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!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Latest

As my Tam-O-Canter prepares for his very first nursery trial this weekend, I thought a new video was in order. It will be his 3rd dog trial, but first nursery, because the nursery class at the first 2 trials were cancelled due to lack of interest, (not enough entries.)

My friend, Jan filmed this and I'm not sure what I'm doing here. But 20 month old Tammy is taking every whistle and listening intently, just like always. Such a good boy! Thanks to Jan for filming, editing and for posting to my YouTube channel, which you can find under "BorderSmith."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tam's 1st Time

On his way to a successful pen
Tammy won the nursery at Hopland!!! How can that be, you ask? It was his first trial after all. Tam was the only nursery dog entered into the combined running of the pro-novice and nursery, so by default, he was the winner. Hey, sometimes you have to take it any way you can get it.

Little Tammy is the winner in my heart, but because there were not enough nursery dogs entered to qualify any for the national finals, he is still leg-less. That is without any of the 2 legs/wins necessary to qualify for the national nursery finals next year in Virginia. There must be 5 dogs entered to qualify 1, 7 to qualify 2, and so on up the list.

After an inauspicious beginning to the 1st of 2 runs, boy did he run well. He crossed on the 1st outrun, even though I sent him away-to-me, his most favored side. Upon reflection I realized that outrun was the farthest I'd ever sent him from my feet, and I hadn't been dissappointed any way. He's only 19 months after all. He took every whistle to make both drive panels, and had a successful pen in spite of the fact that he'd only practiced penning a time or two in his life.

In the second running, I sent him the other way, and off he went with all the speed and enthusiasm I've come to enjoy from my little Tam-O-Canter. No cross this time, just a wide and deep gather past a set out crew that he'd never encountered before. I was pleased to see him take steady whistles on the fetch after having struggled with the concept at home. On this run, Tam timed out at the pen, but what a great run it had been for him.

With this dog, it will be all about experience from here on out. He has accepted the training well, and now just needs miles. It is my intent to take it slow with Tam, because he is not one that is wise beyond his years. He has a happy, puppy attitude that I like and want to leave in place for as long as possible.

Next up, Coalinga, if we get in. Entries are in the mail. If not, Tam will be chilling at home, learning, gaining confidence and maturity until Snowbirds on the Border over New Years. Look for Tam in the nursery at a dog trial near you soon.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Two at a Time

Stop on a dime

I have the great pleasure of knowing some incredibly talented, senior handlers, who no longer start their youngsters every time. Today I began to internalize why. There's lots of movement involved, and I'm not as young as I once was.

In addition to Tam, I have young Spot in my kennel. He's 8 months old, and hasn't been doing much around here beyond grow, play and become very keen. I put him in training a couple days ago, and now there are two youngsters to train, plus open dog, Mirk.

Thankfully Tam has gotten to the fun part, past the start part, to the next part where I'm beginning to fine tune a few points and stretch him out. Confident tike that Tammie, and it's good to see. Love him! Spot, on the other hand, is a raw recruit with lots of enthusiasm, a quickness that belies his age, and a lot of style. I find myself having trouble getting out of his way, and I love him too.

Tam over eager

I set a goal on the day I started Spot, and today is day 8. I will work my pups, and ride my road bike every day for 14 consecutive days. When I start a pup, I like to stay with it daily to get him over the hump. The road bike thing has to do with my hips, which feel and look better when I exercise. I also have an eye on the calendar and Soldier Hollow, Meeker and the National Finals, which I entered today. I'm doing lots of training, and 2 pups at a time is taking its' toll.

Up at 5:30, on the field by 6-6:30am, Mirk gets the first turn. Even though he'll likely incur some heat in competition, he and I are tuning up in the cool of a morning. As Soldier Hollow gets closer, I'll reverse the order and acclimate him to heat. It's always hot at SoHo, and together with the 6,400' elevation, your dog better be in shape.

Tammy is next. He comes flying out of the truck looking, looking for sheep. He knows the drill, but he doesn't always know where they are. I like to keep him guessing, but that's getting harder all the time. He's very good at sweeping the field and locking on. And he's getting very good at running out.


By the time I get to Spottie, I've been at it for an hour, and he takes the most effort. Because of his age and beginner status, though, he's not working very long. I prefer to stop while he's craving more as opposed to putting his cha-cha at risk. We're wearing sheep, considering self-control, having a bit of fun, and learning to call off. I do love to start the pups, but the initial push is a lot of work. Luckily, he's pretty bright, and his curve will be steep.

Now I'm off to ride my bike. Day 8!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I'm glad, I'm glad, I'm glad

15 months now
Yup, he's makin' a dog. Tam-Tammy is at the point where I like him more every time I work him, and what a great feeling that is. It's always so disheartening to realize that a pup just isn't going to do it for you, but you must begin again with another to experience your next big thrill like I am now with Tam.

And that's not even what I'm referring to in the title. I am referring to the fact that I didn't sell him a few months back, or more accurately, sell half of him. I wouldn't normally sell part of a dog, but he piqued my interest enough not to sell him outright. There was still a good chance he may make a good dog, and I have a client who wants a trial dog, but for me to trial. She has no desire to compete herself, so I thought we could share. She declined, and I'm glad, I'm glad, I'm glad.

Tam was not a natural driving dog. He didn't appear to be a natural outrunner either, but it didn't take him long, or much help from me to show that he is. At 7 months, he was tight away-to-me, and shallow at the top in both directions. I gave him a meaningful correction one day at the top. In a big field, without the constraint of fences to artificially tighten him, I sent him on a gather, then ran to meet him at the top, and used my stock stick to drive him way out. He was never the same again, and now makes speeding, enthusiastic outruns that are beautifully wide and deep. I prefer to make fewer corrections, but make them lasting, especially with a young dog. At 15 months, I'm beginning to stretch those outruns out now with confidence, and Tam is staying true to his lessons.

Driving was a different matter. He didn't like it. It made him nervous, and gave him pause. Literally, he would stop and start over and over, always trying to flank this way or that and avoid the drive. I never felt he was "flanky." I always felt like he would prefer the easy way, flanking off pressure, if I let him. I didn't.  I would ask him to drive, he would start to flank, and I would give him a growl at his very first bad step. Timing is everything. Soon enough he learned he couldn't start the flank, so he would stop and start to accomplish the same driving avoidance by a different method.

I had him now. He couldn't flank off pressure, and I knew he knew it. Over time, he would either become confident driving without the stop and start, or he wouldn't. Only time would tell, and I was not yet glad. In fact, I was still prepared to let him go, but only out of financial necessity. The potential was clearly there to have a nice dog, but he would not be the first I've lost to that particular dilemma.

He's driving with momentum now rarely losing his feather like the Disney elephant, Dumbo, lapsing into free fall. It's an ever more fleeting lapse when it comes. I can flank him, and toot a quiet "walk up" causing him to turn directly onto his sheep, and walk (trot) straight on. Unlike many, I don't need to depress the clutch for Tam, and toot a steady to stop the flank and start the walk up. Such a pretty sight, and exactly how you avoid the bump and drift and get your best friend, Flow. Tammie was born with square flanks. A nice feature. So, I can drive straight away, or cross drive and still get them when I ask for a flank. Seriously, a very nice feature.

He becomes over exuberant at times, and rushes in where angels are afraid to tread. Oh yes, absolutely! Messy is OK when you're young. I like my dogs to color outside the lines now and then, and he only gets a tempered warning when he does. Unless the "scoot and grab" is consequitive, or risks injury, I don't care over much. It's so easy to remove stuffing from a confident dog, and often impossible to replace. I'd rather err on the side of over-stuffed.

Timing is crucial in training, and using it precisely with Tam, I can stop the scoot and grab, get a flank on the fly, or a recall on the head of a pin. Tammy is immediately reactive to most whistles. And since neither of us holds a grudge, corrections are just that. My pup is at the age, and skill level where the sky's the limit, he has become really fun to handle, and I'm glad, I'm glad, I'm glad.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Teaching Terrain

I'm not one to overlook opportunity when I train my dogs. Especially if a dog is struggling with an idea, I look for ways to use our environment to help. Maybe it's a boulder to cause a dog to widen, a gate to teach power and presence, or in this case roads lined with fencing.

Tam is coming along nicely. He hasn't lost any enthusiasm to training, is keen and fast to gather. Tam is very, very willing to listen. Probably 85% reliable on his flanks, including whistles, he has the beginnings of a nice little inside flank. What he didn't care for was driving. I had to apply an awful lot of pressure to keep him on the same side of the sheep with me.

What did that look like? If he leaned away from the drive line, or began a flank, I gave a voice correction. It's a process. First I teach a dog that "there" means to stop the flank, and turn onto the sheep. Next, I walk and let the dog hold sheep to me repeating "walk up" to teach him that command. If the dog starts to flank from there, I lie him down, and repeat "walk up." The dog doesn't have to return to the original line, only maintain a drive as opposed to flanking. Gradually, I slow down, and move away from the sheep and dog, letting him carry on.

With Tam, to prevent him from flanking off the drive, it took more correction than I like to use on one so tender. I decided to take another tack.  I started using my driveway lane. It's narrow, 20' wide, with 5' fences on either side. The fences make it hard for Tam to flank and head the sheep, and easier to remain on the same side of the sheep with me.

Beyond that, the sheep go down that lane every day on the way to their pasture. They know the way, so all Tam has to do is follow. He even had trouble keeping up with them at first. One day the light came on over driving. I watched it happen. I gave him a "there" then a "walk up" and he drove the sheep with confidence right past me and kept going, straight as an arrow.

All it takes now is the slightest "ahhh" to stop the flank and make Tam hold the line. Driving did not come naturally to him, but he had it in him all the time. It just took a little a little connivance to bring it out. Driveways, boulders, gates, horse trailers, I've used lots of things to help me train my dogs, and I'm always looking for more.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Back At It

Tam chillin' with his homies
I'm late in reporting that Tam is back to work. You may remember that I gave him a month off, because he was showing training pressure that I wasn't thrilled about, but I put him back to work the beginning of March. I was gone to 2 dog trials during the first month, so he wasn't kept very busy. I stayed with friends for a few days on a dairy farm where he got to work 15, or so head of Suffolk ewes and lambs, which was a great experience for him.

My sheep are light, the Suffolks were not, especially that many, so he had to think his way through applying pressure to sheep that were quite happy to leave their heads down. It widened his outwork naturally, which was good to see, and a reminder not to widen my puppies until I've seen enough to decide what I have to work with. I've said it before, and heard it many times; much easier to widen one out, than to bring them back in. Better to err on the tight side.

Once home, we've gone back to a 3 day per week schedule that dove-tails with my work schedule. I'm teaching Saturday and Sunday any way, so it's easy to throw Tam into the mix on those days, and Monday, it's just he and I, which is great.

The exuberance of youth remains strong in this one, but he prefers to flank over walking up, or driving. To counter this, I make sure and work him along the fence every session. With my back to the fence, I flank him around, between the sheep and the fence, then back up to it, forcing him more or less to walk straight on. He's improving, but the pressure makes him dive in at some point. He's clearly not comfortable applying pressure straight on, or being in close proximity to the sheep. The latter may serve him well around the course, but he's got to learn to relax.

Another counter measure is to walk and let him wear sheep to me. As he tires, he covers less ground, and becomes more direct, walking up straight from behind, as opposed to wearing from side to side. 1 year old this month, I'm not applying much training pressure to him.

Remnants of the reason I quit him before remain, but I'm going to soldier through in spite of it. He is still turning his head away from sheep when I walk towards him after I've stopped him. To repair this damage, I surprise him half the time by flanking him after he's turned his head instead of calling him off, which is how the behavior began. I corrected him when he took off on a flank instead of calling off when I wanted him to. It's yet another example of how easily a mess can be made from a talented youngster when we're too liberal with correction.  Be careful out there.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spottie's Play Date

I don't usually let my puppies in with sheep until I'm ready to start them in training. Sometimes they get a go, and I see they're not ready. I put them away, give them a month or so, then try them again. A friend suggested I let Spot have his sheep a bit early. He was 4 months old March 23rd. I'm always willing to try something new, and that's what I did.

This video is the results. It's hard to operate the camera, help the pup and protect the sheep at the same time, but as you'll see in the vid, there's no protecting necessary. Spot very deliberately, and very carefully assessed the situation, and determined how to be handle the sheep.

It's always fun to see a young pup demonstrate the type of style and confidence that you hope to see in a mature dog. Spot gave me all of that and then some. Watch and enjoy while Spot seizes his previously latent talent and realizes his potential. Here's hoping it's a sign of things to come...

Friday, February 10, 2012

A La Derecha

Translation for the title? On the right. I had an epiphany with Ms. Nell today. She's afraid of being on my right, and it was making it pretty hard to introduce driving.

I've started many dogs that had idiosyncrasies about left and right. Some preferred to flank one direction over the other. Mirk will only jump into the truck from one side. Price will only jump onto a 4-wheeler from the right, but fearing one side of my body was new to me, and it took me a couple weeks to catch on, unfortunately for Nell.

To confirm my suspicion, I put her on a line and walked her on my right. Sure enough, she tried determinedly to move to my left, and I had to hold her in place with the line. She demonstrated behaviour consistent with my hunch, flipping around on the end of the leash when on the right, and trying to beat me in front and get on the left.

In the case of Price and the 4-wheeler, and Mirk, and my truck, I've left it alone. It didn't effect them anywhere else, so, who cares? But introducing Nell to driving was proving impossible, because she would look and move towards me when on my right, turning off from her sheep completely. Sometimes she wouldn't take an away-to-me flank if I was standing too close on her left, and now I understand that was out of discomfort at least, and more probably, fear on her part.

Regardless of age, whenever I've started a dog that was determined to travel only in 1 direction, it's always been easy to remedy. I hoped it would be easy for Nell to overcome her odd phobia. I put her on a line and flanked her around her sheep. I would then lie her down, grab the line, and make her walk away with me on her left. I then turned a clockwise circle to set her up for the next gather, with her remaining on my right, and sent her away-to-me from my feet. Those were some of the best short gathers she's given me, and she seemed to be relaxing.

All this made me wonder what else I'm missing. What else am I asking for and not getting, because my dog needs help? What else am I correcting for that doesn't come from disobedience or the desire to please? Kind-a makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Spot and Nell

Something smells great!
While Tam is on hiatus, these are the dogs I'll be profiling. Nell, on the left is a 2 year old daughter of Macrae's imported Nap, out of a bitch belonging to Vergil Halland, named Dally. My friend, Nancy Penley, bred spot out of her Emma, and by Hobbs. He is a son of Howard's imported Spot, reserve Scottish nursery champion, and sire of many good dogs, including Tommy Wilson's Sly, and US nursery champion, Ross.

What a face!
 At 10 weeks, Spot is learning how to be well mannered, a good traveler and socialized. After a couple weeks, he's learned to keep his feet on the ground, and off me. If he puts a foot on me, I gently shove him aside and give him a bit of a growl. It doesn't take much when I'm 100% consistent, he's smart and caught on quickly.

Watch it!
 Nell hadn't been started at all when I got her. She's quick on her feet and wasn't afraid to take hold of a ewe. She's extremely sensitive to pressure, which makes her easy to train as long as I'm careful. A little goes a long way with Nell, but there's a lot to like about this little dog.

Spot and I are spending lots of time together. I'm fortunate to be able to take him to work where he hangs out in his crate and goes for walks. He has slept outside in a kennel since his first night, but gets plenty of face time in the house every night. I believe the dogs have to have a strong bond with us to be at their best when we work them. We ask a lot, and it's so much easier on both of us when there is love and trust.

I love you Nell...
Same goes for Nell, even thought she belongs to a customer. She's with me for the duration as Caroline has no interest in trialing. Nell's a ruffian, a tom-boy like me, so I understand her. She's an easy dog to love, but very, very skittish. I'm patient, but firm with her, and we stop what we're doing often for a pat and a kind word. Nell came with a lot of tension, but it's subsiding the more I work her, and the longer she's with me.

Here's a video of her after a couple weeks' training.

Monday, January 30, 2012


In repose
I didn't like what I saw today, so I've made the executive decision to give Tam a month off. It's easiest to keep track if I start now. He'll go back to work March 1. I'm laying him off, because I saw a behavior that I attribute to training pressure, and if there's any dog who doesn't need to be pressured, it's a 10 month old pup.

What did I see? Tam turned away from me, and from his sheep when I walked towards him to call him off. It was an "uh oh" moment if I ever had one. Keen youngsters with lots of enthusiasm should never do that, no matter what, and I didn't like it.

When I started Tam, I had the happiest little worker you could ever imagine. He started happy, he stayed happy, and he was happy afterward. I even strive for this with the big dogs, but I definitely want to see it in the young ones. What's the hurry? He's a baby!

This is a good stopping place any way. Tam knows his flanks, both whistles and voice, he has a pretty good lie down on stock, and a fair recall, but that's where we got in to trouble. I would lie him down, then walk towards him saying "that'll do, here." But sometimes he would get up and beat me around the sheep, too quick for me to stop. I started voicing a correction for this, and it was too much for him. It chilled him. The last thing I want!

So, what will we do to fill the white space while Tammie gets a break? Well, I have another youngster named Nell in training, and I have Spot, an 8 week old puppy. I figure between those two, we can find something to write about.

Nell - 2 years old

Spot - 8 Weeks
Check back for more on these two...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Big Day in the Big Field

Boy, that was fun!
If you look closely at my right pant leg, you'll see a stain on my thigh. That's blood...Tam's blood from biting his tongue when he dove in and grabbed hold of a ewe. He has the exuberance of youth going for him, and I'm OK with that for now. Yes, he's disobedient on stock to an extent. Yes, he's messy. Yes, he's eratic, but that's all part of being a 9 months old. Be it far from me to take that out of him, but I always let him know with a growl that it's not my preference. I just don't put any teeth in it.

You know, this little dog is starting to internalize his whistles, and I'm glad to see it. Some hands don't put whistles on their dogs until they're solid on voice commands, but I am teaching them at the same time, and it's working well. I use my whistle and my voice intermittently so Tam learns both at the same time. I blow the whistle first, then give the same flank using my voice. This is the second dog I've done this with. Star was the first, and it worked so well on him, that I'm doing it again.

This was a day of small outruns, and fetching as quietly and as straight as possible. I don't expect much feel at Tam's age, and he's not showing me any at all. After he comes around at the top, he wants to run and flank around again, and he's not very willing to stop and steady on balance. I pressed him for it a bit today, but it's such a balancing act with a youngster. I want him to mind me when I ask him to steady up, but I don't want to diminish his cha-cha in any way.

It was when I made him apply pressure on his sheep without flanking off that he dashed in and took hold. I'll work on this more in the small field at home by flanking him around sheep on the fence, and making him stop on balance and walk up on the sheep that are now against the fence. That way the sheep can't escape, and I'm in position so he can't avoid the pressure by flanking.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Oh...What a Dog!

I'm a good dog
One day in the meduim field, then today in the big field. He came off his big correction the other day without missing a beat. He does, however, seem a little less likely to blow through and give one a shake, although it is still in his reperatoire.

He is beginning to think about walking up on his sheep instead of flanking around in wide, fast circles. He's only good for a few yards, but it's a start, and I'm happy with it. We've been working on a down and a small gather. Today I made him hold the down long enough for me to walk half-way between him and the sheep before sending him.

He's better to the away-to-me side, and runs a bit tight come-bye. Will I kick him out? Noooo. Easier to kick out than pull in, and he's way too young to start messing with his outrun. At this point I don't care so much how he goes out, I just want him to internalize sheepdog 101; You must bring them, and you must bring them all.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

With Intention!

I will close my eyes so you can't see me
OOooo...Tam O' Canter took his first meaningful correction today, and he was just shocked that I spoke to him that way. I've put up with a lot from him. I've let him cavort around, dive in for the occassional grab, and zoom and buzz. It's been more important for me to keep up his cha-cha and confidence than to make him mind.

Well today he pushed me too far. We were in the medium field flanking, and beginning to learn to lie down, then gather. Apparently somebody looked at him funny, or made the wrong wiggle, because he dove in with intention, grabbed one of my sheep and shook her like he meant it as she was giving her best impression of a sheep fleeing for its life.

Alright! Enough is enough. I came at him with my body, backing it up with my voice. Once I got him shut down, I spoke to him in no uncertain terms to make him understand that behavior would not be tolerated. He gave me his best impression of "who me?" "What did I do?" after throwing himself down with a flounce, and we were back to work. 

I introduced the outrun today by laying him down, moving the sheep away from him, then asking him around. I tried to stop him on balance, with him preferring to fly around in big loopy flanks. I didn't press the issue. I just stopped and started again a few times.

One of my yardsticks for training readiness is whether they improve from day to day. In that regard, Tam is measuring up. The other is how they come off a meaningful correction. We'll have to wait until tomorrow on that one.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Big Field

Hey, you gotta crack out sometime, right? So, in the spirit of cracking out, I threw Tam out with some sheep in the big field, and watched him go. And, boy did he go. He flanked in big loopy circles, he wore sheep to me in big loopy half circles, he went ass over tea kettle when he put a foot wrong in the tall grass. Other than that, he just learned, learned, learned

How'd I do, huh? How'd I do?
I looped a string around his neck so he wouldn't take off and chase my sheep. He got away from me when I let it go, and made an effort to flank around them. But when the sheep started to run from him, the chase ensued. Tam is a pretty good listener, so as he ran, I growled, and he eventually came to a stop after the sheep split 3 - 2.

At that point, I could get nearer the sheep and was able to keep him flanking cleanly in wide circles while giving him a whistle, then voice command. I used a steady whistle before asking for a change of direction with my body and my whistle and Tam settled into the work.

After that we went on a walk-about in the hundred acre field where we worked today. The grass is getting tall there. Not too tall to work, but it will be in another week or 2. It will soon be planted to rye grass anyway, but I'm using it to full advantage while I can.

Tam was making fast, sweeping arcs behind me to hold sheep to my feet, tiring himself out in the process. He made the occassional scoot and grab, which always buys him a growl, but I am careful not to scare him, or even intimidate him in any way. Better to have too much dog than not enough, especially at this age. Tam has a pretty good hang and rattle grip, which might do damage if the sheep were not in full wool. I'll have to have that cleaned up by shearing time next April.

I added the beginning of an outrun today, and was only partially successful. In other words, I layed Tam down and backed up with the sheep away from him. At that point I gave him a flank, making sure that it was clean all the way and past balance at the top. A couple times, I sent him from my feet with the sheep 10 yards away, and he accomplished that small gather a time or two. He scattered them once or twice, but it was a start.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My Best Friend, Flow

I got 'em!

I love it when dogs are smooth, and fast, and Tam-the-man was all about the flow today. I kept it short, and let him have his sheep. Most of what we did today was simply wearing sheep to me. Tam loved it, making big sweeping arcs from side to side, shortening the distance as he tired. I walked, and walked changing directions as I went, occasionally giving him a steady to help him slow down and stay on the pressure.

After a while, I put my back to the fence letting him hold sheep to me. He dove in once, which earned him a growl. After that I was more vigilant encouraging him to tuck in the ends without gripping. When the sheep stilled at my feet, Tam would come to a stop and I would say "stand" at that moment introducing that command.

I much prefer "stand" to a lie down, because I prefer never to take my dogs off their feet. I think it takes they're power away, and inhibits balance. Of course, the dog has been bred for balance over hundreds of years, and I trust they know better. A very common sight at a trial is a hand repeatedly lying a dog down where the hand thinks balance is at the exact moment that it changes. That's got to be confusing to a dog.

I finished today with flanking drills, but this time added a whistle to my voice flank commands. I trained Star on voice and whistle simuntaneously, and it worked well, so Tam will get the same treatment. Tammy was confident, fluid and quite happy at work today. A potent combination for a sheep dog.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Release Me

Nell and Tam being started together

Working Tam yesterday, I noticed that he was bothered by the long line I had him on. The drag on his collar caused him to turn his body at odd times, slow down and even lie down when he shouldn't have. It occurred to me that we put our pups on a long line at first to gain control of some sort, then are slow to remove it, because we're afraid to give it up.

I didn't like what that long line was doing to him. I'll take messy, and confident over tidy and cautious every time. Even the slightest trepedation at 9 months is no good in my book. So, off it came, and you should have seen him free up. It was a beautiful thing. His speed increased, his flanks opened up and he was more keen to change directions. Good call!

I introduced the fetch today. It took a bit of running on my part, because my sheep are trotty. So I worked them back and forth across the narrower width of my rectangular field asking Tam to find his way directly behind them instead of flanking around. He started lik a pendulum swinging in wide arcs from side to side only changing directions when the pressure of my body caused it. Then, as he tired, and I become more insistent that he line out behind them, he settled in. Once Tam understood the drill and gave me a fairly steady walk up directly behind the sheep without upsetting them, I let him come to a standing stop, said the word "stand," and finished up with flank drills.

I used flank commands today, interspersed with "there," which brings him to a stop and will eventually tell Tam where to stop the flank, to walk up, and where the line is. We didn't do much of this. I could tell Tam was tiring, because he began to lay down on his own. I called him to me, said "that'll do" and he happily walked away with me.

I've seen dogs that wouldn't call off their sheep, and it's sometimes because they've been pressured so much in a training session, and not allowed enough freedom. When a dog is having fun, and doing what comes naturally to them, I've found they're a lot happier to comply with my requests and are far more obedient. It's when commands and obedience don't make sense to them, and counter their natural instincts that the trouble begins.  I see way too many people in training, and on the trial field using a chain saw when only the finest sand paper is needed to teach a dog. I'm remvoing Tam's rough edges as gently as I can, and he likes it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Good Day

Star and Tam
I don't have the ideal sheep for starting pups. More would be my first choice. I only have 6 at the moment, and 2 of them are in with the ram. But, if I had to wait until conditions were right, I'd still be training Price, so I make do with what I have. I compensate in the training, and I look for better opportunities all the time.

Tam made real progress today. We're finished with the round pen, but that means more running for me. In 3 acres my sheep can find lots of ways to evade the puppies, and they do. With Tam on a line, I start him towards his sheep saying "look" and "where's your sheep?" then turn him loose. He has some balance and feel, and will make an attempt to flank around, but once the sheep break and run, it's a foot race with the sheep winning.

If he dives through, (slices) and grips, I give a growl without much intention. It's a fine line between letting him feel my disapproval, and scaring him. He's one that is sensitive to pressure so I'm mindful of how much and when I use it. His first go was a bit of a rodeo, with the sheep escaping, but Tam became very willing to flank away from the pressure of my body, and I used it to help him hold sheep to one end of the field. A couple times they got past him, and I encouraged him to go get them, which meant, in most cases, that he would slice through the middle and stop only 2 or 3. Better that than being afraid to try. When things go hooki-lau Tam's tendency is to lie down, and I don't want that. Better to let him try something, even if it's messy.

After a bit of that, he began to understand that my growls upon his slice meant to widen and bring them all. Once he demonstrated that understanding, I tied him to the fence and worked Nell, another youngster I am starting for a client. Things got pretty when I brought him back out. I firmly believe our dogs will mull over their training and come back better. The smart ones will any way, and Tam is quite smart.

The sheep were in the middle of the field against the fence. I walked him up with me then gave him a shush. He was quite happy to flank around between the sheep and the fence and hold them to me. This time I moved more quickly and used my body to make him flank from side to side and hold the sheep from escaping. A bit of that, and he had them. I could just see the light come one. I moved to the middle of the field, and began for the first time, to put words to the flanks. I also added a "there" where I moved my body to change his direction. That will lead to my being able to remain stationary while I flank the dog and change his direction. I'm laying ground work at this point.

Tam likes to lie down, so I'm careful about asking for it. At this point, I only use it when we're finished. It took 2 attempts, but on the 2nd try, he stayed on his belly, then came to me when I said "that'll do."  I gently led him by the collar until I was sure he'd come unhooked, and we called it a very good day.