Terms of Endearment

Terms of Endearment

I was giving lessons one day when a student commented to me “why don’t you write an article on basic terms. My first reaction was “why” everyone already knows what they mean. Nevertheless his comment kept “haunting me” until I grasped his reason for asking was prompted by a genuine need for information. Understanding he was a Novice and therefore looking at this matter from a different perspective than I, perhaps in fact, it might be something that did need to be addressed. This sport of ours is steadily growing at a tremendous rate and with that growth comes “newcomers” — those that have never been exposed to common “BC” terms. Generally it’s difficult for Open handlers to remember back to the time we didn’t understand certain rudimentary terms. I presume the main reason for this difficulty “to walk in Novice shoes” is things have become “second nature” for Open handlers.

This difficulty to regress to a Novice status made me think of a writer I admire immensely observing how a child “does not and can not perceive a table as an adult does”. The reason … an adult has already experienced sitting at a table eating, talking, etc. so he perceives the table as more than just an inanimate object. However the child having no such experiences to recall sees the table as a round/square object with legs. It’s not until the child has “table” (life) experiences “under it’s belt” will he/she be able to experience the table as more than a metal or wooden inanimate object. You can correlate this portraiture with most things in life including trialing. In the beginning everything is “so new” you have to purposely think about each and every step. Eventually with effort, time and energy the day comes where you can act, (instead of react) without consciously thinking about it, and then and only then can you move up to the next level. But until that time not only do you have to think about every move the dog is making but also what words correlate with that movement … not to mention the sheep’s movements!

I think this is why beginners always ask what does “so and so” mean. I’ve always answered the question by saying “it doesn’t matter what word you use as long as you use it consistency”. When finally it dawned on me Novices aren’t asking “a question” per-say as much as they are seeking a “concrete phrase” that can be used as a guide.

I will try to give a non-dog related example – driving a car. If you will recall when you first learned to drive you needed to have numbers on the gear shift knob. For not only did you not know how to shift gears but you weren’t even sure as to where the gears were located. After much practice shifting became second nature and you could do away with the numbers on the knob but until “that day” it was important to have this “aid” as a guide. With this in mind I thought I would spend a little time trying to explain to the new and unaccustomed handlers basic terminology and a little information how they can attain these goals.


This is where it all starts with the dog at your side and the sheep somewhere in front of you. The purpose of an outrun is to get the dog to the other side of the sheep without crossing sides or disturbing them. I can remember when I was a Novice an Open handler said to me “you can’t have a good run without a good outrun”. I didn’t grasp how important an outrun was at the time. But through the years I have become a true believer as his comment proved accurate about 99% of the time. One simple tip for the Novice is always try to walk to the post with the dog on the side you want to send with sheep straight in front of you. If you have to come in at an angle then walk behind the post and then turn and walk straight towards the post. This helps to convey to the dog where the sheep will be located.


Lift is basically a dogs first contact with the sheep. They have usually seen the dog on the outrun but haven’t quite felt him. A lot of information is conveyed with this first impression. If the dog treats the sheep with firm respect your run will go much smoother.


The simple definition would be “the dog is bringing the sheep to the handler”. In a trial it’s more precise. You have to imagine a line from the sheep to the handler and any variance the sheep take from this line would mean points lost.


Driving of course this means taking the sheep away but again we need to look at it from a Novice point of view. Anytime the sheep’s heads are not pointing toward you then “technically” you are driving. When you see sheep’s rumps, you’re “driving away”, when sheep’s sides are in view this would indicate a “cross drive”. Think of this from a judges point of view – at any time on the cross-drive you see heads or rumps you can safely take points off.


Watch the heads the bodies will follow! This is the proving grounds for a dogs flanks. If your dog goes left or right but is coming in tighter every step he takes … after you have given 3 or 4 flanks he will be on top of the sheep.


I know it looks like a dog running through the middle of sheep which you have been spending hours trying to keep your Novice dog from doing but trust me it’s more. It’s coming through with a clean flank and then holding the sheep you have chosen hopefully without teeth but by being in the correct position. Don’t be in a hurry to teach the shed to a young dog or they might shed at the most inopportune time – like at the pen! This should be last on your training list.


So much more than just right and left flanks. Don’t ever let someone tell you it’s just a direction. It’s a pressure point around the sheep but in the simplest form Go/Come bye is clockwise (think of it as time goes bye) Away to me is counterclockwise (again think taking time away).


This is very confusing to beginners as they see Open handlers say lie down and the dog doesn’t obey. So they end up thinking a dog doesn’t have to lie down when told. However when a Open handler says lie down he may have 3 different commands just by changing the tone of his voice. Believe me he does have a “lie down – don’t move” on his dog it’s just that he accomplishes this goal not by changing “the words” but by changing “the tone”. For a Novice handler you need the words and actions to match, don’t rely on a change of tone at this stage. You can say “stand” but again most Novices make the mistake of saying stand and the dog uses it as a take time instead of a stop.


Steady On/ Walk On usually means to continue on the course you’re on steady sometimes depending on how it’s given means go more slowly.


Get Up can mean “get to your feet” if dogs lying down or may be used as a more forceful walk on. If the dog is stalled and not moving many handlers say “Come on Get-up, Get -up”!


I use this a lot and if you teach a dog the correct meaning it will be an invaluable tool. To me it means “hold the line you are on”. When I teach a dog to drive I don’t use directions I only use “there” over and over again until he is comfortable taking sheep away. You begin the “there” command on the fetch by making him walk straight on to his sheep without flanking. If he tries to veer off you say there, there followed with a lie down (then another there … there get -up) if he won’t stay on line. Get him up as soon as he has downed as you are working on a there (or holding the line) not a lie down.


Get Up in reverse. You are conveying to the dog he’s moving too fast and needs to slow down. Some handlers use the word “easy” but this is not a word that carries gruffly. When a dog is pushing to hard you need a word that you can “growl” out. When you give this command make sure the dog gears down … don’t just repeat it over and over again hoping something will happen. If the command is given and he doesn’t slow down then make him lie down (we’re not working on his lie down so don’t leave him down…make him get up quickly but immediately again try to get him to slow down). The method I use to slow a dog down is (1st) I call the dogs name (2nd) I call “Time”, if this doesn’t slow him down I (3rd) say “Stand” and if all this doesn’t slow him down I finally (4th) say “lie down” and MAKE HIM. Then I get him back to his feet and start all over again. The reasoning behind this is eventually when he hears his name (or take time) he starts to slow down anticipating the next exercise will be stand and finally the “dreaded” lie down.

LISTEN (or sometimes calling the dogs name)

The dog is usually getting “wound up” and is starting to tune handler out. You are reminding him this is a TEAM sport and listening is in his best interest.


I thought the best expression of this was given to me by a top handler in Wales. I was complementing his run and how fluid it was — his reply was he likes to think of a run as “a wheel within a wheel”. What he meant was if the dog and the sheep are in contact going the correct speed with the correct amount of pressure you don’t need to stop the dog until you get into the shedding ring or the pen. Pace allows a run to flow and also makes the run more enjoyable to watch.


Get Back is utilized in training flanks and outruns. This is pretty self-evident – you are too close to your sheep “get back”. On the outrun it’s often used in conjunction with lying the dog down and walking up the field, saying “get back” and pushing the dog off his sheep.


Get Out Of That means you are too close to the sheep often given (in a hysterical voice that doesn’t work) when the dog is thinking about getting in the middle of his sheep.


What Are You Doing or more direct words “stop acting like an idiot – pull your head out and start think about what you are doing”.


Candy Kennedy