I can’t think of a greater compliment that can be said about someone in our “world” than “For the love of the dogs” This is going to be a hard one for me to write. I seriously thought about not writing anything … partly because it’s so personal but more because it makes it real and I don’t want it to be real. Bill Slaven passed away and I can’t believe he’s gone.
For those of you that didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Bill you missed out on special man. He was special to his family, his friends, his community and especially to our herding dog world. To me he was like my adoptive father. I’ve known the Slaven’s for over 30 years and have enjoyed working dogs and spending time with them anytime I could get up North. They are what ranch/farm families are about … hard work, respect of the land, and open arms for friends.
I met Bill at a trial where he had provided the sheep. He was “first and foremost” a shepherd but did he ever love watching and working these dogs. He had such an appreciation of our sport while knowing that he needed these dogs to get his job done. I think this says a lot to end the conversation if trialing is representative of real work. This man made his living from sheep … as did his father and grandfather. He knew the value of a good working dog and did everything in his power to provide a place to keep this spirit of real dog work alive.
He, his wife (Joan), his son (Micheal), and his daughter (Peggy) for 21 years put on one of the most challenging trials in North America. This trial tested the merit of these dogs in the “real sense”. It was a huge course (700 yard outrun up hills) with sheep that tested the dogs every step of the way. The Slaven’s didn’t run in the trial – they only worked tirelessly so we could put our dogs to the challenge.
Every time I stayed – after dinner we had to go out … so he could let me watch his young dogs work – he was always so proud of them. It was a ritual we had for many years. I won’t be able to head “up north” for a trial without thinking that I won’t have the pleasure of sharing dog work with him.
As much as it is a personal loss – it’s a bigger loss for the working dog community. We don’t have many trials (or ranchers that love to put on trials) to showcase our dogs like Zamora did. It’s a big loss to everyone … even if they never had the pleasure of running their dog on this great hill trial. Bill did it all for “the love of the dogs”
I loved what his daughter said – Bill is up in heaven organizing a dog trial. The image gave me comfort. He will be so very missed down here.
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.
A friend and I traveled 12 + hours to a trial in Utah and had a blast. I told her on the way home it reminded me of the trials of 20 years ago.
It wasn’t the course that reminded me of ”days gone by”. It was a very challenging field with many pressure points. The field they usually held it on was over grown so they decided to move to a hill field where the grass had been grazed down. It consisted of a tough but honest outrun up two hills taking dogs with scopey outruns or “lacking that” … the ability to listen to the handler when a re-direct was needed. A number of dogs crossed the first day if they weren’t in the “listening mood”.
It wasn’t the sheep as they were the “usual” (if there is such an animal :@) range ewes that needed a dog to be able to push – with a little finesse thrown in – in order to get around the course. They would take full advantage of a dog that flanked too wide (walking toward the dog and even charging if they sensed any weakness). However, they would run like “deer” if the dog put too much (or the wrong) pressure on them. Once running they were often hard to stop or turn. Scores the first day reflected the “fight” between finesse and push. By the second day they had settled in and were very workable. That’s another “odd” thing about range ewes is how quickly they do “accept” dog work (IF they are treated right). These are the kind of sheep that make a 12 hour drive worthwhile … improving both dogs and handlers.
What made it a “trial of old” was the people and their attitude. It wasn’t that they weren’t competitive (they were as they should be) but it was a healthy competitiveness – without the nastiness that sometimes comes from competing against other handlers. They all tried as hard as they could while running and when the run was over – it was over. They moved on to cheering on the rest of the field … anyone that made a pen (and there were few of those … especially the first day) - the cheers could be heard around the trial. The atmosphere was casual and the attitude positive. It was a pleasure to run and we couldn’t have found a better way to spend a weekend. If we could just find a way to move it closer to home it would have been perfect :@)
Give them a try Utah Stockdog … I think you will enjoy it.
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’ve been asked why do I emphasize communicating with a dog instead of just “making” the dog obey. Sure, you can train a dog to work livestock by controlling every move he makes but why would you want to? You end up with a mechanical dog that although he is able to do what he’s told – will be incapable of “thinking outside of the box”.
I’m not saying you don’t have to PUT the “mechanics” on a dog to train him. I’m saying that while you are training a dog use the dogs instincts until he understands (words = actions) and you have a bond of trust going. Then you start putting the commands on (making him work against his instincts). First, let him learn how sheep react to his body movements … let him learn that when he is tight sheep split … let him think … let him work. That doesn’t mean let him “run wild” and just chase — you can control his movements by controlling the sheep.
Then progress to “command center”. If you give a flank and the dog flanks the opposite direction (because that’s what his instincts are telling him to do) … it won’t help you get the sheep where you want them. “On the other hand” a flank is NOT just a command to circle the sheep without any reference of what the sheep are doing or going to do. If you teach a dog that a flank is nothing more than a “circle” - what happens when the sheep need a “wider circle” or “smaller circle”? If you are trying to load sheep in a trailer and a dog has the “mechanics” to go left/right but not in context of the job at hand … you may be standing there for a LONG time saying “come-bye” – “away to me” before those sheep get loaded.
Example: when I first teach a dog to flank off balance I will MAKE him go past balance (and he will fight me on it) but once he releases pressure and does what he was asked … I will flank him all the way back to balance and let him bring the sheep. This helps a young dog relax on his flanks because he learns … even if he’s taken away from “the spot” he KNOWS he can control the sheep – he will be allowed back as soon as he GIVES and releases the pressure. This builds confidence and communication mentally and physically and relaxes him so he’s not fighting taking an off balance flank. Allowing for relaxed flanks and a willing attitude towards releasing pressure.
You could also teach him off balance flanks by force … a mindless circle, circle, circle until he “gives up” (I didn’t say “gives to you”). If done with no regard to how the dog is re-acting to this – it tends to break a dog down instead of building him up. I’m not saying “never” do this (as some dogs need to free up and circling is one way to make them flank freer) but it’s not going to give you a connection to the dog … it’s only making him do as he is told (again some dogs – sometimes). If that’s your only training method … your depth of training will be very shallow – as the dogs NOT thinking only doing what he’s told. So you are making him physically flank the sheep but not mentally.
If you learn to train by communication you will develop a dog that can not only work with you but think on his own as well. I don’t think there is anything greater than working with a dog on “something” and seeing the moment he actually GETS it. You can see him say “oh” that’s what she was wanting and GIVES to you.
Getting there takes longer and more thought than mechanical training (and truthfully some dogs will never get there and will have to be made mechanical).
Part of communication is discovering and working with what is natural in a dog. You won’t communicate effectively if you don’t put the effort into trying to understand how they think and react. What is important to them … what did “mother nature” give them and what will you have to supplement?
Dogs are interactive animals and luckily for us they interact with us as well as “their pack”. They take cues from the rest of the pact as to what is needed. So we need to learn and use these “cues” to our advantage. You need to read and respond to what the dog is communicating. Your job is to be observant to his body language and what he is thinking and feeling. Some dogs will lift their tails when they are thinking about diving in, some lay their ears back. others turn their heads away. Observe and learn what YOUR dog is communicating to you and use it to help train him. “At the same time” a lot of interactions between dog and handler happens when there isn’t trust … making the person anticipate what might happen and thereby making it happen (you are tense and communicate this on to your dogs).
A dog that enjoys working with you will look and listen for input. If you are a good trainer you will also listen to the dog. Force training only works when you are 100 percent in control but there comes a time when the dogs mind is full engaged with the sheep and you become secondary. That’s why communication/connection is so valuable in a working dog. He enjoys the interaction and WANTS your input!
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’m in the process of buying and selling sheep. I put a lot of effort keeping my flock fresh for “dog work”. I do have a herd of Dorpers that I breed and keep replacement lambs out of. I also have a few Cheviots (just because I like them :@) that I breed. However, the majority of the flock I use until they are dog broke and then sell them on and buy more. I try to bring fresh ones in every 3 or 4 months.
I think using different “type” (in the sense of how they react to a dog not just the breed) is the best thing for allowing a dog develop. I don’t think a dog will truly understand stock if you continue to use the same sheep you started your pup on all the way into teaching the finer movements an open dogs needs. Puppy sheep hardly react to the ”course” moves a puppy makes - so they sure won’t respond to “finesse” movements.
It’s not easy to get fresh sheep but unless you have a ranch that has thousands of sheep so you can cut fresh ones off daily … I think it’s the second best thing.
So, you say what am I looking for in sheep?
First, of course, for pups I try to always keep some ”knee knockers” around - these type allow dogs to get very close to them and will try to come to you no matter what the dog is doing. This helps a young pup (that doesn’t know where to be ) to get to the other side.
Then I try to keep some sheep that won’t run when a dog walks up on them. These “type” of sheep “push” back on a dog and need pressure from the dog to MAKE them go. This helps to teach a dog how to lift properly. If your sheep always run when they see a dog … he can’t learn HOW to lift … because all he’s really doing is playing “catch up”. Sometimes putting hay down helps give sheep a little resistance and teaches the dog that not ALL sheep take off just because he’s “there”.
For teaching the drive you need free-flowing sheep that don’t “kill themselves” trying to come back to you. They need to move away from a dog but not run … dogs needs to be able to take hold and direct them not just run along behind trying to catch up.
Then for teaching outruns I try to have “some” sheep that will run towards something (NOT me). Mine run towards the barn they sleep in so I always try to go up the field and send the dog back down for a outrun. If you time it right … as the sheep are running away the dog HAS to bend out or the sheep will outrun him. If the sheep run towards you as soon as a dog gets near them .. they soon learn to flatten out and cut in on the outruns. Why would they try to be correct when it gets them nowhere.
To “peak a dogs interest” I use wild sheep. These “type” will also teach a dog where to be faster than all the corrections you can give. Don’t let him just chase … make him work them correctly but LET HIM WORK.
Ewes and lambs to teach patience and how to stand up for himself.
Yes, it’s a hassle to swap/sell sheep out and get new ones but well worth it for your dogs training. Training isn’t just teaching a dog to do certain moves but HOW to do those moves to create a reaction from the sheep.
One of the reasons working stock is so interesting is because you are working with 2 separate species that have dire opposite needs. It’s the combination of these different needs intertwining that allows us (the 3rd part of this “puzzle”) to accomplish our goals. Dogs want to get close enough to the sheep that they can control every movement – while sheep want to get enough distance from the dog that they don’t feel threatened.
In “other words” dogs want to catch the sheep the sheep want to run away — somehow in your training you need to combine the needs of both species in order to make them comfortable enough to get your work done. In this “cat and mouse” game … a lot of novices are so focused on the “cat” they forget to take the “mouse” into account.
One of your jobs as a trainer/handler is to try to figure out what would make the sheep feel less threaten while “at the same time” keeping your dog empowered. Which means you have to know your dog and how specific sheep respond to him. If you have a strong pushy dog and are working light/flighty sheep – then you need to train your dog to understand that distance and pace will settle his sheep. If your dog is “light” and the sheep are “the type” that will challenge him - then maybe you need to let the dog come on hard on the lift – then back him off. If you have “running” sheep that won’t stop no mater what your dogs does - you better keep your dog in close enough contact to guide them or you will lose them completely.
You have to learn to understand sheep not just your dog. Taking the sheep’s “needs” into account is a necessity if you want to work them successfully. If you look at them as “just something to work your dog on” you will never get the best out of your dog. I’ve always said you can tell how someone trains by watching how their sheep react to dogs.
Do you work the sheep until they are so “numbed down” they don’t respond to the dog. If you work the sheep too long without “changing them out” (when they get tired)you will “create” sheep that just go through the motions of moving away. This not only ruins your sheep but ALSO your dog. A dog can’t be trained correctly on sheep that don’t respond. I have seen people who work their sheep until their heads are down and they are just moving … not connected to anything the dog is doing. Think about it from your dogs “point of view” … he’s hunting a “dead” animal … where’s the challenge in that. Not to mention - lack of respect for sheep.
Or do you keep your sheep running all the time so they never have a chance to settle and lean on a dog … letting him guide them. They are afraid of the dog not respectful (which is the correct “response” the sheep should have). You and the dog need to respect the sheep … only then will the sheep respect the dog. That will never be achieved by dogs chasing sheep. If your sheep SEE a dog and take off running as fast as they can … how can your dog possibly work them? All he can do is play “catch up”. There is no feel, no control, no thought, just chase. That’s not working … it’s harassment.
Do you work them in such a small area that neither dog nor sheep can find “a distance” that feels comfortable. Don’t get me wrong … I have a round pen and I use it with dog broke sheep (that have learned to come to me for safety). I think it makes it easier to control both sheep and pup. But the only reason this works is that the dog broke sheep have been “ground down” to have a very tight flight zone. “Normal” sheep with “wider boundaries” would be running from both the dog and me. So, starting there is fine … but get out in the open as soon as you see your dog trying to figure out where to be on his sheep.
Sheep are not “toys” for dogs … they are living breathing animals and need to be treated with respect – after all – we wouldn’t be able to enjoy all the aspects of working our dogs without them.
Cottage Grove has an army of helpers and it shows. Everything is very well run and comes across as effortless (which anyone that has ever put on a trial knows is NEVER the case). Good sheep, great course and perfect weather added to the enjoyment this year. The first day they ran over 100 dogs for PN/Nursery/Novice and the next two days had 60+ a day. So, Wilda Bahr had 3 long hard days of judging.
The best part of this trial is watching the dogs and handlers try to ”figure out” how to handle the gate. The dogs have to go downhill, leave one field go through a gate and then uphill to get to the next field. Often there are shadows across the gate opening making it look, to the dog, as a solid barrier. Once the dog actually makes it through the gate it has to rock back over its shoulder to bend out in order to continue on the correct flank. The opening tends to draw them in because they start wide but have come back into the middle to “get the gate” and it’s difficult for them to re-cast out again … to keep on the same direction. The inclination is to hit the gate and keep going on the trajectory they are on when they come through the gate.
Watching the handlers try to decide when/where/if they should give a re-direct. Then watching the dogs listening trying to figure out what their handler was asking —- was dog work at it’s best.
The sheep were healthy and spry fine wools. They could run like the “wind” if spooked and the dog had a hard time keeping up. Dogs needed to stay back off and just tuck heads a fraction to keep them going straight. It took very little movement to get a reaction from them. A lot of dogs and handlers over-flanked making the sheep go sideways - leading to missed gates.
The pen was almost “mission impossible” on the first day and penning was still uncommon the second. A lot of really good runs came to a downfall at the pen. Even when the sheep actually went into the pen very few of them really accepted it … heads were still high as they were looking for a way out.
If you are looking for a fun trial – give it a go. The people are great, the sheep are healthy, and the course is different and challenging.
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.
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.
What causes tension in a dog?
Tension can come from either the dog, the sheep, the handler or a combination of all the above.
Some dogs just work with a lot of tension.
In some cases … it’s “in the genes” and you can trace some lines to this trait. That’s not to say its all bad as there are some top dogs that run with tension in them. It all depends on how the dog handles it (if it makes them grip off … that’s usually not a good thing :@).
Just to make in more confusing a dog can be relaxed off stock and still be tense when working.
Some handlers build tension.
Sometimes it’s not in the dogs “nature” but it’s “handler made” tension. If someone handles a dog and their timing is “off” it can cause a dog to work with tension even if he’s not “normally” a tense dog.
When a good trainer is working a dog … their timing is correct and it allows the dog to feel comfortable doing what is asked of him (because the handler is “in-sync” with the sheep and dog). So it all FEELS right to the dog. Which allows a dog to relax and think about “the job at hand”.
However, “on a different page” … there are tense handlers that pass this on to the dog – and the dog “thrives” on it (usually it’s the “non-tense” calmer ones that respond). It seems to encourage the dog to “step up a notch” and focus better.
Sometimes sheep build tension.
For different dogs it can be different types of sheep. Some dogs don’t mind wild sheep and will react by flanking off and backing off. They seem to view it as exciting and “makes them read their sheep better”.
For other dogs wild sheep make them feel they are losing control. They like to be in “contact” with their sheep at all times and panic when they can’t find that contact point – causing tension.
Some dogs get so tense working heavy sheep they can revert to gripping. To others it “makes their day” and will just put their “head down and power on”.
So you see … it’s not if the dog has tension or not … but what “the team” does with that tension that “counts”.
The NoCal trial circuit was a great success.
Suzy and John Applegate put on their first trial (Plymouth, CA) and it went very well. The trial field was challenging as were the sheep … but that’s the way it should be. What a great area to have a trial … beautiful rolling hills, green grass, scattered oak trees and ponds all around. We even had the enjoyment of 3 swans flying in to land on one of the ponds.
The hilly outrun was trickier than it looked – making some dogs cross and others go to wide. The fetch including crossing a stream and it took a “bit” of push to convince the sheep they REALLY did need to go. The post was positioned at the top of a hill and turning the sheep around it was difficult. Some sheep beat the dogs and got back into the exhaust (The second day they turned around a rock at the bottom of the hill instead of coming all the way up to the post). The drive was across another stream and “by then” the sheep were not that willing to comply – so again it took a little convincing by the dogs. Then on to the shed and pen (which the sheep didn’t seem to mind).
There was plenty of room to walk dogs and enjoy the scenery. That’s always a bonus when you are traveling with 6 dogs :@)
Here are the results:
Then on to Sandy Milberg’s trial (Santa Rosa, CA) that always runs like a precision clock. Great sheep, really good set out along with every other “detail” allowing the trial to go on without a hitch (which is the “norm” for that trial).
The first day had 50+ dogs running Nursery and/or PN. The sheep were VERY challenging for the young dogs but not unreasonable to handle.
The next day we were on to Open. Two trial fields are run concurrently (allowing 80+ dogs to run). The “Flat” field (that really isn’t flat) usually allows for more finesse and posts the highest scores – but this year seem to be the exception. There were some tremendous runs on the Hill field (which really IS a hill :@) and the scores “beat out” the flat field.
Zamora is one of those trials that makes even seasoned trialers take one look at the course and say “WOW”! The course — either one — as sometimes they have it across from their house and other times it’s held at “Henry’s field”. Both fields are rolling hills needing a dog with scope and listening skills because — after a 600 yard difficult outrun the dog has to lift non dog-broke range ewes that have no real desire to come down that 600 yard steep hill.
The sheep strong and healthy with a mind of their own needed a dog to guide them with authority. If the dog pushed to hard they split – didn’t push enough they stalled. It took push with finesse and often even that wasn’t enough to convince them to go through the panels (they were very panel shy on the first run … much better on the 2nd). The real nemesis was the pen and that was the difference between a wining run and a placement.
The weather was perfect – unlike last year where the rain never ceased. There was a huge field across from the trial field that the Slaven’s were kind enough to open up for handlers to walk their dogs - making life much more pleasant for handlers and dogs alike.
For those of you that don’t know the Slaven’s … they have been raising sheep on that ranch for generations. Bill’s father and grandfather were both sheep ranchers. They passed the ranch on to Bill and now his son Micheal is carrying on the tradition. A few years back they lost almost their entire flock (I believe over 900 sheep) due to a fire. They still ”went on” to have the trial even though they had to rent sheep since they didn’t have enough of their own.
Bill appreciates a good working dog … and that’s why he puts on the trial. He doesn’t run in it and never stops working while it’s going on. Hopefully, handlers understand that we are extremely lucky to have these generous people involved in the sheepdog world and appreciate all that they offer.
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.