Training from a new bloke’s point of view.
When Nan asked me to write something for her web site my first thought was that I have not been doing this long enough to voice my opinions to others. After thinking about it for some time I came to the conclusion that my views and ideas have worked for me and that it is up to the individual to decide on their own as to there value. I must stress that I am relatively new at this game and that these are a collection of ideas from different trainers that I have spoken to, read about or watched.
I believe that the way to train a sheep dog is to use the dogs own natural instincts. Once they are keen and showing that they have some talent you can move on.
All sheep dogs should instinctively gather and hold sheep together and hopefully bring them to the pack leader (the pack leader being you). This is the key to it all. It must be stated here that before you go out and put your pup on any old sheep you must have the right environment. You need a small paddock or big yard and quiet dogged down sheep. It also pays to have a plastic rake on hand to block the pup if necessary. The main aim of the next few minutes is to get on the opposite side of the sheep to the dog and to keep it like that. It could be a bit chaotic for a while but should settle down. You must remember that the pup will probably pay no notice of what you say or even yell so don’t say anything, just use your body position and your rake to keep the pup on the other side. Now with all this going on you must remember two things KEEP CALM and KEEP MOVING. By moving away from the sheep you are allowing the sheep to move off the dog and this allows the dog to move forward. With the occasional growl and the use of your body position and the rake as a block it should not take long for your pup to settle down and start to balance the sheep to you. Once you are happy with the way your pup handles sheep in your small paddock you may move out into the open.
The next step I take is to walk and walk twisting turning and zigzagging but always moving, always trying to keep the pup calm with as little movement from the dog as possible. It depends on the pup and its age as to how long before you can start with commands (could be weeks or months). To teach the pup its sides all I do is put words to actions ie: move left around the sheep towards the dog and give the command for that direction as the dog moves away from you to balance. Same for the opposite direction.
I teach the dog to walk up by moving directly away from the sheep and the dog at the same time as asking the dog to walk up. Don’t be afraid to be very encouraging with the tone of your voice to get the required response. If the dog goes to move sideways a little growl or a step in its direction should stop the dog and with some encouragement to walk up the dog should then move straight in.
The stop is taught all the way through this training by only asking for a stop when you are in a position to make sure you get it. You achieve this by blocking the pup and asking for the stop at the same time ie: always put the sheep in a corner to cut down the area that the pup can move to a minimum. I also teach a stop when I lead train my pup when away from sheep.
The come behind is taught to the pup on the lead by waving a piece of soft poly pipe in front of the pup every time it tries to pass in front of you. The come behind command is very important in training the pup because I use this command to get the pup to work off balance. So make sure they understand and obey the come behind command.
Going one step further with the come behind command, I have found this very effective for teaching off balance work to the pup. I do this by stopping the dog on the other side of the sheep and then moving out to the side so the dog can see me, then asking for it to come behind. Which is a command that it knows very well? As it moves towards me I give the side command as well. After some training you should be able to drop the come behind, and use the side command. Once this is all happening well, which may take some time, you can start to ask your dog to stop at any point around the sheep and then get it to walk in.
To finish off I would like to say that this is only very basic training and there is a lot of fine tuning and polishing along the way, there is no finer teacher than experience, so talk to and use the people with that experience to help you.
Please remember that a softly spoken command or one that is yelled loudly means the same and should, if disobeyed, carry the same consequences so stay calm give your dogs time to learn and realize if your pup is not doing what you ask it may simply not understand. That part is your responsibility.
Wellington White Dorpers