THOUGHTS ON DRIVING

by Dana MacKenzie

Some thoughts on driving:

1. From about the third exposure to sheep on, as I enter the training area on lead, I ask the dog to “walk up” and “stop”, “walk up” and “stop” etc., as we approach the stock. Secrets:

a. This actually starts before you enter the training area, when you take your dog out of his kennel or crate. All you are trying to do is get your dog to include you in his thinking process. He must stop before he is allowed out of his crate, stop before you enter any gate and stop when you tell him too. Don’t forget to use a release word such as OK that gives him permission to move. Away from stock use a “stop” word then a “release word”. On stock you are teaching a specific word that means move directly toward your stock and a stop word.

b. Walk toward the stock in a manner to hold them in one place. You don’t want them moving.

c. Stop before you enter the flight zone. When you are just outside the flight zone you will release your dog or do whatever you have decided to do in training that day.

d. Small jerks on the lead without taking your eyes off of the stock will eventually stop the dog from keeping the lead tight.

e. Do not make eye contact with the dog, watch the stock. If the dog looks up at you and sees you looking at the stock he will look back at the stock.

f. As he gets better and starts to understand the command, let him move ahead on you still on lead. Then over a period of time let him start to drag a heavy lead so he thinks you are still attached.

g. He has done this every time he has gone to stock. When the time comes to actually begin driving (when his fetch is good) he will be miles ahead and understand the game. After all the only difference between this and driving is that the stock are moving.

2. Teach your dog to protect a feed pan. You will need a short lead say 4′, and hungry sheep that respect a dog. In your dog’s mind this is you and him against the sheep. Back up to a fence or a corner so you don’t have so much ground to cover. Kneel down next to your dog, point at the pan and encourage him to make aggressive moves toward any sheep that gets too close. Use the command “watch”. Most dogs will try to chase the sheep away thus the short lead. All positive training. When the sheep retreat congratulate your dog.

Aussies love this exercise and it actually develops a degree of eye as they learn to dare the sheep to approach the pan. As the dog gets better and starts to understand the exercise, move the pan away from the fence and start to help out less and less. This exercise teaches the dog to read and respond to push from stock in a calm, cool manner when he is in the drive position. Also translates into holding a gate and protecting you from dangerous animals anytime, not only when you feed. The stock will never crowd you again.

3. Driving and fetching are opposing things.

a. Always start and end your training sessions with a nice relaxing fetch otherwise you will lose it. Follow this sequence: Fetch, stop the action, throw in a few driving steps, stop the action, then go back to fetching. As your dog starts to understand you can extend the driving time. You stress (teach) the new, unfamiliar move and relax with the familiar. Too much stress blows an animal away.

b. Do not use commands until your dog understands what he is doing (holding against pressure with you on the same side of the stock he is on). Dogs are smart; they will wait for you to tell them what to do rather than using their head. You will think they are driving but they are not understanding.

c. If there is one secret to driving it is that driving and fetching must be divided into two things in your dog’s mind. Never let your dog decide when to change from driving to fetching. If he does he will never be reliable. It must be your decision. Action must stop between the two things in the beginning.

d. Driving normally messes up a dog’s head for about 6 months then they sort it all out. But if you do not divide driving and fetching up in training, he may never sort it out. You will end up with a dog that does neither thing and will run and split up his stock in frustration.

4. Start actual driving with a flock of slow moving stock. If they run off you excite a bunch of things in your dog you would rather leave hidden at the moment. Also you teach nothing positive by letting the dog lose his stock or by letting him go get them in an unorganized manner. If slow stock is not available devise a pen situation where they can’t run off. Alleyways with your dog on a loose lead are great teaching tools. No matter what you use, don’t forget to relax with a fetch and make your driving sessions short.

5. Dogs understand jobs. They do not understand drilling or panels. They read pens loud and clear. Let your dog finish a job and love on him for a job well done. Put the stock in a pen. Don’t decide the training session is over and catch your dog and let the stock run off.

6. Your training attitude should always be, “it’s you and me, dog, against the world”. If something isn’t working, it’s not the dog’s fault, it’s yours. Figure it out, then go for it. Stretch out and grab that sky.

This article first appeared as a post on the Yahoo group Aussie-Herders.