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.
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”).
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.
I’ve had a few students that are having outrun issues so thought I would “touch” on that.
When you are working on an outrun be prepared to do a lot of walking (or running if you are of that “age group” :@). The minute a dog LOOKS in on an outrun – prepare yourself for a correction. If he looks in and then releases – allow him to continue on his path (assuming it was wide enough). If he looks in and casts out that’s even better (assuming he’s not a dog that runs too wide). BUT if he looks in and COMES in he’s WRONG … even if it’s just a step or two. Why you say … because if he comes in a couple of steps every time he looks at the sheep – it won’t be long until he’s pushing them sideways and not covering.
Also, If he looks in and KEEPS looking in even if he’s still going on the same path … he is putting PRESSURE on the sheep. This is the opposite of what an outrun is “all about”. The purpose of an outrun is to get to the other side of the sheep with as little pressure as possible – while staying in as close of contact as he can without upsetting his sheep (so, not running too wide). Looking to see where the sheep are in relationship to him and you is GREAT … looking trying to connect with the sheep before the outrun is completed is a problem.
So, if he looks in – and doesn’t look out again – correct him – BEFORE he gets closer to his sheep. The widest part of an outrun should be around 9 and 3 on the clock (so when he is even with the sheep) because that’s the spot that puts the most pressure on the sheep. It’s not how he starts out (although that does matter) but how he finishes that’s important. Wide on the bottom and tight on top is a lot more destructive than the other way around. Although with some dogs if they don’t break wide at the bottom (not backwards … just casting out wide from your feet) they tend to be tight at the top. You need (as with everything else in training) to know your dog.
If I’m having outrun “issues” I will start walking toward my sheep the minute I send my dog … watching him out of the corner of my eye. I’m looking for a smooth easy running style (less tension) and if I see he’s “getting tight” – I get ready to stop him. However, before I stop him … I give a correction (some dogs listen to a “growl” others it’s “hey” … play around with it until you get one that “fits” your dog). Then I lie him down (AFTER the correction) and tell him to “get out of that”. You have to give a correction NOT just a down. The reason being that if done enough and correctly all you will have to give is a “growl” to get him to bend off (or later on a redirect whistle on the run).
I personally have a correction down and it’s a HARD lie down (they KNOW they are in trouble and so when they stop they are receptive to actually HEARING what I say ) … then I wait and give a re-direct. I want him to KNOW he was wrong — not just down him and sent him on “his merry way”. However, “keep this in perspective” you don’t want them thinking a down is a correction or they will start to hesitate every time you say down (which is not what you want).
The biggest problem I see with students and outruns is two-fold. They wait to long to give the correction (dog is already tight NOT just thinking about it) and they don’t walk far enough out to correct the dog. So, catch him when he’s THINKING about coming in (not after he’s done it) and walk ALL the way out to make sure the top end is correct.
“Keep in the back of your mind” training dogs = walking and you will get more out of your dog.
Sometimes there is a fine line between correction and over-correction. It’s often hard for a novice to know when they are correctly on the “line”, when they have gone over the line or sometimes … which side of the line they are on.
Unfortunately in some dogs this line is razor-thin between getting your point across and shutting your dog down and making him harder to correct in the future. You need to make sure that the dog understands your correction but not at the expense of pushing him over “his” line.
So, how do you make sure your corrections are “correct”? Take your clues from your dog … what are his ears doing, his eyes, his body. Do his eyes have panic look in them? Then you are putting too much pressure on or he’s just not understanding what you are asking of him. Is his body trying to lean away from you because he’s trying to go wider? Or is he just trying to avoid you because he doesn’t want to acknowledge your input. Is he leaning toward the sheep and the only “thing on his mind” is when does he get to move again (implying he’s really not all that interested in what you have to say). If so then he’s not taking your correction seriously.
Your correction needs to get into his MIND and what he’s THINKING not just his body. You may have gotten him to lie down BUT if all he’s thinking about is getting back up … he didn’t get a correction … you just stopped the action. A lot of people train by making the body correct but never get into the dogs mind. This either transfers into a dog that won’t move without being told or one that spends all his energy fighting the handler – never working with them. He needs to acknowledge you and try to understand what he did wrong and what you want from him.
Some times a hard dog will respond better to a soft correction … the harder you push … the harder it makes him. However, “sometimes” hard dogs need someone to convince them they can’t always have it their way or they won’t get to work. It takes experience to know the difference. Of course, the only way to get experience is by doing it … which is a bit of a dichotomy for novices :@).
Learn to read your dog to see if your corrections are “hitting home”. Then to complicate things you need to keep the sheep “in the back of your mind” during a correction. If the sheep are running off it’s going to be hard for a dog to pay total attention to your correction. Like everything else is life … timing is critical :@)
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.
Not all soft dogs are “created equal” :@). Some are soft with their stock … others with people. Then sometimes they come in a combination of both (and that’s a hard one). The dogs I’m writing about are “people soft” NOT “stock soft” (both have enough in that department :@)
Soft dogs need to be handled with “kid gloves” (OK, “lamb gloves”). However, they can be trained to just a high of standard as a harder dog.
The KEY is to teach them how to take corrections gradually. It’s a bit like the old adage of how to cook a lobster … you don’t throw them in boiling water … you bring the water to a boil gradually. Even the soft ones can and will take pressure/correction and training – just in a different “format” than a harder dog.
I have a couple of “soft dogs” I’m working with now that DO NOT want to be wrong and are hesitant to try something if they’re not sure it’s what I want.
So, how do you handle it … “by degrees”. One is not *set* on her flanks and will hesitate to move either direction “just in case” she’s wrong. With a hard dog I would give a *intense* correction and make sure they understood they were wrong and I wasn’t happy about it! With a soft dog (that already is fearful to move) a hard correction would freeze them up even more. So, I will still correct them but not in an obvious way.
If they take a wrong flank I will lie them down … wait (allowing them to relax)… then quietly giving the flank again. If they’re still wrong – I will repeat this but give a quiet correction (listen) AND move my body to communicate physically what I want. Then the second they are right… I will change my tone and encourage them on to let them know they’re correct (either repeating the flank in an *calming* tone (if they are just running) or just *ssshing* them on (if they are hesitant) … to reassure them they’re right and yes that’s what I wanted. I WOULD not correct them for running to fast or slow (that’s why the calming or encouraging tone). They can’t take 2 corrections at once (YET :@)
.This builds a bond letting them know I’m “on their side”. When they’re confused I will “help them out” and encourage them when they’re right (which these “sort” seem to need). Trusting me is the “building block” that will allow me to use firmer corrections as their training progress. Once they learn that I will “let them know” when they’re right … they can allow themselves to take a chance on being wrong.
So, in essence the fire is turned on (they got a correction) but the water is still cool enough they’re comfortable with it. This level I will stay with for quite awhile and report back after our corrections are “ramped up”.