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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
OH NO … downs again.
When novices first start out they tend to use the down just because they don’t know what else to do. So, I tell them don’t use down as a crutch … have a specific reason before you lie your dog down.
So, as they advance they do start trying to fix problems instead of just stopping their dogs and what happens … they lose the down. So, they really become confused when I say your dog is running through your down.
You have to have a down … and yes, you don’t use it to fix everything that goes wrong BUT you also don’t let the dog ignore it. Brakes on a car are good … driving around hitting the brakes every time you see something that looks like it might be an issue is bad. However, not being able to stop (because you burned your brakes out from overusing them :@) is even worse.
You can’t fix a flank IF you can’t stop the dog before he’s too close to the sheep. The same goes for an outrun or any other issues. It’s better to fix the problem not just down the dog but you HAVE to be able to down the dog in order to fix the problem. Confusing for Novices I know … but it does make sense once you get the “feel” for it.
Think of how dogs correct pups … they give a growl (warning correction) if ignored they will snarl and show teeth (stronger warning correction) if still ignored they will “nail” the pup (physical correction). That’s how pups learn that following that seemingly innocent growl comes teeth. So, WHEN they hear the growl … they self correct (knowing what comes next will not be a “suggestion” but a physical reality that bites).
So, use that analogy … give your growl (correction) before you down them (bite them). But never let them think you don’t have teeth to back it up. So, in other words DON’T lose your “real” down.
To make it even more confusing for novices is they see open handlers saying lie down, lie down and the dog really isn’t lying down … so they come to the conclusion – it’s OK to just let the dog “do it’s own thing” because “after all” he reads sheep better than they do. BUT believe me those handlers DO have a down and they and their dogs are on the same page as to WHAT it means. A soft lie down might not mean REALLY lie down but only “don’t put so much pressure on your sheep” where a sharp, hard lie down means “hit the dirt” now! But the point is they do have a down it’s not just the word but the tone the handler is using and the dog is reading.
Downs allow you to get in a position to correct a dog. If you have to repeat the down 3 or 4 times … think how much closer that dog will be to his sheep by the time he actually DOES down. So, if he’s cutting a flank and you need to walk out to correct him … the correction will NOT be that effective because he didn’t down WHERE he NEEDED the correction. It’s too late for a “correct” correction if he’s 10 feet closer to his sheep than where the actual correction SHOULD have taken place.
So, remember the down is a “piece of the puzzle” it’s not the whole picture but if you don’t have it you will never get all those puzzle pieces to fit.
P.S. It’s NOT just novices — as I was just reminded recently that my dog was running through his down :@) So, cheer up … it’s something we all need to work on.
I’ve had a few students that are having outrun issues so thought I would “touch” on that.
When you are working on an outrun be prepared to do a lot of walking (or running if you are of that “age group” :@). The minute a dog LOOKS in on an outrun – prepare yourself for a correction. If he looks in and then releases – allow him to continue on his path (assuming it was wide enough). If he looks in and casts out that’s even better (assuming he’s not a dog that runs too wide). BUT if he looks in and COMES in he’s WRONG … even if it’s just a step or two. Why you say … because if he comes in a couple of steps every time he looks at the sheep – it won’t be long until he’s pushing them sideways and not covering.
Also, If he looks in and KEEPS looking in even if he’s still going on the same path … he is putting PRESSURE on the sheep. This is the opposite of what an outrun is “all about”. The purpose of an outrun is to get to the other side of the sheep with as little pressure as possible – while staying in as close of contact as he can without upsetting his sheep (so, not running too wide). Looking to see where the sheep are in relationship to him and you is GREAT … looking trying to connect with the sheep before the outrun is completed is a problem.
So, if he looks in – and doesn’t look out again – correct him – BEFORE he gets closer to his sheep. The widest part of an outrun should be around 9 and 3 on the clock (so when he is even with the sheep) because that’s the spot that puts the most pressure on the sheep. It’s not how he starts out (although that does matter) but how he finishes that’s important. Wide on the bottom and tight on top is a lot more destructive than the other way around. Although with some dogs if they don’t break wide at the bottom (not backwards … just casting out wide from your feet) they tend to be tight at the top. You need (as with everything else in training) to know your dog.
If I’m having outrun “issues” I will start walking toward my sheep the minute I send my dog … watching him out of the corner of my eye. I’m looking for a smooth easy running style (less tension) and if I see he’s “getting tight” – I get ready to stop him. However, before I stop him … I give a correction (some dogs listen to a “growl” others it’s “hey” … play around with it until you get one that “fits” your dog). Then I lie him down (AFTER the correction) and tell him to “get out of that”. You have to give a correction NOT just a down. The reason being that if done enough and correctly all you will have to give is a “growl” to get him to bend off (or later on a redirect whistle on the run).
I personally have a correction down and it’s a HARD lie down (they KNOW they are in trouble and so when they stop they are receptive to actually HEARING what I say ) … then I wait and give a re-direct. I want him to KNOW he was wrong — not just down him and sent him on “his merry way”. However, “keep this in perspective” you don’t want them thinking a down is a correction or they will start to hesitate every time you say down (which is not what you want).
The biggest problem I see with students and outruns is two-fold. They wait to long to give the correction (dog is already tight NOT just thinking about it) and they don’t walk far enough out to correct the dog. So, catch him when he’s THINKING about coming in (not after he’s done it) and walk ALL the way out to make sure the top end is correct.
“Keep in the back of your mind” training dogs = walking and you will get more out of your dog.
As one of my students often states “never in my life have I’ve ever worked so hard to be so mediocre” :@). Training working dogs is difficult … no doubt about it. Especially for novices trying to understand dogs, sheep and how they interact.
So, what is IT that makes training Border Collies so complex? It’s a combination of different things. The first is that we are not training dogs how to make “just” a physical movement but hopefully allowing them to understand that each of their movements will cause a corresponding movement in the sheep. The second is, “all the while” we communicating “our wants and needs” .. the dog has inborn instincts that are “speaking” to them just as loudly as we are. Then throw in the sheep’s reactions “to all of this” and as they say you better be ready “to step up to the plate”.
When you were a child and looked at a book all you saw was squiggles on paper which was impossible to read until you learned each and every letter in the alphabet. Only then those squiggles become letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, and eventually you turned all you learned - into concepts. You can’t get anywhere in your training until you and the dog are ”on the same page” communicating with each other. So, first you have to learn the ABC’s of how to communicate what you need to the dog – while always trying to understand his method of work”.
Let’s use the flank is your beginning letter A. Learning how fast, far, tight, etc. your dog flanks will be a start to grasping your “working alphabet” … if you are saying THERE - to a slow wide flanking dog (while you are watching the sheep not the dog) then he will turn in a totally different spot than a tight fast edgy flanker would. You two need to come to an agreement and get in “sync” to the “timing” of the letter A – before you can make it the first letter of your alphabet.
So, spend the time watching your dog, the sheep’s reaction to the dog and try to get your timing perfected so when you tell him something it makes sense to him. If you are working on balance and you are telling him “there” to turn into the sheep and he’s “off balance” … you will erode the “letter” you are trying to build. You will need to reach an understanding” on each letter of the alphabet (and with EACH dog) and apply it to every phase of the work.
The same goes for buying a trained dog as to training one. When you first get a trained dog you need to come to an agreement to what ABC means before you can speak the words and then on to a sentences and paragraphs … eventually leading to a book. Again, If you are on “different pages’ in what the basics mean you will never be able to write that novel.
Just remember all of this takes time … just as it did to learn the alphabet and to read. So, don’t get discouraged just keep learning those letters and soon you will have enough words to form a sentence, a paragraph and in time “your” book. When things go wrong (as they will) just remember it’s just a chapter not the whole book.
He’s progressing well in most areas. He needs work on his hill outwork (hard for this flatlander to find :@) This time of year is the worse time to “trailer out” because of the foxtails … so not sure he’s going to get that until fall.
His biggest “flaw” right now is pace. He has a hard time understanding that he CAN work sheep from a distance and pacing himself down. So, that’s the main focus right now. I walk with him for miles and just say “time – time” and he’s fine when I’m walking with him (and putting pressure on to reinforce it).
The way I work on pace — I will have around 5 sheep (don’t want too many as it makes him want to flank instead of ”line”). I have the sheep on one side of me and the dog on the other … all in a triangle (I’m the point of the triangle). I walk … the sheep walk … and I MAKE him walk. I don’t down him I say time and put pressure on … by taking a step toward him … pointing the crook at him and growl time – if he slows down I release pressure. This allows him to make the same mistake again and get another correction. But it also puts the responsiblity to slow down on HIM. If I just downed him I would be taking that responsibility.
I’m trying to keep the distance between me, the sheep and the dog the same the entire time I’m walking with him. If I HAVE to down him … I will but then I “cluck” to him to walk on again.
He’s beginning to “get that” but when he takes the sheep and just drives off he will only go so far before he tries to speed up and when reminded to “take time” he “tries” to ignore the command (unless I get loud which is NOT what I want to reinforce … only listen when I yell:@).
I try not to work on pace when he’s still fresh and ready to go. I will do a number of outruns to tire him out (if that’s possible :@) before I move on to pace. This allows him to burn some of that youthful steam off before I try to “grind him down”.
Sometimes when he does slow down he tends to disengage from the sheep (also not what I want) by stopping and standing instead of slowing down (telling me he really doesn’t fully understand the concept). Occasionally he will turn around and look at me (confusion). When he does that I say nothing … just wait until he looks back at his sheep … then I repeat the command.
I could just down him but I always feel that takes the incentive out of them. I would be controlling him instead of teaching him HOW to control himself. That’s NOT to say I never down him – I do. It’s just I’m working on “take – time” (not down … he knows how to down – Well, “most of the time” :@).
“All that said” … I would rather have one I’m always trying to slow down that one I have to encourage on. I’m trying to develope an open dog so it’s better to take it slowly making sure I keep the push in him. If the dog has “it” in him … age often cures “too pushy” issues that young dogs have.