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”.