Teaching Herding To Humans is Hard!

By Michelle Weese

"Debbie with Nessie and Lachlan"

In May 2001 Debbie Willoughby came to stay with me for a few weeks to learn how to train her first Border Collie to work sheep. Debbie's dog's name is Lock-Eye Lachlan and he is out of Lock-Eye Pearl. This is the dog she brought to train. He had just turned one year old. Debbie has never taught a dog herding before. She has an extensive background training horses as well as showing Great Pyrenees dogs in Obedience. Several of her dogs have been inducted into the Great Pyrenees Hall of Fame and they have scored as high as 194 Ĺ. (I can also attest to the fact that they produce excellent guardian dogs, as I have one!)

I have trained many dogs to work stock and also produced a video to help beginners do the same. When it came to having the "Raw Beginner" in the round pen with me, I discovered that teaching herding to humans is hard!!!

My goal for the two weeks she was here was to have Debbie start her dog in the round pen with sheep. I wanted them to go as far as they could in his training without rushing Lachlan. Debbie needed to experience many stages of training in order to know what the next steps would be for her dog when they got home. I was fortunate to have many dogs here that were at all different levels of training. I wanted her to get an overall view of the training process. That may sound easy, but many words and phrases we take for granted leave a novice herder saying, "Huh???" Itís like a foreign language. Well, it is, I suppose! I tried to remember what it was like when I didnít know how to speak "Herding". The beginner needs to learn the terms, and explaining what they mean isnít optional. It is hard to picture what the dog is supposed to be doing in your mind if you donít know what the words mean. (Example: Go Buy What? or Way To Who?) The end goal should also be discussed. (That the dog needs to bring the stock to the handler.) It is very easy to loose sight of this end goal when you are literally going around in circles in the beginning. You are too busy getting dizzy to think straight! Below is a list of Goals I wanted Debbie to accomplish before moving her dog into the big field.

The round pen I use is 45 feet across. It is built with 13 horse panels. They are 20 feet in length. The gate is included in the 13 panels. It is important that the dog not be able to escape from the pen. The time it takes to achieve each goal will vary according to the ability of both the dog and the handler. It is also important to TRY to progress in training and not get stuck on the one thing. As an example: Going around in circles can be over done and the dog not learn to FETCH the stock to you. Donít just "play at" training your dog, have specific goals in mind!

Round pen goals:

Goal 1: Dog circles the stock and changes direction readily. A gathering breed naturally wants to go to the heads of the stock. When you go into the round pen and release the dog, it will run to the stock. (Hopefully) If you keep moving in one direction following the dog, it will keep running in an attempt to find the head of the stock and turn it back to you. If you donít let it get to the head, it will keep the circle going.

Goal 2: You can block the dog and have it stop (standing is ok). The sheep need to be behind the handler, against the fence.

Goal 3: Dog circles wide around the stock. I prefer the dog to be against the fence if possible. Too much pressure too soon causes the dog to be AFRAID to come in and that is counter productive. You will gradually insist on it being wider and wider. Small increments. This may take some time.

Goal 4: Dog is stopped told to stay. You can move to the left and right of the sheep and the dog stays. You can also swing your stick and the dog does not "take off" after the sheep. This teaches the dog that when you move off balance, it still must stay. (The stick is a plastic PVC pipe. It is used for blocking the dog when changing directions, pushing the dog out further away from stock and also to make the dog down or stop. If you hit the dog with the stick, it could make him afraid to work.)

Goal 5: Dog is called away from the stock and it actually comes!

Goal 6: Dog can be left on one side of the round pen, you cross halfway to the other side and "shhhh" the dog. It goes out to do a mini outrun. (And no lives are lost!)

(The first few times you do this, the dog will probably "crash" the stock. Keep your cool and push the dog out with your stick.)

Goal 7: The dog is taught the directional commands Go bye (or Come bye) (Clockwise) and Way To Me. (Counter Clockwise)

Directional commands
Go Bye (Clockwise).........Way to me (Counter Clockwise)

Goal 8: Dog can go between the sheep and the fence and not attack them!

Goal 9: The dog starts to walk a straight fetch line and "steadies" up.

While Debbie was here, Faye Amos came over to video tape each dayís lessons. It is from these tapes that Iíll be producing another Revised Version of my Training Video, "Border Collie Basics for Beginners". It occurred to me the mistakes that novice handlers make need to be shown on a training video. It gives the viewer insight as to "why it doesnít work when they try". The position of the human, the angle of the stick and the way you speak all influence the outcome of training. I will use these tapes to write a daily diary of Debbieís stay here at Lock-Eye Border Collies.

Debbieís dog Lachlan has been obedience trained to the Novice level. Showing him in obedience is her primary goal and herding the secondary goal. I find nothing wrong with a person wanting to do something other than herding with their Border Collie. It is their dog to enjoy in whatever way suits a personís lifestyle. I have found that dogs trained in obedience have a better bond with their trainer than the old farmer who raises his dog in a dark barn with no human contact. Then he expects the dog to work for him when a year old. There were, however, some problems that presented themselves as a result of obedience training.

Saturday, May 12th Ė I wanted to work Lachlan the first time to gauge how heíd be for Debbie to handle. I wasnít sure that heíd work for me. Sometimes a stranger in the round pen intimidates a dog. Lachlan didnít notice the sheep at first. He was busy sniffing and tasting the "treats" on the ground. This is common for dogs that are at a new place. It was also his first exposure to sheep. I let his Dam in the pen and had her fetch the sheep to me and drive them away. Sometimes this elicits the pack-hunting behavior. Lachlan started to run around the sheep a little and chased his Mom some. As soon as Lachlan was interested, I had Pearl lay down and let him work the sheep alone. It is important that a dog NOT work much with another dog in the beginning. If a dog doesnít learn to work the stock by itself, it wonít gain confidence. It will always rely on the other dog for support. It could also develop the other dogís bad habits.

After he worked the sheep a little while I tied him and let him watch his Sister work. Since the round pen wasnít new to her, she didnít hesitate to start working the sheep. After a while, Lachlan started to get excited and notice what was going on. I thought it was a good time to let Debbie work him. I stayed outside the pen and tried to explain what she should do. Debbie had watched me work a few dogs and had also watched my training video, so she had some idea what should/would happen. Iím reviewing the video as I write this article, so it is easy for me to see what movements caused different reactions in the dog.

The first thing I saw was Debbie stand in between the dog and the sheep with the stick pointed straight at him. He reacted by not working the sheep. Both the stick in his face and her body blocking the sheep were not conducive to him thinking the sheep were something he was allowed to run after. His reaction was to walk away from both her and the sheep. Debbie walked over to him and tried to get him to come to the sheep. I told her to move the sheep instead of going to him. The movement of the sheep usually causes the dog to chase. I said, "You canít make him move, so move the sheep! It stimulates his instinct". "Hoot and holler", I told her. "Get him excited! Acting like a fool is required!" When she would clap her hands and hoot, you could see him tense up and want to go after the sheep. He just didnít think he was supposed to! Also, I had her drop the stick for the time being. It seemed he was a bit wary of it. I decided to let him get used to the stick gradually, as he developed more interest in the stock.

We tied him up again and I instinct tested her five month old puppy she had gotten from me. Little Nessie was awesome! She sure showed Lachlan how things should go! When you instinct test a young Border collie, you are not actually training the dog like you would a grown one. You basically just want to see if it is "Keen to Work" or not. I used totally dog-broke sheep to test Nessie on. Since I didnít want Nessie to have any bad experiences, I worked her myself. Also, Iíd like to explain that she was not allowed to chase or rip and tear the sheep. She was allowed to circle and change directions. I didnít put any pressure on her to do anything. She was totally natural. I donít recommend starting a pupís training at this young age, but I feel "instinct testing" is ok if done in a controlled manner. (And on broke sheep, not cattle!) Getting a young pup kicked or butted wonít do anything positive for itís confidence. Be careful!

"Nessie 5 months old"

The third time with the sheep Lachlan did "keen up" a bit. He circled the sheep and changed directions. He was still distracted by everything, but this was only the first day. I then worked one of my dogs in the early stages of training and proceeded to explain what I was doing while I was doing it. When you first start out with a dog in the round pen it is exactly like you are lounging a horse without a rope. I am following the dogís rump to keep him moving in a circle around the stock. If I go forward of itís shoulder, it causes the dog to turn back and go the other way. This is how you teach the dog to change directions.

Trainer blocking dog
Trainer blocking the dog to make it change directions.

I use my stick as an extension of my arm and also to push the dog out from the sheep. This space away from the sheep is critical. It settles the dog, it settles the stock and also it allows you to start backing up and have the dog fetch the sheep to you. If you arenít able to back up, then the dog is too tight. It usually takes some time for the dog to understand that it needs to keep its distance from the stock.

Sunday, May 13th - I put three slightly wilder sheep in the round pen this time. These sheep had quicker reactions to any slight movement on the part of the dog or the handler. It gets more of a reaction from the dog. Lachlan needed more stimulus. While he was keen to work, he lacked focus and drive. This isnít uncommon for a dog taken out of its environment. Remember, this is just day two. Sometimes it takes few days for the dog to get used to a new place. (Especially a young male.) They tend to mature slower than females. Lachlan still had a lot of puppy in him.

This day Debbie worked him first. I had her take him into the round pen with a slip lead through his collar. She walked him around the sheep to get them moving before she released him and started circling. This worked great and he hit the ground running! Debbie let him go several times in one direction and then held the stick out parallel to the ground and extended, to get him to change directions. He switched without any problems. He was reacting to the sheep if they tried to break away. He flanked himself out and the sheep came back to the group. There were a few times when Lachlan reacted to Debbie stopping him by turning away. When he stopped, she would walk towards him. This was putting pressure on him. He thought he was not doing as she wished, so heíd go further away. I told her not to step in his direction when he stopped. I also asked her to hoot and holler and move the sheep when this happened. It brought him back very quickly. We only worked him six minutes this day. I wanted him to leave the stock wanting more, not be so tired that he wanted to quit.

Monday, May 14th - Today I thought it would be good for Debbie to work a dog further along than Lachlan. I wanted her to get a feel for what was next. I chose a female named Split. She is five years old and I use her for my "chore dog". I told Debbie to walk her into the round pen like Split didnít know anything. I figured Split wouldnít listen to her anyway, so it was just like starting a young dog. (Most trained border collies that are sold still have to get used to the new handlerís voice and mannerisms. It can take a while for everything to "click".)

Split was taken into the round pen and released with the slip lead. She circled the sheep a few times in each direction and Debbie pushed her out more with the stick. Split was then going wide enough for Debbie to start backing up and allowing the dog to bring the sheep to her. I had Debbie make sure Split would stop for her. She had to be blocked a few times and then she decided Debbie was actually going to make her mind, so she downed! I wanted Debbie to see how stylish Split is, but you donít get the STYLE without the STEADY! The goals were backing up and having the dog actually WALK ! Split knows how, but she was going to make Debbie work for it. (But not quite as hard as with a young dog.) When the dog is fetching the sheep, get in between the sheep and the dog as if to make it stop. You command the dog "STEADY" (Say the D sound very hard,) while holding the stick up in front of you. (Parallel to the ground.) See how it reacts. If he doesnít slow down, you can stomp your foot at it him. Growl the word "STEADY". Stress the D in the word. Remember that you are in a straight line-- Dog, You and Sheep.

Teaching the Steady to Cora

If the line is curved, (Meaning if you are off to one side of the sheep,) the dog will try to circle the sheep. Once the dog takes a few slow steps, I slip around to the heads of the sheep and then slowly back away. I say "STEADY" again and keep walking backwards. If the dog "loses it" then I return to the rear of the sheep and get in line with the dog again and stop and steady him. You can only expect a dog to go slow for a few minutes at a time. (With a dog just learning to slow down.) You gradually get the dog to walk slower for longer periods of time. It doesnít happen overnight! If the dog wonít slow down with this method, then I will insist it Lay Down and then STEADY. Debbie kept getting to the side of the sheep and Split kept circling them. When she got in line with the sheep and hardened her voice, things started to slow down. She was trying to be friends with Split. Since herding dogs are really on a "trained hunt", you need to be the Alpha in charge of the hunt, instead of the dogís buddy. Otherwise the dog just does what it wants.

Next, Debbie needed to learn the directions. I wrote a big G on her left hand and a W on her right. This just helped remind her if she forgot. One excellent way to picture the directions in your mind is to visualize a big clock out in the pasture. If the dog is going in the Clockwise direction, it is GO-ing BYE the way OF THE CLOCK. (Get it? GO Bye.) And if he is traveling the opposite way, he is going AWAY from the way of the clock. (Away to Me)

Since Split knew Down, Debbie could stand to one side and send her around the sheep. One mistake that Debbie made is common for a new handler. She would have Split lay down on the Way To Me side and then say "Go Bye." This confused Split. I explained that it is a good practice to lay the dog down on the side you intend to send it. Later, when you work the dog Off Balance, you can lay the dog down and then send it the opposite way.

When you send a young dog to the sheep from a down position, hold the stick out the direction you DONíT want the dog to go. If you want to send the dog Way to Me, you hold the stick in your right hand and turn so the stick is behind you blocking the dog. Some people try to "wave" the dog in the desired direction. (Either with their arms or with the stick.) This results in blocking the dog from going the way you want it to. Remember to block the wrong way.

In the Oct/Nov issue I will continue the diary of Debbie and Lachlanís herding lessons. In just a matter of 10 short days, they were working out in the pasture! Donít miss it!

"&Lachlan after 10 days of training"

(Note: Michelle Weese can be contacted at lockeye@hughes.net or phone (918) 723-3052
Visit her Web site by searching for Lock-Eye Border Collies in your Search Engine)

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