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Small field syndrome

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I've been a lazy trainer and in the past depended on others too much to correct issues. Something I've noticed is that if I let too long a time go by between getting out to new places, and especially larger areas, my dogs will gradually lose their nice natural feel for hidden sheep. They recognize the "trial field" setup and it will LOOK like they are looking for sheep when I do get into a trial field, but I can tell they are just going on habit. My previous trainer would just grumble, go do something to fix it, and then I'd have my "Big field" dog back again for a while. I never got around to asking him what the heck he was doing and now he's gone.


I know I can encourage "big field" habits even in small fields and the rot doesn't have to set in - Jack Knox says "if it's right at hand it will be right out there." I know several good handlers who don't have huge fields.


How do you all keep a fine edge on your dog's ability to look for sheep in different situations - and how do you maintain a "big field" mentality in a little field operation?

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How do you all keep a fine edge on your dog's ability to look for sheep in different situations - and how do you maintain a "big field" mentality in a little field operation?
I'm not sure this will help but one thing you can try is to look for situations where dogs will need to run out with more scope to find all of the sheep and use those situations when you can. As in, get it in your head to recognize whenever the sheep are up in a corner where they usually aren't or spread out across the field in a challenging way and then go get your dog for a quick gather. If you let your pasture grow up to seed out and it's hard for the dogs to see, use that as a training opportunity along with whatever real work you had planned.


Build in a command for a wider outrun from your feet and for a wide redirect if they start out running too tight. Use the sheep to teach them.


For the wide command at your feet, teach it when it's obvious to the dog it'll need to run wide in order to get all the sheep. Over time, it'll make the association if you set it up right. If the dog's running tight and you give the wider redirect and it can see sheep pretty quickly after you give the command to show it it needs to widen out, it'll make that association over time. Things like that...


Building in other cues for setting up for a gather is important too. For set up, figure out your "language" at the start of training and keep it consistent as you train the dog. Many dogs will automatically understand the natural set up language - the dog angled straighter up the field and closer to you signals short, tighter outrun whereas a more angled set-up farther away from you signals a longer wider outrun.


Most important, IMHO, is to teach dogs to look for sheep and learn the signals from them that they've actually seen the sheep they're being sent after. If you always, from the beginning, only send them after sheep you are directly facing, that's a good cue.


Wow. This ended up a lot longer than I wanted to make it. I'll just end by saying develop the proper language to let them know what they're expected to do and they'll learn best if you use the sheep to teach them.



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let me second something Denise said, when we see our sheep spread out to where the dog has to think about gathering one of us gets a dog. My Peg can get a bit focused on what's at hand and ignore sheep 10 feet behind her. I've been working on it and she's now thinking about ALL she can see. I do set her up with situations that require her to look for more AND listen to me telling her to look for more. I want to teach Peg a cast out wider and deeper command, but we haven't quite gotten there yet. Now she will hesitate when given a stop + flank (or verbal get back) and look for more. We still need to work on a "go deeper for more even if you can't see them" command.


Our place is only 6 acres with the biggest field being only 4 acres. The down side of teaching dogs to look for spread out sheep on a small place is the dogs can become fence runners (at least that is what we see here). So you MUST get them on bigger fields and different fields.



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Rebecca, can't add too much to the good replies already posted, but did think of one thing with regard to bigger/different work areas...


I know several folks who haul their own dogs and stock to empty fields/pastures/grazing areas that folks are willing to lend. Depending on where you are, sometimes they're much easier to find than turn-key places with stock already on hand.


A few years ago I went down south to look at some dogs. When I arrived - at the modest ranch - we loaded up in the truck and headed out to an oil field (hundreds of acres of rolling hills dotted with rigs) - no fences, no nothing. We unloaded the sheep and used older, trained dogs to set the sheep... and to put things back together if/when a young dog lost his way. It worked very nicely.


Anyway, just an idea that may/may not be workable for you.

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