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.
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 !!!
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?
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.