This morning I was out training a couple of young dogs of ours. One is a 19 month old smooth coated female and the other a 15 month old red rough coated male. One was a delight to work and the other I walked away from the work session just exhausted. When I came back in the house I was dissecting the difference between them. They both have aptitude, both are well worth putting training time into but they are as different as night and day and I am biased as to which type I like. Through out this article I will attempt to explain the differences between these two and then to spell out the reasons I tend to prefer one type over the other. I will be comparing the two to give an idea how totally different two dogs can be even though they both have potential and a strong desire to work. An underlining reason for this article is to give some insight to people that might have only trained one or two dogs and don’t really have a feel for the different types of dogs there are.
Here is some background on the two pups. The male wanted to work at around 8 – 9 months old and was fast enough even at that age to start serious training. Some pups are too clunky and slow at 8 months so they aren’t capable of heading the sheep. This wasn’t the case as he was physically very capable of working but, and this is a very big but, he wasn’t emotionally mature enough to take the training. So I chose to put him up and waited until he was over a year old. The female was around 10 months when she first began to work and once started was in full training mode and we haven’t looked back since. What I mean by that is with some dogs it’s best to start them and then put them up and let them mature more before you really put pressure on them. You can start a dog and allow them to learn about sheep without putting a lot of pressure on. However, once you start serious training, for instance off balance work, it takes more pressure than a young pup can readily take. That being the case you would be better off waiting until they are capable of taking intense pressure before you continue with that concentrated of training.
The male is chase oriented and although the female is quite capable of chasing it’s done in a totally different fashion. He wants to work but doesn’t have the eye or natural about him that she does. He never bends off sheep and won’t unless I put that in him. She will go straight towards the sheep but will blow herself out…she can’t help it, it’s just in her make up. I didn’t train her to do this but I did cultivate it. When she chased I would fuss at her and when she backed off I would praise her. I will try to do the same with the male but will have to do more than just fuss at him. The “more” I am referring to is to MAKE HIM give (translated – mechanical training) when he gets close to sheep. The way I do this is by making sure each and every time he approaches his sheep I am always in a position to put pressure on him in order to back him off. I didn’t have to do that with the female because she felt the pressure of the sheep on her own. I didn’t need to be the one to tell her to get back, the pressure of the sheep told her. The male doesn’t have that “program” in him so I will have to insert it by repeating “get back” only when I am in a position to make him. This will be repeated time after time until I eventually construct a pattern that will be ingrained in him. (This is the reason I waited longer to start the male. I could not just let him work on his own because his “own” was nothing more than sheep chasing and he was not emotionally mature enough to take the pressure of me perpetually saying “get back”.)
One of the problems with this sort of dog is the time involved…since I am “putting” most of his skill in him instead of “developing” it’s much more time consuming. If this is your only dog then it’s possibly not a considerable problem but when you are working a number of dogs a day the difficulties multiply. When totally finished he might make a better trial dog than her but be assured I would rather have pups out of her than him. The obvious reasoning behind this – what she has is “natural” increasing the odds of her abilities being inherited. The male’s offspring would need a good trainer to get the best out of them. When you are breeding dogs the training doesn’t go with the dog only the natural!
Now on to the main point of this article…the amount of time and effort it takes to train a dog. We often get calls from people wanting started and/or trained dogs. The thing that brought this article into focus was a call from a lady looking to buy a started dog. She described how much training she wanted the dog to have. She wanted a least at 200 to 300 yard outrun, set on its flanks and possibly the beginnings of a drive. Then she proceeded to quote the amount of money she wanted to spend and it almost wouldn’t buy one of our pups. This started me wondering if people ever think how much time it takes to train a dog. If we ever calculated it in hourly wages we would never sell any of them. I work dogs 6 days a week and could not begin to tell you the hours it takes to get one really running right. I am trying to communicate to a novice person all the effort put forth trying to mold a potential trial dog. I hope to achieve this objective by going into more detail about the two young dogs that I began the article with. The term “started” dog sounds so simple but if you will read on you will see that’s usually not the case. The examples offered are dogs with talent so you could easily double your training time on a so – so dog.
I will also endeavor to give you a notion of what I like and don’t like in each. I will start out with the male. He is a bold, confident and workmanlike dog with a lot of qualities about him that are exceptionally nice. He has a great nature and is people and dog friendly. He wants to please me and he has a great passion for his work. He’s not afraid of anything on four legs (or two) and has power to burn. On his first trip to sheep he ran through the middle and scattered them (on his 30th trip too I might ad!) These dog broke sheep knew for safety’s sake they needed to regroup and return to me. However, between myself and the flock was one lone sheep and a little red dog. The sheep figured “what the heck, he’s not very big – I’ll go over him”. Mistake! He met her in the air taking hold of a nose and he never flinched. For me he is not an easy dog to train because he takes most things personally and gets his feelings hurt quite easily. Since he’s soft you have to make sure he understands what you expect of him, but once that’s accomplished he will give 100%. If he thinks you are upset with him he will cop a bit of an attitude (substitute pout). You can work him for a long period of time without him becoming sour and I’m sure he would take to drilling without a doubt but I hate drilling and very seldom do it. He will walk on straight to his sheep and push almost to the point that he ends up in the middle of them. Unfortunately he will take a tremendous amount of time to train. I think (one never knows until you’re done) he will finish into a good dog.
I owned both his parents and his father was natural – almost to a fault. His mother was a really good trial dog but was not a natural and in order to have her running correctly you had to do a lot of drilling, which is why I never really enjoyed her. The female on the other hand is naturally gifted and all I have to do is guide her talent in the right direction. This doesn’t mean she is without fault. She is extremely high strung and wired most of the time making her almost impossible to live with. She’s a bit unusual in as much as her tension does not carry over to her work – once she’s on her sheep she relaxes. It’s an uphill battle to stop her because she can’t stand to be motionless for a second. She wants to leave your side the minute she thinks sheep are anywhere in the vicinity. She has a stronger desire to “work” than to “please” so it takes a strong hand to keep her right.
However you have to be careful because she’s touchy and once she concludes you are upset with her she starts worrying more about you than the stock. In other words, she loses confidence easily so I have to make sure to encourage her immediately after I “get on her”. This particular fault is irritating to me at times. I prefer a dog that will do something even if it’s wrong as compared to one that slows up trying to evaluate whether you are upset with them. She’s quick as a cat and you better have your timing “dead on” or she will over run your commands. She doesn’t get along with people or other dogs (and would make a terrible pet) and I have worked hard to get her familiarized with people, dogs and horses putting out her sheep. She flanks just the right distance and when you “get hold of the reins” she has pace that won’t quit. When she started I was concerned about her power, believing her not to be an especially strong dog but since have changed my mind somewhat. Much of what I was reading as weak seems to be more trepidation about me … in other words we are back to lacking confidence again. The event that made me reconsider was watching her bring “wall to wall” sheep out of a barn. She had to go over … through … under …etc. the sheep in order to get to the opposite side and push them out – all accomplished without once biting.
Though she will run in and bite, she doesn’t yet have the confidence to walk up and take hold of a nose. On the drive she will hold a line better than some of my finished dogs. She is a gifted dog and ranks up there with one of the best I’ve ever started. You can never be sure how they will finish but I couldn’t ask for a better beginning. She is a joy to work. To summarize … The basics of what I look for and the repercussions when these basics are lacking.
1. I think first and foremost I want eye and balance …
The male has very little of either but does have enough to keep his sheep together. He has NO PROBLEM with push but I will have to constantly work on keeping him at the correct flank distance as this will never be natural with him. The female will need to have her confidence worked on more than her balance. The male will take a much longer since he doesn’t have the built in flank distance and I will have to put this is in him and we are talking a very time consuming program! If he had any less eye I would be truly concerned as I really prefer a dog with a little more eye.
2. Power …
This is a hard one! I’ve had dogs I watched sheep run off when they were young and yet when matured would take on anything. So, I try not to worry unnecessarily about this issue. I feel it can be developed to some extent. The male, as I have already mentioned, is not lacking and will not need a lot of work in this area. The female will need more work and encouragement before I will feel completely comfortable with her. One way I will accomplish this is by backing sheep in a corner and have her walk up and touch noses with the sheep and then teach her to “take – hold” on command. This will take some time but I don’t feel I need to rush it. I’ll make sure not to overmatch her with a sheep that will grind her into the ground and knock all the confidence out of her. I started her on dog broke (i.e. easy to move sheep) and will “work up” to sheep that have more resistance to them. I will let her go in and take hold if at any time she acts unsure and I will always be there to make sure I can help her if needed. I will do the same with the male even thought he doesn’t need it as much as she does.
3. Biddable …
I want a dog to listen!! This is of course of prime importance when you are dealing in trial dogs. It adds up to more than that because it is what makes working a dog enjoyable. If you have to fight a dog every step he takes then eventually it will take the pleasure out of working. You need a dog that wants to cooperate and help you, not one whose goal in life is to make yours more tedious. It’s difficult to explain because it’s not a tangible thing but you know it when you have it. Some dogs glance at you to say “OK now what”? Some just cock an ear to hear you better. It doesn’t matter how they do it as long as the message is “I want to interact with you”. It is more than “I want to work sheep,” it’s “I want to work sheep with you.” I sometimes think this attitude is one of the most important things a working dog can exhibit. If, when you put pressure on him (training is pressure!), he cops an attitude refusing to give 100% then obviously it is impossible to get the best out of him. If he carries this attitude to the extreme he will quit you. I am not talking about being unfair while working. This will cause even a reasonable dog to get “an attitude”! I am talking about the formidable amount of pressure it takes to train a dog to Open standards. If you think of the hours and hours it takes to get a dog to trial standards you will understand why most trainers are very choosy about the dogs they keep for themselves.
I hope this will give you a portrait of what occurs while trying to train a dog … all of the trainer’s thoughts on how to correct faults, the worries and concerns about how to best communicate to the dog and then the effort to bring out the best the dog has to give. None of this is included in the price of a dog but believe me it is there!