I’ve invariably think when I first start pups “wow” is it always this much work? Then one day things begin to click and the fun begins. The second stage seems to be what I remember about starting them – always forgetting the original parts that aren’t as enjoyable. This time around I have a friend that has pups the same age and it’s gratifying to email the “ups and downs” and to hear you aren’t the only one with “issues”. No matter how many dogs you train you reflect on how the training is going (well, if you are a good trainer you should!)
I had sent her a video of the bro/sis combo and made the comment that Cove has more pace than Core. She was surprised and said the video looked as if Core had a lot of pace. He does! His pace is different from her pace. Core sets his pace. Cove allows the sheep to set hers. That email got me thinking why certain dogs fit us (as handlers) and other don’t.
I like a dog that allows me to control the speed of the sheep. So, I like push with feel. I don’t want so much push that they run through the middle of their sheep. However! I prefer that (which I can control with a slow down or stop) to one that has to be “begged” to speed up. I try to teach dogs that are slow … how to and why they need to speed up. I slow fast dogs down and let them see they can still control sheep at that speed. That’s all part of training – but the “fundamentals” of what is “intrinsic” to each dog is there and will always be there.
I find that part fascinating. I’ve seen wide running dogs get wider and wider as they get tired. Logic would dictate when tired enough they would “tighten” down. Doesn’t happen. Their basic programming kicks in … all that training disappears. That’s why I say when you breed – the training doesn’t go with the dog. Only the natural. Pick wisely!
Anyway, on to the pups! This time around … I’ll focus on Core for now as he has hit that fun stage. I told my friend it has gone from “sheep-sheep-sheep” to “sheep-sheep-Candy”. I’m in the picture because he wants me there instead of physically putting myself in the picture. For me that’s what all the “beginning steps” were for – teaching him that 1/2 the enjoyment of working sheep is interacting with me. Once they grasp that concept we can start actual training. Without that realization and acknowledgement … training would be nothing but teaching him physical moves.
He has push … I love push! However, I need him to understand that push is a “piece of the puzzle” but not the entire “puzzle”. I will keep the push in but refine it down so he learns when to use it and when to “back off”. Perfection is NOT the goal at this stage. He needs to experience that what he does influences the sheep and to understand the reason I communicate with him – is to help him mange HIS sheep better. Not just to tell him what to do. Listening is advantageous to him! Trust is the first building block that will make him amenable to listening to me when we start to include distance into his work.
He is a team player and interested in what I’m asking of him. That makes him a pleasure to work. He is very good on his right (Away side) and a bit tight and not quite covering on his left. So, I use his right to work on little outruns since the “odds are in my favor” they will be better. This allows him to be correct (without me interfering). When he grasps the idea of what a “mini” outrun is. I will go to the left so when I correct him he will understand because we have set the “stage” of an outrun. I spend time and energy encouraging a dog to think and figure out what I’m trying to communicate to him.
On flanks, I have a “get out of that” when he tries to be tight and fall in behind his sheep before he’s covered (on his left flank). I won’t back up or allow him to have his sheep if he is tight and short. He’s really just a “hair” short (usually because he hasn’t given the correct distance) but if I allow it to continue – it will become a habit. Bad habits are much harder to “amend” than going slowly and putting the effort in to make it accurate from the start. It’s all a matter of letting him know when he’s wrong (short, tight, etc.) and letting him work when he’s right.
He’s going to be a fun one !!!
Maybe, It’s more like … let the “practice” begin. The pups are rapidly becoming dogs. They all think they want to work, but not all are mentally ready. Will be a challenge for me as they are all different. It’s been a long hot summer – hoping for a cool fall and winter so I can decide who to keep and who to sell. Right now it’s a “toss up”.
CORE: Is more than “ready and willing” and almost ready for “real” training. He is calm minded, smooth moving, biddable and loves to work with me. All this makes him very enjoyable to work and sheep seem to like him (always a bonus). I have been taking it slow and easy on actually “training” on him because I know he can be sensitive. My approach is slowly changing as he is maturing. He is still sensitive off stock but getting “firmer” minded on stock. He always seemed to take more “pressure” on sheep, but I would rather be “safe than sorry” knowing his nature.
He has great balance and eye and feel. He can hold “Away” side pressure without over or under flanking. He tends to “fall” in behind on his Come Bye side and I’ve been working on -pushing him to “over flank” past balance – to get him more flexible and bendable on that side. He looks as if he will be easy to teach to drive (especially if I start driving with him on that side – Which I don’t want to do until he’s covering better). He wants to please and keeps me in mind when he’s working. That adds up to a lot in my book – having a dog that enjoys working with you makes all those training hours more enjoyable.
COVE: is as nice but different from her brother. She is very reactionary and tends to be “jerky” in her movements if her minds not settled. So, I’ve been working on her mind through her body. If she reacts I lie her down until she’s settled enough to flank calmly and smoothly. So, for now all work will be up close. Sheep don’t “lean” on her like they do with Core mostly because of her tension. I do think she will have pace when she learns to work calmly. She’s “wired” in regular life also – so can’t change her character but can change how she reacts to sheep.
She is of the nature if you “get on” her she will just go faster (Core tends to back off to much – totally different in that area). She can also tend to grip if the tension gets the best of her – something I don’t want to encourage – so she will be brought on slow and easy. She really thinks fast and furious is so much more enjoyable but since she is so driven to work – she can take training. However, training will be paced so she learns to work sheep with her mind more than her body.
NEX: is way to young to train BUT, don’t tell her that! She is driven to work, but driven doesn’t mean she is ready for actual training. I take her out every once in awhile and let her go both ways around sheep. No training – just exposure with very dog broke sheep.
RIM: is a very old gentle soul. He’s calm, cool and very biddable. He’s also very immature – his instincts are “kicking” in, but he’s not even close to being mentally or physically ready. So, I do the same as I do with Nex – exposure once a week or so. He doesn’t seem to have a lot of eye … but again since I haven’t backed him off (and won’t until I feel he’s ready) … so, can’t really say.
RAIT: Is on “injured reserve”. She keeps getting lame on me – so she’s “laid up” for a month until I can sort it out. Kept thinking it was her pads but don’t want to chance it.
“PRESSURE ON – PRESSURE OFF”
Talking about pressure …. again. This seems to be an issue that comes up regularly during lessons. Novices trying to figure out when and where corrections should be given. Since it’s not easy for a lot of students I thought I would approach the subject again. The simplest *visualization* I can give is when you put pressure on your dog – WATCH how the sheep react. That will tell you if you were correct or not. If the dog is right — the sheep will be right.
Dogs respond positively to pressure that:
1) Is physically in the right spot (for dogs and sheep)
2) Has timing behind it.
3) Is done consistently
4) Isn’t too hard or soft for the *issue*.
5) Is released at the correct moment – thereby rewarding the dog.
So, “simply put” what does that add up to? Pressure is: A) in the correct spot B) used when the dog is incorrect C) released the moment your objective is achieved.
How quickly you apply a pressure, where you apply it and how hard you hold it are the “finer points” …. telling the dog how he needs to respond to your pressure.
What pressure shouldn’t do!
1) Build tension in a dog.
2) Become something a dog tries to avoid.
3) Perceived as something to fight or run away from – instead of give into
When Pressure coincides with what the sheep are doing a dog will accept it calmly and learn from it. If the timing is off – a dog will learn to either fight or avoid pressure. If done incorrectly enough the dog learns to avoid/fight ALL pressure, If only done in certain circumstances (i.e. flanks) the dog will react in those circumstances by turning off or getting tense.
Pressure is not a fight – it’s a tool to teach a dog correct sheep work. If you insist on making it a fight you will encounter tension (causing a multitude of issues) or avoidance (also know as “taking the heart” out of the dog).
Let’s say you are trying to push a dog out on his flanks. Most students know the angle they are looking for is around his shoulder (to make his head turn away from the sheep). However, what usually happens is – as they are trying to put pressure in the correct spot – they “fall behind” the pressure point and end up chasing instead. Chasing is not pressure and it doesn’t push a dog out. So, the dog runs faster trying to outrun the pressure (and often the person “gives up” before the dog does – so he learns if he “doesn’t give” he wins) or shuts down (sensitive to the trainer and not understanding what is being asked of them with all that “crazy” running around).
So, the dog that is running is fighting (so “in essence” you are teaching him to fight a correction). The more “sensitive type” avoids/quits (“feeling” he was wrong but not understanding why – so the lesson learned was quit mentally when faced with a correction).
So since force isn’t the lesson you want to teach him … what is? Real training is allowing the dog to find the answer through his sheep. It’s not just “spoon feeding” (forcing) him into obeying. If your pressure is correct – your dog will see the results in the sheep and it will make sense to him. Having sheep react correctly to him will take all the “fight” out of the dog.
Students are always asking why doesn’t my dog listen to me? It all starts “up close and personal”.
In order for a dog to work with you … you have to be in his mind. He can’t hear what you are saying if he’s not listening. So, how do we go about teaching a dog to listen to us better — “communication and trust”.
When first starting a pup if your guidance gives him better control of his sheep (which is everything his instincts are compelling him to do) he will learn to rely on and trust that guidance. If everything you do/say makes him lose his sheep that trust will quickly be eroded. With young dogs the last thing you want is a conflict between what you are making him do and what his instincts are driving him to do. A “well bred” dog will do everything he can to listen to instincts before you. Which is great because this is what we use to mold him into the working dog he will become.
You don’t want to force his attention on you … his attention should be with the sheep. However, this doesn’t mean you have nothing to say about HOW the sheep are to be treated. He needs to know that they are YOUR sheep and you are allowing him to work them. So, he works the sheep and you work him – by controlling the sheep. You are working on his mind so you become an indispensable part of his wondrous experience called “sheep work”.
In the beginning you are developing his awareness that you can help him. The more he connects sheep work to you – the more he listens and trusts you – the more control you will have when you start increasing his distance from you. A dog at 800 yards DOES have a choice to listen or not.
If you insist on total control by doing nothing but giving orders until he “gives up” you are not building communication … because no actual communication took place. You might have a dog that obeys – but If all you are teaching is how to make random moves (flank/lie down, walk-up, etc) without the sheep reacting to HIS movements … then you are not using “instinct building blocks” that are logical to the dog.
That of course doesn’t mean he won’t make mistakes only that when mistakes are made – he will get a correction that allows him to work his sheep more effectively. Try to remember this is about WORKING sheep not making a dog move left/right. Working sheep is learned (more by you than the dog … since he at least has instinct to go on :@) by making mistakes then realizing your actions have repercussions and learning from these mistakes (actually – doesn’t that summarize life :@).
Eventually training has to go against his instincts (i.e. off balance flanks, stopping when sheep are running away, etc.) BUT hopefully by that time you will have built that “working relationship” that he trusts you enough to go to the next level.
A lot of novices tend NOT to watch the sheep’s reactions. Sheep are not inanimate objects for dogs to “play” with. They will learn “tricks of the trade” – and depending on your dog these can be good “tricks” or not. If your dog buzzes them with every flank – they learn to go sideways (trying to avoid the “buzz”). If your dog never takes pressure off – they will never learn to settle when worked. If your dog doesn’t put enough pressure on and then too much – they will learn to not move until chased. The “list” goes on … all the while your dog is learning all these wrong approaches to working sheep “up close” – he can’t wait to get some distance from you so he can become more proficient at them.
I know it’s not easy for a novice to combine the two at the same time … but if you want correct dog work … it’s a the only way. You communicate to the dog the correct way to work sheep and the dog communicates to the sheep that they will be treated with respect if they move.
It’s a decision that eventually has to made by all of us if we run dogs long enough. Not something to look forward to but something to accept – no matter how much we try not to think about it or put it off. It’s part of the responsibility of working dogs.
Moss is 10 years old. It’s “hard” decision time – should I retire him or keep running him for a bit longer? I don’t want to give up running a dog that has won so many trials for me – and I don’t want to “cut his career” short. But again I don’t want to run him if he can’t do the job. He deserves all my respect and to make sure he retires with honor.
It’s just so difficult to “let go” of what we had … I say “had” because sometimes I’ve watched him trying to take a fast flank and not be able to react like the Moss I’ve handled for all these years. Then, of course, my timing is off because he can’t respond as quickly as he use to – tending to frustrate us both. Then “other times” he’s “dead on”. So, I go back and forth – trying to balance the “two sides”.
I’ve got some nice young ones coming up but we aren’t (yet) on the same wavelength that Moss and I were. The young ones are fun and exciting to run as you never know what they are going to do. I have two sons of his that I’m enjoying very much … and I’ve been known to say if I could combine them … I would have Moss all over again :@) However, that’s not the way to look at it. I need to alter the way I handle – not expect them to become Moss.
When you have been “connected” to a dog for a long time it’s hard to remember it wasn’t always “that way”. It took hours and hours of working together before we started working stock “as one”. So, I need to focus on the old adage “time and miles” instead of what I’m losing. It’s just so difficult to let go of something that was special and so very comfortable. Time to “step out: of my comfort zone” and try to bring the young ones up to Moss’ level. Not an easy task as he was/is a special one.
These dogs give so much that we need to acknowledge that they will keep “giving” even when they physically aren’t able to live up to our expectations. It’s up to us to watch and make sure we don’t demand more than their bodies can give because we all know their hearts never stop giving.
I can’t think of a greater compliment that can be said about someone in our “world” than “For the love of the dogs” This is going to be a hard one for me to write. I seriously thought about not writing anything … partly because it’s so personal but more because it makes it real and I don’t want it to be real. Bill Slaven passed away and I can’t believe he’s gone.
For those of you that didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Bill you missed out on special man. He was special to his family, his friends, his community and especially to our herding dog world. To me he was like my adoptive father. I’ve known the Slaven’s for over 30 years and have enjoyed working dogs and spending time with them anytime I could get up North. They are what ranch/farm families are about … hard work, respect of the land, and open arms for friends.
I met Bill at a trial where he had provided the sheep. He was “first and foremost” a shepherd but did he ever love watching and working these dogs. He had such an appreciation of our sport while knowing that he needed these dogs to get his job done. I think this says a lot to end the conversation if trialing is representative of real work. This man made his living from sheep … as did his father and grandfather. He knew the value of a good working dog and did everything in his power to provide a place to keep this spirit of real dog work alive.
He, his wife (Joan), his son (Micheal), and his daughter (Peggy) for 21 years put on one of the most challenging trials in North America. This trial tested the merit of these dogs in the “real sense”. It was a huge course (700 yard outrun up hills) with sheep that tested the dogs every step of the way. The Slaven’s didn’t run in the trial – they only worked tirelessly so we could put our dogs to the challenge.
Every time I stayed – after dinner we had to go out … so he could let me watch his young dogs work – he was always so proud of them. It was a ritual we had for many years. I won’t be able to head “up north” for a trial without thinking that I won’t have the pleasure of sharing dog work with him.
As much as it is a personal loss – it’s a bigger loss for the working dog community. We don’t have many trials (or ranchers that love to put on trials) to showcase our dogs like Zamora did. It’s a big loss to everyone … even if they never had the pleasure of running their dog on this great hill trial. Bill did it all for “the love of the dogs”
I loved what his daughter said – Bill is up in heaven organizing a dog trial. The image gave me comfort. He will be so very missed down here.
Most people understand the concept of physical pressure more than psychological pressure. It seems to be easier for students to see someone “correct” a dog physically (because they can actually see it happen) than psychologically (which has to be interpreted ).
But, I think the best corrections are psychological not physical. If you don’t learn how to affect his mind (not just make him mind) you will lose training techniques that a good (notice I said good) trainer can offer you. They may be subtle but they are extremely valuable in shaping your dogs.
A trainer can exert psychological pressure on a dog in a lot of ways. You influence your dogs attitude before you ever send the dog for sheep. If you are tense, stiff, distracted, upset, not focused … your intended or unintended body language can affect your entire run or work session. The tone or volume of voice, your “frame of mind” and many other subtle things are interpreted by these very intuitive dog – even if YOU aren’t aware of it.
The dogs nature has a lot to do with how he reacts or accepts psychological pressure. Some dogs are so “wired” they tend to react to any “stress factor” with excitement – while another “more sensitive” one might react by shutting down. A good trainer will 1) apply psychological (or physical) pressures, 2) observe the dogs reaction, and then 3) modify that pressure.
In the psychological context, observing how a dog interacts with the trainer is telling. Sometimes, what you see is a well-trained dog but no connection … just a dog doing what he is told. The dog may be obedient to commands but neither handler nor dog are exchanging information.
Where a good trainer wants the dog as a teammate. So, no matter the “nature” of the dog, if trained correctly, he will understand that you and he are working together towards a common goal. I do believe that most people interested in working dogs really want the opportunity to build a relationship with their dog.
Learn to observe the interaction between a dog and trainer (including yourself). A dog’s body language is so telling if you are willing to spend the time to learn … it will teach you what you are really SAYING to your dog (not just what you “meant” to say). For instance, a dog bending away whenever the handler moves can say … he’s afraid of the handler OR he’s ready to go to work. Look at his ears, his expression, his attitude NOT just what he is physically doing … but what he is thinking. You need to understand that although a response from two dogs physically looks the same … it can psychologically mean something totally different.