The only thing that’s “black and white” in training – is the dog.

There are a numerous issues that come up regularly through out the years of giving lessons – I will focus on a couple I’ve been running into lately.

The first is trying to make Novices understand training occurs even if they aren’t working sheep. For some reason they think that *training* only applies when they are *on* stock never realizing that habits are being formed (good and bad) before you take them to stock.

I’ve gotten dogs in for training that were allowed to work stock “in their mind” thereby making it impossible to get them to connect to me and work at the same time. Dogs can and will work sheep (mentally) even if they aren’t “physically moving” them. So, lying and staring at sheep for hours on end can and will cause issues “down the road”.

I’ve had some that were allowed to work stock (on their own) and then when the owner walked out they were corrected for working. So, the “association” they have with work —  it’s only permitted when a person is NOT involved. Then they send it to a trainer expecting “a miracle”.

I’ve had dogs come in for training … that worked stock from the other side of the fence and when “taken” to sheep would only run back and forth … never casting around sheep. Their first exposure and experience of work was running crazily without thought in a straight line – not useful for moving livestock.

True, these are extremes but the “thought process” is the same even if it’s a “minor” thing like not coming the first time he’s called. If he won’t come when there isn’t a distraction as strong as sheep … what will he do when he’s in full “work mode”?

So, Novices need to adjust their thought process to understand that even if they aren’t “on” stock it is still considered “training” even if they choose not to acknowledge it.

Another issue is understanding good training means the handler adjusting themselves to “fit” the dog not the other way around. If you can’t be flexable you will only be able to train one *type* of dog. This seems to be something some of my students have difficulty understanding.

A couple of examples:

I have a dog that’s just starting to drive and isn’t confident about just taking them and going. However, every once in awhile when I call him off and walk away he will turn back and start driving them. If he was chasing or just flanking around to bring them I would “get after him”. What he is doing is exactly what we were working on … calmly driving on. So, instead of getting upset – I just allow it. Now, with other dogs I’ve trained I would never allow such a thing – because most of them would be the type that if you give them “an inch they take a mile” so it wouldn’t work. However, this dog is VERY biddable and needs very little correction. So, I know it will be much easier to put a “that’ll do” on later than it would be to try to instill the confidence and enjoyment of driving  – if I take anything out of him at this stage of training.

Another dog I’m training I had to totally adjust my usual “routine”. I give my dogs a lot of freedom to just “be dogs”. I’m not one of those that makes them walk behind me or not allow them to be the first ones through a gate. However, this dog needed a lot stronger control than any I had trained before. So, I worked on my control “off stock” a lot harder than I normally do. I made him lay down in the crate and wait while I let all the other dogs out (VERY hard for him to do). I made him *heel* follow when I was out in the yard (while the other dogs were running around). I tied him out next to me while I gave lessons and MADE him remain calm (that was almost impossible for him at the start). I was working on his mind through his body … making him remain calm no matter what was going on around him.

Two totally different dogs requiring two opposite attitudes in training … with one … I let things *slide* and the other I don’t *give an inch*. By being flexible I try and *draw* out the best of each dog.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Donna says:

    I’m so glad that I found your blog. You give me so much to think about with my training. I’m a novice with my first stockdog, an Aussie. Your thoughts on working on a dog’s body through his mind really hit home with me. I’ve shared this blog post with my herding friends.

    1. I’m glad it was helpful … you sound like me … I enjoy thinking about the training almost as much as the training :@)

      1. Donna says:

        Yes. I call myself a “herding nerd.” I’m over the top obsessed : ) I go to bed at night thinking about it and find myself daydreaming about it. I read blogs and lists and books. I’m sure I’m a pain at clinics because I watch everyone work and ask lots of questions. But, I’m the weak link in the team with my dog. He definitely “gets it.” I’m the one who has to do my homework. And, part of that needs to be consistency off stock as well as on. The sad truth is, my dog is better behaved in a herding enviornment that in my house. But, we are working on it.

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