Blame game


First off I want to state I am a steadfast believer in good breeding. But, that said it takes “two to tango” and a trainer has a LOT to do with how a dog develops. All those “good genes” will be wasted if not trained properly. Also, the owner plays a big part before the dog ever gets to sheep. If the dog has never been disciplined off stock and I have to correct the dog for tearing into my sheep. What is he going to associate with that correction? “More than likely” sheep are “off limits”. Not a useful assumption if we want him to work sheep.

I see so many students thinking if they get a well-bred dog all their problems will be solved and then proceed to get frustrated when they aren’t. They assume their pup will automatically cast around sheep and bring them without any training. I hate to be the “bearer of bad news” but 99 percent of the time that’s not the scenario that unfolds. Border Collies are hardwired to work (well-bred ones have MUCH better wiring), however, even the good ones can start out with more “hunt” than “herd”. One sided, too tight, too fast, too wide, grippy, lacking confidence. I could go on and on. The point being – that’s what a trainer is for – to help the dog sort through these unwanted inclinations. Again, I want to emphasize that a dog with good breeding is easier to help work through those issues … because the DNA is in there and will “surface” IF trained correctly. I.E. most dogs chase when they are first exposed to stock – the well-bred ones will find their distance with the trainers help. The poorly bred ones never find that distance because there is nothing in their genes to develop.

When I hear trainers blaming the dog (and do I realize sometimes the dog just lacks talent) – I think if there weren’t issues we would all be out of a job :@)  Isn’t it up to the trainer to get the best out of each and every dog? I truly believe nothing will make you grow more as a trainer than learning how to sort different issues dogs have. I feel the same about blaming the students – yes, some have talent/ability and some don’t. But that’s our job – to teach dog and student to the best of their abilities (assuming they truly want to learn – not just argue :@).

Novices – when working a young dog for the first time. You want dog broke sheep that tend to come to you … NEVER sheep that will “face” a dog off. The first goal is to get the dog comfortable being around sheep. For some it comes easily – some we need to reassure, others we need to protect the sheep. We experiment to find the least pressure it takes to make the pup aware of our presence without taking their focus off sheep. Sometimes, the trainer has to make the sheep move allowing the dog to think they are causing this movement. Other times we need to “block” a dog or even use a long line to control the dog from biting sheep. Again – that’s what a trainer is for.

I always tell my students that if I think they are wasting their time and money – I’ll be the first to tell them. However, the first few times I see a dog I’m still trying to figure out what will help him/her work better. What can I do as a trainer to bring out everything this dog has to offer. I don’t blame the dog – I work with what I’ve been “given”. I don’t make “snap” judgments, but I do analyze the dog and his interaction with the sheep so I can make a better “training plan” for that particular dog. I find it challenging to get into a dog’s mind and help him work sheep more productively.

Novices often ask what is the most difficult issue to “fix” (usually hoping their dog doesn’t have one of “those” difficult issues). My comment is it depends on the “total” package (which includes them!)

For instance – I personally don’t like a lot of eye BUT if it’s combined with forward – I can deal with it a lot easier than if it’s combined with an extreme cautiousness to put pressure on sheep. However, for some novices that eye can be a “lifesaver”. It gives them time to think and learn about sheep work. So, although might not be my ideal dog – it might allow them to learn at a faster rate. That’s what I focus on (not IF I like the dog or not) but what can I do to help both dog and student “connect” and progress.

I don’t like dogs with bad outruns but if they are biddable and willing to learn I can put an outrun on. It’s not that I “can’t” –  just prefer not to! BUT, if a student has a bad outrunning dog it’s my responsibility to show them every “trick in the trade” I know to improve it. It’s their decision if they can “live” with that flaw – not mine.

My main point is a good trainer will work with whatever “type” of dog you have and not just keep pointing out the negative.  It might not be the best dog for the trainer – but training is what you are looking for – not the dog they prefer. If it has no talent then yes, your trainer should be honest and tell you that. But, if have a dog you love and want to learn how work stock – don’t lose heart. IF you can be objective (some students can’t) about the good and bad qualities of the dog – working on his “issues” can bring your abilities to a higher level that might help you train your next dog.

Trying to work with 3 species at the same time (you, the dog and the sheep) is just plain difficult. As one of my students if fond of say – “I’ve never worked so hard to be so mediocre in my life” :@) — But, she always ends by saying … “and I’ve never enjoyed myself more”. So, enjoy the journey!




9 Comments Add yours

  1. Carol says:

    Great article. Thank you. I can tell you my dog’s greatest obstacle is me! 😀

    1. Keith Brooks says:

      Thought provoking as ever Carol. Thank you.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it. Dogs just enjoy working – they don’t blame you :@)

  3. Daphne says:

    Well said

  4. paulo roberto motta says:


    Enviada do meu iPhone


  5. paulo roberto motta says:

    Enviada do meu iPhone


  6. paddy says:

    Good trainers can improve all types of dogs and people..i can clearly see my limitations reading this. Well done and well said.

  7. Thanks! The more you work the more you learn. Best thing about this is you never “know it all” :@)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s