are going in. You don’t want a dog trying to push them after they have committed to going in as it can spook/split them.
A good pen is fun to watch as it involves cooperation between dog and handler - while neither can take their eyes off the sheep. So, timing, communication and knowing how fast, wide, etc. your dog flanks is a necessity … because you just don’t have time to look at your dog. Penning is watching the sheep’s heads and keeping them pointed into the mouth of the pen – press forward without shoving , flank without over/under flanking, wait but don’t dawdle. “In other words” it’s all a balancing act of pressure and patience :@)
If you want to learn how to train a “variety” of dogs then you need to learn to be flexible. If you choose only one methodology of training … you will limit your training abilities. Training goals remains the same but the method used to communicate with each dog will be diverse. A soft dog will not need nor understand the same depth of correction as a hard dog.
A wide flanking dog will not need the same “technique” to teach flanks as a dog that slices his flank. If you are rigid with your training and insist on using the same method on both dogs … it will either make a flanker too wide or encourage a tight dog to keep slicing.
Corrections should be used to communicate, connect and build trust with your dog. If you “overplay” or “underplay” your hand you won’t get the results you are looking for.
Corrections have to be given with – the right amount of pressure – at the RIGHT time – followed with the release – at the RIGHT time. If you release pressure when the dogs mind is in the wrong place … you reward him for being wrong. If you don’t release when his mind is connected to what you want … then you punish him for being right. ”In other words” if you are early or late with either pressure or release … you’re not communicating - you’re just giving commands and building confusion.
So, let’s see how to be flexible with 2 dogs and both tending to be tight on their flanks.
Our first dog is soft that takes correction “very much to heart” and can be so backed off she can becomes hesitant and slow. The paradox is she’s usually running too rapidly while she’s slicing her flank. But, we need to communicate that’s she’s to close to her sheep NOT that’s she’s to fast (work on that later). With this “sort” sometimes just leaning in with an “ah-ah” (the moment she tightens on her sheep) and then quickly backing off. She only needs a little pressure to widen out … so we back off in order to NOT slow her down (which would have meant she was loosing confidence and we were starting to overwhelm her). Tell her she’s wrong but don’t intimate her so much that she slows because of confusion. “In other words”, work only on the tight flank in order to keep her self-confidence up. Later, when she understands the correction you can work on slowing her flanks.
That’s being flexible … allowing her to be to fast keeps the uncertainty down so you don’t get sulky, slow flanks. But since our goal was to get a clean flank – we got what we wanted without “beating her down”.
The other dog is a bit hard – but really it’s more that he’s “into his sheep” and forgets you are in the picture. With this one you might need you to actually get in-between him and the sheep to communicate “back off”. You can not let him have his sheep until he flanks correctly because he’s not the “hesitant sort” that will slow down or lose confidence when pressure is put on. So, we need to use a strong correction to make sure he always keeps us in the back of his mind while he’s working.
Getting into the “face” of the soft one would be way “overkill” and she would lose “confidence” which is precisely what we are trying to build. Just saying “ah-ah” and leaning with our “hard” one wouldn’t even have registered on him.
So, whereas you are correcting both dogs for being “tight” you were flexible and adjusted your correction for each dog. Some dogs need “ground down” and others need “built up” … it’s your job to decipher which dog needs what at which stage.
If you want to succeed working stockdogs then you need to learn how to read both dogs and stock (and sometimes all in the same moment :@)
Try to observe the dog and read what he’s telling you … he may not be using words but he’s speaking to you “none the less”. The same goes for sheep – they speak volumes with body language. Then, just to make it more problematic, we need to add another very important “equation” – what is your dog communicating to the sheep. All these interactions combined are what make this so VERY difficult (and enjoyable).
You need to spend time observing both species separately and together to understand the subtle communication that goes on between them.
Not only do you need to learn to read body language … you have to “interpret” what they are “saying”. For example: If a dogs head turns away at the pen … is he avoiding or just trying to release pressure on the sheep. Some dogs do use this as avoidance … others as a technique to get sheep to do what they want without gripping. If you decide you don’t like this and correct it – you may be taking a “tool” out of the dogs working method that won’t allow him to function as efficiently as he might have.
You’re the trainer and you get to decide … BUT if you want to be a good trainer it’s invaluable to know when to correct and when NOT to correct. If the dog is communicating something to the sheep and you interrupt that communication … it’s going to have repercussions … some you might not have intended.
If a dog is walking up on his sheep and they are “eying” each other. There is a subtle battle going on as to who is going to be in charge. You are the referee and need to understand the rules before you “blow the whistle”.
You want the dog to have the confidence to walk “head on” into a confrontational sheep and you are trying to get him to do it with power and authority and not fear. So, if he’s walking on and you down him … you WILL take some of the power away. BUT if he’s walking on with gripping “in mind” … you may have to down him (especially, if that’s an issue you are working on). BUT what if you down him and the sheep thinks “I’ve won” and rams him just as you lie him down. You have taken a little confidence out of him (also of his trust in you) with some dogs it might not be a “deal breaker” but with others it would be.
This is where your “evaluation” comes in … is the sheep getting ready to give up and turn? If so downing the dog might be the best thing. It might stop a grip and take the right amount of pressure off to allow the sheep to move off the dog. Conversely, If the sheep was still debating if the dog had “enough in him” and you down him … you may “tip the scale” in the sheep’s favor and the dog loses confidence. If your dog is “the sort” that would grip in “self defense” … no harm, no foul (unless you repeat this error a lot) BUT if your dog is the “type” that is wavering on having “confidence issues” … this could “empty the glass” faster than you can fill it.
All dogs are different as are sheep … it’s your job to learn the weakness and strengths of both and use that knowledge to improve your shepherding skills.