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” …
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.
This is why I don’t judge trials … math and I are mortal enemies. OK, I can add but I sure wouldn’t be considered a linear or left brain person. However, one of the advantages of being mostly right-brained is you tend to be creative. I’ve found this comes in extremely handy for training dogs because it allows me to remain untethered in my thought process. I think it’s this “thought process” that makes me willing to try a lot of different techniques to solve a problem.
If you try to make training linear or just “black and white” without altering your training to fit the dog – it will limit the variety of dogs you can train. You can have two dogs with the same issue … one dog might need encouragement while another would need a firm hand. One of the best things I’ve learned through the years is to be flexible with a little patience thrown in.
All this is getting around to an update on the two 1/2 brother pups (that really aren’t pups anymore) I’m training.
Gear (just turned 2 in July):
Was/is “fast off the blocks”. Gear started running in nursery young and has won and placed on both hair sheep and range ewes. He’s a sharp, quick learner that was a pleasure to train. It was all about standing out-of-the-way and let him develop. He had all the right moves and tons of drive. His only fault is lack of push (and that’s more because of the way I like to run dogs). We have worked on that more for my comfort than his. He’s now shedding, sorting, and working on look-backs all without a lot of pressure from me.
Basically his training was all about “unwrapping a mind”.
However, it doesn’t mean everything went perfect. He had issues if he couldn’t “give” on an outrun he would stop (usually when a fence stopped him from “kicking out”). I had to walk out (over and over again) to encourage him to keep going even if a fence was “restricting” him from releasing pressure on the sheep. This was done to give him confidence – he didn’t need a correction – he needed information on how to accomplish what I had told him to do with what his instincts were telling him (a major conflict in his mind). This dog tries so very hard to be right that “getting on him” would have done nothing except “beat him down”.
Tech (will turn 2 in Sept):
He has hardly been “off the ranch” and sure hasn’t run in any trials. He is harder to train – not that he doesn’t have a ton of talent … but training was more teaching him how to listen so he could learn. I spent a lot of time trying to mold him into what I wanted. He’s not really hard-headed but he’s more inclined to get so involved with what he’s doing he tends to forget to listen.
Flanks are to him what math is to me “a un-comprehensible concept”. He’s just now understanding that “those” words being spoken to him actually have meaning. He’s still not set on his flanks but he’s beginning to understand that I’m asking him to change the sheeps direction. His original view of an outrun was “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line” - is now starting to shape and he’s giving room on his own.
Now, if I wasn’t flexible or I kept comparing him to Gear – we would have had major training issues. He has really good points – he’s ALL forward (which suits me) – he’s looser eyed (which I also tend to like). He has great feel on sheep (blended in with a bit of “chase”). The thing I’m trying to get across is “he’s NOT Gear” and that’s JUST fine! He is just going to take time to train up but he’s well worth the effort and time.
Basically his training was all about “shaping his mind”.
Talent is talent — it just comes in many different forms.
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”.
No not like the nuns wear — although those are black and white :@)
Most of my students seem to understand the concept that every dog is different but most don’t seem to correlate (even after acknowledging the differences in their dogs) they need to learn to incorporate solutions that include the dog, the problem, the handler, the sheep and the response given to all the above.
So, just what does that mean for you and your dog? Simply … you need to acquire the ability to "stand back" and REALLY see/hear what you are doing and how your dog is responding. If you and your dogs problem keeps recurring … then maybe you have created a habit that needs to be broken.
I’ve read that out of an estimated 11,000 signals we receive from our senses, our brain only consciously processes 40. The rest are accomplished without actually thinking about it or in "other words" … a lot of actions have developed into a habit. A habit is any action that we have performed so often that it becomes almost an involuntary response. So, if you having "issues" you need to learn to be aware of your actions – so it ceases to be an involuntary act. This will allow you to make a choice instead of just responding every time you perform this action.
Example: at "one point" in my training I was having an issue with dogs not stopping with my down whistle so I started to pay attention to the interaction between myself, my dog and my whistling. The conclusion: I was whistling … dog wasn’t responding … so I verbally said lie down. Thereby teaching my dog the whistle was a warning … but not a command. It was a habit I had adopted from training young dogs before they knew what a whistle was. However, after I had the habit it wasn’t long before all my dogs had acquired MY bad habit. They waited until they heard "the word" and weren’t responding to the whistle. So, I stopped using the verbal and started walking out to correct them with just the whistle. It had become such a habit I wasn’t even aware of it until I made myself … take a step back and observe myself objectively.
If you are having "issues" try to find out if it’s something that has become a habit. I’ve seen students say "lie down" (same tone) 3 times and then (and only then) start walking toward the dog YELLING "lie down" and for some "unknown" reason only "then" the dog downs. The dog understands he really doesn’t have to lie down until they yell … then they wonder why the training session always ends in yelling.
You need to stop, step back and pay attention to you and your dogs interactions. This is what lessons/clinics are good for – someone that’s not emotionally involved can help you figure out the WHY … this hopefully will allow you to get to a solution. Why the dog is reacting as he is … is first on the agenda and once that is solved — then you can work on finding the "ammunition" you need to fix the problem.
BUT how they finish that counts.
I’ve always worried about pups that start out doing every thing with “precision” – my concern “stems” from if they are “this good” at a year – will there be enough “engine” by the time they are 4? I’ve seen a lot of really good young ones that started with a bang and ended with a whimper. Through the years I’ve had very few pups start out ”perfect” that went on to finish into a great Open dog. Usually the pups that look like a “trained” dog when first started don’t have enough push to be competitive in open (before you panic if you have a really nice starter … I did say “usually” … nothing is carved in stone).
NOW after saying that … dang it’s sure fun to work them when they start out so well. To see smooth natural flanks is so refreshing if you have been fighting to push dogs out. To see them “kick out” on an outrun instead of you having to correct them to get them right is wonderful to watch. To see a young dog show so much feel, pace and flow makes working them pure pleasure.
So what can you do to overcome the dreaded curse of the “perfect starter”?
First thoughts in the equation of the “when is good too good” … is just how much training pressure is put on them. JUST because they are capable of doing an advanced agenda - doesn’t mean they are really ready to be pushed for “trial training”. So, “one solution” don’t make them do it perfectly all the time. Stir it up. Teach them that pace is great but some sheep need push. Teach them that slow and methodical is wonderful but not always practical. If every work session is quiet, slow, smooth … how will he ever learn that some sheep will stand and graze if he’s that “polite” to them. He needs to learn there are different methods to work sheep. He can learn to have pace AND push at the same time … but if all you do is make him pace … he will find “his bubble” too far off for sheep that don’t just “move off” dogs.
Also, mix up the “type” of sheep along with the way he works them … making sure you don’t put them in over their heads (i.e. don’t put them on a ram just to see if they have enough power!)
This can go for older dogs also. If you crank them down every day making every move they take perfect … it takes the joy out of working. So balance “rough work” with “finesse work” to get the best out of your dogs. Work light sheep – heavy sheep – a few sheep – a flock of sheep, etc. to keep dogs fresh in their work. If you do “course work” on the same 5 sheep day after day … you will both get stale and be in for a big surprise when you get “trial sheep” that don’t just “go through the motions”.
Learn to ascertain if your young “protege” is emotionally mature enough to take what you are “dishing out”. Savor and enjoy the “easy” training but make sure you always keep in the back of your mind you’re developing a complete working dog. So, STAY focused — the “end game” is a good open dog not a great nursery dog. If you are willing to work on it you can have both.
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.
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!
It takes a time, effort and a connection to develop a full communication system with your dog (notice I did not say “command” system).
It doesn’t start out that way. When you first start training the dog’s vocabulary is limited thereby putting limits as to what you can expect out of him. The more training he receives – the more knowledge he gains – the more you can expect. Eventually there will come a time when you have developed your communication blueprint with your dog, He understands what you are asking of him because you have spent the hours of training needed to make him flexible in both mind and body.
In the beginning of training a young dog has no conception of words — he needs physical pressure to help him grasp what we are trying to communicate to him. We don’t expect him to take a flank while we stand “in one spot” and say “away to me”. Its only when we apply pressure making him go that direction enough times – the word and the act start to congeal. It seems some trainers get “stuck” in this phase and never go any deeper in their training — their dogs physically make the “correct” moves but there is no understanding (from the dog) of why such an action was required. It’s closer to pattern training than actual teaching.
It’s important to recognize the difference between just teaching a dog a physical act and teaching a dog the combination of the physical and mental action. These dogs are special and need to understand WHAT and WHY there are doing something to truly absorb it. He may “be trained” to come running through on a shed (physical action) but that doesn’t mean he understands the “concept” (mental action) behind it. It just means he knows how to run through a gap between sheep.
Authentic training should make a dog understand “the purpose” of a maneuver. If a dog truly understands what you are asking there will not be conflict between the action and his acceptance of it. He will be comfortable in his “own skin”.
It’s our job to add new pressures one by one to “increase” his vocabulary. You break everything you want to teach him down into “slivers” of information. Then incorporate each of those “slivers” into what he already knows .. making sure these “slivers” combine both MENTAL and physical instruction to allow him to develop both mind and body.
As his training evolves he needs to learn which physical pressures are meant for him and which “just are” (i.e. a dog and person holding sheep on an outrun). Again its our job to clarify new information and give him the opportunity to grow and hone these new skills. Often, any dog “worth his salt” will resist new pressures and you will have to re-communicate what is expected of him. However, you can’t teach a dog that won’t listen to you
The dogs training routine should not be based on a set of programed exercises but should be based on the dogs reactions to your actions. A good training session “takes into account” the dogs attention span … is he learning and absorbing or just “going through the motions”.
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.
I’m in the process of buying and selling sheep. I put a lot of effort keeping my flock fresh for “dog work”. I do have a herd of Dorpers that I breed and keep replacement lambs out of. I also have a few Cheviots (just because I like them :@) that I breed. However, the majority of the flock I use until they are dog broke and then sell them on and buy more. I try to bring fresh ones in every 3 or 4 months.
I think using different “type” (in the sense of how they react to a dog not just the breed) is the best thing for allowing a dog develop. I don’t think a dog will truly understand stock if you continue to use the same sheep you started your pup on all the way into teaching the finer movements an open dogs needs. Puppy sheep hardly react to the ”course” moves a puppy makes - so they sure won’t respond to “finesse” movements.
It’s not easy to get fresh sheep but unless you have a ranch that has thousands of sheep so you can cut fresh ones off daily … I think it’s the second best thing.
So, you say what am I looking for in sheep?
First, of course, for pups I try to always keep some ”knee knockers” around - these type allow dogs to get very close to them and will try to come to you no matter what the dog is doing. This helps a young pup (that doesn’t know where to be ) to get to the other side.
Then I try to keep some sheep that won’t run when a dog walks up on them. These “type” of sheep “push” back on a dog and need pressure from the dog to MAKE them go. This helps to teach a dog how to lift properly. If your sheep always run when they see a dog … he can’t learn HOW to lift … because all he’s really doing is playing “catch up”. Sometimes putting hay down helps give sheep a little resistance and teaches the dog that not ALL sheep take off just because he’s “there”.
For teaching the drive you need free-flowing sheep that don’t “kill themselves” trying to come back to you. They need to move away from a dog but not run … dogs needs to be able to take hold and direct them not just run along behind trying to catch up.
Then for teaching outruns I try to have “some” sheep that will run towards something (NOT me). Mine run towards the barn they sleep in so I always try to go up the field and send the dog back down for a outrun. If you time it right … as the sheep are running away the dog HAS to bend out or the sheep will outrun him. If the sheep run towards you as soon as a dog gets near them .. they soon learn to flatten out and cut in on the outruns. Why would they try to be correct when it gets them nowhere.
To “peak a dogs interest” I use wild sheep. These “type” will also teach a dog where to be faster than all the corrections you can give. Don’t let him just chase … make him work them correctly but LET HIM WORK.
Ewes and lambs to teach patience and how to stand up for himself.
Yes, it’s a hassle to swap/sell sheep out and get new ones but well worth it for your dogs training. Training isn’t just teaching a dog to do certain moves but HOW to do those moves to create a reaction from the sheep.
One of the reasons working stock is so interesting is because you are working with 2 separate species that have dire opposite needs. It’s the combination of these different needs intertwining that allows us (the 3rd part of this “puzzle”) to accomplish our goals. Dogs want to get close enough to the sheep that they can control every movement – while sheep want to get enough distance from the dog that they don’t feel threatened.
In “other words” dogs want to catch the sheep the sheep want to run away — somehow in your training you need to combine the needs of both species in order to make them comfortable enough to get your work done. In this “cat and mouse” game … a lot of novices are so focused on the “cat” they forget to take the “mouse” into account.
One of your jobs as a trainer/handler is to try to figure out what would make the sheep feel less threaten while “at the same time” keeping your dog empowered. Which means you have to know your dog and how specific sheep respond to him. If you have a strong pushy dog and are working light/flighty sheep – then you need to train your dog to understand that distance and pace will settle his sheep. If your dog is “light” and the sheep are “the type” that will challenge him - then maybe you need to let the dog come on hard on the lift – then back him off. If you have “running” sheep that won’t stop no mater what your dogs does - you better keep your dog in close enough contact to guide them or you will lose them completely.
You have to learn to understand sheep not just your dog. Taking the sheep’s “needs” into account is a necessity if you want to work them successfully. If you look at them as “just something to work your dog on” you will never get the best out of your dog. I’ve always said you can tell how someone trains by watching how their sheep react to dogs.
Do you work the sheep until they are so “numbed down” they don’t respond to the dog. If you work the sheep too long without “changing them out” (when they get tired)you will “create” sheep that just go through the motions of moving away. This not only ruins your sheep but ALSO your dog. A dog can’t be trained correctly on sheep that don’t respond. I have seen people who work their sheep until their heads are down and they are just moving … not connected to anything the dog is doing. Think about it from your dogs “point of view” … he’s hunting a “dead” animal … where’s the challenge in that. Not to mention - lack of respect for sheep.
Or do you keep your sheep running all the time so they never have a chance to settle and lean on a dog … letting him guide them. They are afraid of the dog not respectful (which is the correct “response” the sheep should have). You and the dog need to respect the sheep … only then will the sheep respect the dog. That will never be achieved by dogs chasing sheep. If your sheep SEE a dog and take off running as fast as they can … how can your dog possibly work them? All he can do is play “catch up”. There is no feel, no control, no thought, just chase. That’s not working … it’s harassment.
Do you work them in such a small area that neither dog nor sheep can find “a distance” that feels comfortable. Don’t get me wrong … I have a round pen and I use it with dog broke sheep (that have learned to come to me for safety). I think it makes it easier to control both sheep and pup. But the only reason this works is that the dog broke sheep have been “ground down” to have a very tight flight zone. “Normal” sheep with “wider boundaries” would be running from both the dog and me. So, starting there is fine … but get out in the open as soon as you see your dog trying to figure out where to be on his sheep.
Sheep are not “toys” for dogs … they are living breathing animals and need to be treated with respect – after all – we wouldn’t be able to enjoy all the aspects of working our dogs without them.
Ever watch a group of Border Collies ”at play”. They usually “key” off one dog and react to whatever that particular dog is doing. If the “key” dog goes from a high energy play mode to a more relaxing one … the rest of the pack will follow suit. If that dog decides to go lay down … the energy in the group will drop dramatically. If you take that dog totally out of the group … the dynamics change completely. They are all “feeding off” the reactions of that individual dog. So, he is the “key” to that packs “structure”.
Dogs “absorb” energy and YOU are the KEY to the type of energy they use to work their livestock. Step back and take a look at your interactions with your dog. When you’re working do you give off hyper energy … yelling, flailing around, and generally making your dog crazy? Or, are you so quiet that you don’t project ANY energy so the dog is left with nothing to “bounce” off of? You need to try to reach the balance between positive and negative. No energy isn’t what the dog needs but all positive isn’t going to get the job done either. You can’t run/train a dog without corrections … dogs aren’t mind readers nor perfect.
Watch handlers you admire work. Do they stay calm, quiet and methodical in their handling only correcting when they need to? Or are they hyper, tense, and over-reacting to both the dog and the stock? When they walk off (even after a bad run) are they still appreciative of their dog? When they are working do they keep a positive attitude toward themselves and their dog?
Remember your attitude and energy will be passed to your dog every time you work – so you need to learn how to use both to help him work better. The “goal is to project an energy that will allow him to work calmly and a positive attitude that he will “absorb”, helping him work better in the future.
Have you ever had days where every single dog you worked seemed “off” … the common denominator is you. “More than likely” you are throwing off unconstructive energy and it’s “rubbing off” on the dogs. When you are stressed you bring out the worse in your dog.
This carries over to trialing. If you go with the attitude that it’s a waste of time and you’re not ready. Guess what … you’re liable to “live down” to your expectations. If you go with a I HAVE to win approach – you will funnel all that tension into every command you give and it will come out in how your dog works.
Working a dog is as much mental as physical (for both you and the dog). You have to get into not only your dogs mind but also yours … and try to keep them both … cool, calm and collected.
I’m working a dog that flanks too wide on one side. It’s not his outruns only his flank and only on one side. So, I’m trying to teach him the difference between a wide flank and a tighter one. Until he understands there is more than one way to flank … I won’t be able to communicate which one I want.
I start the session (when he’s fresh) with the sheep close by (not an outrun). I give him a short crisp flank sound (either whistle or voice) … and send him “away” making sure I don’t drag out the sound. Then while he’s flanking I wait until the minute he’s starting to break wide … and I say stand, and then walk up – walk up. After he’s walked up (and gotten closer to his sheep) I will repeat the flank (the same way as before … short, crisp word or whistle, stop and walk up). If he “beats me” and gets too wide flank … I stop him and flank him back the way he came (so since we are working on a away side … it would be a come-bye) and then a walk up.
You need sheep that will walk away … running sheep will only make him want to break wider. So, something easy and quiet that will allow you to help him understand what you are working on.
After doing the above for a few minutes I then give a long wide flank make him flank ALL the way around to teach him the difference between the two. Then back to the “tighter” flanks and walk ups.
Another method I use is when he starts to break wide … I will turn the flank into a shed (which he loves) and say in “here-here” and he comes flying in. I don’t want to do that to often since I really didn’t set him up for a shed and don’t want him “pre-meditating” that maneuver :@) However, doing it every once in a while makes him not want to run as wide and keeps him in contact with his sheep.
With a few hard dogs I’ve had to use a long line in a round pen. I don’t use this with soft or sensitive dogs. You need one with a “bit” of drive about them but it will help. You have a long line and give the flank … when he starts to break wide … correct (hey, here, or whatever) and give a tug. Make sure your angle is correct or you will pull him back toward you and not the sheep. You want him to stay the same distance from the sheep he was … not go wider. You don’t keep pressure on the line … just give a little “tug” to keep him from going wider.
I remember before I had ever trained a wide running one … people telling me that was harder issue to fix than one that was too tight. I had my doubts … I had spent so many hours pushing mine out - I just wanted to try that for a change :@) Well, “watch what you wish for” … you know what … they were right :@) If the “wide” part is programmed in … it’s hard to override.
However, it’s only one side and a flank with this dog so I’m not “overly” worried about it. On really wide running ones it’s usually both sides and often flanks and outruns (BUT not always … go figure :@)
He’s progressing well in most areas. He needs work on his hill outwork (hard for this flatlander to find :@) This time of year is the worse time to “trailer out” because of the foxtails … so not sure he’s going to get that until fall.
His biggest “flaw” right now is pace. He has a hard time understanding that he CAN work sheep from a distance and pacing himself down. So, that’s the main focus right now. I walk with him for miles and just say “time – time” and he’s fine when I’m walking with him (and putting pressure on to reinforce it).
The way I work on pace — I will have around 5 sheep (don’t want too many as it makes him want to flank instead of ”line”). I have the sheep on one side of me and the dog on the other … all in a triangle (I’m the point of the triangle). I walk … the sheep walk … and I MAKE him walk. I don’t down him I say time and put pressure on … by taking a step toward him … pointing the crook at him and growl time – if he slows down I release pressure. This allows him to make the same mistake again and get another correction. But it also puts the responsiblity to slow down on HIM. If I just downed him I would be taking that responsibility.
I’m trying to keep the distance between me, the sheep and the dog the same the entire time I’m walking with him. If I HAVE to down him … I will but then I “cluck” to him to walk on again.
He’s beginning to “get that” but when he takes the sheep and just drives off he will only go so far before he tries to speed up and when reminded to “take time” he “tries” to ignore the command (unless I get loud which is NOT what I want to reinforce … only listen when I yell:@).
I try not to work on pace when he’s still fresh and ready to go. I will do a number of outruns to tire him out (if that’s possible :@) before I move on to pace. This allows him to burn some of that youthful steam off before I try to “grind him down”.
Sometimes when he does slow down he tends to disengage from the sheep (also not what I want) by stopping and standing instead of slowing down (telling me he really doesn’t fully understand the concept). Occasionally he will turn around and look at me (confusion). When he does that I say nothing … just wait until he looks back at his sheep … then I repeat the command.
I could just down him but I always feel that takes the incentive out of them. I would be controlling him instead of teaching him HOW to control himself. That’s NOT to say I never down him – I do. It’s just I’m working on “take – time” (not down … he knows how to down – Well, “most of the time” :@).
“All that said” … I would rather have one I’m always trying to slow down that one I have to encourage on. I’m trying to develope an open dog so it’s better to take it slowly making sure I keep the push in him. If the dog has “it” in him … age often cures “too pushy” issues that young dogs have.
I’m working with a dog now that will not push through the bubble. When you are loading stock into a trailer you need enough push and flank to keep the stock going forward. If a dog flanks off and gives too much ground, the stock start going sideways and it stops the forward movement.
Sometimes, it’s “just” the way the dog is but often it’s because they’ve never really learned how to push, hold and flank all at the same time.
So, that’s what we are working on. We started up against a fence trying to have him push until they split. When we first started he would only walk up to a certain point and then lie down because he knew if he pushed any farther they would break. I needed to teach him that’s precisely what I want (hard with dogs that have a lot of feel to keep the sheep together).
He would flank easily but not put enough pressure on the sheep to MAKE them go into a pen they didn’t want in. He needed walk up until they almost split (taking up the slack), then flank sideways, tuck and hold (not giving up the ground he just “won”). Not all sheep need this but when you need it … it’s very frustrating to have a dog that doesn’t how to push through that bubble.
He slowly began to understand what I was asking for. But, at first, if he broke through “his comfort zone” he would grip … and I fussed but didn’t really get “on him”. A hard correction would have meant everything he did was wrong. So, I let him know that gripping wasn’t what I wanted while making sure that it didn’t take the “drive” out of him. A quiet “hey – hey” to let him know I didn’t like that “part” of what he did (if he gripped and “hung on” … I was much firmer with my correction.)
Once he’s enjoying “pushing on” then I will refine it down so he learns to push and then flank to tuck right before they break and then push again. All the pretty flanks in the world won’t push sheep into a dark hole they don’t want to go into but “at the same time” he needs to learn how to do it without gripping.
Zamora is one of those trials that makes even seasoned trialers take one look at the course and say “WOW”! The course — either one — as sometimes they have it across from their house and other times it’s held at “Henry’s field”. Both fields are rolling hills needing a dog with scope and listening skills because — after a 600 yard difficult outrun the dog has to lift non dog-broke range ewes that have no real desire to come down that 600 yard steep hill.
The sheep strong and healthy with a mind of their own needed a dog to guide them with authority. If the dog pushed to hard they split – didn’t push enough they stalled. It took push with finesse and often even that wasn’t enough to convince them to go through the panels (they were very panel shy on the first run … much better on the 2nd). The real nemesis was the pen and that was the difference between a wining run and a placement.
The weather was perfect – unlike last year where the rain never ceased. There was a huge field across from the trial field that the Slaven’s were kind enough to open up for handlers to walk their dogs - making life much more pleasant for handlers and dogs alike.
For those of you that don’t know the Slaven’s … they have been raising sheep on that ranch for generations. Bill’s father and grandfather were both sheep ranchers. They passed the ranch on to Bill and now his son Micheal is carrying on the tradition. A few years back they lost almost their entire flock (I believe over 900 sheep) due to a fire. They still ”went on” to have the trial even though they had to rent sheep since they didn’t have enough of their own.
Bill appreciates a good working dog … and that’s why he puts on the trial. He doesn’t run in it and never stops working while it’s going on. Hopefully, handlers understand that we are extremely lucky to have these generous people involved in the sheepdog world and appreciate all that they offer.
Real work is about what is practical and efficient. Trialing attempts to take what is practical and efficient to precise and perfect. That’s why it requires more interaction and entails such mental discipline on the part of a handler/dog team.
I have never understood the “thought process” that trialing isn’t practical. The phases of work that transpires at a trial are common occurrences in every day shepherding. The difference is your work is being judged and has to be brought up to a higher standard.
Separating ewes out that are bred (in order to feed them extra) is one maneuver that is used frequently (shedding). Driving sheep through gates simulates driving sheep to the next field through a gate. Much easier “at home” because there is a fence on “either side” of “those” gates funneling the sheep through also the sheep KNOW where the gate is. Penning, driving, outruns are all necessary to any sheep operation. I’ve always thought trialing was one of the best ways to improve the genetics of working dogs. It’s a place to see numerous dogs work and see their strengths and weakness. Hopefully allowing us to see potential breeding quality we need to improve the working dog.
Why people trial is another story. For some it’s the “glory” for others it’s a to see how their dogs measure up to other dogs.
I’ve always try to look at trials as a gauge to see where my dogs are in their training and to find what I need to work on. Winning is great and we all enjoy it but it doesn’t make you nor your dog any better/worse than before you walked to that post.
Then, there are some people that make trialing miserable for everyone attending. Instead of watching dogs looking for the special ones -no, instead - they use it as a time to put down everything and everybody. Each and every dog and handler has good and bad qualities. To look for the negative in every run in order to say how much better they could do … is a way to try and build themselves up by putting others down. I understand not liking a dog or a way a handler handles a dog … everyone has their preferences — but to go out of your way to LOOK for faults … isn’t good for trialing.
There is a top handler I admire very much as I’ve never heard him put down either handler nor a dog. He looks at dogs and if you ask him what he thinks he will point out the good parts of the run. He’s a pleasure to be around and makes a trial an enjoyable place. I wish there were more like him as I think he’s the best PR there is for dog trialing.