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Future stockdog! What not to teach a puppy?


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I debated putting this in the training forum, but I felt the working stockdogs forum would have more people with stockdog experience seeing it. Edit: Now that I've posted this I see there is a training group inside of stockdogs. This post should be there, but I don't see a way to move it. If that's possible, I'll gladly move it. Sorry for posting in the wrong topic!


I have an 11 week old Border Collie that was bred for herding. Both of his parents work on a 150,000 acre cattle ranch! :blink: My intentions for him are on a much smaller scale, but I still want to make sure I do things right.


What sort of things should I not teach my dog? I've heard to teaching them to heel and to only walk on one side of you can ruin his ability/desire to herd, since he learns to only stay by your side. I did read that teaching them to walk on leash without pulling you is okay though, thank goodness! I also believe I've read not to teach tug-a-war, but that may have been for other non-stock related reasons. I know that's a bad game from a dominance perspective anyhow.


I also read about a lady who taught her dog the herding commands on a ball while playing fetch, then the dog wanted to play ball every time that it was supposed to be herding. I wont try anything like that!


I have the book Herding Dogs-- Progressive Training by Vergil Holland. From what I've seen, this is the go-to book on training stockdogs. So far I've only read the chapters on puppies/new dogs. I have a good few months before we need to start actual herding training.


My key questions are:

  1. What should I not teach my dog to do?
  2. Is puppy obedience class a good idea, or would I have to skip too many things that are covered in the class (mostly things involving a leash)? So far we're learning commands fine on our own and socializing with dogs of friends/family.
  3. Do you have any other tips that will help me to raise a good puppy into a great stockdog?


P.S. I figured that a post on this would already exist, but my searching did not turn up anything. If I've missed it, please forgive me. Any direction to related posts is also appreciated.

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I have always taught my stockwork to walk by my side, I consider this a very practical command. I have never experienced any negative effects on sending them to fetch sheep.

Of course teaching them to do this does not mean teaching them only to walk by your side!


I love Vergill Holland's book, it gives a very nice framework for stockwork training.

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Dogs are very flexible and capable of distinguishing between tasks. All my dogs work daily on my farm helping me manage 100 ewes who lamb on pasture and rotational graze. They also come inside, sleep on the couch, hang out with me watching TV, go to town, visit well with people and dogs ect.


I do raise them to excel with Our world - things they will need to know. Crate trained, ride in a vehicle, walk on a leash, get a bath and nails trimmed...walk through the sheep pasture with out working, call off sheep and work well.

How well they work for YOU is rooted in the relationship they have with you. So raise them in the manner that makes things clear what is and is not acceptable. Be consistent in what you say and what you expect. Don't say things you do not mean- like ask them to come to you and allow them to ignore you or not do it. Respect is Huge - I expect them to show me respect and I show them respect which will translate into them respecting the stock. Because they are going to working hundred of yards away from me needing to do as I ask the first time we begin that training and expectation from day 1. I feel like tone of voice is HUGE for working dogs. At 50 yards and 500 yards all I have for encouragement and correction is Voice so again day 1 I put sounds, tones and words to things.

I think there are good things to keep in mind when you are raising a stockdog. Trust, Respect, Build confidence. What happens inside the pasture begins outside the pasture. You have to have things right in the house, in the yard ect if you want them to be right in the pasture. Many do not connect the two but it only makes sense. If the dog blows you off in the yard he sure is not going to listen when his instinct to work kicks in.

I say that I need my dogs to listen and raise them to listen but when working stock - for me- there is a fine line to teaching a dog things and Allowing him to use his natural instincts. Work has little to do with obedience. I help them understand how to treat the stock and what the words mean then allow them to have individual preferences and style as they work. That will make more sense the more dogs you see work.


The thing I see with folks who have border collies that do other things and dabble in herding is they teach the dog to watch them and teach the dog not to think and do for itself which makes the dogs distrust their instincts when it comes to working. My dogs listen when I speak and do what I ask but they are not dependent on me to tell them everything. Might be a fine line that comes clearer over time. I may not be explaining it well.


One thing I have learned that Really helps to set the stage is take the pup before his instincts kick in walk him through the pasture asking him to stay with you. Giving him freedom to make his choice, correct when needed, praise when he makes the right choice. Start on a lead, drag a line, then free when he can be trusted. That will set the tone for team work you are needing.

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I've heard to teaching them to heel and to only walk on one side of you can ruin his ability/desire to herd, since he learns to only stay by your side.


Nothing wrong with your dog learning to walk with you, just avoid what you see in the obedience ring with the dog constantly looking at the handler. I have seen very well trained obedience dogs have trouble getting started on stock as they are so into looking at their human for every direction.



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I don't know if you have stock around your place, but letting them sit and stare at them all day can ruin a good herding dog. Building a run right by the pasture where they can see the stock all day, or letting them chase along a fenceline.


Also I agree with not giving any commands for the first year you can't back up. If your pup is thirty feet away from you off leash and you decide to call him to you, and he doesn't come, he learns that it's possible to disobey you. Recall isn't something I like to skimp on so I keep my dogs in a crate when I'm not home, in the house with me, or on a leash for basically the first year of their life. They learn that coming is not an option and they earn their freedom off the leash when I trust them. If this sounds cumbersome it's because it is, especially during chores, but there I don't bring a pup out if I can't watch them. Every time you're with your dog it's a training experience whether you want it to be or not. It drives me crazy when people bring their pups out and just let them run all over unsupervised, learning bad habits right and left. I like to try to prevent bad habits where I can. If you say something, the dog had better do it, the first time, no exceptions.


In my experience, dogs can't distinguish--it's either do a command all the time, or it's negotiable all the time. :) If even one out of ten times you tell them to do something you don't reinforce it, it's a "negotiable" command in their mind. Sit down can't mean "sit down when I really mean it, but if I'm having a conversation with another human it's okay to ignore it or get up without being told." Or if it's sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down, and then on the fifth time my person gets mad at me, then the dog reasons it has four good commands before it actually has to do it. They learn that very quickly! How many times do you want to have to tell your dog to do something? I see at trials people giving the 'lie down' command and half the time they just mean slow down and the other half the time they get irritated because the dog doesn't stop exactly where they needed it to. I have no problem with the system if it works for them and they're happy giving their dog the leeway, but I don't feel they should get irritated then when the dog doesn't stop precisely.


I try to remember with my pups also not to let them do anything I would find rude or unacceptable as an adult. Is it cute for an adult dog to jump up on you? Of course this has to be within reason, you wouldn't expect a 6 week old puppy to be able to hold even a thirty second stay. But it doesn't hurt to keep this in the back of your mind--what habits are going to be acceptable to me when this dog is an adult--and make sure you're not writing something off as 'awww, cute puppy, it doesn't hurt anything right now'.


I haven't had any trouble with teaching a dog to heel and then putting it to sheep. Especially with my speeding bullet who is a hyper-keen dog and does everything at mach 10, it's been helpful to teach the heelwork and encourage focus and inner calm. ;)


I also have not had trouble with dogs and playing tug with them. The ones who like it, as long as they aren't hard-heads benefit from playing and then being told to drop it right in the middle of the game at the height of their excitement, and then giving it back to them. With a hard headed dog it might be different, I don't know. As long as they aren't tough nuts who are bucking for promotions constantly, I don't mind. It's a good house game occasionally.


I like to teach games for control. I think learning control at an early age translates very nicely when they work sheep. Holding a sit down when there's something they want to chase, leave it when there's something they really want to eat. Reliability, for me, has been built within the first year of a dog's life. If they've learned to control themselves and listen, even when everything in them is screaming to chase, putting them to sheep is much easier. And then they aren't surprised by correction and don't know what to do with it.


It's all just my own experience, so take that into consideration. Enjoy your pup!

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I have some pups right now. I kept back my favorites, sold the rest at 4 months. Now this little group I will keep two and sell the rest to ranchers I know as started dogs. Then I won't be breeding again for a long time.


But here is my take. The best of these pups, are keen on stock, want to be with me, and are pleasant to be around. None have worn collars, don't need them. None have been on leashes, except Dark Thirty- super keen big male, I put on collar and rope as he is stubborn. ( Yeah I teach them all about the collar and rope. However I want to know who stays with me naturally. In the beggining I run them together with Mom who is the control dog.)


The ones I like best are the ones like these two little bitches that are my favorites. They walk out with me, jump right into truck. Walk into horse corral while I halter the horses they are naturally polite. I move horses. Let the pup circle some ewes, maybe 60 are in there. Then Take them into round pen and let them work young ram flock. And I am not training them, just exposing. They are 6 months, and 7 months. They are easy to be with. I can call them off with one or two calls, these good girls, and believe me they are not light weights. They move the young two year old merino cross horned rams with ease. But the pups are easy. Calm, common sense. We then might walk down to look at the fields, snow covered still. Pups might run off about 4 or 5 hundred yds but as I do my thing they check back with me to see what I am doing. I like that too, checking back in with me. I don't want them to be always close to me, I want them to be able to go search around and check stuff out but check back in.


Now Dark thirty, he is not like that. He is not going to check in, but off to try and do stuff on his own. So he is on the rope. So he does not get to practice bad things.


everyone i guess does things a bit different, and maybe it depends on where you are, what you do.


I do have my dog pens out of sight of my stock, as I agree that could create a problem. But mostly after they are working, the best of mine turn themselves off. Ya know!?

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Tea, I was going to move it, but I didn't see a way to move it after I posted it. I originally put it in here because I figured that the lifestock folks would know more on the topic than the agility folks. Then I realized that there was a training category under stock. Oops! If you know how I can move it, I'd be happy to.


Thanks to everyone else for your suggestions! It sounds like I'm being overly cautions with my dog. We are planning to sign up for puppy obedience in the next class, the end of March. I may start teaching him to heel, because he's in need of leash manners! He loves to bit, chew, and pull on his leash. I've found a few tricks online to teach them not to bite the leash, but so far we're still training, and he still likes to grab it. He'll even just grab it and carry it around the house, even if I'm not holding onto it. His pulling is becoming more annoying now that he's almost 15lbs. I'm not sure how soon he'll get the idea through his head that he isn't supposed to pull. He's still young, so I'm being patient, but don't want to set him up with bad habits.


Right now Fisher spends the majority of his day in the house. He goes out if we are outside, but in general that's just weekends, or for small chores (getting the mail, feeing the chickens, etc). When we are outside, he can see the poultry from one side of the yard. He doesn't fixate on them though, and doesn't have prolonged exposure to where he's just watching them.

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Don't follow my advice. :) I am in a different situation than you and dealing with dogs that I know well, and their parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and older siblings. I do not know how to move this......Sorry, my computer skills are very sad! Best bet is ask a good handler/trainer near you.

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