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Newbie human + newbie dog = fun??

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Hi - 

I've been lurking for the last 6 months or so, trying to learn from other discussions. This past weekend I took my 16 month old to her first ever herding clinic. When she did her instinct test last fall, she literally ran away from the sheep and out of the ring before someone took a few extra minutes to engage her. This weekend I had a totally different dog. She was eager and interested, listened fairly well, even though I had no clue what I was doing, she was trying. She and I really enjoyed it.

My question is in training styles. I come from the horse world and there are plenty of different training methods and philosophies there, so please, I'm really asking this in sincerity. This clinician is incredibly knowledgable and has been successful competing as well as having a working farm, so this in no way means I am questioning their ability or knowledge. More, I am wondering about styles and approach.  I felt there was a lot of yelling and stick banging and yanking to force the dogs to "give respect" and "change their attitude". Is this the way it is?  I really enjoyed watching my dog this weekend and seeing her in her element, but I could tell by yesterday afternoon she was getting stressed - yawning, eating poop, staying on the perimeter and not engaging.  While I could see getting involved and, since I already have a small farm, ending up with some sheep or cows, I really love my dogs. Do I have to choose between having a dog I can toss in the car and go hiking for miles and enjoy being with and a dog I demand behavior from? The clinic was not cheap, and it shouldn't be, we certainly got more out of it than we would have from the same number of individual lessons. I'm just wondering if, as in the horse world, there are different styles and how to find someone who fits with me and my dog. Or am I just crazy? 

I'm sorry for the long post

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This is a great topic that has been discussed on these forums several times in the past.  You might try a search on "Training Styles" or similar.  There was a recent thread about clinics as well.  Having said that, yes, there are different philosophies or 'styles' of training the Border Collie.  I feel the most successful in terms of dog and handler comfort incorporate the 'pressure-and-release-of-pressure methods now common in horse training.  It takes time to learn how to correctly apply and release the pressure, and novices who are unaccustomed to sheep behavior often have a lot of trouble with this early on.  Your experience in the horse world should serve you well, especially if you've done any work involving a third species, like cutting horse or ranch horse.

There's an excellent Facebook page called "To Novice and Beyond" whose members include top international as well as North American sheepdog handlers and trainers who are most willing to share their wonderful insights and experiences on a variety of topics aimed at those new to working Border Collies but relevant for all of us in this little world.

Good luck, and please feel free to continue sharing your journey here,


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Welcome to the Boards.

No. Not all trainers use such aggressive tactics routinely in their training. Many employ more of a pressure and release style of training.

On 1/5  I wrote the post below that briefly mentioned some differences in training styles. It was in response to a different topic, but I think may still bear some relevance depending on your dog's temperament.

I believe that people who take an aggressive approach to training do so because they simply don't have the tools in their training repertoire to successfully achieve the results they want any other way. And I wholeheartedly believe that there are better ways to do it.

If you're in the US and ever have the change to attend a clinic given by either Jack or Kathy Knox, I urge you to go. I think you'll find it to be a very different and less troubling experience.

Wishing you well.

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Thank you both for your replies. I do realize there is a part of setting rules, and making them fairly black and white for some of them, that I had under-appreciated. My dog and I learned a lot, and I think I need to go back to what I was doing, only more actively. Lurk on this and the other group "To Novice and Beyond" and also actively attend trials to watch and see. One of my difficulties was being told "she did this there" but after the fact, I couldn't remember what it looked like. I need to go watch some videos of dogs learning and see what the clinician meant when they said different things.  The learning curve is huge here - and most of the mistakes are mine.

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Hi Tonksmom!

I and my friend are also newbies with young border collie pups.  We started lessons a month or so ago.  My border collie responds much quicker to corrections (or guidance) where needed, but if being stubborn we may need to step up the correction.  He does not shut down at all but keeps working.  My friend's border collie is softer though.  If he is corrected too harshly or doesn't understand something, he releases his own pressure by eating poop and turning away. or trying to scatter the sheep so he can chase them (self rewarding).  He will work enthusiastically, but needs a softer hand during instruction. Your trainer should see that.  Read the book Herding Dogs: Progressive Training by Virgil Holland.  It will give you insight into the game of training.

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I am a novice myself, but I’ve seen enough to know there are some instructors I would not take a young and/or inexperienced dog to for lessons. As for taking lessons with a started or trained dog—even with a trainer who has many years of experience—I will be an advocate for my dog, if necessary. As long as there is no danger to stock, I get backbone real fast if someone suggests a tool or method that I consider overly harsh and/or unnecessary.  I include fair treatment of stock in that equation as well.

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I have had border collies for 19 years, use then for daily assistance on the farm for livestock management.  I had lots of dog experience when I bought my first pup and even trained a few horses for pleasure/trail riding, was a vet tech, dog groomer, obedience trainer... I came from I say it you do it background but was not harsh just thought that is the way it needed it to be.  The dogs and stock have taught me differently.

Stock dogs are so incredible they Think through things in a way using their instincts that they are born with and their experiences to figure things out.  They understand how livestock think and move, the good ones do anyone.  These dogs with 100's of years of working dogs behind them know more about stock than I ever will.  I have changed from thinking they should do what I ask when I ask, to trying to train in a way that brings out their instinct and ability, exposes them to stock allowing them to think but with input from me correcting what is not acceptable.

I basically find two schools of thought when things are boiled down - one is to use the dogs instinct and mind, allow them to figure things out with encouragement and correction from us.  The other way is more obedience driven, mechanical.  Making the dog do what we want or what we feel is correct, keeping him from making mistakes rather than correcting the dog where it is wrong and allowing the dog to figure out what is correct.  Seems like a small difference but it is HUGE.  

Stockdog training in about the RELATIONSHIP with the dog - trust, respect, feel...much like horse training.  Every read horse training books by Mark Rashad?  Applies almost perfectly to go stock dog training.

I have been to several different clinicians and their methods vary a ton.  The good clinicians focus on working WITH the dog rather than Making the dog do what they want.  You can learn something from everyone.  Some clinicians I watched I came away with knowing what I did Not want to do, while others their go back year after year.  In my book Results to not justify the method.  You have to watch the dogs and stock and learn from them what works best and what suits you. 

Young dogs may be worried with new places and different stock, trainer ect but over the two or three days you should see improvement in most of the dogs and the trainer adjusting his method to each dog.  


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