Candy Kennedy – Trials and Errors

Posts tagged “communicate




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 !!!

“Can you hear me now?”

Levi copy article

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.

Psych 101


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.

New beginnings – again.

Is that a bit like Deja vu all over again :@)

A couple of years ago I started 2 pups that were as different as can be. They both had talent and proved that the training time spent … was well worth the effort. Since I seem to be “at it” again … I’ve been asked to update on the “new two”.

One is biddable to the point of being soft – the other so driven he has a hard time remembering I’m “in the picture”. The are both young (8 and 10 months) so at “this stage” … all I am doing is letting them learn how to work sheep properly. I don’t train “per se” (no flanks, get outs, take time, etc.). Just using the sheep to teach them balance, distance, pressure, etc.


We will start with the softer one – named Cade. A LOT of natural talent but will have to be brought along very slowly. He can’t handle pressure (for now) so I put very little on him. He doesn’t want to be wrong and when he is – he just stops. All the confidence drains out of him and if I demanded “simple obedience” … I would ruin a really nice dog.

So, for now what I’m working on giving him more drive. So, when he gets a correction (and they all need it at some point) I can help him work through it without taking it so personally.

I put sheep up against a fence and ssssss him to just barrel through and get them out. NOT because he’s hesitant to go (he has NO issues with being afraid of sheep) but because it hypes him up. I push sheep and say “watch-watch” letting him flank back and forth trying to keep them together. He has so much feel this puts the chase in him – which is “the trick” I’m using to make him want to keep going when I see his confidence starting to drop. I will get to the point where I give a correction then a sssss and he will be able to take it and “bounce back”.

He has plenty of line but also good flanks (great combo :@) Too early to decide on the outrun but “think” he may have to be pushed out a bit (but not until we have our “confidence builder” in place).

Click HERE for video: of Cade just starting to work


The other guy named – it seems appropriately enough – Arco … is driven to work. If I walk out the door he says “you ready” and then runs to the sheep.

In “some ways” he’s the opposite “side of the coin” of Cade because when he’s wrong instead of stopping or slowing – he speeds up.  He also takes it personally (just has a totally different nature and response). He can get him self in a frenzy if I don’t keep him in check but “getting on him” to much – makes him “run through” corrections. He needs to learn to take a correction and not try to “outrun” it.

He has one issue that I will keep “my eye on” … he never turns his head away when he flanks. Usually that puts pressure on the sheep but he’s bending enough that the sheep are held but not pushed. I may have to correct that later but for now – it’s working for him (and I don’t argue with what’s working :@) However, I think the issue may arise when we start working on outruns.

Click HERE for a video of Arco just starting to work.

For now – both are a lot of fun to work … different dogs – different issues – different year and yet “all so familiar”. I seem to spend 1/2 my life as a cheerleader and the other 1/2 as a truancy officer :@)

“It was the best of times –

It was the worse of times”. I would give “odds” anyone that has ever trialed has connected with that famous quote from “Tale of two cities”. Zamora was like “Tale of two cities” :@) The first trial had a totally different winner than the second – moral of the trial (or life) – never give up trying!

The weather was perfect (tad hot on Monday Nursery/PN day) which is always special at Zamora – because handlers can sit out to watch dogs crest 3 hills to find 4 sheep 700 yards away.  Outruns are dramatic enough but watching dogs trying to hold pressure and fetch down hill between two ridges – is seeing dog work at it’s finest. I think the main draw for Zamora is the course (of course :@) and dog work. Sure, handling always helps  – but I have always appreciated watching dogs handle sheep more than watching people handle them and you get to see that at this amazing hill trial.

Scores can be found here: 

As they say a picture is worth a thousand words … so here are a couple. One at a distance and one up close (well as close as you can get to 6-7 hundred yards).

Zamoradistance  zamora

Or if you appreciate the “printed word” more … here are a couple of newspaper articles:


We will “end it off” with more of the quote – sounds like dog trialing to me :@)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way” …



I’ve heard the word and used it for years and thought I had it “figured out” in my mind as to what it meant.

UNTIL, An incident gave me a totally different perspective on the concept.

I’ve sold a lot of dogs and they are always happy to see me again (even after years). Even the ones that I didn’t have long – if I’ve worked them they remember me.

Well, I ran into a dog I sold and went up to say hello and got no response. Which surprised me (I think shocked would have been a better term since I had him from a pup and raised and trained him). He was running around sniffing (just being a dog :@) when I walked up to him. He was polite and said “hi” like I was a person (not someone he knew) but went right back to what he was doing. This happened a couple of times … so I reached down got his collar … said his name and he looked up at me and then “the bell went off” and he fully recognized me and got very excited (to the point of trying to jump on me … which he had never done :@).

This got me thinking and gave me a little insight into his “thought process”. He was never a hard dog … he could take being wrong and handled correction very well … going right back to work without a grudge. He learned things quickly and easily and wasn’t hard to handle – but he wanted to work sheep more than anything in the world. He is an extremely talented dog but I would have never called him extremely biddable.

However, He DID want to work with you (which is one of the components of being biddable) but sometimes he just couldn’t “hear” what you were saying. I chalked some of it up to youth but most of it to him being so driven to work.

This particular incident (him being so focused something that he didn’t “tune in” what was going on around him) got me reflecting about the “word” biddable. Now, I wonder if being biddable means being able to multi-task. Not that they just want to work with you but they are capable of working and listening at the same time. Are some dogs we call NOT biddable just not able to combine those two things together all the time?

I know people who get so involved into what they are doing … you can walk into a room and talk to them and they never hear you. They aren’t ignoring you – they literally don’t hear you. They can only do “one thing at a time”. Other people can be totally focused and yet still know what is going on around them (sort of keeping things in the back of their mind without really paying attention unless it seems to be a “life and death” situation).

I know sometimes the adrenaline takes over and dogs can’t hear anything (and forget you are even in the equation) so are those type really biddable — until adrenaline overruns the thought process? Are there others that even if they are “calm” (not running on adrenaline) if the sheep are demanding a lot out of them they can’t “hear” your input. Why are some dogs “biddable” until they get to a certain distance (perhaps can’t hear you – if they can’t “feel” your presence?)

I do realize there are dogs that are just plain hard-headed and really don’t care what you want but those aren’t the type I was thinking of. I’m more interested in the ones that have so much ability and how to go about “drawing” that out of them … it is possible they can learn to multi-task or is that an inherited trait.

I enjoy trying to get into a dogs mind and anything that gets me “re-thinking” concepts I thought I understood — is a good thing “in my book” :@)

Trial/ranch difference

Lately I seem to be reading more comments from people who think a “ranch dog” is better than a “trial dog”. Or a trial dog can’t do the job a ranch dog can.

When asked … I always answer with yes, no or maybe.

I’ve heard and seen people brag how good their ranch dog is and those trial dogs could never “get er’ done”. All the while … their dog is doing nothing except harassing the stock .. and they think that’s  a dog working “naturally” while those “trial dogs” have to be told every step to take.

I don’t disagree some dogs are started and trained on nothing but 3 sheep and total precision. They are never left to think, act, or work on their own. They become “little machines” with perfect obedience but can only work in “trial program” mode.  I’ve personally seen “those type” win a trial and then couldn’t exhaust their own sheep … because THAT wasn’t programmed into the dog (or the person apparently :@). Do I think that would make a good ranch dog – no. BUT, I also don’t think that makes the best trial dog either. It might look good as long as the sheep are cooperative but if sheep decide to bolt back to the set-out at 600 yards – “more than likely” that dog would never be able handle it. Those “type” of dogs usually don’t do well with big trials and “double lifts” either.

If you start training a pup for perfection instead of trying to “carve” a rough draft of the end “product” … what you end up with will be so thin and weak it can be easily broken. So, let a young dog BE a young dog — don’t try to start with finesse. However, it’s just as important you don’t let him “run amok”. If you train for nothing but all fast action and brute force you will have a hard time putting the finesse in later on. Sometimes novices seem to believe if a dog is hard running, chasing and biting the stock – that must mean the dog has power … usually its just the opposite.

A rough draft does not mean chase livestock with tail flying in the air. It means working stock with more push than what you need for trial circumstances but with calm purpose. It does not mean “anything goes”.  Neither people nor dogs process information or learn anything when their brain is in a frenzy.

A lot of people confuse a handler giving information to a dog (whistles to a dog) to making a mechanical robot. It’s NOT the same thing … giving information (verbal or whistles) is NOT necessarily making a dog “just” obey. Remember Information is power and it doesn’t necessarily mean you are trying to control his every move. Example: If you give a redirect on an outrun … you are giving the dog information that will make his life (and the sheep’s) easier. A cross over starts a dog in the wrong frame of mind and usually upsets the sheep. So, that “one redirect whistle” gave information that solved a lot of issues before they ever came up — for a ranch dog OR a trial dog. Sheep on a ranch don’t like to be “buzzed” by a dog tight on his outrun anymore than a trial sheep do. Might not bother them as much because they are so dog broke (or use to that particular dog but it IS still is unsettling).

Some novices also seem to be just as confused about pressure. They seem to think pressure/correction is all negative and thats not how they want to train their dog. Pressure (when done right) is nothing more than information.

However …. A dog needs to FEEL he can control the pressure … if he feels he has no say in the matter he will either give up or blow through it. He needs to know when he’s RIGHT pressure is OFF … when he’s WRONG pressure is ON. He learns that he is in control of that pressure by giving in to it.

The same can be said for information — it can be used to make you two a better team or used to control the dogs every step. It all depends on how you decide to use it.

I’ve always said it’s much easier to find a good ranch dog than it is a good trial dog – but there is no reason you can’t do both with the same dog if train correctly. It’s just easier to train for ranch work than it is trial work (basics are the same but you don’t need all the “bells and whistles”). Good top class trial dogs are not easily “come by” but I bet 90% make great ranch/farm dogs —  BUT I sure don’t think it goes “the other way”.