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 “quick update” …. well, sort of quick as it took a couple of hours to get the video “sorted” and uploaded. Then, I had to break it down into two parts (our internet speed is -0 :@). I tried to keep everything close up – so I could keep both dog and sheep in the frame but “as you will see” … I didn’t succeed (guess I better not quit my day job :@).
If you watch you can see how when the sheep stop he doesn’t keep walking (on the cross drive). Sometimes I have to flank him away from the eye to get him going again. As much as he likes to control sheep he’s so biddable he’s willing to release pressure when asked (always a good thing). He’s still not “pushing on” like I want but he’s always trying. He doesn’t have this issue on the fetch so I think age will improve it.
I will try and get a video of Tech to show the difference between him and Gear (this is what most people wanted to see). He is all forward and less “catch eye” than Gear. He controls his sheep as well but always with a forward motion.
Gear is 1 1/2 (Tech is a couple of months younger).
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.
All the while I’m training I’m trying to incorporate the dog’s ability to control himself instead of leaning on me as the only controlling force. To me this is starting point for “teamwork”. These dogs have exceptional abilities so I always try to “harvest” each and every aspect of it. Of course, some have more talent than others and you do have to work with what you have. BUT, if you don’t try to develop his potential to interact with you – you will end up with less than a partner.
Never forget that self-control is a two-way street. You can’t be succesful at bringing out the best in a dog if you aren’t in control of yourself. This includes, mentally, physically and emotionally. You have to remain calm and give your corrections without infusing anger. Hard to accomplish sometimes but if you aren’t in control – how can you expect your dog to be? Here lies a “paradox ” — a lot of people training dogs are “high drive” – “type A” personalities and tend to be emotionally committed to perfection. This, of course, makes it difficult to allow a dog to “learn from his mistakes” instead of just “controlling every situation”. Even trainers that aren’t “type A” have a lot of emotional involvement and intensity of commitment which tends to make them emotionally over react. Dogs respond to emotion – so the “ball is in your court”.
With some dogs I find it very easy to stay in the calm-training-zone but then there are others that send me into “overdrive” :@) Then to compound that … once started it usually does nothing but ”ramp up” (which is exactly the opposite of what Is needed). I have tried every “trick of the trade” to stay cool-minded with the ones that set me off emotionally and it’s still not easy. I usually just lie them down and let us both cool off. I want the dog to know although I’m leading the dance I want a dance partner (and don’t want to be “fighting” him every step). This partnership will never happen if I spend all my time being frustrated, angry or upset with every thing he does. I try to look at training problems as opportunities to be explored – helps keep me in the right frame of mind. You know the old adage it’s not the destination but the journey.
A truly effective trainer must be emotionally committed to getting the job done correctly and will do “what ever is needed” to accomplish it. However, you need to acquire the ability to discipline yourself so your emotions don’t force the dog into something he is physically and mentally unable to master at that particular time. Look at it as a great way to teach yourself patience. Try to take everything one step at a time and then build on each step. Always remember if needed you can freely step backwards and start over without any harm being done in your training. Sometimes it’s the best solution for both of you.
I’ve always thought that good training was “Pretzel Logic” in that working dogs is such a physical act but in reality it’s amazing just how much mental and emotional energy is expended if it’s done correctly.
I 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.
For those of you that aren’t Star Trek fans – it refers to Mr. Spock’s ability to access the mind of someone else that allows him to know what they are thinking. The perfect example of a handler and dog having a great run is embodied in Mr. Spock’s ritual “my mind to your mind” – wherein he establishes some sort of radio-like connection allowing him to eavesdrop another’s thoughts and/or to inject his own.
When you and your dog are in Sync that’s what it looks and feels like. Working a dog and connecting with a dog are two very different things. It’s like a relationship it’s ALL about chemistry. You can’t have it with every dog but when you find it … it is special.
Different people suit different dogs and you need to learn which “type” suits you. That will help you find a dog that will enable both you and the dog to enjoy working together. Why spend all the time and energy it takes to get a dog working correctly if he doesn’t fit you or your handling style? Why fight a dog that doesn’t suit you when he may just “fit” someone else? Where “more than likely” they would appreciate him more.
I’ve sold dogs that I thought were really nice dogs BUT didn’t “fit” my style of handling. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the dog … just I couldn’t connect with him enough to get the “mind mill thingy” going. :@)
If you’re an adrenaline junky and love running fast, sharp, high energy – high drive dogs but you are running a slow, smooth flanking, easy, quiet type … the odds are you are going to get irritated with him. It’s not his or your fault … it just means you don’t have “chemistry” with that particular dog. It’s very possible someone else would “completely click” with him. It’s not a matter of “right or wrong” – “good or bad” … it’s a matter of what suits your handling style.
We don’t all drive the same cars nor live in the same parts of the country. What you need is what feels the most like “home” to you … be it a house, a certain part of the country or a dog. I think it’s a comfortable feeling when are handling a dog that fits you “like a glove”.
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”.
If you want to learn how to train a “variety” of dogs then you need to learn to be flexible. If you choose only one methodology of training … you will limit your training abilities. Training goals remains the same but the method used to communicate with each dog will be diverse. A soft dog will not need nor understand the same depth of correction as a hard dog.
A wide flanking dog will not need the same “technique” to teach flanks as a dog that slices his flank. If you are rigid with your training and insist on using the same method on both dogs … it will either make a flanker too wide or encourage a tight dog to keep slicing.
Corrections should be used to communicate, connect and build trust with your dog. If you “overplay” or “underplay” your hand you won’t get the results you are looking for.
Corrections have to be given with – the right amount of pressure – at the RIGHT time – followed with the release – at the RIGHT time. If you release pressure when the dogs mind is in the wrong place … you reward him for being wrong. If you don’t release when his mind is connected to what you want … then you punish him for being right. ”In other words” if you are early or late with either pressure or release … you’re not communicating - you’re just giving commands and building confusion.
So, let’s see how to be flexible with 2 dogs and both tending to be tight on their flanks.
Our first dog is soft that takes correction “very much to heart” and can be so backed off she can becomes hesitant and slow. The paradox is she’s usually running too rapidly while she’s slicing her flank. But, we need to communicate that’s she’s to close to her sheep NOT that’s she’s to fast (work on that later). With this “sort” sometimes just leaning in with an “ah-ah” (the moment she tightens on her sheep) and then quickly backing off. She only needs a little pressure to widen out … so we back off in order to NOT slow her down (which would have meant she was loosing confidence and we were starting to overwhelm her). Tell her she’s wrong but don’t intimate her so much that she slows because of confusion. “In other words”, work only on the tight flank in order to keep her self-confidence up. Later, when she understands the correction you can work on slowing her flanks.
That’s being flexible … allowing her to be to fast keeps the uncertainty down so you don’t get sulky, slow flanks. But since our goal was to get a clean flank – we got what we wanted without “beating her down”.
The other dog is a bit hard – but really it’s more that he’s “into his sheep” and forgets you are in the picture. With this one you might need you to actually get in-between him and the sheep to communicate “back off”. You can not let him have his sheep until he flanks correctly because he’s not the “hesitant sort” that will slow down or lose confidence when pressure is put on. So, we need to use a strong correction to make sure he always keeps us in the back of his mind while he’s working.
Getting into the “face” of the soft one would be way “overkill” and she would lose “confidence” which is precisely what we are trying to build. Just saying “ah-ah” and leaning with our “hard” one wouldn’t even have registered on him.
So, whereas you are correcting both dogs for being “tight” you were flexible and adjusted your correction for each dog. Some dogs need “ground down” and others need “built up” … it’s your job to decipher which dog needs what at which stage.
If you want to succeed working stockdogs then you need to learn how to read both dogs and stock (and sometimes all in the same moment :@)
Try to observe the dog and read what he’s telling you … he may not be using words but he’s speaking to you “none the less”. The same goes for sheep – they speak volumes with body language. Then, just to make it more problematic, we need to add another very important “equation” – what is your dog communicating to the sheep. All these interactions combined are what make this so VERY difficult (and enjoyable).
You need to spend time observing both species separately and together to understand the subtle communication that goes on between them.
Not only do you need to learn to read body language … you have to “interpret” what they are “saying”. For example: If a dogs head turns away at the pen … is he avoiding or just trying to release pressure on the sheep. Some dogs do use this as avoidance … others as a technique to get sheep to do what they want without gripping. If you decide you don’t like this and correct it – you may be taking a “tool” out of the dogs working method that won’t allow him to function as efficiently as he might have.
You’re the trainer and you get to decide … BUT if you want to be a good trainer it’s invaluable to know when to correct and when NOT to correct. If the dog is communicating something to the sheep and you interrupt that communication … it’s going to have repercussions … some you might not have intended.
If a dog is walking up on his sheep and they are “eying” each other. There is a subtle battle going on as to who is going to be in charge. You are the referee and need to understand the rules before you “blow the whistle”.
You want the dog to have the confidence to walk “head on” into a confrontational sheep and you are trying to get him to do it with power and authority and not fear. So, if he’s walking on and you down him … you WILL take some of the power away. BUT if he’s walking on with gripping “in mind” … you may have to down him (especially, if that’s an issue you are working on). BUT what if you down him and the sheep thinks “I’ve won” and rams him just as you lie him down. You have taken a little confidence out of him (also of his trust in you) with some dogs it might not be a “deal breaker” but with others it would be.
This is where your “evaluation” comes in … is the sheep getting ready to give up and turn? If so downing the dog might be the best thing. It might stop a grip and take the right amount of pressure off to allow the sheep to move off the dog. Conversely, If the sheep was still debating if the dog had “enough in him” and you down him … you may “tip the scale” in the sheep’s favor and the dog loses confidence. If your dog is “the sort” that would grip in “self defense” … no harm, no foul (unless you repeat this error a lot) BUT if your dog is the “type” that is wavering on having “confidence issues” … this could “empty the glass” faster than you can fill it.
All dogs are different as are sheep … it’s your job to learn the weakness and strengths of both and use that knowledge to improve your shepherding skills.