PRE-HERDING TRAINING

by Anne Shope

Many people we’ve come across do some puppy preparation for herding; the normal sits, downs, stays, and walk up. Specifically, working on the down away from the handler is crucial. Lots of dogs only want to down at their handler’s feet. Lots of dogs are dependent upon eye contact with a handler to obey. It’s important to change their focus as you’ll want their eye ideally on their stock.

Fetch games can be incorporated into “away to me” and “come by” as well as water hose games for those dogs so inclined. An Example: Steve is using quite a bit of fetch games with his pup Gus. Gus is high drive. We’ve seen his brother by previous cross, and his brother is high drive also so Steve figured he’d put more puppy obedience training into Gus. Steve has Gus (coming one year of age) fetching – downing before fetching/downing on his way to fetch/downing before picking the toy up/downing on the return half way. He has him “getting out” for the fetch toss. Gus will down on harsh command or whisper soft command and also by hand signal and it’s instantaneous. We all know that even the instantaneous down can be lost the first time the hot stockdog works stock.

He has Gus “marking” his fetch toy. He has Gus “skittum” his fetch toy. Lots of what Steve is playing/teaching Gus will be later incorporated into herding. Gus has learned patience/distraction/temptation and the ability to obey but have fun when doing it. He knows the reward is always going to come.

The Hartnagles have a video showing fetching games similar to lunging a horse and applicable and appropriate directional cues are given that correlate to herding commands. We tried these on our Claugene and she was a natural at these games. Not all our dogs enjoyed the lunging, chase the object but Claugene is a high drive fetch dog so it came easy to her. She’s the only dog upon which we used that method and it’s fun whether one herds or not.

With 14 week old Ally, I’ve incorporated into her training an exercise that enables her to turn quickly right or left in a 360 degree circle. By having her do 360 turns to the right and 360 turns to the left, she is learning to use both sides of her body and both leads comfortably. I use a specific command for change of direction. When you first try this exercise, you simply hold a piece of food in front of your pup and swing your hand to the left and then circular behind the dog so the dog follows the bait and does a 360 turn away from you. You do three one direction and then three the other direction. It’s easier to do if your pup is sitting in front of you.

Your pup will naturally find one direction easier to accomplish and will more often than not “offer” to you that direction. Ally starts from a sit and ends in a sit. It gives me total control of her space usage and I like her to learn that early on, I’m in charge of how she executes her commands. She also learning to adapt to the left or right lead as necessary to accomplish moving quickly right or left which will help her later in her coordination and capability of handling directional cues on stock. Many dogs are one-sided simply because of lack of use of both leads early on. This exercise should alleviate this problem.

Later I’ll add the down into the exercise so she gets comfortable downing looking away from me both directions. I like an accordion down Because I do not want any forward motion in the down, it’s imperative I start this exercise where I have control of the execution of the down by my pup. The down will be asked at one quarter turn to begin with so I have total control in its success upon first starting. Food motivation works well and timing of praise is critical for instantaneous execution of command so the pup learns to do things correctly from the beginning. Make it a fun exercise so the pup enjoys learning.

The secret to giving commands is to give them timely for the action to occur. Many trainers use games in their herding preparation work. Steve has come up with his own set, which is an accumulation of things he’s picked up from others and some we’ve incorporated from our own school of hard knocks. Timing is of the utmost importance for success. People forget to allow time for the words to be heard and the action to take place at the moment it is desired. It’s critical for the learning process to be successful.

Backing up is incorporated into all our dogs’ training. Most will back on verbal command. One has to begin with a physical back up first, i.e. stepping into the dog. This command can be game-oriented too, so that it’s incorporated into the fetch work or even downing games. Then later when all these commands are introduced into stock work, the dog isn’t stressed or sidetracked as easily by his fun being taking away, because the dog knows the fun will always follow, i.e. the reward of getting the stock back. This is rather a rambling scenario of puppy fun preparation for herding but the methodology works and really is useful, both in the soft and high drive dogs. A dog can be people soft but stock tough or people tough and stock soft. Depending upon your needs, your preferences, the games can be formulated to fit the needs of the dog and handler plus the tasks at hand.

Many people teach the basics. With the high degree of distraction, stress of handler changing the pitch in voice (we’ve all been guilty of and privy to these), and dog’s herding drives, these basics are often quickly forgotten. Even worse, the soft dogs quit because it’s not fun anymore. By incorporating lots of games and building up the tolerance level early on, then stock work is less stressful. The dog has been conditioned for its fun being stopped and started and redirected. Their focus stays much more readily on the stock and tasks at hand without the early-on stress of “why can’t I do that?”

Additionally, one doesn’t have to spend so much time teaching stop actions or directional cues because the seed was already planted, so those training progresses more rapidly.
this article was originally a post on the Yahoo discussion board Aussie-Herders.
For more information on this author go to Legends Breeder Page.