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Scenario question:

I have 2 big fields open to each other. A friend was over working his open dog. The dog knew exactly where sheep were at the time (he had just come off driving them to that point) and there were no other sheep in the field, they were all down with us, dog knew it. Friend asks for a wide flank, dog doesn't go as wide as handler wants. But dog is right by sheep. Handler gets on dog saying he didn't give what was asked.

I say poppycock. The dog knew the job. Yes there might be a time when the dog doesn't know and it's at that time if the dog doesn't see sheep and I have to redirect the dog I will or with wider whistle command tell the dog to go wider and deeper in the first place. But when the dog sees sheep and doesn't open up any larger than it feels it needs to is it right or does it have to do exactly as handler asked contrary to what sheep are doing? BTW this is not a tight running dog. So it's not like he was slicing in, just didn't go as wide as handler wanted.


This dog is nice and well trained, but I think what the handler asks is not being fair to the dog. In the name of training he says the dog has to do his bidding. Yes but still, I think the dog should be allowed to work a certain situation where he is showing he's right his way.

Now I sit and wonder if that's amateur thinking since dog is doing what it feels is right? And it was right. Such a fine line between obedience and covering a handlers butt I'm having a hard time understanding the lesson in that.


Another example, I have a young LGD. She is learning how to let dogs work sheep and not get in the way. But we have day old lambs out in the field.

Same guy sends his dog out to bring in all the sheep so we can sort for working.

My youngish lgd gets upset and tries to grab her day old lambs. I yelled and she quit but you could see how upset she was with a dog working her sheep. Then she sort of went after the working dog. Not to bite or fight it but to head it off at the pass. I yelled again and she just sat there letting the sheep go. She lets my dogs work my sheep and she knew this dog but there are day old lambs out there.


So now she is sleeping in the barn leaving us alone working her sheep. Isn't that what we asked for? We get busy doing other stuff and sheep wander up the hill, in sight but LGD stays sleeping in the barnyard. One of the neighbor dogs comes on the property (one that she's met and tolerates as it doesn't really affect the sheep or bother them) But sheep hurried down the hill as they had just finished being worked so seeing any dog, having young lambs on them was going to make them move. Jesse did not get up to intervene. Same guy tells me my LGD sucks and isn't doing her job.

I feel that she was confused and gave us exactly what we asked for, leave the sheep alone for now and let us work them. So she didn't notice when the neighbor dog (who she knows and knows the sent of) came on the property. I didn't feel right yelling at her or sending her out with the sheep in a correcting manner. confusing to say the least. and it wasn't 20 minutes later the friend and his dog leave and she's right back out with her sheep keeping watch.


Some people think they know what's going on...sometimes I'm not so sure and it's times like these I need more confidence in myself and my own observations.


Just curious as to what other might make of the situations.

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How else would you teach a dog to take a redirection when it thinks it is correct?

What if the dog thinks it is correct but it is not, and it has not been taught to take redirection.


Put another way....

Why would you ever teach a dog a "look back" if, to date, it has gathered every sheep in the field?

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We praise the intelligence, the biddability, the legendary skills of the Border Collie to make decisions. But we don't "allow" them to use their skill and brains for the sake of being in control?

I read this (not seeing it of course) as a trained dog being appropriate without negative impact on the sheep. So is it all about points for trials?

At what point does training stop and the dog gets credit for being right?

I base this on our disability to tell the dog before sending, go and stay exactly 100 feet out. So I have to trust the dog to take the directional and to base his bubble (50, 70, 100) on the terrain and the sheep. Or is it about testing every time the dogs biddability to our commands but essentially branding him a dummy because he made a good choice?

I am asking while acknowledging that I am a novice. But I would like to also state, because I prefer a working dog over a trial dog (which has it's very own challenges and beauty without a doubt so not disparaging it) I would like to believe that a dog can make this choice without it being a sign of impending doom and getting ready to chunk the handler out the window.

I would wait to go into training mode at the point were the choice to run tighter has a negative impact on the sheep and not just the handlers ego.

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It has been taught to take redirection but in this case it was right, and it did take the redirection after the man got on the dog a bit. What I'm hearing is for the sake of teaching a redirect, it's ok? Or, if given the wider whistle it must take the wider flank and ignore what is in front of it's eyes? Even when the job is right there at hand and the dogs knows it? But for the sake of obedience or maybe more sheep over the hill the dog must take the wider command? I think I understand but in my head it feels like your cheating the dog. Again this dog knew what was out there it had been working for 20 minutes or so.

Yes G the man trials.


Another question.

So you've gathered all the sheep off the hill, you know there aren't any sheep out there. But you send the dog anyways. Making him sweep the pasture. He does and comes back with of course nothing because you have all the sheep at your feet. I was once told not to lie to my dog, meaning don't send it on a wild goose chase. But now I'm told what if there were sheep out there, you want the dog going out when you say no matter what. I understand the dog will go, he believes you that sheep are out there. But does it shake his confidence or your partnership if you do that and it comes back with nothing often?

Thanks for the replies and food for thought.

I think all answers have merit but I'm thinking Donald might be right about not liking bullies.

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We praise the intelligence, the biddability, the legendary skills of the Border Collie to make decisions. But we don't "allow" them to use their skill and brains for the sake of being in control?

So how do you define and assess biddability?

I need a dog that can work on its own AND will take directions that don't seem correct to the dog.


Saturday I sent Eve to gather sheep from a field. There was a ewe with newborn twins that were in sight and the others were not. She was sent and started to turn in on the ewe & lambs. She thinks she is correct and if she was not willing to take my "look" she would have left the other 19 ewes that were over the hill. Eve took my redirection to find the unseen ewes. I could not see what Eve was doing over the hill; she had to gather the 19 ewes on her own. Then I needed her to stop, while the other 19 ewes ran ahead, to wait for the ewe with lambs to turn to follow the others drawing her lambs with her. Had she push ahead into the ewe with lambs, the ewe likely would have turned on Eve and stood her ground or charged to protect her lambs.

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To be fair I guess I need to add that this particular dog, IMO is not that biddable. He's a nice dog but high strung. He gets going and goes in a zone where he isn't listening clearly. So Mark you are probably more on target when you ask about biddability

I just wonder if this guys training style tweaks this dog and causes the disconnect with nerves on both parts. The man says it's just a hard dog, I'm not so sure. But since he's not my dog guess I don't have to worry. I'd just like to understand more.

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IMO It would depend upon where the dog is in its training. If the dog is just learning blind outruns you want there to be sheep so that there is a reward for performing the task. The lesson or what is asked of a trained dog may be different. Do you not send a trained dog to check for sheep in a field because there may be nothing to be found?



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Mark, I get that. And that is why I mentioned that I am struggling a bit.

She was right and wrong at the same time. But I suppose it is hard for me to wrap my head around the concept if I, had you sent me out to get the sheep, would have probably taken what was in the line of sight as well until I got more info. So is the additional info a whistle right from the beginning to go wider? And if so, yes, correction if ignored. Absolutely. Or is maybe the handler not on alert and is waiting too long to do a redirect when the dog has already turned into what is pulling him as it is in the line of sight as in Eve's case?

Not sure I would have set out walking the perimeter of the fence to make sure I got everyone in the pasture.


Edited to add> What Kristen now added of course goes to the fact that often owners do know what their dogs are more prone to do. Maybe he knows this boy is not at a point where he gets to make a choice. But then again, my mind asks, do owners not often try to micro manage based on that knowledge and can have a hard time to get to trusting the dog?


Edited to add> Kristen wrote: "I just wonder if this guys training style tweaks this dog and causes the disconnect with nerves on both parts."

^^ This is something that caught my attention as well. Allowing for temporary disconnect that can happen in all training, a less than stellar match of personalities etc....could this be a sign of frustration on both parties that is based in never feeling the success needed to progress in any partnership?

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I certainly never would send a dog to sweep a field if there were no stock out there. I often will send a dog for sheep neither of us can see. The dog goes readily because it understands that there is something out there, even if it can't see them. IMO, sending a dog out routinely when there's nothing to gather would be counterproductive to having a dog who keeps going until it finds stock to bring back.


This would be the same whether at a trial or at home. I routinely see dogs at trials who are clearly used to gathering sheep at a particular distance. When the dog is sent for sheep at a greater distance and the dog hasn't seen the sheep, the dog simply turns in at about the distance it's used to turning in and often no amount of stops and "looks" or "look backs" from the handler can get the dog to go out/back further for the sheep.


ETA: I see that Mark has posted since I started writing this. I will admit that if I didn't know stock are there (i.e., I don't know where they are) I might send a dog into an empty field, but I would not do it routinely and not as part of training, because I really do want the dog to believe that if I send it there will be stock to be found.


As for the commanding the dog to widen, I wouldn't have done that simply because that's not my training style, but given the additional explanation (a dog who doesn't always listen) I can understand why the trainer would insist.



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Dear Sheepdoggers,


You won't need to train the redirect by redirecting a correct outrun (though as per Mark's example, there are times with a trained dog where such may be necessary). Believe me, you'll have plenty of incorrect outruns to train the redirect.


The young dog's outrun is his motor and I am disinclined to mess with it unless it's wrong - certainly I wouldn't push it out for theory.


I want the dog to seek, find and fetch sheep in a controlled and sensible fashion. That means the dog must learn what works with sheep and what fails. "Wider" isn't always better and "too wide" is less common but a more serious fault than "too tight".


Donald McCaig

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After years of playing around I had access to a trainer. USBCHA type trainer. My dog was 7 and was super keen, had little (as in it would take several commands and take a bit!) stopping skills and her style of running was compared to a Setter at one point.... :blink: . But she has super balance and will absolutely not hurt a sheep and works till she drops. Just not very trial like. So yes, we did a lot of drilling on trying to get her to actually let me have a word in the whole affair. Which was badly needed. Having said that though, she had a pear shaped outrun. This is TX. It is hot. She was older. Because I am still learning she also got pretty good at reading sheep. She would adjust her bubble when she would approach the sheep and widen quite appropriately for a dog that had a rough start.To me, I always kind of thought it was a rather smart approach. Now granted, the sheep she was exposed to were not unknown for the most part. And at a trial with light sheep we would have been sunk...I acknowledge that. But for me, 90% of the time I had to give her credit. Yes, silly novice handler I am sure. Come to find out later too, she has one hip that was giving her a tough time. It helped me to keep my frustration with her actions down, to think of her as a tiny bit smarter at managing her resources. Now, the pups coming up are started with consistent help and hopefully I learned my lesson as I obviously acknowledge that this was not a desired approach.


But just so that I don't make my girl sound too bad, a big hat from overseas did call her a "useful" little dog....his way of saying to not set my heart on trialing I am sure! But he did like her for a ranch dog because of her heart and grit. :wub:

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I watched top handler "tuning up" a dog for a big trial. Dog was sent on an outrun and it hit the top correctly. The handler stopped the dog and then redirected the dog from one side of the group and then to the other side of the group before allowing the dog to lift the sheep. This handler allows the dogs to work on their own when correct but still trained the dog for obedience even though the dog was correct.

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You can't just do this right before a big trial and expect a dog to "get it"; you must teach the dog to accept redirection (even when it thinks it is correct).

On the other hand you must allow the dogs to work on their own if you want them to know they can (are allowed).

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Yeah, and it is beautiful work and an obviously nice dog!

I see the relevance to the biddability aspect.

I get tuning (I train horses).

I get that once before a show does not cut the mustard....

I get Kristen's added info about the dog having apparently a history with the owner.....


But, yes, the dreaded but and it is not for the sake of argument either, I have to wonder if we do not create conflict by not being fair to our dogs. By not acknowledging when they are right. They can be right and we could still want a bit more...fair enough. Also acknowledging the fact that I don't have a clue how often this guy does it. Heck, for all I know, this was a tune up on new sheep in a new field and he is trying to drive home a point. Again, based on prior knowledge of his dogs actions.


When I read a tiny glimpse though, I don't try to analyze this particular dog. In my mind it goes straight into the big box of things I have seen, read or done myself. And I have seen people, do the same things in training over and over and over again. If this is an everyday thing...my conclusion is...something is lacking in training.


To me, training progresses through different phases...these are goals so that I make sure to keep moving forward.

There is the showing, the creating mental and physical habits, the proofing and then the thank god I got it and we can now enjoy it with the occasional tuning phase! Along those lines, it is hugely important to me to create a partner that can pick up the slack. I am responsible for making sure that they have all the info they need to be successful. But I also want them to look to work with me. Not try to always push on me.


Big hats, dogs or horses, got to be that way because they push the envelope. They observe, they play, they experiment. And most of all, they ask questions.


So my question is, if, as reported by Kristen, there is some disconnect, between dog and handler, could it be based on seemingly unfair (to the dog) corrections? Premise being that this is not just a bad personality match or anything like that.

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I wouldn't try to over-analyze a guy's handling based on only a limited snapshot. It's hard to know what was in his mind in that instance. Sometimes if you see a person's work over numerous days you can begin to infer some things, but you can still be wrong.


I don't see a problem asking a dog to do things which go against instinct (exaggerated redirects, off-balance, surprise, weird commands). As with anything, if over-done a dog might be harmed, and in some cases begin to lose naturalness/fluidity/instinct. Like others have said, to get a proper job accomplished in farm and trial work, a dog has to be able to take commands which go against the grain. Nevertheless, I have experienced/seen good dogs make the correct move for the circumstances, after getting a flubbed command that was given in the normal flow and pace of the situation. "Oh yeah, I know what he intends."


I would ask, how do you get a dog there? How does the handler obtain ability to cue a dog to do exactly what he/she wishes, rather than what the dog thinks is right? For some commands, a handler would have to wait an unreasonable length of time for the sheep/livestock to behave in the exact way that is needed to train/proof an infrequently needed skill that goes in accordance with a dog's read of the situation and objectives. Sometimes scenarios can be set-up in advance, but it is difficult to do with training sheep who may have learned the field, handler and dog. They often won't exhibit the flightiness and unpredictability of range sheep and many trial sheep. Like Donald says, in the example of a too tight outrun, you probably won't have to hold your breath, it will just present itself, providing a teachable moment. Although, in many cases, a handler will have to train the off-balance/unnatural ask in normal circumstances, expecting the dog to take the command whether dog thinks it is right or not. For instance, I frequently ask for wide left and right flanks as my dog fetches, which creates somewhat of a serpentine path in order to prepare her for strong draws to the sides or a dog-leg fetch. She takes them without protest, yet continues to do silent/straight fetches when there is moderate to no draw.


I can see things going awry in the dog-handler connection if/when the dog is corrected in an unfairly harsh manner, or if constantly badgered in an irritated tone, so that the dog feels like it is always in trouble, likely not even understanding the particular fault to be fixed. I have no reason to believe Bcnewe2's friend is too hard on his dog, so this paragraph is hypothetical. Punishment/correction in dog learning theory is somewhat of a wild-card. You don't always know where it will take you. It's an art that has to be used judiciously, and depends on many things, including a dog's personality. I try to not forget praise when appropriate.


IMO things go wrong as a product of the manner of reinforcement, rather than in what is asked of a dog. -- TEC

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So happens I train with the man I speak about all the time. So I know his style and his dog rather well. He is a good trainer and I think adjusts his training to each dog but there are some things that baffle me and we don't see eye to eye on.


I think I gave the impression I always give commands that will keep the dog correct. That is not really the case.

In this case it is more this guys normal training rigors that he does with his dog, not all dogs. I still don't see it as good on a reg. basis for this dog.

What I have learned today is the nuances of a particular situation can really effect the way someone sees something. Like leaving out the dogs age till I did, it created a different story. I didn't mean to leave pertinent information out, I knew his age so wasn't thinking about it. It is the everyday little things that we fail to mention in a discussion that shapes it this way or that.


Thanks for all the input. Mark, you make me think hard sometimes...it's a good thing.


Julie, even though we've never met in person, and I only know your written word, I really think I would enjoy watching and learning from how you train your dogs and think it is in manner that I feel most comfortable with. Makes most sense to me. It might be your presentation on the internet is akin to something I can understand coupled with your good training sense.


thanks all

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Train an extra-wide outrun and super-deep lift where they are needed, for instance, with flighty undogged sheep in presence of strong draws, but with more docile sheep let your dog do what is reasonable and what it feels is right. I have heard that said, and in an ideal world it makes good sense to me (I myself do not have reasonable access to very light sheep for training purposes). Perhaps this is what bcnewe2 has in mind. Just trying to find an area of agreement, not wanting to put words in anybody's mouth.


Asking non-rhetorically, not intending to lead conversation either way, can a person properly train to trial standards on a small well-dogged home flock, and if not, what is a good way to handle it?


Asked another way: If wrong to occasionally ask for exaggerated outruns, lifts and flanks on a dogged/docile flock when both you and the dog know that to obtain excellent results/work at those moments they are unnecessary, what are suggested ways to accomplish appropriate training for competition?


There are still open questions, IMO, and looking for discussion. -- TEC

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Dear Aspiring Sheepdoggers,


This has been an interesting discussion. Thanks for Ms. BCNewe2 for starting it and for those who contributed.


There are hundreds of sheepdog and/or 'herding' trainers and many people with a pet Border Collie and an interest in learning stockwork will go to the nearest who is probably the only trainer they've ever heard of. While clinicians advertised here and on Sheepdog-L are uniformly good, these nearby trainers are all over the lot. Since training basics are so counterintuitive and usually get quick results, inept trainers can look pretty good. The problem is their followon instructions.


Derek Scrimageour likes to say: "Train for where you want to get to" Hence (for instance) if you call the young puppy to your feet with the same command you'll later use shedding, you'll have an easier time when you train for that a year or so later. The inept or AKC 'herding' trainer may be perfectly able to start a young dog in a small ring but since he/she has never tried to shed velcro sheep at a high pressure trial, he cannot teach what he doesn't know. Hence my advice: "Don't train with anyone who hasn't won an open trial."


But what of those who have with whom you disagree. Perhaps you have reservations about one or another training tactic or device.


Me too. Despite my genuine respect for Mark, I doubt I'd ever flank a dog back and forth at the top as he describes. Not because it's wrong but because my Perfect Dog is a bit more "Natural" and has learned his method by exposure to different venues, sheep and circumstances. My preference by the way doesn't win as many trials as the "Control" handlers do but it trains the dog I prefer working with.


No competent trainer/clinician will force you to do something with your dog you think is wrong or harmful. He/she will suggest/demonstrate/offer proof with his own dog/reason and intuit what the dog and/or sheep are thinking when they act. But the trainer won't command you.


When a clinician says/does something with which I disagree, I keep my mouth shut. I haven't paid good money to hear my opinions and, who knows, maybe he's right. I'm there to get what I can out of the lesson and if it's ONE THING in three days, I've my money's worth.


And there are some top clinicians I avoid because I can't learn from them. Personality differences. That's ok too. There are plenty of others.


Take what you can from each trainer who offers advice and politely discard what you can't use as you quest for the Perfect Dog and the life changing partnership.


Donald McCaig

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This is a wonderful discussion and thanks to all for their contribution. Great reading and a lot to ponder here. And, thanks to Mark for also posting a video about what he was talking about with Eve. That was great!


For a team that never made it out of Novice, my dog has a great "look back". He also has a "find" because sometimes, with our hilly terrain, I send him to *see* if there are cattle where I can't see without a bit of a hike. He understands what this means - it means to go forward (and not on an outrun) until he can see the rest of the field and see if there are cattle there. I can tell by his posture when he reaches that point if he sees cattle or not. If he does, he almost invariable lies down and waits my command. If he does not, he turns back to me with his, "No cattle here!" posture. This comes in awfully handy when we are gathering stock from multiple fields where I can't see the field or part of the field unless I walk over much of the property.


This has also been useful when we are seeking a bedded-down new calf that has been left by the mother while she feeds, just so we can check and make sure all is well. Back when Megan could hear, this was one of her jobs and she excelled at it.


Again, thanks!

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