After reading some *dog forums* I often wonder if some people know the difference between conversations and lectures? It’s funny how some people you enjoy getting together with to share ideas and others you find yourself tuning out. Good conversations get your creative juices flowing. To me, “to converse” implies a two way street – lectures tend to be a one way street (“my way or the highway”). Of course, you can and do learn from a lectures (depending on how it’s given) but I believe conversation encourages interactions … and when that occurs there is more involvement from both parties.

So, you ask – am I writing about people or dogs … or … what does this have to do with dogs!

I try to have conversations with my dogs not just lecture them. Conversations imply listening as well as talking. It’s more difficult since your dog doesn’t speak in the same language as you do – but truly he’s communicating volumes if you learn to watch and listen.

If you are spending your entire training time fighting with you dog – then you aren’t listening.

If you’re dog isn’t understanding what you are teaching – then you aren’t communicating.

True, some dogs don’t care to listen and some can’t truly retain what they learn – but, you will never know if that’s the case if you don’t try and understand what and why he’s doing certain things. If I’m having issues with a particular dog I try to figure out a common denominator. Below are some *conversations* I’ve had through the years with dogs (because I listened).


I’ve had issues with dogs that were great on some days and then fell apart the next. So, I spend time trying to understand what was different on those days. For one dog – if the first work of the day went well then he was good the rest of the working session. If he did something wrong (first outrun, lift, etc.) he became so stressed the rest of the work session went badly. So, I changed my training schedule with that dog. If the first outrun went badly, I would just stop working. I usually tied him up and went and did chores or worked another dog. Then when I took him back out I made SURE the first thing he did went correctly. Slowly, he stopped getting so stressed that it was impossible for him to focus if he did one thing wrong.


I had one dog recently that started slicing on his flanks. He had always been a clean, cool flanker and all the sudden he became the opposite of what was natural in him. Instead of just *pushing* him out — I tried to figure out what had changed in our working routine. Finally came to the conclusion that it was shedding. He LOVED shedding and every time the sheep came near me he wanted to engage which tightened down his flanks. So, we worked on flanks up close – pushing him past the sheep in both directions. I hadn’t done a good job of having him understand my body position in relationship to shedding. I try to give clear signals to my dogs when I shed and he just hadn’t understood the language yet.

I’ve had dogs that would fight every time we went to work. So, I would work them up close to make sure they didn’t win the fight but at the same time letting them work sheep. Trying to let them understand that we were a *team* and this wasn’t a competition. It’s not a matter of *breaking* a dog but making it so enjoyable for him to interact with you, that he looks forward to it.

I’ve had dogs that became so reactionary they couldn’t think. I went back several steps in their training and concluded it was my whistle that *set* them off. So, I decided to go back to voice. Then I slowly added one whistle at a time and I changed the whistle to softer, lower tones. I could have concluded he was being a jerk and fought him every step of the way – but we would have spent all our working time fighting instead of learning.

I’ve gotten into training ruts and never varied the routine – I would have never noticed – if I hadn’t paid attention to my dogs getting bored. Again, the dogs were telling me what I was doing wrong … it just took me awhile to “listen loudly”.


Dogs are different, sheep are different – so learn to listen with your eyes and all species will be better off.





18 Comments Add yours

  1. Susan Bertrand says:

    Thanks so much. I needed that with one of my dogs. I am going out w a different attitude.

    1. Thanks – It’s hard sometimes when you both get into a habit. Good luck!

  2. Doniene fullagar says:

    Candy, always enjoy and learn something from your posts. This one so affirmed some things I’ve been working on!!!!! Thanks for sharing and encouraging!

    1. Thanks! Always helps to think my writing might help someone (and their dog :@). Makes it worthwhile.

  3. says:

    Great article. Very timely for one I am struggling with. Thanks.

    1. I think we all do at one time or another.

  4. Terry Mendicino says:

    I do understand what you are saying. I am trying to understand why my dog thinks I want her to go up the middle on
    her out run. I will just keep listening to her.
    Thanks, Terry

    1. Because you let her :@) … Don’t let her have her sheep until she is right. Walk 1/2 way out and send her (even at a trial if she’s trial wise) … just plan on donating money for awhile :@)

  5. Great suggestions–and ones I am working on to improve my “listening”!

    1. I try and work on it all the time. Sometimes when you are in the middle of it … it’s hard to step back and regroup. Good luck!

  6. Betty says:

    Thanks ! Always love your posts and good learning for me too : < ) May I share on another face book list I am on ? Not the to novice and beyond one .

    1. Sure! Happy to share :@)

  7. suzi bluford says:

    Thanks! this was a great article and lots of food for thought!!!

  8. Jan Berger says:

    Great post , Candy! Even though I am no longer trialing my dogs, I still enjoy training them. I am going to print this out, put it in my van & read it before every training session. Jan Berger

    Sent from my iPad


  9. Thanks! Don’t have to trial to enjoy working these dogs !

  10. Lora says:

    Dogs and life… much truth in this one for sure! I’ve been reminded over and over to look for the subtleties……sometimes I get lost in “my way” but the journey is so much more rewarding with the relationship…..thanks for reminding me!

  11. Cristian says:

    Wow, the best i’ve seen in a while about dog communication. thanks

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