Candy Kennedy – Trials and Errors

“Speaking in foreign tongues”


As one of my students often states “never in my life have I’ve ever worked so hard to be so mediocre” :@). Training working dogs is difficult … no doubt about it. Especially for novices trying to understand dogs, sheep and how they interact.

So, what is IT that makes training Border Collies so complex? It’s a combination of different things. The first is that we are not training dogs how to make “just” a physical movement but hopefully allowing them to understand that each of their movements will cause a corresponding movement in the sheep. The second is, “all the while” we communicating “our wants and needs” .. the dog has inborn instincts that are “speaking” to them just as loudly as we are. Then throw in the sheep’s reactions “to all of this” and as they say you better be ready “to step up to the plate”.

When you were a child and looked at a book all you saw was squiggles on paper which was impossible to read until you learned each and every letter in the alphabet. Only then those squiggles become letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, and eventually you turned all you learned – into concepts. You can’t get anywhere in your training until you and the dog are ”on the same page”  communicating with each other. So, first you have to learn the ABC’s of how to communicate what you need to the dog – while always trying to understand his method of work”.

Let’s use the  flank is your beginning letter A. Learning how fast, far, tight, etc. your dog flanks will be a start to grasping your “working alphabet”  …  if you are saying THERE – to a slow wide flanking dog (while you are watching the sheep not the dog) then he will turn in a totally different spot than a tight fast edgy flanker would. You two need to come to an agreement and get in “sync” to the “timing” of the letter A – before you can make it the first letter of your alphabet.

So, spend the time watching your dog, the sheep’s reaction to the dog and try to get your timing perfected so when you tell him something it makes sense to him. If you are working on balance and you are telling him “there” to turn into the sheep and he’s “off balance” … you will erode the “letter” you are trying to build. You will need to reach an understanding” on each letter of the alphabet (and with EACH dog) and apply it to every phase of the work.

The same goes for buying a trained dog as to training one. When you first get a trained dog you need to come to an agreement to what ABC means before you can speak the words and then on to a sentences and paragraphs … eventually leading to a book. Again,  If you are on “different pages’ in  what the basics mean you will never be able to write that novel.

Just remember all of this takes time … just as it did to learn the alphabet and to read. So, don’t get discouraged just keep learning those letters and soon you will have enough words to form a sentence, a paragraph and in time “your”  book. When things go wrong (as they will) just remember it’s just a chapter not the whole book.

One response

  1. Pingback: Keeping Your Dog » Blog Archive » “Speaking in foreign tongues” « Training Border Collies

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