I’m in the process of buying and selling sheep. I put a lot of effort keeping my flock fresh for “dog work”. I do have a herd of Dorpers that I breed and keep replacement lambs out of. I also have a few Cheviots (just because I like them :@) that I breed. However, the majority of the flock I use until they are dog broke and then sell them on and buy more. I try to bring fresh ones in every 3 or 4 months.
I think using different “type” (in the sense of how they react to a dog not just the breed) is the best thing for allowing a dog develop. I don’t think a dog will truly understand stock if you continue to use the same sheep you started your pup on all the way into teaching the finer movements an open dogs needs. Puppy sheep hardly react to the “course” moves a puppy makes – so they sure won’t respond to “finesse” movements.
It’s not easy to get fresh sheep but unless you have a ranch that has thousands of sheep so you can cut fresh ones off daily … I think it’s the second best thing.
So, you say what am I looking for in sheep?
First, of course, for pups I try to always keep some “knee knockers” around – these type allow dogs to get very close to them and will try to come to you no matter what the dog is doing. This helps a young pup (that doesn’t know where to be ) to get to the other side.
Then I try to keep some sheep that won’t run when a dog walks up on them. These “type” of sheep “push” back on a dog and need pressure from the dog to MAKE them go. This helps to teach a dog how to lift properly. If your sheep always run when they see a dog … he can’t learn HOW to lift … because all he’s really doing is playing “catch up”. Sometimes putting hay down helps give sheep a little resistance and teaches the dog that not ALL sheep take off just because he’s “there”.
For teaching the drive you need free-flowing sheep that don’t “kill themselves” trying to come back to you. They need to move away from a dog but not run … dogs needs to be able to take hold and direct them not just run along behind trying to catch up.
Then for teaching outruns I try to have “some” sheep that will run towards something (NOT me). Mine run towards the barn they sleep in so I always try to go up the field and send the dog back down for a outrun. If you time it right … as the sheep are running away the dog HAS to bend out or the sheep will outrun him. If the sheep run towards you as soon as a dog gets near them .. they soon learn to flatten out and cut in on the outruns. Why would they try to be correct when it gets them nowhere.
To “peak a dogs interest” I use wild sheep. These “type” will also teach a dog where to be faster than all the corrections you can give. Don’t let him just chase … make him work them correctly but LET HIM WORK.
Ewes and lambs to teach patience and how to stand up for himself.
Yes, it’s a hassle to swap/sell sheep out and get new ones but well worth it for your dogs training. Training isn’t just teaching a dog to do certain moves but HOW to do those moves to create a reaction from the sheep.
One of the reasons working stock is so interesting is because you are working with 2 separate species that have dire opposite needs. It’s the combination of these different needs intertwining that allows us (the 3rd part of this “puzzle”) to accomplish our goals. Dogs want to get close enough to the sheep that they can control every movement – while sheep want to get enough distance from the dog that they don’t feel threatened.
In “other words” dogs want to catch the sheep the sheep want to run away — somehow in your training you need to combine the needs of both species in order to make them comfortable enough to get your work done. In this “cat and mouse” game … a lot of novices are so focused on the “cat” they forget to take the “mouse” into account.
One of your jobs as a trainer/handler is to try to figure out what would make the sheep feel less threaten while “at the same time” keeping your dog empowered. Which means you have to know your dog and how specific sheep respond to him. If you have a strong pushy dog and are working light/flighty sheep – then you need to train your dog to understand that distance and pace will settle his sheep. If your dog is “light” and the sheep are “the type” that will challenge him – then maybe you need to let the dog come on hard on the lift – then back him off. If you have “running” sheep that won’t stop no mater what your dogs does – you better keep your dog in close enough contact to guide them or you will lose them completely.
You have to learn to understand sheep not just your dog. Taking the sheep’s “needs” into account is a necessity if you want to work them successfully. If you look at them as “just something to work your dog on” you will never get the best out of your dog. I’ve always said you can tell how someone trains by watching how their sheep react to dogs.
Do you work the sheep until they are so “numbed down” they don’t respond to the dog. If you work the sheep too long without “changing them out” (when they get tired)you will “create” sheep that just go through the motions of moving away. This not only ruins your sheep but ALSO your dog. A dog can’t be trained correctly on sheep that don’t respond. I have seen people who work their sheep until their heads are down and they are just moving … not connected to anything the dog is doing. Think about it from your dogs “point of view” … he’s hunting a “dead” animal … where’s the challenge in that. Not to mention – lack of respect for sheep.
Or do you keep your sheep running all the time so they never have a chance to settle and lean on a dog … letting him guide them. They are afraid of the dog not respectful (which is the correct “response” the sheep should have). You and the dog need to respect the sheep … only then will the sheep respect the dog. That will never be achieved by dogs chasing sheep. If your sheep SEE a dog and take off running as fast as they can … how can your dog possibly work them? All he can do is play “catch up”. There is no feel, no control, no thought, just chase. That’s not working … it’s harassment.
Do you work them in such a small area that neither dog nor sheep can find “a distance” that feels comfortable. Don’t get me wrong … I have a round pen and I use it with dog broke sheep (that have learned to come to me for safety). I think it makes it easier to control both sheep and pup. But the only reason this works is that the dog broke sheep have been “ground down” to have a very tight flight zone. “Normal” sheep with “wider boundaries” would be running from both the dog and me. So, starting there is fine … but get out in the open as soon as you see your dog trying to figure out where to be on his sheep.
Sheep are not “toys” for dogs … they are living breathing animals and need to be treated with respect – after all – we wouldn’t be able to enjoy all the aspects of working our dogs without them.
Cottage Grove has an army of helpers and it shows. Everything is very well run and comes across as effortless (which anyone that has ever put on a trial knows is NEVER the case). Good sheep, great course and perfect weather added to the enjoyment this year. The first day they ran over 100 dogs for PN/Nursery/Novice and the next two days had 60+ a day. So, Wilda Bahr had 3 long hard days of judging.
The best part of this trial is watching the dogs and handlers try to “figure out” how to handle the gate. The dogs have to go downhill, leave one field go through a gate and then uphill to get to the next field. Often there are shadows across the gate opening making it look, to the dog, as a solid barrier. Once the dog actually makes it through the gate it has to rock back over its shoulder to bend out in order to continue on the correct flank. The opening tends to draw them in because they start wide but have come back into the middle to “get the gate” and it’s difficult for them to re-cast out again … to keep on the same direction. The inclination is to hit the gate and keep going on the trajectory they are on when they come through the gate.
Watching the handlers try to decide when/where/if they should give a re-direct. Then watching the dogs listening trying to figure out what their handler was asking —- was dog work at it’s best.
The sheep were healthy and spry fine wools. They could run like the “wind” if spooked and the dog had a hard time keeping up. Dogs needed to stay back off and just tuck heads a fraction to keep them going straight. It took very little movement to get a reaction from them. A lot of dogs and handlers over-flanked making the sheep go sideways – leading to missed gates.
The pen was almost “mission impossible” on the first day and penning was still uncommon the second. A lot of really good runs came to a downfall at the pen. Even when the sheep actually went into the pen very few of them really accepted it … heads were still high as they were looking for a way out.
If you are looking for a fun trial – give it a go. The people are great, the sheep are healthy, and the course is different and challenging.
He’s progressing well in most areas. He needs work on his hill outwork (hard for this flatlander to find :@) This time of year is the worse time to “trailer out” because of the foxtails … so not sure he’s going to get that until fall.
His biggest “flaw” right now is pace. He has a hard time understanding that he CAN work sheep from a distance and pacing himself down. So, that’s the main focus right now. I walk with him for miles and just say “time – time” and he’s fine when I’m walking with him (and putting pressure on to reinforce it).
The way I work on pace — I will have around 5 sheep (don’t want too many as it makes him want to flank instead of “line”). I have the sheep on one side of me and the dog on the other … all in a triangle (I’m the point of the triangle). I walk … the sheep walk … and I MAKE him walk. I don’t down him I say time and put pressure on … by taking a step toward him … pointing the crook at him and growl time – if he slows down I release pressure. This allows him to make the same mistake again and get another correction. But it also puts the responsiblity to slow down on HIM. If I just downed him I would be taking that responsibility.
I’m trying to keep the distance between me, the sheep and the dog the same the entire time I’m walking with him. If I HAVE to down him … I will but then I “cluck” to him to walk on again.
He’s beginning to “get that” but when he takes the sheep and just drives off he will only go so far before he tries to speed up and when reminded to “take time” he “tries” to ignore the command (unless I get loud which is NOT what I want to reinforce … only listen when I yell:@).
I try not to work on pace when he’s still fresh and ready to go. I will do a number of outruns to tire him out (if that’s possible :@) before I move on to pace. This allows him to burn some of that youthful steam off before I try to “grind him down”.
Sometimes when he does slow down he tends to disengage from the sheep (also not what I want) by stopping and standing instead of slowing down (telling me he really doesn’t fully understand the concept). Occasionally he will turn around and look at me (confusion). When he does that I say nothing … just wait until he looks back at his sheep … then I repeat the command.
I could just down him but I always feel that takes the incentive out of them. I would be controlling him instead of teaching him HOW to control himself. That’s NOT to say I never down him – I do. It’s just I’m working on “take – time” (not down … he knows how to down – Well, “most of the time” :@).
“All that said” … I would rather have one I’m always trying to slow down that one I have to encourage on. I’m trying to develope an open dog so it’s better to take it slowly making sure I keep the push in him. If the dog has “it” in him … age often cures “too pushy” issues that young dogs have.
Part of refining flanks is to teach a dog to flank and then stop with his shoulder pointed away from the sheep. This will allow the sheep to feel less pressure than if a dog flanks and then turns in towards them. I won’t do this with all dogs (especially dogs that tend to flank to wide to begin with).
As usual I use the sheep to help the dog understand what I’m looking for. I will also use a number of sheep … just because it’s easier than using 5 sheep. I start by flanking the dog with a 1/2 flank, stop him and then another 1/2 flank and stop. When the dog flanks, of course I want him turning out correctly on his flanks — but the main reason for this excercise is to teach him when he stops he needs to keep his shoulder turned out (ready for the next flank) and not draw in towards his sheep .
Let’s say I’m working on a come bye … I have the sheep to my right shoulder and slightly in front of me (I’m facing the same direction as the sheep) … the dog is on my left side. As I flank him … I turn with the sheep pushing them away from me (still facing the same direction as the sheep and keeping them at my right shoulder). This makes the dog want to flank because he’s trying to get to their heads. If I stand in the same place I will lose my angle and it might allow him to tighten up on his flank. By keeping myself and the sheep “turning” it encourages him want to turn out on his flank.
Then I will stop him and use a stick (or whatever) to put pressure on his shoulder (to keep it from turning in) and his head (to stop him). If he tries to turn in when he stops I lift the stick up and then point it back at him … putting pressure on him to turn out even more.
With this exercise you can also be working on your 1/2 flanks, and teaching them how to relax about stopping before heading their sheep (for dogs that have issues with “letting go” on a drive). However, the main purpose of teaching him not to turn in … is to help you with your shedding/penning work when you don’t need your dog pushing sheep over the top of you.
What causes tension in a dog?
Tension can come from either the dog, the sheep, the handler or a combination of all the above.
Some dogs just work with a lot of tension.
In some cases … it’s “in the genes” and you can trace some lines to this trait. That’s not to say its all bad as there are some top dogs that run with tension in them. It all depends on how the dog handles it (if it makes them grip off … that’s usually not a good thing :@).
Just to make in more confusing a dog can be relaxed off stock and still be tense when working.
Some handlers build tension.
Sometimes it’s not in the dogs “nature” but it’s “handler made” tension. If someone handles a dog and their timing is “off” it can cause a dog to work with tension even if he’s not “normally” a tense dog.
When a good trainer is working a dog … their timing is correct and it allows the dog to feel comfortable doing what is asked of him (because the handler is “in-sync” with the sheep and dog). So it all FEELS right to the dog. Which allows a dog to relax and think about “the job at hand”.
However, “on a different page” … there are tense handlers that pass this on to the dog – and the dog “thrives” on it (usually it’s the “non-tense” calmer ones that respond). It seems to encourage the dog to “step up a notch” and focus better.
Sometimes sheep build tension.
For different dogs it can be different types of sheep. Some dogs don’t mind wild sheep and will react by flanking off and backing off. They seem to view it as exciting and “makes them read their sheep better”.
For other dogs wild sheep make them feel they are losing control. They like to be in “contact” with their sheep at all times and panic when they can’t find that contact point – causing tension.
Some dogs get so tense working heavy sheep they can revert to gripping. To others it “makes their day” and will just put their “head down and power on”.
So you see … it’s not if the dog has tension or not … but what “the team” does with that tension that “counts”.
The NoCal trial circuit was a great success.
Suzy and John Applegate put on their first trial (Plymouth, CA) and it went very well. The trial field was challenging as were the sheep … but that’s the way it should be. What a great area to have a trial … beautiful rolling hills, green grass, scattered oak trees and ponds all around. We even had the enjoyment of 3 swans flying in to land on one of the ponds.
The hilly outrun was trickier than it looked – making some dogs cross and others go to wide. The fetch including crossing a stream and it took a “bit” of push to convince the sheep they REALLY did need to go. The post was positioned at the top of a hill and turning the sheep around it was difficult. Some sheep beat the dogs and got back into the exhaust (The second day they turned around a rock at the bottom of the hill instead of coming all the way up to the post). The drive was across another stream and “by then” the sheep were not that willing to comply – so again it took a little convincing by the dogs. Then on to the shed and pen (which the sheep didn’t seem to mind).
There was plenty of room to walk dogs and enjoy the scenery. That’s always a bonus when you are traveling with 6 dogs :@)
Here are the results:
Then on to Sandy Milberg’s trial (Santa Rosa, CA) that always runs like a precision clock. Great sheep, really good set out along with every other “detail” allowing the trial to go on without a hitch (which is the “norm” for that trial).
The first day had 50+ dogs running Nursery and/or PN. The sheep were VERY challenging for the young dogs but not unreasonable to handle.
The next day we were on to Open. Two trial fields are run concurrently (allowing 80+ dogs to run). The “Flat” field (that really isn’t flat) usually allows for more finesse and posts the highest scores – but this year seem to be the exception. There were some tremendous runs on the Hill field (which really IS a hill :@) and the scores “beat out” the flat field.