No downs allowed
One of the most common questions asked by novices is … HOW do you slow a dog down????
There are a number of ways to slow a dog down and each has its place in training – after all the more techniques you have to communicate what you want to your dog – the easier training will be for both of you.
The first and easiest “slow down” is of course the “good old-fashioned lie down”. However, if this is your “stand by” solution to the majorty of your problems … then you are very limited to how deep your training will be. If your dog downs just because you told him to and not because he understands the reason (he’s putting too much pressure on his sheep) then you are training for obedience not for sheep sense. In other words all you are doing is teaching a physical down not a mental correction — always remember you are trying to change them mentally not just physically.
A better way to teach pace is to put pressure on the sheep using them to allow him to grasp that too much pressure isn’t always good. So let’s say he’s behind his sheep fetching but pushing hard. If your voice is saying “take time” BUT you keep backing up you are giving him a “green light” to keep on pushing. STOP backing and walk forward putting pressure on the dog and sheep making them both stop their forward momentum (keep the sheep in front of you don’t let them get around you). When sheep split (in front of you not go around you) it tends to make a dog either lean sideways or “rock back” which slows them down (and the best part is it’s NOT because YOU made him but because the SHEEP required it). They can’t be going sideways and forward all at the same time (well, some dogs are fast enough it might feel like they are :@)
You need to learn to teach a dog NOT to push past your presence. I know it’s hard for a novice to realize they have a “bubble” around themselves as well as the sheep do, and your dog should not push those sheep into YOUR bubble. Which is what he is doing if the sheep go flying past you with the dog still pushing on.
Another subtle way to teach him not to push so hard … is when he is trying to push sheep hard you shift sideways to keep him flanking (really it’s more like bending that actually flanking). The point of this exercise is to not let him get any closer to his sheep by going straight at them — you do it by always changing the balance point. It’s to teach him NOT to “engage” his forward gear until you release pressure (by backing up) that allows him to “come on up”.
This is a hard concept to explain and often even harder to accomplish. The dog is trying to get to the balance point and what you are trying to do is keep him “off-balance” just enough (NOT so much he’s running in circles) that he stops putting any forward pressure on his sheep. You keep sliding sideways so that when he starts to turn IN the sheep’s heads have moved farther over since you (instead of backing up) have shifted which makes him feel uncomfortable about coming forward. So, he starts bending out instead of coming forward and “guess what” — all done without a down.