I import, buy and sell a lot of trained dogs and receive many questions.
Complex question … what should you do when you buy a trained dog? Simple answer: Start over.
It sounds odd but that really is the best way to approach it. Just because a dogs trained doesn’t mean he’s trained “to you”. Your voice, your body movements, your approach to the sheep will be totally unique to you … and before “you two” can become a team, he has to learn about “you” (at the same time you will be learning about him). So, start “up close and personal” allowing the dog to adjust to “your ways”. Don’t expect “to much – to soon”.
You don’t want to start with a fight first time out so go out with a leash slipped through his collar – you can release it quickly when you get close to the sheep. When you start working him … treat him like a started pup … have him circle with you following him. Start saying the commands so he begins to learn your voice. Try not to down him but just allow him to work – control can come later after he WANTS to work for you.
I want to repeat that. A dog may work for you and do OK but until that dog WANTS to work for you … you’ll never get the best out of him. So, that’s your first goal … a willing partner.
Keep the sheep close to you so he doesn’t have a chance to do anything wrong. Make it light and enjoyable for both of you. When you down him try to have him in a position that makes him comfortable enough to want to lie down.
Outruns might be tight when you first start so don’t send him on a 300 yard one and get mad when he’s not correct. Go stand next to the sheep (as you would a young dog) before you send him – make him understand what you want.
Depending on the dog, driving might be very awkward with him trying to head them or slice on his flanks. So, walk with him … just as if he didn’t know how to drive. Again, you are building trust and understanding that makes him WANT to work for and with you.
It’s not that he doesn’t know HOW … he’s just not relaxed enough to do it correctly. Your job is to communicate that this isn’t a “test” and he just needs to calm down and work.
Students often worry about getting a dog with different whistles than theirs. I usually say just switch to your own whistles. Even if you use the whistles that came with the dog … yours WILL sound different. So, if you want to change … do it when you first get him. It might take a little longer for him to pick them up than if you had kept his original ones … but it still takes time to learn yours even if you stay with what he had on him.
Years ago a friend and I use to joke about a “saying” that was told to us about buying trained dogs. The “saying” was … keep the dog with you for 2 weeks before ever sending him to sheep. We decided that we couldn’t wait that long BUT agreed that it was best to wait until we got them off the plane before we worked them.
It takes time to REALLY get with even the good ones. So plan on a year before you are truly a team. Their body usually goes to work for you right away , the mind is next but it takes time for them to give you their “heart and soul”. It’s worth the wait.