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Giving to pressure


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I have a male dog, about 15 months old, in training. Nice, keen dog. However I'm having a hard time getting him to bend to pressure. He has no respect (nor fear) for pressure and I've tried several different tools, rattle pattle, rolled dog food sack, plastic sack on end of stick, stock whip (snaping/flicking), walk abouts off stock swinging a rope or stick, etc. with very little results. He's at that point in training that if he'd bend out when asked we'd be moving forward by leaps and bounds.....nice natural balance and pace, sheep tend to like him.

I would appreciate any suggestions .....


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You may have to train him to bend off pressure by getting just tiny amounts of give and building on that. Hard to give advice without seeing what is happening. I find a lot of times if a dog isn't giving, it's because the handler is asking for too much at once. The dog doesn't get anything out of giving you a little, so he hardens up and won't give the bigger bend you're asking for. Not sure that makes sense. Again, easier to do in person.

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Dear Aspiring Sheepdoggers,


Fifteen months is an immature Border Collie and the tools you've mentioned are powerful. Where will you go when you need a SEVERE correction?


I'm inclined to agree with Robin: too much, too soon. Back to square one. I'd go back into the small ring with 6 or 8 dogbroke sheep, lie him down balanced on sheep and me and use authoritative body language and slight crook movements to get him to give to me - just the tiniest give ( a head move, a glance away)- before I give him any flank. I wouldn't drill him. I'd work hard for that slight give, high praise, let him fetch the sheep w/o further command and call him off. I'd continue with that lesson - no more than two gives per session intermixed with simple chore work (fewer commands the better) until he starts to give.


Donald McCaig

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Thank you and I agree with what's said. Not arguing here just trying to give a bit more info. I've yet to put any commands other than lie down on him, want the movements to be correct before naming them. He covers and balances nice with my movements, we do walk abouts in several different patterns, circle both directions and very small gathers. He flanks nicely on the walk abouts, the problem arises when I'm trying to get him out around in a gather. I've tried standing beside him and also between him and the sheep. I've tried 'pushing' with a stick and I've tried backing away. I have rewarded the correct movements by not stoping him working. He just flat out ignores pressure, doesn't even blink or turn away no matter how close I put the stick.

Yes, I agree these tools are powerful.......and none have gotten much reaction from him. It's like they don't exist. Thanks for reminding me I need to figure something else out or I won't have any where to go when I really need it! In my tunnel vision I forgot that important aspect.

Thanks for the knock up side the head......I will go back to the start and get that solid. I think he's so easy and talented that I slipped into trying to get the give/clean flanks as we progressed. Foundation. I know that's key. As you say, back to square one with him.

But may I ask has anyone had a dog that flatly refused to give even slightly to pressure? I've had varying degrees of respect/give from pressure from dogs I've worked with before but nothing like this guy.

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I've seen a few young dogs that did not seem to give to pressure at first. My impression then was that they simply didn't understand what was being asked. It didn't compute and they could not grasp why the person kept getting in their way. Escalating the pressure just baffled them more and they only kept trying harder to get through the pressure without giving.

I briefly worked a 3 year old, cowdog-bred border collie that was just like that. He had no clue what I was asking, let alone why and his response was always to just go faster and barge in harder. He only began responding correctly to my pressure when I got him on a long line and worked on walking behind the sheep with him (in a smaller area so they couldn't run away) and asking him to stop often. The penny finally dropped when he grasped that I was actually part of the sheep picture. ;) I don't think that particular fix would apply to your young dog, though.

I would guess - have no authority on this, so only a guess - that going slower and spending more time on the basics may be the answer. I would wonder if perhaps his mind is simply not ready to grasp that situation, yet, and he needs to mature more and spend more time on foundation work. It may come easier to him if he learns enough that giving to pressure starts to make *sense* to him.

Especially if you can somehow set up things with the sheep where he has to give way on his own in order to be correct. Meaning, if he's not correct, things get kind of messy and he can feel/see that it didn't work. Especially if you can stop him after the mess and let him think about how/why it went wrong.

Not sure if any of that makes sense, but hope it may help a tiny bit. :)

~ Gloria

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It is hard to picture things from words. If I understand he reads sheep well and has good instincts but it is when you are Sending him at the start that you are questioning. Right? So basically you are trying to push him around at the begining of a gather. The stick or paddle or whatever is not making any difference and does not encourage him to turn his head off and get to balance.

IF that is what is going on I would try nothing in my hand and instead of Pushing him to Make him go , Release Pressure and Ask him to go. HUGE difference to the dog. So step away or at least lean away as you are ssshhhing him, do not stop him on balance let him keep working. I would also release pressure for him to go and then follow him around on his flank a bit to further open things up for him.


If he is not wanting to move then use your sheep to get his instinct kicked in. If you ignore him and just move the sheep and encourage if you need to with words while watching, patting, grapping sheep keeping them moving then he should go around.


I would go to small area at first where I was close enough to help but big enough to give him room.

Some dogs LEAN INTO pressure and need taught to bend off. Kinda like a pup when you pick them up by the scuff they go limp. I have taught dogs to move away from pressure OFF sheep on a line. I walk toward the dogs head/ shoulder and want him just to turn his head at first away from me. Praise for that small give. Both directions. THen ask him to give a step as you walk toward him praise both directions... then just ask for more once he understands. If he does not move I have pulled them over with a lead. You can do it next to a post so you have a bit of a pulley system. The lead goes from the collar around the post then to you. So as you walk toward the dog the leash pulls the dog away from you.


The THING( stick, whip, hose..) in your hand is not magic, some dogs really have no idea what you are doing and they dont get it. It is more Your Pressence and Confidence you are asking them to Respect - not the thing in your hand. Also HUGE difference to a dog. I dont want my dog thinking he doesn't need to move unless I have hold of X.


He needs to respect your pressure OUTSIDE the pasture first. If you walk toward him does he move out of the way for you to pass? Does he go through doors First or second? Does he walk on a lead and not pull? All these little things indicate his mental attitude and receptiveness to you being in charge and the one he looks to for direction.

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Sometimes, you just end up making this sort of dog more tense and blow into the stock if you try to push them out. I speak from personal experience. Thankfully some friends and mentors have showed me alternative methods. Yes, I agree that they should be taught to accept pressure, BUT, if you don't use other tools you will not like the finished dog.


I used to have a dog that was the epitome of this type. The harder I tried, the worse he blew in and gripped. A few days with a world renowned trainer and he was like a whole new dog. I liked him better. Our relationship improved and we started to trust one another. I enjoyed using him for chores and he started to win trials. His brother is very similar but due to other issues making him anxious, he was downright impossible to work. That is, until I changed my approach to him.


I made the mistake of reverting to old training techniques with one of my dogs. I messed her up. We have taken some time off to do some retraining. I really like her attitude much better now; relaxed and working naturally, thinking for herself and WANTING to work correctly.


Example, in order to get wider, cleaner, flanks, scatter the sheep so the dog must bend out to gather them back together. Or have multiple groups (one group providing a strong draw) and have the dog hold some sheep so they don't rejoin. The dog must hold the pressure and run clean to succeed. Show the dog that working right is easier and gets better results.

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Lots of good advice, and I am just adding some thoughts.


I have dog that wouldn't budge it you nuked the spot right in front of her nose (I have her topic on my journey with Darinka). But the fact that a dog does not react to our action in the way we want (including what we see as zero reaction) does not mean the action does not affect them. It may affect the dog's psyche tremendously. So I would take away all tools.


Some dogs react and then reason things out. E.g. you wave the stick, the dog jumps away, and you praise it, and the dog reasons out after a while that moving away is good and desired.


And some dogs see the stick and see no reason to budge (because they need to see a reason first), after all they are there holding pressure with determination and do not budge, then why should they budge from the pressure of the stick. This is how Darinka is. I have to explain things to her. And I did that by putting away everything, and then it turned out I did not need to teach her flanks, because she knows how to flank beautifully. Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds, in fact it is very difficult to train Darine, because she has very strong convictions about what needs to be done, and when we disagree, she - being torn between doing the right thing by me and the right thing by her instinct - become tense. And this is not good. But one thing is clear - sticks, rakes, plastic bottles - we don't go there.


Sometimes when we are not clouding the dog's brains by waving confusing objects at them, things goe much better. Because, in my opinion, border collies are bred to withstand the external pressure (like ornery rams, killer mommas, tiredness, cold, and so on) and to yield to the handler, which I see as internal pressure. Even when the dog is not obeying, there is a desire to obey, and the handler needs to capitalize on this, because this is something we are working with and not against. With external pressure we are working against the dog, the dog is bred to withstand it, to fight it.


I often have people come to train with the intension of walking into the training area basically armed to the teeth. So I ask them to leave everything behind and to tell the dog what to do themselves. It produces surprisingly good results.

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Thanks for all the input. It's helped. Having outside perspective (and I know it's very hard without seeing) has given me that nudge to back away and see what was really going on with him. I think you're right Gloria, he wasn't so much fighting me as not understanding and like Liz said, the harder I tried the more he blew in and tensed up. Most of the dogs I've trained I've raised and have always from the very start introduced the concept of giving to pressure so it's never been much of an issue. I didn't raise this guy and he didn't get those kinds of lessons so of course he doesn't understand! Today I directed the stick very low towards his shoulder and backed away to send him. He was more relaxed and kept an okay distance around. I was very careful to not push on him with the stick at anytime I sent him. I did use just my hand more if he needed a bit of guidence and got some response.

The only pen (due too a heavy rattlesnake season) I can train in right now is roughly 100ft. by 85ft. The sheep I'm using are pretty dog broke but will break if he amps up although I'm better at catching this before it happens.

Everyone here has given me some great advice and I feel I'm in a better place to move forward. I really, really like this dog and so far this has been the only issue I wasn't addressing correctly. Thanks.

Today as I said, things went better. I didn't 'push' to send him and when he would start getting a bit tense after wearing for a bit (fliping, speeding up, pushing) I'd lie him down then let him do a couple easy gathers both directions and he would fall right back into a more relaxed boy.

I do want to explain that our sessions are short, between 5 and 10 minutes. And I do spend some time with him on a lead just walking around in the pen checking water across the fence, etc. before starting to work. I keep him on the correct side of me as we circle the pen with the sheep freely moving around. This has helped relax him where before he would be tense and shaking with eagerness to get to the sheep. Guess I should also explain that his owner had tried starting him but had very flightly sheep and no time to work him consistantly so as such getting him to relax has been a priority also.

Sorry for so much rambling, trying to respond to everyone and give a better picture but guess I don't really need to. Everyone seems to have advice that I think will help! It's put the right perspective on the issue. Thanks for that and the support.

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Oh, also while keeping him on a lead, (he's not ready to do this on his own) we've gone into a small pen to fetch the sheep and move them through a small breeze way into the larger pen for training. This has also seemed to help him relax and I have began to feed more lead out and let him 'work'. A small bit of chores. Now, even when the sheep make a break through the breeze way he stays calm, follows at a walk then will take a lie down while I shut the gate. Most of the time we would then go right to training but now I sometimes walk him around a bit first or will tie him by the gate and do some simple chore. He's a dog that will get excited/tense with knowing what comes next - bring sheep into working pen, go to work, yippee! Constantly changing how and/or when I start training seems to have helped him relax.

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