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.
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 !!!
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.
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.
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.
I can’t think of a greater compliment that can be said about someone in our “world” than “For the love of the dogs” This is going to be a hard one for me to write. I seriously thought about not writing anything … partly because it’s so personal but more because it makes it real and I don’t want it to be real. Bill Slaven passed away and I can’t believe he’s gone.
For those of you that didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Bill you missed out on special man. He was special to his family, his friends, his community and especially to our herding dog world. To me he was like my adoptive father. I’ve known the Slaven’s for over 30 years and have enjoyed working dogs and spending time with them anytime I could get up North. They are what ranch/farm families are about … hard work, respect of the land, and open arms for friends.
I met Bill at a trial where he had provided the sheep. He was “first and foremost” a shepherd but did he ever love watching and working these dogs. He had such an appreciation of our sport while knowing that he needed these dogs to get his job done. I think this says a lot to end the conversation if trialing is representative of real work. This man made his living from sheep … as did his father and grandfather. He knew the value of a good working dog and did everything in his power to provide a place to keep this spirit of real dog work alive.
He, his wife (Joan), his son (Micheal), and his daughter (Peggy) for 21 years put on one of the most challenging trials in North America. This trial tested the merit of these dogs in the “real sense”. It was a huge course (700 yard outrun up hills) with sheep that tested the dogs every step of the way. The Slaven’s didn’t run in the trial – they only worked tirelessly so we could put our dogs to the challenge.
Every time I stayed – after dinner we had to go out … so he could let me watch his young dogs work – he was always so proud of them. It was a ritual we had for many years. I won’t be able to head “up north” for a trial without thinking that I won’t have the pleasure of sharing dog work with him.
As much as it is a personal loss – it’s a bigger loss for the working dog community. We don’t have many trials (or ranchers that love to put on trials) to showcase our dogs like Zamora did. It’s a big loss to everyone … even if they never had the pleasure of running their dog on this great hill trial. Bill did it all for “the love of the dogs”
I loved what his daughter said – Bill is up in heaven organizing a dog trial. The image gave me comfort. He will be so very missed down here.