Looking under the hood

I have a few young dogs that are just starting and thought I would comment on what I’m looking at/for when I work them at this young stage. All I’m looking for is a glimmering of “things to come”. I’m not expecting a pup to work like trained dog … but I am looking for the potential of one. There are things I will “note” so I will have an idea of what I’m are going to need to “adjust” in my training to get the best out of them.

I want to “see” the kind of eye that holds the dog back “just enough” that allows him to keep his sheep together but not so much he won’t push into his sheep.

I want to see him trying to control the direction and speed of the sheep.

I’m wanting a natural cast … meaning “at this stage” … he doesn’t run straight for them but curves around trying to contain the entire “bunch”. “In other words” seeing if he wants to go around ALL the sheep not just what his eye catches.

I want to see if he will push pass “pressure point” to keep them moving (even if that means coming in for a little wool grabbing). Or will he just keep flanking around trying to hold the sheep instead of making them move forward.

I want to see if how much he cares that I’m in the picture – also if he moves away (or towards) my pressure. Some dogs don’t move away from pressure but towards it (so you need to note that so you can work around it as training progresses).

I’m looking to see if he he likes to cover his sheep? Does he cover both sides “equally” or tend to eye up the first/ last sheep one one side or another. Does he always want to go to the head or is he comfortable controlling heads from the back of the sheep?

If he happens to get one off by itself … does he try to control or just “forget it” and come back toward the others (might give “insight” if he will like to shed)?

How much drive/desire he has. When you finish does he keep trying to “go back for more”.

How well does he “read” sheep?

His thought process. Does he process information and correct himself … or do I need to give a growl to help him “figure it out”.

How well does he learn/retain training information.

Is he flexible – when I move does he counter – balance or does he eye up one sheep and ignore the others as they move away.

If one falls behind … does he try to tuck the one back with the group or flank and take the group back to the one? Or just leave the one behind and work the rest.

Does he take correction well or does he get tense, sulk, pout, or “fade out” when ever he is faced with a correction?

How much tension does he carry? When/where does he carry it?

Can he speed up and slow down when the sheep “call for it” or does he only have one speed no matter what the sheep are doing?

How does he respond to sheep breaking or if they stand and face him?

At “last but not least” … actually one of THE most important things “in my book” at all times, I’m trying to ascertain his METHOD on sheep.

Of course, all the above is in “raw puppy form”.

I’m sure a lot of you are saying that’s all very nice but I’m not starting a pup …. BUT I do exactly the same thing with every dog I work. I spend a lot of training time asking questions.

So, if you will “ask” these (and other) questions about your dog “each and every time” you go out to work  – you will begin to get clues as to what you need to work on.


Is he slow on his flanks when he needs to be quick and sharp and that’s why you are missing panels?

Does he not put enough pressure on sheep to keep their “thought process” moving forward … if not … maybe that’s why you are running out of time at the pen?

Is he eying up as he flanks around … causing a fight or a grip off.

Is he stiff on his flanks and not flexible so you never get the sheep penned?

Is he flanking too wide/tight causing problems?

Is he “drawing” his sheep back on him so much that you are stalling out?

If you don’t look and analyze each work session trying to “sort” what he’s doing right from what he’s doing wrong … you can’t correct “the wrong”. The “first step” to correcting a problem is to figure out “why” something is going wrong … then start looking for solutions. IF every time you go out to work you never REALLY observe what the dog is doing that is causing you problems … you’re NOT training you’re just moving sheep around.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. another tasty plate of information!

  2. S. W. Boswell says:

    I have a BC pup that shows herding is in her genes. Her pedigree verifies this. I am very
    inexperienced (my first try). The pup is only 8 months old and I think by the time she is a year old she will blossom. My vocals are on the weak side. DO USE A WHISTLE in your training ?
    Really enjoy you training commentaries. Thanks

  3. Sure, I use a whistle a lot … but usually only for distance. When they are “up close” I use my voice. But if you can whistle softly that will work as well. Just make sure to keep it soft when they are close to you.

  4. Harrington's Top Dog Training Academy says:

    Hey, great visual on the blog,I love the setup.I recently rescued a border collie,and she has never been trained for any job. I do know that she shows signs of wanting to herd my horses. I have been searching for information about this kind of training and I really got some good information here. I will definately be back to learn more. Thank you

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