TRAINING THE OUTRUN ON THE AUSTRALIAN CATTLE DOG
by Steve Waltenburg, Trails End Kennel
Training the outrun actually starts with the introduction of the dog to stock. From this point forward, the goal is to get the dog on the other side of the stock to the point of balance. The stockdog’s reward is to be able to work stock, so keep this in mind when training. Being allowed to work stock after improperly performing an element of training, such as the outrun, only teaches the dog that it does not have to do it correctly. Let’s start at the beginning.
The outrun is a component of the “gather”. The “outrun, lift, and fetch” make up the “gather”. It will be sent from the handler’s side and no commands shall be necessary until the stock are at the handler’s feet. When you take a young or green dog to stock and try to get him on the other side of the stock to the balance point, you are actually teaching the beginnings of the outrun. That is why it is so important, especially for the ACD, that the dog get to the other side before he is allowed to work stock. Remember! The reward is being able to work stock! The ACDs that I’ve seen that were allowed to push stock or work between the handler and the stock before learning to gather, are nearly impossible to convert.
All stock training should start on well-broken sheep, in other words, sheep that stay to the handler and do not bolt down the arena or field at the sight of a dog. I prefer to have a lie-down on an ACD before I go to stock, although I don’t insist on one during the introduction to stock. I prefer to wait for an opportunity, such as a pause or just before I think the pup is tiring and ask for it then. Timing is everything in training, you need to use it to your advantage.
Because of my strong Border Collie. background, my training philosophy is going in the direction of Bruce Fogt’s. For instance, depending on the ability of your dog, sides aren’t put on the dog until it can do a silent gather at, let’s say, thirty yards. The dog does not need to be told where to go at this point in his training. He needs to develop his balance, learn to read stock, and learn to be comfortable and confident in close quarters where the pressure is the greatest. My two best dogs are trained wrong. By this I mean when I go to the post I send my dog in the chosen direction with a flank command. A flank command should take the dog left or right at 90 degrees off the sheep, relieving, then changing the pressure to a new point. An outrun should start with a SSSHHHUUUSSSHHH or something similar, so the dog is not asked to perform two different tasks with one command.
When I started training I worked mostly in the open, always trying to push my dog out off stock. Now I work my dogs equally in areas as small as a stall to the wide open spaces. Cappy Pruet showed me how to start a pup in a round pen, and the next week I had the privilege of watching Larry Painter handle Syd at the 1997 Speciality in St. Louis, Missouri. Those were the finest ACD trial runs I think I’ve ever seen. It was there watching Syd work that showcd me how important it was that ihc dog work calmly but with confidence in a high pressure situation.
I’m not wandering off the subject. It is hard to discuss one part of training without touching on another part, because what you teach today affects what you’re going to teach tomorrow. So back to starting the outrun. Without going into specific dog personalities or temperaments, the main focus is on getting the dog around to the other side of the stock and developing his ability to balance the stock to you.
I start in a small pen without corners. Either with or without the dog on lead (6′ to 10′ rope.) I want the dog to lay there until I back towards the stock and send him around. “Lie-down” means don’t get up until you’re released. I don’t use “Stay”, because later, in more advanced training, the dog must break the lie-down if the stock moves before you can react.
This is why it is so important that your dog learn to read the livestock, and this can only be done by letting him work and make mistakes under all conditions with all types of stock from a single to 50 head, fast, slow and everything in between. Let the dog figure it out.
Think about it, your dog is learning where the balance point is. You’ve been saying Go-bye when he circles clockwise. Wow! He’s learning his side commands! You change the direction of your fetch and your pup comes around a little too far, so you put him back with a flank command. What did he just learn? NOTHING! All you did was reposition him; he is becoming obedient, so he did it.
What should be done when the dog is heading out of position is to growl to let him know he’s wrong, and when he makes the correct adjustment, shut up and let him continue working.
Back to the rope. I keep hold of one end until I’m sure the pup will stay until I release him. If he gets to the stock before you’re ready you’ve just taught him that all it takes to work stock is to beat the Boss to the corner. If things go right the pup will start circling you and the stock. Hence the small pen. Things are somewhat under your control. You don’t want the circling to continue too long. The dog learns almost nothing from this. You need to try to keep the pup on the other side while continuing to move backwards in a figure-8 type motion, always giving the sheep a place to go. If you stop, the sheep stop, the pup hits the sheep. Now the pup is really having a ball!
The amount of time spent in the round pen depends on the dog. If things seem somewhat under your control move out to a larger area. If things get a little wild go back to the small pen. With some dogs it’s better to go to the large area if things continue to be chaotic in the round pen, because a larger pen takes some of the pressure off of some dogs.
Now that we’re in the larger arena the trick is to keep moving and changing directions. Keep the pup thinking and interested in what’s going on. Don’t move in a straight line or the dog will learn to just follow. If you miss a chance at a well timed correction let it go. If you stop to make a correction and the pup yields to the correction immediately release the pressure and get back to work. More than one young dog has quit working because the corrections were either too long or came too late, and the pup associated the correction with “it must be wrong to work.”
When the pup comes to the balance point ask for a “Lie Down.” Walk off and call him with a “That’ll Do, Come”. Dogs with a stronger sense of balance will want to move around to the new balance point when you walk off. Move back to the sheep and lie the pup down and try it again.
Gather the pup up and start the sequence all over again. Over time you increase the distance between the pup and the stock and decrease the distance between you and the pup, until the pup is leaving from your side. Get in the habit of having the pup on the side you plan on sending him from. That way he’ll start taking his cue from your body as to which direction he needs to go on his outrun and won’t pick the direction himself on the way to the post.
Remember this is just a guide line of fundamentals for a person to follow. Fundamentals are everything. Part of becoming a trainer is knowing when to ask for help. The best advice I could give a novice is find a trainer who knows ACDs. Read everyone’s books, and expose yourself to as many people and breeds as you can. But it all goes back to fundamentals!
this article was first published in the June/July 1999 issue of Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine