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!

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.