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 :@)
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”.