Soft dogs, hard dogs, strong dogs, weak dogs.
We often hear these terms, my dog is soft, hard, weak, strong. There can be some confusion as to their meaning.
A soft dog is generally one which has a soft, or more easygoing nature. These dogs are usually easier to control, respond more readily to commands, and are often more inclined to try to please the handler.
There are varying degrees of softness, some dogs will take no pressure at all but may be happy working unassisted on a farm without having to cope with the pressure of trailing or a stressful yard situation. My Kelpie Dolly was a little like this. At some clinics I attended she refused to work and would wander around sniffing the ground. I did trial her a couple of times but she would not take command very well. This was also due to my inexperience, and a better handler may have got more out of her. As it is she is happiest just doing her job bringing the mob in and rarely needs commanding anyway. Some really soft dogs can be difficult to work and require a patient experienced handler.
Soft dogs can be taught to take more pressure, and will become tolerant of it as they get older. These dogs can turn out to be very good dogs, given time.
A hard dog is the opposite, also called hard headed as they do not respond to command as readily as a softer dog would. A dog like this can be more inclined to take over and ignore you if he thinks he knows better than you do.
No offence intended here but many farmers on large farms cope better with a hard type of dog if there is likely to be a lot of yelling and stress in the sheep yards. In my opinion they simply have not had the opportunity to work with a soft dog and realise how much easier it can be. However when things get loud and stressful a soft dog may not cope well and may even leave the yards. Many excellent work dogs have been 'disposed of' because they could not take the pressure and would not work under those conditions.
Pep my Koolie could cope with just about anything but was difficult to handle and getting her to stop and come back was a problem as I was then an novice handler. If you like to keep control of your dogs then a hard dog can be frustrating. They can of course be trained but you will need firm control and will be constantly reinforcing your commands so consistency is important.
A weak dog is simply a dog than lacks the strength to move sheep, be it in the yard or paddock. Some dogs can move sheep around the yard, but with a large mob find it harder. I have noticed that wiith experience most dogs develop paddock strength and sometimes using an older dog to help the young one is appropriate as long as the older dog is well trained. I think that in a yard a dog can feel more secure about moving the sheep as they cannot escape but in a large paddock with a lot of sheep the dog may worry that he will split the sheep if he pushes too hard. It can also work the other way, where a dog feels intimidated in a yard but more comfortable in a paddock. Either way the dog still lacks the skills and strength to move sheep.
Most dogs can be taught to walk in and bite in a controlled situation in a yard by using a restrained, quiet sheep. Weaker dogs can gain a lot of confidence this way, even though it takes extra training and patience.
Some dogs are 'overfaced' or frightened when young and take a while to get their confidence back. They need time to 'find their feet' so don't expect a pup to move an old ewe whose only ambition is to slam them into the fence. Start with younger quieter sheep. Once trained weaker dogs can be useful working with wilder sheep or even in a trailing situation as they can work closer to the sheep without upsetting them, and the sheep are not as reactive.
A strong dog is usually born strong, it is in the bloodlines. However, a dog that is really strong may be a little more difficult to handle when young perhaps showing a tendency to bite and less inclination to want to stop working or come off the sheep. Bear in mind however that a weaker dog can also bite out if fear if he is in a confronting situation, the dogs body language will tell you the difference. A strong dog does not mean a dog that is tearing around barking and biting and smashing sheep everywhere. A dog that does this can often be a bit weak and will compensate by moving around a lot. A strong dog know he is strong and he can move the sheep with the slightest movements. A glare and a step forward is all that it takes. The sheep know who is in command. But at the other end of the scale he may need more training to keep him off the sheep, as dogs like this can really spook them and increase their flight zone. Where a weaker type of dog could approach a mob more closely without upsetting them, a really strong dog would need to keep more distance as the sheep quickly sense their power.
So dogs can be weak and soft, weak and hard, strong and soft and strong and hard.
It depends on your own temperament what sort of dog you prefer. This is why it is important to know their bloodlines so you will end up with the sort of dog you prefer and one that suits your situation. Or you may prefer to have dogs with different temperaments to suit all working situations.