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.
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.
What is the difference between a natural flank and a mechanical flank. Do you really need a mechanical flank. What happens if you only have natural flanks?
A lot of students seem to get stumped with flanks and then get frustrated – thinking if they can’t even “grasp” something as basic as flanks how will they ever get anything else.
The easiest test to see/understand what “type” of flanker you have is for you do the moving and let the dog do the *covering*. When you move away from the sheep’s heads the dog should counter balance the sheep by shouldering out enough to keep the sheep’s heads pointed toward you without pushing the sheep over you. This would be what is natural in the dog … of course not all dogs have that programed in them.
You have to have a visual of what the flank should look like, the distance that the dog should be and how fast he should be going. If the sheep jerk while he’s on his flank … he’s to fast or tight. If they put their head down and eat he’s not having an effect. Look for signs when he’s correct to help you both understand a correct flank. Watch him, the sheep, the results so you can begin to get a picture in your mind of what correct is.
Different flanks for different dogs. Some dogs don’t look at their sheep when they flank – you handle those “types” by calling their name, saying stand or anything to draw them back on their sheep. Some dogs eye sheep so much that every step they take puts a constant pressure on the sheep – those you need to growl or put enough “handler” pressure to keep them from pulling in on their sheep as they go.
So first figure out YOUR dog and the reaction the sheep have to his working style then start “fixing” any issues UP CLOSE. So, let’s say you have a dog that has too much eye and flanks very slowly around his sheep. If you just stand there and REPEAT the flank command … All you will teach him is to go slower and slower. Soon he will be taking two steps every time you give a flank and you have to give another flank command to get another two steps. You give the command ONE time then walk out and get in between him and his sheep to MAKE him go farther on that flank than he wanted to.
Every time you repeat a command and he doesn’t respond … you have “numbed him down” one more “notch” to ignoring you.
If your dog is one that flanks and doesn’t “check in” (flying pass balance) then you need to MAKE them turn the minute you say a command (stand, their name, lie down … whatever fits you and your dog). Don’t stand there and let them run with out thought.
If you give a command and they just keep running — it will be twice as hard next time to get through to them. So say it one time and then MOVE … go out and block them from running past balance (use a correction voice to let them know they were wrong not only in what they did but also wrong it ignoring a command).
So, yes try and develop all the natural they have but don’t just stand there and let them do it wrong all in the name of “natural”.
This is the time of year I have sold off my ram lambs but have kept a group of 20 or so - 6 month old ewe lambs to work. Making work “new and fresh” for both the dogs and I. It’s a great lesson (for both of us) how to work sheep that have no leader and “not” a clue which way they want to go. They split, they run, they stop and face the dog but NEVER in unison :@)
This “type” of work will make even a clean flanking dog turn into a tight, edgy flanker. The problem being: one tight flank will send lambs “shooting” in four (or five depending on the number you are working :@) different directions. And the dogs, who are not expecting this (having spent most of the time working dog broke sheep) - flanking “back and forth” (with dirt flying as they do the reverse manuever at full speed) trying to cover ALL sides. Building tension in both sheep and dog *not to mention the handler*.
If flanking isn’t a difficult enough task then pushing them will be … if the dog doesn’t ”push on” enough the lambs will stop and stare – making the dogs have to lift every 10 feet.
So, what’s a trainer and dog to do? They key is first you have to “break” them to go forward together as a “group”. Which usually means the dog has to tuck in each and every one of them (at least once … sometimes more) when they try to go sideways (or backwards :@). Once he has convinced them they can’t go anywhere except forward … then you work on teaching the dog how to keep that forward pressure without pushing to hard. Because, if they push to hard they will “revert” back your original problem (getting “skirty” and breaking sideways) – and “one more time” your dog will have to “break” them to go FORWARD. BUT if they don’t push enough – the lambs will stall out, turn and stare at the dog … and again we are back to “re-lifting”.
Cool, calm, STEADY pressure is the key. Try and find that pressure point and distance where the lambs are going STRAIGHT forward without the dog having to flank. If you have to flank make SURE the dog does a clean, quiet, smooth flank … just enough to “tuck” them in AND doesn’t go so far he catches an eye or you “again” will have to repeat the lift.
Dogs that are used to lambs will *after they have tucked them into a cohesive group* tend to lean instead of actually flanking as they have learned how NOT to upset the “apple cart”. They don’t want to have to clean up the mess so they wisely let the lambs relax before they put forward pressure on.
Lambs are “a bit” like range ewes. They don’t want to be forced but will take full advantage of a dog that doesn’t take control. They want to be convinced they need to move away from the dog but you can’t do it with force or you will have a fight. Once they are moving they need to be firmly guided (not shoved) in the direction you want.
So, basically it takes the Mohammad Ali technique of “move like a butterfly sting like a bee” :@)
I’m working with a dog now that will not push through the bubble. When you are loading stock into a trailer you need enough push and flank to keep the stock going forward. If a dog flanks off and gives too much ground, the stock start going sideways and it stops the forward movement.
Sometimes, it’s “just” the way the dog is but often it’s because they’ve never really learned how to push, hold and flank all at the same time.
So, that’s what we are working on. We started up against a fence trying to have him push until they split. When we first started he would only walk up to a certain point and then lie down because he knew if he pushed any farther they would break. I needed to teach him that’s precisely what I want (hard with dogs that have a lot of feel to keep the sheep together).
He would flank easily but not put enough pressure on the sheep to MAKE them go into a pen they didn’t want in. He needed walk up until they almost split (taking up the slack), then flank sideways, tuck and hold (not giving up the ground he just “won”). Not all sheep need this but when you need it … it’s very frustrating to have a dog that doesn’t how to push through that bubble.
He slowly began to understand what I was asking for. But, at first, if he broke through “his comfort zone” he would grip … and I fussed but didn’t really get “on him”. A hard correction would have meant everything he did was wrong. So, I let him know that gripping wasn’t what I wanted while making sure that it didn’t take the “drive” out of him. A quiet “hey – hey” to let him know I didn’t like that “part” of what he did (if he gripped and “hung on” … I was much firmer with my correction.)
Once he’s enjoying “pushing on” then I will refine it down so he learns to push and then flank to tuck right before they break and then push again. All the pretty flanks in the world won’t push sheep into a dark hole they don’t want to go into but “at the same time” he needs to learn how to do it without gripping.
Part of refining flanks is to teach a dog to flank and then stop with his shoulder pointed away from the sheep. This will allow the sheep to feel less pressure than if a dog flanks and then turns in towards them. I won’t do this with all dogs (especially dogs that tend to flank to wide to begin with).
As usual I use the sheep to help the dog understand what I’m looking for. I will also use a number of sheep … just because it’s easier than using 5 sheep. I start by flanking the dog with a 1/2 flank, stop him and then another 1/2 flank and stop. When the dog flanks, of course I want him turning out correctly on his flanks — but the main reason for this excercise is to teach him when he stops he needs to keep his shoulder turned out (ready for the next flank) and not draw in towards his sheep .
Let’s say I’m working on a come bye … I have the sheep to my right shoulder and slightly in front of me (I’m facing the same direction as the sheep) … the dog is on my left side. As I flank him … I turn with the sheep pushing them away from me (still facing the same direction as the sheep and keeping them at my right shoulder). This makes the dog want to flank because he’s trying to get to their heads. If I stand in the same place I will lose my angle and it might allow him to tighten up on his flank. By keeping myself and the sheep “turning” it encourages him want to turn out on his flank.
Then I will stop him and use a stick (or whatever) to put pressure on his shoulder (to keep it from turning in) and his head (to stop him). If he tries to turn in when he stops I lift the stick up and then point it back at him … putting pressure on him to turn out even more.
With this exercise you can also be working on your 1/2 flanks, and teaching them how to relax about stopping before heading their sheep (for dogs that have issues with “letting go” on a drive). However, the main purpose of teaching him not to turn in … is to help you with your shedding/penning work when you don’t need your dog pushing sheep over the top of you.
Inside flanks are “touchy” and hard to get correct for many beginners.
You want them just wide enough they don’t push sheep forward but not so wide they are out of contact.
This exercise is ALL about angles and it’s difficult to do (and almost impossible to put “on paper”).
Think of a circle – you at 6 – sheep the center – dog an 12 … then cut that circle in 1/2 (draw a line across 9 and 3) … anything above that line is a “push out” flank and anything below is a “inside/pull in” flank. The reason being is once the dog passes that line he’s starting to come TOWARD you (so “inside/between” you and the sheep).
It’s harder to have an impact on a dog that is facing the sheep (and can’t see you) compared to one that’s on the opposite side of the sheep (where your body tends to push him away from the sheep). When he’s on the same side as you the pressure he feels from you … is pushing him forward. So, you need to make very sure you are in the correct spot not to shove him into his sheep.
So, we will start flanking the dog at 12 and keep him going to 3 (at which time if he walked up he would be cross driving). Then we will go from 3 to 4 by stepping between the dog and the sheep (so he thinks he will be flanking around you). Then when he hits 4 … stop him … then you back up away from the sheep (so when you give him the inside flank there is a LOT of room between you and the sheep). The either call his name or say here – here … the MOMENT he looks at you give the flank (which would be a come-bye if he’s at 3).
What you are looking for is the circumference around the sheep to remain the same. So, if you were above looking down - the distance from the sheep would remain the same all the way around the circle ( “in other words” … NOT an egg looking circle).
Now, what happens next depends on the dog. A free/wide flanker … might just take it and go. BUT that’s usually NOT what happens :@) (can’t make this to easy or we would all get bored :@). Most dogs either go the other way, stop stare at you, or go straight at the sheep.
If he goes the other way just treat it as you would any flank he took incorrectly. Stop him, correct and make him go back to 4 and start over.
If he stares … say NOTHING (you don’t want to reward that behavior) until he looks back at the sheep. Then try repeating the flank.
If he goes straight … stop him FAST. Call his name (or say here) and repeat the flank ONCE. If he goes straight at them again … stop him. Then walk out (get on the right side of him) and push him out … thereby, making it a “normal” flank for him. So, although it started out an inside flank … you turned it back into a “normal” one. This helps some dogs get comfortable with a “semi-concept”.
You need to remember that we have spent a LOT of time keeping him out (with our body/voice) now we are asking him to come into “no-dog” land between us and the sheep. So take this slow and easy.
I usually let my young dogs go back to balance and fetch the sheep to me. I find it helps reward them if I allow them to get back into their “comfort zone” after stepping out of it.
At another time, I will hit on an exercise I do before this one that helps “set up” inside flanks. We were working inside flanks so thought I would post it.