“PRESSURE ON – PRESSURE OFF”
Talking about pressure …. again. This seems to be an issue that comes up regularly during lessons. Novices trying to figure out when and where corrections should be given. Since it’s not easy for a lot of students I thought I would approach the subject again. The simplest *visualization* I can give is when you put pressure on your dog – WATCH how the sheep react. That will tell you if you were correct or not. If the dog is right — the sheep will be right.
Dogs respond positively to pressure that:
1) Is physically in the right spot (for dogs and sheep)
2) Has timing behind it.
3) Is done consistently
4) Isn’t too hard or soft for the *issue*.
5) Is released at the correct moment – thereby rewarding the dog.
So, “simply put” what does that add up to? Pressure is: A) in the correct spot B) used when the dog is incorrect C) released the moment your objective is achieved.
How quickly you apply a pressure, where you apply it and how hard you hold it are the “finer points” …. telling the dog how he needs to respond to your pressure.
What pressure shouldn’t do!
1) Build tension in a dog.
2) Become something a dog tries to avoid.
3) Perceived as something to fight or run away from – instead of give into
When Pressure coincides with what the sheep are doing a dog will accept it calmly and learn from it. If the timing is off – a dog will learn to either fight or avoid pressure. If done incorrectly enough the dog learns to avoid/fight ALL pressure, If only done in certain circumstances (i.e. flanks) the dog will react in those circumstances by turning off or getting tense.
Pressure is not a fight – it’s a tool to teach a dog correct sheep work. If you insist on making it a fight you will encounter tension (causing a multitude of issues) or avoidance (also know as “taking the heart” out of the dog).
Let’s say you are trying to push a dog out on his flanks. Most students know the angle they are looking for is around his shoulder (to make his head turn away from the sheep). However, what usually happens is – as they are trying to put pressure in the correct spot – they “fall behind” the pressure point and end up chasing instead. Chasing is not pressure and it doesn’t push a dog out. So, the dog runs faster trying to outrun the pressure (and often the person “gives up” before the dog does – so he learns if he “doesn’t give” he wins) or shuts down (sensitive to the trainer and not understanding what is being asked of them with all that “crazy” running around).
So, the dog that is running is fighting (so “in essence” you are teaching him to fight a correction). The more “sensitive type” avoids/quits (“feeling” he was wrong but not understanding why – so the lesson learned was quit mentally when faced with a correction).
So since force isn’t the lesson you want to teach him … what is? Real training is allowing the dog to find the answer through his sheep. It’s not just “spoon feeding” (forcing) him into obeying. If your pressure is correct – your dog will see the results in the sheep and it will make sense to him. Having sheep react correctly to him will take all the “fight” out of the dog.
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.
It’s a decision that eventually has to made by all of us if we run dogs long enough. Not something to look forward to but something to accept - no matter how much we try not to think about it or put it off. It’s part of the responsibility of working dogs.
Moss is 10 years old. It’s “hard” decision time – should I retire him or keep running him for a bit longer? I don’t want to give up running a dog that has won so many trials for me – and I don’t want to “cut his career” short. But again I don’t want to run him if he can’t do the job. He deserves all my respect and to make sure he retires with honor.
It’s just so difficult to “let go” of what we had … I say “had” because sometimes I’ve watched him trying to take a fast flank and not be able to react like the Moss I’ve handled for all these years. Then, of course, my timing is off because he can’t respond as quickly as he use to – tending to frustrate us both. Then “other times” he’s “dead on”. So, I go back and forth – trying to balance the “two sides”.
I’ve got some nice young ones coming up but we aren’t (yet) on the same wavelength that Moss and I were. The young ones are fun and exciting to run as you never know what they are going to do. I have two sons of his that I’m enjoying very much … and I’ve been known to say if I could combine them … I would have Moss all over again :@) However, that’s not the way to look at it. I need to alter the way I handle – not expect them to become Moss.
When you have been “connected” to a dog for a long time it’s hard to remember it wasn’t always “that way”. It took hours and hours of working together before we started working stock “as one”. So, I need to focus on the old adage “time and miles” instead of what I’m losing. It’s just so difficult to let go of something that was special and so very comfortable. Time to “step out: of my comfort zone” and try to bring the young ones up to Moss’ level. Not an easy task as he was/is a special one.
These dogs give so much that we need to acknowledge that they will keep “giving” even when they physically aren’t able to live up to our expectations. It’s up to us to watch and make sure we don’t demand more than their bodies can give because we all know their hearts never stop giving.
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.
It was the worse of times”. I would give “odds” anyone that has ever trialed has connected with that famous quote from “Tale of two cities”. Zamora was like “Tale of two cities” :@) The first trial had a totally different winner than the second – moral of the trial (or life) – never give up trying!
The weather was perfect (tad hot on Monday Nursery/PN day) which is always special at Zamora – because handlers can sit out to watch dogs crest 3 hills to find 4 sheep 700 yards away. Outruns are dramatic enough but watching dogs trying to hold pressure and fetch down hill between two ridges – is seeing dog work at it’s finest. I think the main draw for Zamora is the course (of course :@) and dog work. Sure, handling always helps - but I have always appreciated watching dogs handle sheep more than watching people handle them and you get to see that at this amazing hill trial.
As they say a picture is worth a thousand words … so here are a couple. One at a distance and one up close (well as close as you can get to 6-7 hundred yards).
Or if you appreciate the “printed word” more … here are a couple of newspaper articles:
We will “end it off” with more of the quote – sounds like dog trialing to me :@)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way” …
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.
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.
Repetition vs Concept
Through research teachers discovered that students have different “learning styles” (visual, auditory or touch).
I think one of the things that will make you a good trainer is understanding that dogs are not dissimilar. So, keep in mind it’s not only some learn quicker than others but also they need different methods in order to learn. Adjusting your training to HOW a dog learns will help you get the best out of him.
Some need structure and repetition to achieve their full potential. Often these dogs have a little too much chase or not enough eye to hold them off their sheep. Repetition creates a pattern which will allow them to develop a working method.
For instance: they may have talent but might not a “built it - guidance system” that tells them how far they need to be off their sheep to accomplish what you two are working on. This doesn’t mean they won’t mature into a good dog – but at this juncture of their training a “piece” is missing and it’s your job to develop whats lacking. It’s possible “the piece” is in there – but the dog doesn’t understand how to utilize it. With some dogs tension gets in the way of potential … so your job is to calm the dog down enough to allow him to focus. Maybe its a “very forward” dog that needs to “tone it down” … or a dog that doesn’t have pace and you need to repeat something enough times until he realizes his life will be easier if he will just do it your way. No matter what the reason it’s a matter of consistently repeating the command MAKING sure he does it correctly EVERY time until its “set in stone”. This allows the dog to work his stock in the best way possible for him.
A different dog may need to grasp the concept of “the job” to be able to move forward. They might be hesitant to try something because they truly don’t understand what you are trying to accomplish or where they “fit” into that picture. Often it’s the ones that are trying to control the stock from a distance that need be taught the concept (example: pushing harder on their sheep) before they become proficient at the task. So repetition will NOT work for this type … because just repeating a pattern does not let him grasp the reason behind the action. It’s your job to come up with a way to communicate the reason you need it done a certain way. These dogs will learn a LOT about “the work” from the sheep … IF you have the correct sheep (meaning NOT dog broke sheep that run to you just because a dog moves).
So, novice trainers what ever his “learning style” its your job as a trainer to read each dog and explore how to bring out the best in them. I personally think that’s a lot of the enjoyment of training these dogs … makes you keep your “thinking cap” on.
Lately I seem to be reading more comments from people who think a “ranch dog” is better than a “trial dog”. Or a trial dog can’t do the job a ranch dog can.
When asked … I always answer with yes, no or maybe.
I’ve heard and seen people brag how good their ranch dog is and those trial dogs could never “get er’ done”. All the while … their dog is doing nothing except harassing the stock .. and they think that’s a dog working “naturally” while those “trial dogs” have to be told every step to take.
I don’t disagree some dogs are started and trained on nothing but 3 sheep and total precision. They are never left to think, act, or work on their own. They become “little machines” with perfect obedience but can only work in “trial program” mode. I’ve personally seen “those type” win a trial and then couldn’t exhaust their own sheep … because THAT wasn’t programmed into the dog (or the person apparently :@). Do I think that would make a good ranch dog – no. BUT, I also don’t think that makes the best trial dog either. It might look good as long as the sheep are cooperative but if sheep decide to bolt back to the set-out at 600 yards – “more than likely” that dog would never be able handle it. Those “type” of dogs usually don’t do well with big trials and “double lifts” either.
If you start training a pup for perfection instead of trying to “carve” a rough draft of the end “product” … what you end up with will be so thin and weak it can be easily broken. So, let a young dog BE a young dog — don’t try to start with finesse. However, it’s just as important you don’t let him “run amok”. If you train for nothing but all fast action and brute force you will have a hard time putting the finesse in later on. Sometimes novices seem to believe if a dog is hard running, chasing and biting the stock – that must mean the dog has power … usually its just the opposite.
A rough draft does not mean chase livestock with tail flying in the air. It means working stock with more push than what you need for trial circumstances but with calm purpose. It does not mean “anything goes”. Neither people nor dogs process information or learn anything when their brain is in a frenzy.
A lot of people confuse a handler giving information to a dog (whistles to a dog) to making a mechanical robot. It’s NOT the same thing … giving information (verbal or whistles) is NOT necessarily making a dog “just” obey. Remember Information is power and it doesn’t necessarily mean you are trying to control his every move. Example: If you give a redirect on an outrun … you are giving the dog information that will make his life (and the sheep’s) easier. A cross over starts a dog in the wrong frame of mind and usually upsets the sheep. So, that “one redirect whistle” gave information that solved a lot of issues before they ever came up — for a ranch dog OR a trial dog. Sheep on a ranch don’t like to be “buzzed” by a dog tight on his outrun anymore than a trial sheep do. Might not bother them as much because they are so dog broke (or use to that particular dog but it IS still is unsettling).
Some novices also seem to be just as confused about pressure. They seem to think pressure/correction is all negative and thats not how they want to train their dog. Pressure (when done right) is nothing more than information.
However …. A dog needs to FEEL he can control the pressure … if he feels he has no say in the matter he will either give up or blow through it. He needs to know when he’s RIGHT pressure is OFF … when he’s WRONG pressure is ON. He learns that he is in control of that pressure by giving in to it.
The same can be said for information — it can be used to make you two a better team or used to control the dogs every step. It all depends on how you decide to use it.
I’ve always said it’s much easier to find a good ranch dog than it is a good trial dog – but there is no reason you can’t do both with the same dog if train correctly. It’s just easier to train for ranch work than it is trial work (basics are the same but you don’t need all the “bells and whistles”). Good top class trial dogs are not easily “come by” but I bet 90% make great ranch/farm dogs — BUT I sure don’t think it goes “the other way”.
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.
I’ve been asked to update on “the kids” every so often … and since they are in the “fun stage” that they learn something new everyday I thought I would give a quick update.
TECH: is working on learning what “out” means. When I flank him and he looks in I give him an “out” and insist that he turn his head away from the sheep. This will come in “to play” when we start working on outruns but for now it’s “up close and personal” so I can communicate to him what I’m asking and make sure he follows through … each and every time.
He doesn’t like lying down and I don’t make him (he’s a long-legged guy and watching him lie down is a little like watching a giraffe try to lie down) BUT I do make him completely STOP (on his feet) without any forward movement when I say lie down. This “lie down” is not a flexible one … it means NO forward movement (standing tends to encourage more forward than when they are “flat” on the ground). If I don’t need a total stop I use stand (and I’m a lot more flexible with the stand).
With him … corrections have to be VERY firm to get through to him … slap your hat on your leg and his reaction is … I’m a little busy right now can I get back to you on that one :@) BUT he’s the one that when he perceives you are angry would “think” about quitting. So, once I get though to him and he realizes he’s being corrected … I have to back off (verbally and physically) FAST. However, getting through to him is much more difficult than Gear. He’s not really “hard headed” just independent and more focused on the sheep than me.
GEAR: Working on lining out on both the fetch and drive (more so on the drive). I use “there-there-steady” on the fetch and then if he tries to flank instead of walk on straight … I make him stand. This stops him from trying to overreact to his every perceived movement from his sheep. He’s very reactionary which can be good if “harnessed” but cause problems if I allow it to “take over”. He will cover a breaking sheep before I can say a word … but he can also cause a sheep to break by trying to hard.
On the drive I use the fence to keep him walking straight instead of letting him push by flanking. This really seems to help him understand that he doesn’t need to go “sideways” to make the sheep to go forward. An issue that happens with the fence is he tends to over-flank and head them – so I have to “fall back” to making him stand. I try and work all my dogs “free flowing” (with very little stopping) but to “get there” they need to understand that: yes, you can just keep things moving until you do something incorrectly.
Also, early on I take 50 (or so) sheep out to the middle of the pasture and make a HUGE hole and teach them to come through to me. Gear is already learning to work at holding them apart. Keeping them apart is helping him understand driving … “just so happens” this seems to make more sense to him. However, with a lot of pups they just get confused when trying to drive that way — so I will just lie them down (between the two groups of sheep) and walk around and have him fetch to me. Then I go work that group. This will make dog broke sheep less likely to come to me (as they are drawn toward the big bunch). So the dog has to learn to hold and push sheep (instead of just follow sheep).
A correction for Gear is HEY … anything more and the ears are “pinned” back and he is backed off too much. He’s not soft … he just wants to be right and doesn’t like to be in trouble. I enjoy this about him as it means he’s connected and wants me in the picture.
I’m also working on both of them having them learn to “pen sort” (meaning I use a gate to let only the sheep I want in) … both are pushy and having a difficult time learning patience (totally understand … not one of my strong suits :@) and I MUCH prefer that with young dogs than “get up – get up”.
BUT most of all I’m allowing them to learn about sheep. That every move they make causes a reaction in their sheep and that they are responsible for their actions. If they cause a mess – they have to clean it up (with corrections from me). The best teachers are sheep (that is …. if you are using sheep that aren’t “dead dog broke”).
There are a numerous issues that come up regularly through out the years of giving lessons – I will focus on a couple I’ve been running into lately.
The first is trying to make Novices understand training occurs even if they aren’t working sheep. For some reason they think that *training* only applies when they are *on* stock never realizing that habits are being formed (good and bad) before you take them to stock.
I’ve gotten dogs in for training that were allowed to work stock “in their mind” thereby making it impossible to get them to connect to me and work at the same time. Dogs can and will work sheep (mentally) even if they aren’t “physically moving” them. So, lying and staring at sheep for hours on end can and will cause issues “down the road”.
I’ve had some that were allowed to work stock (on their own) and then when the owner walked out they were corrected for working. So, the “association” they have with work — it’s only permitted when a person is NOT involved. Then they send it to a trainer expecting “a miracle”.
I’ve had dogs come in for training … that worked stock from the other side of the fence and when “taken” to sheep would only run back and forth … never casting around sheep. Their first exposure and experience of work was running crazily without thought in a straight line – not useful for moving livestock.
True, these are extremes but the “thought process” is the same even if it’s a “minor” thing like not coming the first time he’s called. If he won’t come when there isn’t a distraction as strong as sheep … what will he do when he’s in full “work mode”?
So, Novices need to adjust their thought process to understand that even if they aren’t “on” stock it is still considered “training” even if they choose not to acknowledge it.
Another issue is understanding good training means the handler adjusting themselves to “fit” the dog not the other way around. If you can’t be flexable you will only be able to train one *type* of dog. This seems to be something some of my students have difficulty understanding.
A couple of examples:
I have a dog that’s just starting to drive and isn’t confident about just taking them and going. However, every once in awhile when I call him off and walk away he will turn back and start driving them. If he was chasing or just flanking around to bring them I would “get after him”. What he is doing is exactly what we were working on … calmly driving on. So, instead of getting upset – I just allow it. Now, with other dogs I’ve trained I would never allow such a thing – because most of them would be the type that if you give them “an inch they take a mile” so it wouldn’t work. However, this dog is VERY biddable and needs very little correction. So, I know it will be much easier to put a “that’ll do” on later than it would be to try to instill the confidence and enjoyment of driving - if I take anything out of him at this stage of training.
Another dog I’m training I had to totally adjust my usual “routine”. I give my dogs a lot of freedom to just “be dogs”. I’m not one of those that makes them walk behind me or not allow them to be the first ones through a gate. However, this dog needed a lot stronger control than any I had trained before. So, I worked on my control “off stock” a lot harder than I normally do. I made him lay down in the crate and wait while I let all the other dogs out (VERY hard for him to do). I made him *heel* follow when I was out in the yard (while the other dogs were running around). I tied him out next to me while I gave lessons and MADE him remain calm (that was almost impossible for him at the start). I was working on his mind through his body … making him remain calm no matter what was going on around him.
Two totally different dogs requiring two opposite attitudes in training … with one … I let things *slide* and the other I don’t *give an inch*. By being flexible I try and *draw* out the best of each dog.
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.
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.
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.
Have you ever wondered why some trainers can get everything out of a dog that he has to offer … while others can’t even get their dog to lie down?
A top trainer has learned how to mold a calm, trusting, willing dog. One that is comfortable in knowing how to “handle” sheep and what is expected of him. Good trainers try to “stretch” their dogs but also work within the “parameters” they have i.e. … teaching a “hot” dog how to work cool, calm and with direction. Speeding up a slow dog without getting it “hyped” up and encouraging a soft one to keep trying.
Some trainers can only work with “one” type of dog. I’m not talking about preference of how a dog works – but “to the fact” some trainers don’t have a lot of “tools in the shed” (meaning different training techniques) that they can bring out if a dog doesn’t fit their “ideal dog”. Since they are missing a variety of tools they can’t fix issues that come up unless it happens to fit the tool they “have in hand”.
What does make a good trainer?
Partly it’s being consistent but it’s a lot more than that - because if you are consistently wrong on your timing all you will end up with is a very confused dog. OK, you say then it’s timing - but a good trainer will change their timing to fit the dog. Not only do they adjust the timing to fit the dog but also the sheep and sometimes the terrain (blind fetch … right timing to steady your dog without seeing him … outruns at 800 yards – timing it so you whistle sooner because it takes longer for the sound to carry). So, you say maybe it’s handling? I’ve seen handler/dog win a trial but couldn’t exhaust the sheep – so the dog really wasn’t trained to WORK sheep – more programmed to a trial course.
I think good trainers have the ability to “chip away” at problems. They don’t have the “all or nothing” attitude … all force or all ask. They combine asking and demanding until the dog yields to them readily … never allowing the dog to avoid pressure but to GIVE to it. The don’t take pressure away until the dog “gives” but they also don’t put so much pressure on the dog “breaks”. They try to give the dog enough time to find the answer not just “spoon feed” them one - “thereby” allowing them to develop instead of just obey. They understand no living creature “learns immediately” nor at the same rate and takes that into consideration. They are trying to change them mentally NOT just physically — sometimes using their body to get to their minds and sometimes the “other way around”. They use every tool at their disposal - they don’t just use the brake and gas pedal but the clutch and numerous gears to refine the dogs movements. They don’t just teach the dog left/right/walk up but allow the dog to develop a “sheep working system” that makes the dog comfortable in his own skin. “In other words” they allow the dog to control the sheep and they control the dog.
If you really want to be a good trainer – you need to always keep your mind open to “picking up new tools” that will allow you to communicate better with your dogs.
Since there are different “styles” of training that work equally well — you need to decide which will suit you. Try to remain receptive to a variety of techniques but only incorporate those elements that blend well with your own handling skills or training preferences. You can change your training style if you feel it doesn’t “fit” you but don’t change your style like you do your clothes or all you will end up with is a confused dog.
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.
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.
I recently attended a clinic and was totally surprised to have a number of people asking me why? Leaving me to wonder at the thought process of some ”dog people”.
World class athletes have coaches to “keep them on the straight and narrow”. Top Olympian riders always have someone who can “step back” and watch them ride … giving advice as to what they are doing wrong and the steps they can take to improve.
The reason a clinic (or lesson) is helpful is because it’s difficult to be “in the middle” of working your dog while standing back objectively judging what YOU are doing. So, what better way to get an objective “point of view” than to have someone you respect give you their opinion?
Anyway, back to the Clinic … put on by Geri Byrne *who does a good a job of putting on a clinic as she does putting on the Finals* and given by Alasdair (perhaps that’s the only name I need to say … you know sort of like Madonna :@) MacRae.
Through the years I’ve put on a number of clinics with Alasdair (dating back 12 or more years ago) and he’s always given easily and freely of his knowledge to everyone attending and willing to listen. However, through the years he has gotten better at communicating all that knowledge. He’s also come up with some great visual techniques to help students to understand HOW to get their dogs to accomplish the instruction he has given them. This is especially helpful to novices that haven’t yet learned how to read their sheep.
He has an uncanny ability to read dog/sheep/ handler and give a quick evaluation and solution to the problem. Making sure he informs them that THIS solution might work for this dog BUT not another one having the same issue. I’ve always wondered about trainers that give the same “cookie cutter” solution for “each and every” dog .
He also goes out of his way to communicate WHY he is trying to get the dog to do something … not just make the dog “do it”. Trying to get you to understand the theory behind the action. This goes along with a very old adage “give a man a fish and he will eat for the day … teach him HOW to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”.
Working sheep is complicated and difficult … so the more “tricks of the trade’” you can learn the better off you will be - both as a handler and trainer. Hopefully allowing you and your dog to advance long after the clinic is over.
If you ever get a chance … go out of your way to go . I think you and your dog will appreciate everything he has to offer.