Candy Kennedy – Trials and Errors

Posts tagged “Training Border Collies

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!







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 !!!

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?


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.

Changing of the guard

Moss shed

It’s a decision that eventually has to made by all of us if we run dogs long enough. Not something to look forward to but something to accept  – no matter how much we try not to think about it or put it off. It’s part of the responsibility of working dogs.

Moss is 10 years old. It’s “hard” decision time – should I retire him or keep running him for a bit longer? I don’t want to give up running a dog that has won so many trials for me – and I don’t want to “cut his career” short. But again I don’t want to run him if he can’t do the job. He deserves all my respect and to make sure he retires with honor.

It’s just so difficult to “let go” of what we had … I say “had” because sometimes I’ve watched him trying to take a fast flank and not be able to react like the Moss I’ve handled for all these years. Then, of course, my timing is off because he can’t respond as quickly as he use to – tending to frustrate us both. Then “other times” he’s “dead on”. So, I go back and forth – trying to balance the “two sides”.

I’ve got some nice young ones coming up but we aren’t (yet) on the same wavelength that Moss and I were. The young ones are fun and exciting to run as you never know what they are going to do. I have two sons of his that I’m enjoying very much … and I’ve been known to say if I could combine them … I would have Moss all over again :@) However, that’s not the way to look at it. I need to alter the way I handle – not expect them to become Moss.

When you have been “connected” to a dog for a long time it’s hard to remember it wasn’t always “that way”. It took hours and hours of working together before we started working stock “as one”. So, I need to focus on the old adage “time and miles” instead of what I’m losing. It’s just so difficult to let go of something that was special and so very comfortable. Time to “step out: of my comfort zone” and try to bring the young ones up to Moss’ level. Not an easy task as he was/is a special one.

These dogs give so much that we need to acknowledge that they will keep “giving” even when they physically aren’t able to live up to our expectations. It’s up to us to watch and make sure we don’t demand more than their bodies can give because we all know their hearts never stop giving.

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.