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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
“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.