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Training Progression - what to do when

Guest BelgBC

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I have a 1 1/2 year old border collie. This is my fourth dog to do herding with, but the first one who was bred for herding and has a lot of talent. We've gotten through most of the basics, and now I'm trying to figure out our best path forward and what things we need to work on.


She balances and covers sheep nicely, although she's quite pushy at times and I have to remind her to back off a bit. She's really a control freak and very keen. Sheep that challenge my other dogs just move right off for her, no questions asked. The sheep I work on a regular basis with her started off just wanting to run, but now are so nice and calm for her and will stay where we leave them (but still move very easily when she wants them to) because they know she won't let them leave and also that she won't harrass them unnecessarily, so based on the sheep's reaction I think she's generally handling them correctly. She usually has nice natural square flanks although I do have to fix slicing from time to time. She seems to be understanding the flank commands and will do short little drives if I position myself in a way so that my pressure isn't influencing her to want to go around and fetch them. I say she seems to know the flank commands because I see a definite difference when I give a flank command (turns a side to the sheep) vs a walk up command (drops her head and starts walking direclty into the sheep) but I'm not sure she's got them yet to the point where she knows which is which or would do it off balance, away from the pressure, etc.


I would like for her to learn to think for herself and develop her stock sense (or at least not lose what's there, she seems to have quite a bit already). What kind of situations can I put a dog of this age in and what things should I be teaching her that will develop her abilities? Would you work a dog this age on a large flock, on a very small group, light sheep, very heavy sheep, small places, close pen work, gate sorting, gathering sheep out of a wooded area, gathering sheep scattered over a large field, trying to move sheep past where other sheep are, etc. What will develop her at this age and what may just be over-facing her and diminish her abilities? One example is sorting sheep so we can work the ones we want. She's at a point where I think she can do this for me, but that would mean sheep 'escaping' through the gate and I don't know if that would be bad for a dog this age, or if it's good for her to learn that sometimes it's okay and I want them to 'get away' and this is just a job that we do.


I also want to keep a good balance between command 'mechanical' work and natural work. I want to keep the natural but I don't want her to be one of those dogs who is always fighting the handler to bring the sheep back when you want a drive, or refusing to flank off pressure for instance. What can I do with her now to help develop a dog who will readily take a command but can still think and make adjustments for herself?

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That's a lot of questions.

I would try all the things you talk about and if you fail, you have to back track. Work is the best training for dogs. It makes dogs. They learn to see jobs with a beginning, a direction and an end. Failure, over and over is very bad for young dogs, so you contrive to be successful with your youngster. Always take the measure of them. If you think they can manage it, OK. But if you fail, your dog can demoralized. You need to finish with something the dog can easily do and understand. Finish with success and a cheerful dog. Work will bring you the kind of dog you want. The dog will learn to do jobs with you.


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