I have been training dogs and competing with them in a wide range of activities for over forty years now. The last eighteen years have included stockdog training. I’ve learned that when a new method or attitude toward training comes along to not poopoo it but take a serious look. I read the books, watch the videos and attend seminars. There are many new ways of training to get the results needed as competition gets tougher and tougher.
For a new person training a stockdog and perhaps new to livestock while also being bombarded with such a wide variety of information on training and trialling will be very confusing. The dog’s instinct driven reactions can add to the confusion. I’d like to make some suggestions that may clear the air and help the new stockdog enthusiast to move forward in training and reach their goals.
- First you must have a good understanding of dog training. There are lots of thoughts on this subject but the end result should be a strong bond between you and your dog that isn’t dependent on food or other training aids to have your dog working consistently and reliably for you. Two excellent publications are Janet Lewis’s “Smart Trainers, Brilliant Dogs” and Bobbie Anderson’s “Give Your Puppy A Head Start For Competition”. You must be aware of the full progression of training from introduction of a new behavior to the complete reliable performance of that behavior. Your dog must consider you the leader and source of fun as well as discipline and not a littermate.
- Throughout your daily lives use your obedience and expectation of good manners so the dog’s basic premise toward his responsibility to obey will not drastically change when you go to livestock training. Consistency is very important.
- Read and watch everything available regarding Border Collies and their stockdog training. Some will be conflicting but get a general idea of the various ways to train.
- Find a trainer whose methods and results seem to coincide with the way you’d like your dog to handle stock. Keep in mind your own physical abilities to reproduce the type of training moves that the method would need to be successful. You can observe various trainers by auditing seminars, observing lessons given to others and attending trials.
- Once a decision has been made to follow a particular trainer’s method and progression of learning stick with your decision. Every training method has progressional errors. These are behaviors that most beginning dogs try out and move past with your help. These errors sometime vary with methods. When you have not trained a stockdog before you may blow these episodes of learning out of proportion. But with each new thing learned there has to be training so the dog understands what to DO and what not to do.
- As you work with your trainer make a note of your progress and in what order you are introduced to the various skills needed. Often skills are introduced as the opportunities present themselves and you cannot always go out with livestock and have them behave as you wish to teach a particular move. But good basic building blocks should be of major importance. When problems arise further up the scale of skills you can return to the building blocks to work through the problems.
- Make sure you understand the training you are getting. Don’t be afraid of asking questions as to why a certain move is taught or why the dog behaves the way he does. You should be learning to train a stockdog and not just follow given instructions.
- When setting your herding goals be realistic about the time that you have to put into the training and trial preparation. Do not expect more from your dog than you have reasonable expectations to receive. Stockdog training is very difficult. It requires understanding livestock as well as dog training. It also requires lots of practice of skills and using of the dog to gain experience for both dog and handler. Weekly lessons and daily practice are the ideal.
- Stick with your chosen trainer and his method until you have finished out a couple of dogs and fully understand the training method from beginning to end. That includes how to correct any problems that may result.
- If you decide to change methods again observe the new trainer and try to develop an idea of the flow from beginning dog to finished dog. Auditing seminars is very good. By now you have some experience and may need only to touch basis with the new method on an every three week or monthly basis. The key is that you must be aware of providing the dog with the correct building blocks for this new method. You cannot correct problems without the solid building blocks of that method.
- Don’t just run out and try a new skill just because you read it in a book , went to a seminar or watched a video. Without the correct building blocks you will only confuse yourself and your dog and fail at accomplishing what seemed easy. If you really would like to teach a new skill or correct a problem make sure you lay down a solid foundation to make it possible.