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.