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Hi everyone. I've been lurking on these forms for a few months, and have learned a great amount from all of your posts - thank you for all of the information you all share! I want to start this post to record training my first dog for her first trial. A while back I read the post on Kelso the rescue dog. It was so neat to read through his journey that I've been inspired to record my own dog's journey (albeit a very different kind of story). My hope is not only to be able to look back at her training as we progress, but also that (maybe!) this can help another newbie in the future learn from all my training and trialing ups and downs! :) I'd love to hear any tips or comments from anyone reading along as we go :).

 

Here's a quick back-story: my family always had pet BCs growing up, and I completely fell in love with the breed. I wasn't able to have any dogs during most of college, but did get a Lab (my husband's favorite breed) just before graduation last June. I still wanted a Border Collie, but decided to wait until the Lab was (mostly) out of her puppy stage before getting another dog. I met my mentor and watched him run his dogs for the first time around the beginning of the year. Since then, my mentor has been very encouraging and extremely helpful. I began to learn as much as I could, and I got my first real herding BC, Sam, at the beginning of March :D. Sam will be 2 this fall. She started her herding career with one month of professional training, and then she lived and worked on a cattle ranch until I was lucky enough to get her. Since then, Sam and I have been training ~3 times per week, and we are looking forward to our first trial either next weekend or next month (I'm not yet sure if we'll make the first one).

 

Here's a summary on our story so far:

When I first got Sam, we just bonded at home for most of a week. When we first visited sheep she gripped several times during each of the first few training sessions (which I think was more terrifying for me than the sheep...although she only took a little bit of wool off the sheep each time, I was sure in my mind that she was just about to eat one alive the first couple of times).

Thankfully she had a great "down" on her when I got her. That really helped us to both settle down and think about the next move when things got wild! At the beginning, we worked in a round pen, mostly on circling and getting the directions figured out (she was pretty good at them, so this was mostly for me!). We then started working in a larger pen, and eventually moved outside of the pen to the open. Thankfully my mentor has several good dogs, and he would keep one nearby to fetch the sheep in case they got away (which they did a few times!). We worked on directions more, mini-outruns (really mini!), struggled with getting her to stop crossing over to the other direction between me and the sheep, and started working on her flanking square (her favorite thing to do was run straight at the sheep, then go around them just before she got to them). Once the crossing over went away, we started larger outruns and began to get her to work far enough off the sheep (she always wanted to stay in too close!). She stopped running in towards the sheep as much, but still wasn't flanking square by any means. In the last month we've really been working on "get back/out", flanking square, and extending her outruns. In the last week, we've added penning too - which has gone surprisingly well so far!

 

Currently, she is doing well with outruns at ~60-80 yards or so (I'm terrible at guessing distances...) although she still tends to get tight just as she goes around the sheep to balance/lift. She is doing much better at the "get out/back" and circling at a distance that keeps the sheep relatively calm. She has always had a good pace when driving the sheep toward me, but she does still struggle with the flanking square (and then getting back) when she has to take a direction command as she's fetching the sheep to me - but she has been improving a lot on that in the last week.

 

I have really been enjoying this training (and from the look on Sam's face after a lesson, she appears to be also!) and I am really looking forward to starting to trial (I may already be hopelessly hooked on herding :) ). I certainly wouldn't be surprised if we have to retire if we end up going to the trial this next weekend, but I'm really looking forward to see what she does running different sheep in a different environment (and to see how well I can handle her in a new environment too!). And who knows, maybe we'll get lucky and both do alright :D! I figure the first trial should be a good experience either way.

 

Alicia

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Understanding vs. Obedience

 

The last couple of lessons have brought up the question of whether Sam is not understanding what I'm asking or if she's choosing to disobey commands that she knows. As my first trial is coming up next weekend (I am now going for sure! :D ), I've been practicing "standing at the post" for the first time. Also, as we've just recently begun to pen the sheep, I've been standing at the end of the gate during parts of the last several lessons. This standing relatively still is causing me to use my body a whole lot less when giving Sam a command (instead of walking a few steps to my left and calling "come by" I'm standing still for the most part, and just giving the verbal command, then shifting my body and lifting my arm if she doesn't take it correctly). Several of the training books that I've been reading recently (general training - not specifically geared toward Border Collies or herding) have said that if you speak a command at the same time as you gesture the command, the gesture will always overshadow the verbal, and the dog is likely to not learn the verbal command at all. With that in mind, I believed that Sam was confused by me transitioning to verbal commands without much gesturing.

Then (of course, there's always a but...) at one point during our work today, Sam gripped a sheep when she should not have. I ran toward her vigorously shaking my flag and calling "Get out of that! - Bad Girl!" in a gruff voice, until she got back from the sheep. After that, she took my direction commands beautifully - until we completed the lesson ~5 minutes later. She chose the correct directions and flanked really square almost every time. Hmm - interesting. So was she just not listening to me earlier in the lesson? Did that correction just happen to occur at just about the time she was really understanding my new way of giving the commands to her? Did my tone of voice continue to be more serious without me realizing it? I'm not sure. We'll see what happens tomorrow!

 

Another note on a different topic: I learned a simple, but very effective tip today. Sam had begun to run the beginning (first half/two thirds) of her outruns too tight when I sent her to get the sheep from my imaginary post. Picturing myself at the center of a clock and the sheep at twelve, my mentor suggested lying her down a few feet away from me toward 4-5 or 7-8 (depending on the direction I was going to send her). It made a world of difference. This may be because when we typically are focusing on her outruns I'll walk a short, medium, or long distance from her toward the sheep, and work on pushing her out at that point if she's in too tight. By placing her in one of those two positions though, even without pushing her out (verbally or with a gesture) she was just better at getting a good distance out on her outrun. Amazing! :)

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Here's the one piece of advice I can give you on trialling, since I am not anywhere close to being a dog trainer or even a very good handler. A judge at one of my first novice trials told the handlers this: Do not be afraid to retire. You gain more respect by knowing when to call it quits than to keep yelling at a dog in a run going to hell.

 

Good luck, have fun. Make mistakes & learn from them. My very first trial ever, I ran the sheep over the judge. Literally.... Talk about embarrassing! Thank goodness the judge was understanding & laughed it off.

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Watch open runs at each trial you go to, don't just stay for your class then leave; good things can be learned if one takes the time to watch. Attending clinics is another way to grow your learning. Don't forget to have fun!

 

Samantha

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This can't be repeated enough. Often in novice, if time isn't a big concern, the judge will allow a person to retire, get things under control and finish the run on a good note. Don't just assume that, though; you can ask in the handler's meeting. But even if you aren't allowed to fix things and continue on, it's always better to retire than to allow a wreck to happen or continue to happen. Your dog will learn as much, if not more, from that than it will from being allowed to continue with a run that's going badly (assuming the badly part is largely because of the dog).

 

I also agree with Samantha. Too many novice handlers go to trials, run, get their ribbons and go home. You can learn a GREAT deal just by watching the runs in the higher classes. It's like getting a clinic for free. If you know any open handlers (or not, you can always introduce yourself), they will usually be happy to answer questions for you while you're watching runs.

 

Also remember that you will likely lose 50% of whatever you have at home when you first step out on the trial field (first few trials, certainly), so don't be surprised if your dog reverts to behaviors that you thought had vanished in your training. If you're feeling stress, you can be sure your dog is too, so expect the unexpected.

 

But above all, have fun and view it as a learning experience for both of you.

 

 

J.

 

Here's the one piece of advice I can give you on trialling, since I am not anywhere close to being a dog trainer or even a very good handler. A judge at one of my first novice trials told the handlers this: Do not be afraid to retire. You gain more respect by knowing when to call it quits than to keep yelling at a dog in a run going to hell.

 

Good luck, have fun. Make mistakes & learn from them. My very first trial ever, I ran the sheep over the judge. Literally.... Talk about embarrassing! Thank goodness the judge was understanding & laughed it off.

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Thanks for the advice in your replies! Although the trial will be small (Novice, Ranch, and Nursery) I'm definitely looking forward to watching and learning from everyone who's there! @Northfield Nick - oh, wow what a first experience :wacko:! And, although I hope we are able to finish our runs, I plan to call it quits on any run if it's turning into a mess (hopefully I have enough foresight to see a mess starting!).

 

Hey, What's Over There?

Yesterday we worked on practice runs: outrun, lift, fetch, pen. It all started out really well! Then, (picture me facing away from the pen) the sheep kept being drawn to my right the whole way from the set-out to the pen. Unfortunately (because this was made harder), but fortunately (because it turned out to be a better training opportunity), Sam's weak direction is "Come By."

Through this lesson's work, I have developed a new theory on the problem from my previous post: Sam only likes to take direction commands that bring her closer to balancing or just a little bit off balance (that seems like something that could be an obvious answer now that I think about it, but of course things are easily missed by a newbie like me!). We'll see if that theory survives more than 1 training session :P.

 

As you can probably guess from above, it was really difficult to get Sam to understand that the goal is to get the sheep to walk straight to the pen, not to have her always balanced straight across the sheep from me. Picturing the sheep in the center of a clock and me at 6, Sam would take the "Come by" command if she was at 12, but would only go around to 2 or 3. I tried several different ways to get her to go farther around. The following descriptions begin with Sam lying down at 2-3 on the clock, the sheep holding still (for the most part) and Sam's body leaning, ready, to take the "Away" command (because that is what she seems to think she should be doing next).

1) Ask for "Come By" (CB), when she starts in the Away direction calmly say "Nope, lie down." Then ask for CB again. Repeat 3-4 times with none working.

2) Move myself to ~9-10 on the clock, then ask for CB. This sometimes worked. A couple of times, after she wouldn't take the CB, even with me at ~10, I moved toward 11 and had her CB in a full circle around the sheep. The goal was to be able to move closer to 9, then 8, then 7...but again, we ended up not making much progress here.

3) Ask Sam to "Come in Here" then CB. Let Sam "Walk Up" and let the sheep move toward me some. Repeat the sequence. Repeat again. Repeat again. This actually seemed to make some progress! I'm sure it probably didn't help with her flanking square, as she was cutting across the clock from ~2 to ~5, but she was keeping the sheep in a straight line!

 

After doing the above, she seemed to get it better! While experimenting though, she ran in and almost gripped (although she didn't either time, yay!)...twice, and at one point the sheep took off out of the field, across a ditch, and around the barn :huh: . But we got the sheep back and, thankfully, were able to get back on track! :) While Sam is figuring all this out, I'm working on making sure to keep my voice calm (not speaking super fast), and only as loud as it needs to be even when the sheep start running, or start off in the wrong direction. Sam seems to respond much better if I can keep it quiet, calm, slow, and steady, even when I'm in a hurry for her to do a command. We did two final runs, and Sam really started doing better -she actually began taking the Come By command well enough to keep the sheep pretty straight! - so we were able to end on a high note! What a fun lesson! :)

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A Hole in the Fence

I got a call today while I was at work, which was a bit....terrifying - someone said they had found Sam. The problem was, Sam wasn't lost. We left her in the fully fenced backyard with our lab earlier today...

What on earth was going on?! I asked the person who found her to describe her to me - sure enough the description matched exactly. He found her wandering the streets six blocks from my house. I asked if there was a yellow lab with her - nope, only the border collie. My husband and I grabbed our things and took off from work (we work together and share a car). Thank God Sam was safe - hopefully nothing happened to her during her adventure - we would have to wait until we got to town to find out. The more pressing question now was: where was Daisy? If she wasn't with Sam she could be anywhere, and she hasn't ever learned to run freely around cars without getting in the way, which could mean disaster. After the drive back (which seemed soo long) we drove to the back side of our house, in case, by some chance, she happened to still be in the backyard. When we got close, we saw where Sam escaped - she pushed out a board, and squeezed through the hole. We looked into the yard - and there was Daisy! I left to pick up Sam, who was happily visiting the nice man who picked her up (and fed her a pork chop to boot! Lucky girl!). Thankfully, neither were harmed, and both are happily lying around the living room again. What a scare though - especially the day before our very first trial! We will be very thoroughly checking our fence this weekend...something we will be doing more often in the future. Now I know that just because the fence looks like it is secure, it may not be.

 

After all of that, Sam and I were able to make it out to one last practice lesson. She did great! There were a few small errors we both made, but overall, it went really well. Hopefully that means tomorrow and Sunday will go well also! :) But as everyone here has pointed out, you never know! :P I'm sure it will be fun for us either way! :D

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He found her wandering the streets six blocks from my house. . . . When we got close, we saw where Sam escaped - she pushed out a board, and squeezed through the hole.

 

 

This is only one of the reasons I'd never leave a dog (or dogs) alone in a yard, when I'm not home to supervise. Among others are the persistent incidences of dog thefts all over the country. :(

 

Good luck with the trial. Waiting to hear that you guys did a smashing job!

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Our First Trial!

Sam and I competed in our first trial over the weekend - and it was awesome! :D Was it perfect? Absolutely not! :P But it was a ton of fun, and I sure learned a lot! The first day we had to outrun, lift, fetch the sheep to the pen, and pen. The second day was the same, with the exception of fetching the sheep to the post, settling them there, and then penning them.

On the first day, Sam began her outrun - straight up the field toward the sheep :o. I asked her to get out (which didn't work), then to lie down (again, didn't work), then to come bye (which didn't work either). She was only interested in going straight down the middle. I was thinking to myself - well this is it, we're certainly not going to finish this if I can't get her around the sheep! Then I called her in to me and sent her in a come bye again. It worked! (Sort of). She was certainly not wide enough, but she got around and behind the sheep! I'm sure the lift was messed up by the tight outrun, but (from my perspective) she did great on the fetch! She took all my commands, and even flanked relatively squarely! The sheep walked straight into the pen (they were very gentle, which I'm sure helped!). We ended up scoring a 33 out of 60, and placing second out of 3. As competitive of a person as I am, it's almost weird to be very happy with a score just above 50%, but I am absolutely satisfied with it.

 

The outrun was longer than we've been practicing, so Sam messing up on that wasn't her fault - something to work on before the next trial! Also, the sheep were set up in a field of trees (which there aren't very many of where we live!), and were placed right in the middle of the fetch panels used in the nursery class (we've never practiced with any obstacle right next to the sheep before). With all of those considerations, I would say Sam performed as well as she possibly could have - what a dog! :wub:

The second trial played out almost exactly like the first. We got a few less points (27). I'm not sure exactly what caused the point difference (maybe more redirect commands on the outrun, or maybe a worse lift?) as I'm still learning exactly what the correct thing looks like, and what I'd be losing points for. That score got us a second place again.

 

After the Sunday morning trial we were all invited to hang around for help with our dogs (there are such generous and helpful people in this sport!). What a great learning experience that was!

1 - Keeping Back From The Sheep - The first thing that they told me was that because Sam has a lot of eye, she must stay back farther from the sheep to keep her from getting too intense and putting too much pressure on them. I have a hard time being firm enough to get her to listen to my "get back" command, even when I feel like I'm being really-super-duper gruff/tough. I'm going to have to work on that. Both my mentor and the man who was hosting the trial can easily get Sam to give to the "get back" command (to where she turns away from the sheep and gets farther from them), but I have a hard time with it. It's pretty clear she knows the command (as she takes it from them), I just have to figure out how to get her to do it for me.

2 - Balancing on Her Own - Next, a lot of us practiced a balancing drill with the dogs. The dog is expected to balance without being given commands (a command here and there is ok, but not for each direction change). The handler walks away from the sheep (the sheep follow), and the dog follows behind, keeping the sheep at the handler's back. Handler walks, turns, walks, about face and walk through the sheep, walk, walk, walk, turn again, etc. Sam and I have been doing a lot of balance work, but I've nearly always been facing her.

An interesting point made was that it's better if the handler walks forwards (not walk backwards where they can see the dog and sheep). Although looking over your shoulder was ok, one of the experienced handlers said that this shows the dog that we trust them balance and to bring the sheep to us - that is, to follow their natural instincts. (He also said that walking backwards was a good idea for puppies, or dogs you can't trust yet). This was really interesting to me, as I've never thought about whether or not a dog thinks we trust him or her, and how that may affect his or her performance. Interesting! It makes sense though if you are working toward a goal of the dog performing the outrun, lift, and fetch without help from the handler, that you must be able to trust them with minimal supervision, or on their own.

3 - Using Body Language - The third major thing I learned was how important it is to use my body more. As I recently graduated, I remember very well the teachers who, conveying the same information, made learning easy, and those who made each little step a struggle. The way I understand the concept of using more body language (vs. verbal commands) is that body language is easier for the dog to understand, since dogs rely so much on it to communicate themselves, therefore it makes learning easier for them (and we become that teacher who makes learning easy). I'm not sure how this plays out when the dog is working far away from the handler (I was so distracted taking in all of this, I forgot to ask that part!). But the idea was, if you're doing the balancing game and you want your dog to lie down, turn around and face the dog, lift your arms over your head (and slightly forward) and then ask for the lie down. To ask the dog to move out, use your hands as if they're pushing the air between you and your dog, etc. Again, very interesting!

 

If you're a new handler who hasn't gone to your first trial yet - you may be ready before you think (I wouldn't have thought I was ready if my mentor didn't tell me he thought I could do it). You don't have to be perfect to start! Going to the trial really showed me what Sam knows well, what she sort of knows, and what we really need to work on. Plus I met lots of new people who I could watch, and who were happy to offer their suggestions for me - it's great! :)

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@Camden's Mom - Our next trial is in two and a half weeks :D It sounds like there are only two left here before there is a break in the trials for the (very hot) summer we have coming, so I've got to get them in now (that's my excuse anyway! :P)

 

Catching Up

My husband and I just returned from a wonderful trip back to CA to visit family and friends! Sam and I had two training sessions last week, so I need to catch up on those before we work again this week!

 

Tuesday - This was our first work after the trial. We had pretty poor outruns at the trial so I wanted to keep this lesson really simple to set Sam up for success. We did mostly balance work (with my back turned away from her this time!), practiced getting back, and did a few short outruns (maybe 20 yards, max). Keeping things small and slow really allowed me to focus on communicating with Sam. I tried using my body language in different ways to see what worked for Sam and what didn't. Turning toward her and calmly raising my hands above my head worked great for getting her to lie down with just one "Lie Down" command. Lately I've had to repeat the command 2 or 3 times to get her to stop. Hopefully the new body language will continue to work as we continue to work farther out as well.

I also tried turning my body toward the direction I was going to ask her to go before asking for a direction. That is - if she is balanced at 12 o'clock, I would turn toward 3 and then ask for "Come Bye." Or if she's at 3, I'd turn toward 5 or 6 and ask for "Come Bye." This seemed to help a lot with asking her to go away from the balance direction (from 3 to 6, as in the previous sentence). Sam likes to think that she should be balancing all the time - even when her silly handler suggests that she go the other way :P so I foresee (hopefully!) this becoming very useful at least for the next few weeks.

 

Thursday - We worked on outruns some more. As our next trial will be held at the same place, I'm guessing that we'll be running a similar length outrun. My goal is to extend the length that Sam is comfortable with so that we don't end up having the same issue with a super-tight outrun (you've gotta set goals high, right?!). We kept the outruns pretty short again (maybe 40 yards or so?) so that we could address any issue of her cutting in before we extend to the length we've been doing, then farther. I didn't realize it, but my mentor pointed out that she was really cutting in on top (starting at ~10 or ~2). I thought she had a small issue with this, but I didn't realize how far back the dogs are supposed to stay. It's so tricky getting that distance / depth perception figured out! My mentor suggesting picking out landmarks at 10, 11, and 12 (or 2, 1, and 12) before sending Sam out - that way I would know right away if she was cutting in. The first couple outruns I asked her to "Get out" immediately as I saw her cut in. She didn't, so I told her to lay down, ran out to position myself between her and the sheep, asked her to "get out" again, and got her to go farther away from the sheep (that is, increase the distance between her and the sheep, not just allow her to continue around in the proper shape of the outrun. - That distinction was hard for me to understand at first.) After doing this 1-3 times on each of a few outruns, she very noticeably moved outward when I called "get out" when she was in the process of an outrun. The top started to get better too, but there wasn't nearly as much noticeable progress at the top as there was along the sides.

 

This Past Week - Sam has been staying with my mentor while we've been gone, and he said that he worked her a couple of times during that time (so kind of him!). I can't wait to see her (and our lab!) this evening after work and to see what she's learned while I've been away :D

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When I first started trialing an open handler gave me a tip I found helpful. When running in a class be able to do an outrun/drive that is longer than whats expected at that level. This way you will have more confidence in your dogs ability, instead of practicing only a certain distance then getting to a trial and be overwhelmed by the distance your dog has to run. Nerves are already on edge, no need to make it any worse by not being prepared.

 

Samantha

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thank you for the tip Samantha - We have one week left until our second trial, and right now we are working on getting her to do a proper outrun as far out as possible - hopefully we'll be practicing farther than the trial length by the end of the week!

 

Outruns! - And what exactly is an ideal outrun?

Outruns, outruns, outruns! Over this past week, Sam and I have been practicing lots of outruns! We've been mixing a little bit of other work in as well to keep it from becoming too predictable and boring for her, but we've been focusing on outruns. I'm still trying to determine what a "perfect" outrun looks like. To the best of my understanding, an outrun is wide enough so long as the sheep don't move before the lift. But when does an outrun become too wide? And - in a pear-shaped outrun, where is the dog supposed to start running outward to make the larger, bottom portion of the pear? These are all questions that I'm trying to answer by watching others run their dogs, but it's definitely taking a while to figure out. If anyone has a link to a video or good article about this, I'd love to read it :).

 

As I'm working on getting myself trained, Sam is coming along great! We went back to the basics - her placed at 6 on the clock, me walking most of the way to the sheep that are placed at 12 on the clock, then sending her around. Then, setting up the same situation, but only walk half the distance. Then, continue to walk shorter distances toward the sheep until I can send Sam from my feet. Next, increase the distance between Sam and the sheep, and start walking most of the way to the sheep again. We've been doing this for about a week, and she's performing quite reliably with the sheep about 3/4 of the distance from us that they were at the trial. We have just less than a week of practicing left, but I'm hopeful we'll get the distance before Saturday! If not, hopefully we can get close!

 

A nice side effect of all this outrun practice is that Sam is really getting the hang of the fetch. Whenever she does a good outrun I let her drive the sheep to me (if she cuts in on the outrun and won't take a "get out" redirect I don't let her have the fun of driving and have been setting her up to start the outrun over again). She is starting to drive the sheep to me in a straight line, and correcting them herself if they start to go off in one direction. I still have to direct her to a side if the sheep get very far off line, but I've been having to give a whole lot fewer commands!

 

A negative side effect of Sam understanding that she needs to fetch the sheep to me in a straight line is that when the sheep get significantly off line (let's say 2 o'clock) she will take the come-bye command, but won't go far enough around. She tried to drive the sheep straight to me from 2 o'clock (not along the actual fetch line). Instead, I want her to take the come-bye command farther around the sheep, push them straight to my left, back on-line, and then continue bringing them straight to me. Somehow I have to communicate that she should bring the sheep to me without any guidance from me, but when I do give her guidance, she must listen to it. Right now, my method of correcting this is: if she doesn't go far enough around, I'll ask, ask again, then get closer to her/the sheep and have her go a full circle around the sheep. The I have her lie down, I go back to my "post" and I ask her to do the original command again. It seems to be working a little bit (hopefully without some other negative side effect I haven't picked up on yet!) It's amazing how these dogs pick up on everything so quickly! It sure is encouraging to me to learn as quickly as I can so I can (as much as possible) avoid causing her to develop bad habits :P.

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Dear Ms Miller,

 

You wrote (in part): " We went back to the basics - her placed at 6 on the clock, me walking most of the way to the sheep that are placed at 12 on the clock, then sending her around."

 

While it makes me nervous to remark about a dog and handler I've never seen, forcing a wider outrun by standing between dog and sheep makes me more nervous.

 

I did it with my first dog and it took years and plenty of work experience for Pip to come into his OR.

 

Forcing seems like the obvious way to widen the dog's outrun but, in practice, what almost always results is a C shaped OR and a dog that comes in short or if the pressure is too extreme, a fence runner.

 

Although it requires the handler have an idea what "correct OR" is so he/she can adjust the "Incorrect OR" as soon as it begins a better strategy is training the redirect.

 

In brief: the moment the dog starts to tighten, you down him, walk out (saying "Down, down, down") as you do until you stand between him and the sheep whereupon you block the wrong side and resend. If he again comes in wrong, you repeat. If the OR is correct, you don't interfere.

 

This teaches the correct outrun and gives you a tool to correct the too tight OR.

 

What's difficult about this training is our all-too-human hope that the dog will correct himself and one often sees good handlers making this mistake at open trials.

 

Rule of thumb is: if you suspect - merely suspect - the dog is tightening, he is and suspicion is your cue for a down.

 

 

Donald McCaig

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Mr. McCaig - Thank you very much for your advice. I worked Sam again yesterday evening, and she did exactly what you are warning me of here - her outruns seemed to be plenty wide, but they were much more of a "C" shape than a pear. I will definitely stop walking between her and the sheep and will try what you suggested with downing her if she cuts in. Hopefully I haven't done too much damage yet!

I also appreciate your advice to down her the moment I am suspicious of her tightening. I often find myself debating whether or not she's cutting in (especially as she goes from ~9 o'clock to ~11 o'clock), then once I realize she is too tight, she's already begun fetching them to me, and it's too late to correct it. This will be really helpful in speeding up my reaction times!

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AMiller,

Personally,although a pear-shaped outrun is the ideal, I think it's unrealistic to expect one of every dog. Many dogs do have C-shaped outruns as well (not to mention the inverted pear, which often happens when handlers try to slingshot the dog from behind them, thinking it will widen the outrun). The real concern for me is if the dog is coming in wide enough and deep enough at the top to not disturb the stock and to give the dog a chance to do a decent lift.

 

One of the big issues seen with dogs who have been pushed out as they are running out is that they tend to cut in at the top and buzz the sheep. I see this a lot when setting sheep at trials.

 

I have a dog who is a very wide runner. The only way it ever hurt us is that it eats more time (that is, it's inefficient, at a trial anyway), but I tried any number of things to get her to be more pear shaped and to not kick wide from my feet. Nothing ever worked. And even so, she and I were quite successful at trials and she was my go-to dog at home for many years.

 

So although I think we say the pear-shaped outrun is ideal, you need to figure out what works best for your dog and maybe work within those parameters (for example, I'd rather have a wide running dog than one that slices in at the top). I really don't think you can force a pear-shaped outrun, and the shape of the outrun should also depend on the terrain, the stock (where they are and how they behave), and the need (for example, if you're gathering a field, a more rounded outrun might be just what's required, especially if the stock can't all easily be seen.

 

I think Donald's advice to stop her is good, but really it comes down to knowing your dog and figuring out what works for the two of you in training. I really try to teach the dog to look for stock and then adjust accordingly (hoping that some of that ability to adjust accordingly is in the dog from the start) once it sees them.

 

J.

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Dear Aspiring Sheepdoggers,

 

Perhaps its time to look at the Outrun.

 

Imagine the following, not uncommon scenario. Your field is shaped like your right hand laid flat and since it's late season and grass is short and the sheep are Scottish Blackface you have a five sheep at the first joint of your little finger, ten sheep at the end of your thumb and fifty at your middle knuckle. A creek runs across the field below your fingers, trees and brush border it on the right (near those five sheep). The creek is dangerously highbanked on the left and the sheep often bed down in the woods on the right.

 

Send your dog.

 

The sheepdog trial is a (difficult) model of the dogs work and the pear shaped outrun is a model too. The complex conditions I've described are not uncommon on the home farm OR at many trials.

 

At Trials, although handlers aren't (usually) gathering more than four sheep, those sheep may be heavy to the letout, the outrunning dog may not be able to see them during his outrun and at some glorious trials, the handler cant see the dog until he lifts his sheep.

 

Not uncommonly, at home and big trials, the pear-shaped outrun isn't what you want. Yesterday morning, I thought the sheep were in the mowed upper field when they were deep in the tall grass (over the dogs head). Ive only had 2 year old Jake for a month but he was trained to Look for sheep, so instead of returning to the house for my more experienced older dog and tall grass mensch, I sent Jake. Jake couldn't see the sheep or me: the blindest of blind outruns. Jake couldn't see five feet in front of him. But he ran out and when he hesitated I shouted a redirect and he went out farther. He got behind them and brought them. His outrun looked like a pear with a bulge in one side and mashed flat at the top but Jake found and brought his sheep.

 

If I send a dog for sheep and he doesn't find them where they usually are, I expect him to search for them until he finds them.

 

Years ago, Pope Robertson trained his trial dogs' outruns with a pear shaped fence. It was pattern training. The dog wasn't expected to think or use their work/life experience to find the sheep. Pope was no fool and his dogs did win trials. On the big complex trial fields today, I think not.

 

If you want a perfect pear shaped outrun, you could build a fence.

 

If you want a dog who goes out knowing there are sheep out there somewhere and his job is to find them, gather them, get behind without disturbing them and start them to you, give him experience on different fields with different sheep, and train the redirect (which training also teaches the dog he's coming in too tight. ((After a little while, most dogs will automatically kick at your first redirect whistle)).

 

On a smaller rectangular trial field, with a few sheep spotted at twelve oclock sheep the dog can see before he sets out that dog will (incidently) give you a lovely pear-shaped outrun.

 

Donald McCaig

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But Mr. McCaig, in most trials the sheep are held in one place so there can be a pear shaped OR. Teaching a dog to search for sheep is less common. Few who trial live where searching for stock is that common.

In situations where the dogs have to search for stock on a regular basis, most I know do not give redirects, cause often around here if the dog can't see the stock, then quite likely the handler can't either, and OR 'shape' is a moot point. However, from what I've seen, the dogs that cast in a widening arc (as is the case with a pear shaped OR and the dog 'feeling' the stock') then these dogs are more likely to find those stock over the far hill, and when in the open, these dogs tend to run in a pear shape.

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Do the sheep you train on readily lift or do they need to be pushed to lift?

(some dogs will buz sheep when they have not learned how to lift heavy sheep)

 

Do the sheep run towards you as your dog is running out?

(self-fetching sheep do not teach dogs proper outruns)

 

Do the sheep tend to run off as your dog starts on the outrun?

(leaving sheep will often bring in young dogs; they are worried about loosing the sheep)

 

Figuring out why the dog is coming in may help in figuring out how to get the dog to do a proper outrun.

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