Welcome to The Real Time Canine, Part Two

Welcome to part two of The Real Time Canine. In this edition, I will describe the daily life of a Border Collie sheepdog prospect. In weekly posts using words and pictures, I will describe what they learn and how they learn it. Each pup imparts knowledge in their own special way, and through them I will give you insight into how I train a Border Collie Sheepdog from beginning to success.

As with Kensmuir Star in the original
Real Time Canine, you will be with us every step of the way as these talented youngsters acquire the confidence, willingness and skills necessary to attain my goal for them to become a useful working sheepdog and successful trial competitor. I hope you will join us and find useful tips and technique on how to train a sheepdog.

After a lifetime with animals, dogs, horses and livestock, I am happy to share my expertise with you. I have found success at sheepdog trials at home and abroad, and have trained dogs that went on to find success with others. To learn more about me and my dogs, please visit my BorderSmith website, and my BorderSmith Blog!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Ah-Hah! Clong! I got it! Those phrases all describe Tam's day today. As you can see from the picture, he's worn out from all the activity, but today a teeny little light bulb flashed on over his head. All I ask is improvement from day to day, and that is just what my bright youngster gave me today. He was better than yesterday.

As keen to work as ever, Tam headed down to the round pen yesterday after a few days off and was all about the slash and burn. I mean the streak and grab. OK, well the dash and dine, if you will, and determinedly in just one direction, come-bye. His preference was also to stop and go. In other words, he would fly around the round pen, hang and rattle on a ewe, then lie down looking at me and refuse to move.

As happens, I lost patience with him in the beginning and unfairly insisted he travel both directions. He just refused to move, so I got him going happily come-bye, then slipped in front to turn him. With that he would beat me, slice to the inside and grip. Am I too old for this, I wondered? Have the pups gotten faster? That must be it, because I can still move, I'm sure.

After a few greased lightening away-to-me turns, we called it a day with Tam panting heavily. It was hot, he's out of shape. Would he be better tomorrow? Hope so.

You bet he was. As we entered the round pen, I stood on his rope while I tied the gate shut. I didn't want the sheep escaping as they did the first day. I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I can learn from mistakes.

This time I encouraged him to flank come-bye and he happily complied. It's easier to change directions when their feet are moving and they're a bit too excited to realize they're doing something uncomfortable.  And the dog can mortally fly. There was less wool pulling too, but Tam still managed a couple impressive hang and rattles. I tried to keep up, but it's been 2 years since I started a pup, and I seem to have lost a step or two along the way.

Pretty soon, Tam was traveling willingly in both directions and reversing from simple changes in my body position. At that point, I introduced verbal commands. Do I expect him to understand them? Of course not, but I always introduce them at the earliest opportunity.

Next I moved to flank him, then backed to the fence so Tam could fetch. Before he or the sheep came to a full stop, I moved to flank him the other way again backing to the fence for the fetch. We were flowing and it was a beautiful thing.

Never wanting to over do with pups, I quit while I was ahead. I asked Tam to walk up without flying in, which took two requests. On the 2nd try he accomplished a quiet walk up, and a nice stand, so I said "lie down" and he hit his belly grinning. He came towards me when called ignoring the sheep right in front of him, I grabbed his collar, said "that'll do," and walked out giving much praise on the way.

So all this made for an excellent day, and I would prefer to continue it daily for a while. Unfortunately, I'll be at a dog trial beginning tomorrow, and Tam will be on full rest. We'll see how he comes back after the time off.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tam's Big Day

Photo credit, Jan Elliott

Tam got his first go on sheep today. I love to start the young ones. There's just something so innocent about their first efforts. It looked as though Tam couldn't believe his luck when we headed down to the practice pen. He took off toward the round pen as soon as I opened the gate, and I let him, because there's no substitute for the exuberance of youth.

Even though he was on a long line, he still got away from me inside the round pen. Chaos ensured, and the sheep clanged the gate open to escape. There was a break in the action while I retrieved Price to restore order and return my sheep to the pen. With a tighter grip on the long line, and the gate tied shut, Tam and I went for it again.

His preference was to pin sheep to the fence, then jump in and bite them when they made a break for it. No fear, no hesitation, no feel, no balance and no pace, but this wasn't my first pup to begin that way. Over the years I've learned to let them have their way. The good news is that he was very conscious of my presence even if he was perfectly happy to ignore it at first. I gave a growl for inappropriate behavior, which was pretty much constant, but there was no intention to it. I just wanted to introduce the concept of what makes me happy, and what doesn't.

That's when I found the lunge whip. Just about the time I was wishing I had one, I saw it lying against the fence. Now I had a way to keep speedy Tam off the sheep long enough to get between him and them to ease him around, instead of through. It worked, and just as most dogs do, he chose a side and it was left.

Running as fast as that small diameter allowed him, he circled the sheep, fearlessly squeezing between them and the fence. That just gave him an excuse to bite them, so instead of trepidation, I saw only elation. With my back to the fence to get him to fetch, Tam simply orbited between me and the sheep on a blindingly fast inside flank executing another wool-pull on the way by. OK, plan B.

He was determined to only travel come-bye despite my repeated efforts to change his direction. As I've done so often with dogs, I grabbed his collar, followed the sheep on the away-to-me side then sort of shoved him through in that direction. Tam realized immediately that between fence and sheep is between fence and sheep on both sides and you can bite them in both directions. After that, it was easy.

Now a test. Since I got him 3 months ago, we have been practicing a lie down, off sheep, in the yard. He's got it down pat out there. In fact for a while I had to quit practicing, because every time I looked at him, he laid down. But in here where things are so tremendously exciting, would he take it? And the answer is YES!

I got him slowed down and looking at me, then in my happiest voice said; "lie down." With this huge goofy grin on his face, tongue lolling and breathing hard, he said; "OK," and down he went. Well, of course, so did I. Right to his side to give him one of those huge, rubbing, patting, kissing, oh-so-happy-that-a-boy finishes that my dogs know and love. Good day. Good dog!