Candy Kennedy – Trials and Errors

Posts tagged “Dog training

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!




Hey Days.



Although It’s really to hot to work dogs this time of year – when you have a *bunch* of puppies – you just have to “take them out for a spin”.  They are way to young to *train on* but it’s fun to put them on sheep and get a peek as “what might be under the hood”.  I don’t believe in putting 8 week old pups on sheep (one unintentional “slam” can turn a pup off forever) … but once they are capable of getting to the head – I can’t resist giving them a try.

I’ve always said it isn’t how they start that counts but how they finish. That said – after all these years I can usually tell if I’m going to “connect” with a dog once I get an idea of how they interact with sheep. It gives me an insight to how much eye, push, feel they might have and I know what I *click* with. If I’m going to spend the hours training one up then it just makes sense to keep the ones I personally get along with. I have trained all “types” so I don’t feel the need to train just for the learning experience. It doesn’t mean the others aren’t going to be good dogs. I often hear … “well, if they are selling then there must be something wrong with the dog” and I totally disagree. Through the years I’ve seen – just because one person doesn’t suit a dog … doesn’t mean they won’t be good dogs in someone else’s hands.

Back to the reason I titled this “Hey – day” is because that is the extent of my “training” when I go out with young pups. I don’t have a down, a call off or any thing useful :@) I just try to encourage them to get on the other side of the sheep. When they are wrong … out comes my “Hey” … letting them know that’s not what I want – try it a different way. The rest of the time I’m giving them the freedom to learn THEY are the ones influencing the sheep’s behavior.

Let’s compare working sheep to driving a car. If as a teenager you were put in a car and told “drive” … more than likely”, you would be able to “get it done”. Why? Because through life experiences you had developed your eye/hand coordination  (driving toy cars, riding bikes, etc.), But, let’s say – as a child, you had been restricted and never allowed to develop the skills needed to perform tasks that taught you “motor control”. Then, you are suddenly thrown in a car and told to drive …. the difficulty would become obvious – because you wouldn’t know how to coordinate your eyes, hands, and feet so wouldn’t have the ability to control the steering wheel and brakes.

Same with dogs – if they never learn (would that be eye/paw coordination) how their movements work in relationship to the sheep – they can’t learn how to control them. So, at this young age all I’m trying to do is say “Hey” (NO … don’t grip, run through the middle, etc.) and then let them work when they are correct. hopefully soon – you see them start thinking – OH, I did that! At “this stage” that’s all I want. I’m trying to get that thought process going “all the while” relating to me as well as the sheep. I can always put the obedience on later on … but I want to let the natural come out as much as possible to start with. So, in “other words” I’m really not training – I’m letting them work. I control the “situation” by controlling the sheep not them.

That doesn’t mean I just let them chase sheep – that’s not working. In “essence” I’m using the sheep to get the reaction I want out of the pup. When the pup tries to cut in … I move the sheep sideways making the pup flank out to head them. When the pup pushes to hard I push the sheep back making the pup “rock back” because the sheep aren’t going forward. All this without commands – other than Hey, sssssh, and good.

Border Collies have an uncanny ability to read and control sheep – I can’t imagine training without “keeping that in mind”. Why would I try to put my “instincts” in place of theirs … why waste the best thing about them?


It seemed like a good idea at the time.



Rumors of my demise are incorrect — just a “tad” busy :@)

I don’t raise a lot of puppies but for some reason (“Perhaps” looking at all the well bred pups this year) I decided I was in the mood for one … or 2 … OK … 5 but who is counting.

I usually raise two at a time. I find it easier than just one – they wear each other out and then I can spend “one on one” time with them after some of their energy wears down. Easier on them and me! However, 5 is a bit over the top!

I hate to admit it but I’m enjoying them – not as much of a hassle as I thought it would be. 3 are the same age (January 2014) and they play well together. The other two are younger (March 2014) and I keep them separate from the older pups as they are just to rough for them.

I have a large yard and the 3 are loose with a couple of yearlings most all the time. Then once a day I bring each of them in to interact “one on one” and teach them house manners. They are taught to be brushed, tied and how to behave in the house. They are also brought into the dog room (yes, I have a room just for dogs – full of crates :@). I feed them in the crates so they learn to go into them happily.

The younger ones are in very large dog run when the older pups are out playing. Then when I bring the older ones in  … the little guys are turned loose in the big yard. Sometimes I let my older dogs out with them (if they are good with pups) to teach them “dog manners”. Pup manners are much different than “big dog” manners – and corrections are given without harming “recipient” :@).

Here’s a “run down” on the “kids”.

Cove and Core are litter mates. Carol Campion imported a bitch bred to Kevin Evans Jimmy and I decided I wanted to try a male and female. Carol decided she was getting a rough coat and a smooth … so I thought I would go with that theory (good as any :@). I usually don’t get rough coats because of our foxtails but I figured one wouldn’t hurt.

Cove is a pistol. High energy, full of herself and ready to take on the world. She doesn’t let anyone bully her but she’s “sane” about it. Her brother outweighs her (she’s not very big) but that doesn’t stop her from “bowling” him over when she decides he’s pushed to far. She’s independent but listens well when called or corrected.

Core is sensitive and more mellow. He is submissive to both females but interacts with them well. He is super sensitive to corrections (even when they aren’t “aimed” at him) so I have worked on that and we seem to be “coming through” that stage. He’s getting bolder and understanding a correction isn’t the end of the world.

Cale is very loving and gentle with people but stands up for herself with dogs. Marianna Schreeder imported a bitch bred to Kevin Evan’s Caleb … so I thought let’s compare a Jimmy and a Caleb. She now “plays well with others” – didn’t start that way (and I think she and Cove will have “issues” when they mature). She follows me around in the yard when I’m cleaning up. Very people bonded.

Rait and Rim are litter mates sired by my Gear so had to “give them a go”. Fernando and Marla Loiola owned the bitch and decided to breed to Gear.

Rait is a “spark plug” that will talk back if she doesn’t like what’s going on. She’s very high energy and wears her brother out regularly. Then barks at him when he won’t play with her. She’s not to worried when she hears corrections – attitude is “don’t bother me I’m busy”. So, corrections right now are verbal with me picking her up and making her do what I want (come in the house, etc.). We will work more on that when she’s older.

Rim is a lot more mellow and more sensitive  (Hey, what’s with the “mellow/sensitive guys” :@). He’s not high drive … more of a thinker. He’s also more of a follower but has a hard time keeping up with his sister. He’s affectionate and leans on you when you pet him. When they are loose in the dog room he will hide behind a crate to get away from Rait (who never gets tired!)

I will post updates on the web page as they mature (if I live through it :@). I will start them this fall (and imagine some will be for sale when I sort through which ones will suit me).

For now I’m just enjoying watching them grow up.



Shaping up


I’ve been working a dog that needs help staying correct on his flanks. Trainers often talk about “shaping” a dog (usually in reference to flanks and outruns). I enjoy spending time trying to figure out how to get into a dogs mind (almost as much as actual training) to help him work better – so this particular dog got me thinking about “shaping”.

It dawned on me that not only do we shape the dogs we work but at the same time they are shaping us. We become the trainers/handlers we are because of the dogs we work. They define what we want or need in a dog. They teach us just as much as we teach them IF we are willing to listen and learn.

My first couple of dogs were “work” dogs. They always got the job done even though they were “rough around the edges” they never quit or stopped giving it their all. They taught me that dogs can and do have a “work ethic” and I knew I would need that in all the dogs that followed.

I like a dog with plenty of forward because my first “trial” dog  although perfect for me at the time, didn’t have enough push. I had been told that sheep should walk the entire way around the course and I “took it to heart” and taught my dog that. End result (of course) was running out of time. So, that dog “shaped” my desire for one with push. This dog had perfect balance and pace but no push. Now, was that because I had “shaped” him to be slow and methodical or was that the ‘nature’ of the dog. I’ll never know … but I do know he taught me more than I taught him and I never made that mistake again.

Another dog I ran, had beautiful style, balance and pace and feel … but to much eye. As long as sheep were moving she looked beautiful … But, if sheep faced her she wanted to stop and stare when all she needed to do was just keep walking. So, she shaped me into wanting a dog with less eye. All that style didn’t get me anywhere if the sheep refused to move.

Then, I was “rewarded” with a dog with very little eye or feel. He got the job done but I never felt we had a ‘partnership’ because I had to tell him where to be every step around the course. Making me decide that perhaps … eye wasn’t so bad after all :@). It also impressed upon me … that I didn’t want a mechanical dog because I enjoy the interaction of handling a dog that reads his sheep.

I’ve worked dogs that only worked sheep by being pattern trained – never really understanding the ‘job’ at hand, never really knowing how to read their stock. I’ve worked line dogs that could hold a line to the next county but had no flank to them. I’ve worked dogs that flanked and had no forward to them. Some of these “types” can win dog trial by being handled every step of the way. Winning a dog trial didn’t make up for the fact that was not the way I wanted to work stock.

My point is … each and every dog I’ve trained, handled or trialed has put their ‘imprint’ on me. They have “shaped” me into the “trainer/handler” I am today. I have faults – they had faults but no matter what – we were both learning from each other – because I was always open to learning from them – sometimes what I didn’t want in a dog. Maybe, that’s why I buy and sell so many dogs … there’s nothing better than learning and what brings that out (in me) is a new challenge.

So, when you try to learn how train “by paper” (articles, books, magazine) try and remember how very complex this is. Everyone wants that elusive “how to train a dog” formula. The problem is that the main ingredients in the formula — the dog, handler and each’s experience — are never the same. I guess Nike had it right — “Just do it” and I might add enjoy the doing and the learning.

Perfect pressure.



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

4) Ignored!

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.


“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.

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 :@)