GETTING A STOP

by Anne Jespersen

Question: I wanted to start herding and slowly I am, but how do I get my dog to stop on command? Once she is on the sheep she won’t stop. I try to get her to down – nothing; come—nothing, so I walk away and call her from the house, and then it clicks that I have left her and she comes.

Anne responds: I try hard not to put the dogs in a situation that I know they can’t do, such as walk into a pen of sheep with Cinder (12 months old) and ask her to down and stay while the sheep are racing back and forth. First you look for the easiest situation- when the dog is tired, the sheep are in a corner, not moving, and I get in between the dog and the sheep and block her from getting them. The dog’s main desire is to get the sheep under control, so if the sheep are not moving it is much easier to get the dog to listen, rather than fighting their instincts. When she is convinced that I can block both sides and not let her have the sheep, then I tell her lie down. As soon as she does, I step out of the way and she gets the sheep back.

If she didn’t down, I step closer to her, still blocking her, and pushing her farther from the sheep and tell her down again. Then she downs, and she gets to go around the sheep again. After several sessions of just getting this part reliable, then I work on a slightly longer stay, while I walk up to her, and take hold of the rope I left on her, or put her leash back on. When I have a hold of her then I say that’ll do.

Of course the first few times she dashed for the sheep and hit the end of the (shortened) leash. We practiced small call offs, where I just walked away a few feet with her and when she had stopped trying to pull her way back to the sheep I sent her around them again. It’s totally counter productive to just yell commands and then try to chase the dog down to enforce them. Try to set up the situation so you win every time, and also the dog can only win her sheep back by listening to you.

Once the dog is reliable downing with the sheep in a corner, you can practice stopping them on balance (sheep aren’t moving) when the sheep are just up against a fence, then move up to sheep in balance not on a fence. This part requires that you are reading your sheep well enough to know that if you stop the dog the sheep are not going to escape. Also the dog will have to have enough settling down ability to actually balance the sheep to you in an open area before you start downing him a lot. If you’re downing him and then the sheep keep escaping he will lose confidence in you. I’ve seen dogs lose their initiative to control the sheep if the handler lets the sheep escape too much while insisting on a down too early in training.

I hope this helps.

this article was first published on the Yahoo discussion site Aussie-Herders