Lessons from Herding Dog Trainers

Ah, lucky me. Last week I had two half hour lessons with Alisdair McRae, who I used to call “the Tiger Woods of Herding,” but well . . .  you know. Alisdair won Open on both Saturday and Sunday at the Portage Trial this weekend, which is pretty much par for the course with him. He is also a clear and kind teacher, and he understands herding dogs as well as anyone in the world.

I write this because my lessons reminded me of the universal importance of creating a win for our dogs, and the universal difficulty in always knowing how to do that. I wanted to work on my timing; Willie and I are doing nice outruns and fetches, but our drives look like zig zags instead of the lovely straight lines we are all attempting to achieve. I felt like I was always one step behind, and never able to react fast enough to turn the sheep back to where I wanted them to go.  Alisdair said the problem isn’t your timing, you just need to slow down the pace. Miracle of  miracles, in a few minutes Willie and I were doing so much better, but not just because we had slowed the sheep to a walk, but because Alisdair had made it easier for both of us.

He set out traffic cones in a lane that made it easier for my mind to see a straight line, and he made the drive very, very short, to make it easier for Willie. Once a dog gets too far away from his  handler he begins to worry he’ll lose the sheep, begins to panic and either speeds up or flanks around to the other side and brings the sheep back to you, while you call and whistle yourself silly. He also set up a mini-trial course; I swear it looked like a trial course for a doll house, and told us to practice it until we were both comfortable at that distance, and then make it a bit larger overall.

“What’s important,” he said, “is that your dog is having fun.” And part of having fun is being capable of doing what is asked, yes? Such wise words, and true not just for dogs but for owners as well. I’ve found that so much of my consulting work was helping people understand the difficulty of what they were asking their dog to do, and helping them find ways to break it down into manageable pieces for the dog. But it was also my job to create exercises that were fun for the owners; things that they too were capable of, that made training fun for them as well as for the dog.

But it’s not always obvious how to break something into manageable pieces, is it? I knew to try short drives with Willie, but it never occurred to me to help my own brain with creating an alley-way, and the drive that Alisdair created was much shorter than I had been attempting. I drove home from the lessons thinking about the universal application of “setting our dogs up to win.” (And us too.) I’m curious now: Is there something that you’ve been working on that would profit by backing up, making it easier for you and your dog? Or do you have a story for others to help them find ways for both them and their dog to win? (I’ll be you do!) I’d love to hear ’em.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: I saw Hope this weekend at the Portage Herding Dog Trial, and it was wonderful. First off, neither he nor Willie barked or lunged at anything, not a thing. Hope was a happy little puppy and Willie greeted dogs and people alike beautifully. You would never know how they had been behaving weeks ago. Secondly, Willie wanted nothing to do with Hope. I was amazed at how clearly he expressed this: he sniffed Hope, Hope put his front paws on top of Willie’s shoulders, and then Willie turned his head as if to ignore him completely. Willie would not turn his head back in Hope’s direction after that or even to sniff him the next time they met up. Hope was happy to see me, and I loved seeing him, and then he was equally happy to go back to his new humans and lick their faces. I left feeling thrilled about how the two dogs are doing.

I also loved watching the Open runs. What these handlers and dogs are able to do is ridiculous. The outrun is 450 yards long — imagine asking your dog to listen four and a half football fields away. Here’s Alisdair and Star, beginning their winning run of the day. (And yes, those tiny little dots are the sheep, and they are actually almost halfway through the fetch!)

Star never took her eyes off the sheep, and never stopped listening to Alisdair.

After the fetch, the sheep are to be turned around the handler, as tight as possible, to begin the long drive and cross drive. This looks easy when you watch the pro’s do it, but believe me, it’s not.

Here’s the split, in which half the sheep are split off from the others, and the dog must come in and hold them apart until the judge is satisfied that the dog  has control of the sheep. Midwestern sheep are notoriously difficult to shed: They are not afraid of humans and they learn fast to cling to us like velcro. They clump in a tight bunch and it’s hard to create any kind of opening for your dog to move into. Alisdair is one of the few handlers that got a split on Sunday. (Agility handlers: Notice how Star’s head is turned toward the sheep that Alisdair’s feet are directed toward? Sound familiar?)


  1. says

    I’ve only been involved with stockdog events for almost 3 1/2 years (not very long in terms in stockdog) so it was a great pleasure for me to watch Alasdair and Star run in the Double Lift Finals at the Lacamas Valley Stockdog Trial this past August (only about 2 1/2 weeks ago). Over here in Idaho, we do have some of the top handlers in the country, but I still hear about all of these other handlers, such as Alasdair, so it was great to finally be able to watch him run one of his dogs (I had just missed his winning run with Nap, 163 out of a possible 170!). Watching him complete an International Shed with Star, in what seemed like seconds, was amazing!
    The people I take lessons from in agility and stockdog are always reminding us to set our dogs up for success, to have fun and in agility, to make sure our feet are pointed in the direction we want our dogs to go and in stockdog, to make sure our feet are pointed at the sheep we want to shed! :-)
    With my Border Collie, who will be 3 in November, my trainer and I knew from the beginning that our outwork will be our weakest work. She has a lot of eye, so we are always working on “loosing up” that eye so that she will work more freely. It seemed like it took forever for her to be able to complete an outrun that was 100-200 yards long. We would constantly have to shorten the outrun up and then slowly lengthen it again. We have been running in Pro-Novice and Nursery for the past year and she is now confidently doing 200+ yard outruns. And I do have to always remind myself that she’s not even 3 yet! We have started working on shedding, which she loves because she loves working close with me and she has no problems with coming into the sheep. 😉 And this winter we are going to really work on lengthing that outrun some more and get her confidence built up to do that long distance work with the hope that sometime next year I will be bumping her up to Open. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen and I’m okay with that. We will keep working on it and she will let me know when she is ready to “run with the big dogs”.

  2. says

    I particularly like your comment about the importance of being capable of doing what is being asked, as an essential part of having fun. So often I see people expecting too much of themselves, their dogs, or other people — and then wondering why it ISN’T fun!

    Loved the photos. Hard to imagine!

  3. Mary says

    Awesome pictures! My BC also has decent outruns and fetches, and I’m just starting to learn driving with him. Would have loved to audit your lessons!

  4. says

    How lucky you are to be able to take lessons from Alasdair near home! My recent favorite “early, easy win” scenario was teaching a young dog to shed. Use 2 groups of sheep who don’t know eachother. They will naturally gap and want to separate, setting the dog up to succeed right away :)

    It seems like the best herding instructors are the ones who make it easy to do right. A lot of my friends have been critical of me because I’m involved in an “aversive” sport. I think my dog considers it exactly the opposite. If I occasionally have to take my dog’s sheep away, so be it.

    Alasdair is brilliant. Eileen’s Star is wonderful: they are a terrific team. I started running Open this year and have learned so much by watching them!

  5. Jenny says

    Sometimes the contents of this blog are eerily similar to what I’m thinking or doing. I adopted Skye, a 2-3yr pitbull about 5 months ago. I also train at a daycare facility and have the pleasure of bringing my dogs to work and letting them play with the other dogs. My mini schnauzer loves this, and I assumed Skye would too. She plays great with dogs, although she is a true adolescent in many ways. Unfortunately, Skye has yet to have an uneventful day at work. She barks more or less constantly, avoids people, and spends hardly any time playing in a polite way. It is frustrating to most everyone I work with (myself included) that she still doesn’t “get it”.
    When I first met Skye as a foster dog, she knew nothing and ran every time someone picked up a leash. I’ve spent the past months teaching her basic commands as well as to leave it, wait, settle, and “enough” in an attempt to help her learn the appropriate behavior at work. Today I began to realize that I’m still expecting too much too fast, and I began writing out a plan to build up her confidence and proof the behaviors. Daycamp is a chaotic place at best, and the majority of dogs do not fit like a glove into that environment. But I find that I forget that fact more often than not, and like you I need to set my dogs up for success.

    Also like you, I’ve decided to start blogging. I find that this is a great way to keep track and be consistent with what I’m working on. It’s at http://friendsagaink9.blogspot.com/

    Anyway, thanks for the ever helpful post, and good luck with Willie!

  6. says

    I so wish we had sheep to herd!!! What a beautiful sport!

    I’m on a mission some how to find a way teach my 9yr old beagle Daisy and 2yr Aussie herding cues. We already have a couple under our belt only I’m afraid all I have to work with are trees and concrete blocks and balls around my area…I tried enlisting my partner’s pug and my little beagle George, but the looks on their faces…were definitely NOT amused…I don’t think dogs enjoy being herded themselves, even when rewarded for their time and patience 😉

  7. Beth says

    Ahh, yes, the human element! We are new to agility (having had about 10 lessons) and I find I have much more trouble than the dog.

    Last week we were doing an exercise where we took a jump straight on, with the dog on our right, then immediately looped the dog back around the standard, switched sides so the dog was now on our left, and took the same jump at a tight angle, looping back around and finishing where we started so we had done a sort of figure eight pattern.

    I did the patter just fine with the dog starting on my right. When I tried to do it with the dog on my left, I totally lost the pattern and stopped halfway through, with no idea where to go. My dog looked at me, then helpfully tried hopping back and forth over the jump a few times, to see if that would jog my memory. Finally he figured I was hopeless, and basically said “I’ll be sniffing the ground over here, you call me when you’ve figured it out.”

    After gathering the dog, my instructor helpfully had me run the pattern a few times alone while she held the furry guy. When I was sure I had it, she had me try it twice more for good measure before bringing the dog back in the game.

    When I learned to ride horses (show hunters), the idea was that the human learned on a made horse, an honest horse who would do things right no matter how badly you fouled up. Once you had your own positions and cues practiced, you would then move on to a less-than-perfect horse.

    This idea of learning at the same time as the dog is difficult, especially since the dog learns much faster than I do. 😉

  8. Marguerite says

    I want to answer your question about making things easier for our dogs. I’ve got a very bright rat terrier, a rescue, and the first dog I’ve ever attempted to train to compete in dog sports like rally and “classic” obedience. My “Novice A” dog is doing respectably well and I have started training scent articles, usually a short (or I thought it was short) session in which he works for breakfast or supper kibble. I realized I was working him too long when after a few good retrieves he started just bringing the first dumbbell he reached without sniffing. So now we get one or two good retrieves and stop with a jackpot. My mantra is “behavior that is reinforced will be repeated.” (You once gave Devlin a cookie at a book signing in Alexandria, VA.)

  9. Annie R says

    The juxtaposition of Zen and dog training, reminds me of an invaluable teaching from a past, but very precious, Buddhist teacher of mine, in regard to establishing a daily meditation practice (but I think it applies equally to almost anything in life): “Set a routine that you can stick with NO MATTER WHAT, every single day, and remember that even five minutes counts. IT COUNTS! as long as you are fully present for that five minutes.” It does sound like dog training advice, doesn’t it?

    What a great way to set us up for success in spite of our over-ambitious, unrealistic expectations of ourselves. (I remember my first thought at hearing that advice was “OK, it’s great to have permission to do 5 minutes, but I’m still going to do 20 to 30″). Over the years, need I tell you? there have been so many days when I was abe to be focused for only five minutes, but a really good quality five, and those five made a difference in me and I continued to have a daily practice because of them.

    So simple, really, to walk a path of success; just acknowledge that we aren’t expected to go from zero to 200, or even to 20, in the first week! And how logical, that by doing it comfortably, we also make it pleasurable for ourselves (and dogs) so that we want to keep at it, look forward to doing more, and, lo and behold, the path unfolds in front of us, and soon we’re engaged at a higher level without having had to force it. And everyone is having fun. Fabulous!

  10. Frances says

    Lovely to see the working dogs I see all around me here in Northern England translated to the States – and to hear of so many people helping BCs to do the thing many of them love best.

    Mine is more of a behavioural issue – at 15 months Poppy seems to be hitting a late adolescence (I knew it had to come sometime!). She has always had a tendency to be shy, which I work on all the time, but is now getting yappy – and threatening nips – at neighbours and visitors she meets outside in our open plan grounds, if she thinks they look strange or threatening in any way, I do mean nips and not snaps – it is all done with a playful face and bounce at the moment, but I suspect it is down to nervousness at root. At the same time her excellent recall has slipped a bit. I think I know why – I never really had to train a recall with her – she came because she wanted to be with me, and she always wanted to be with me. I have been careful to reinforce with treats and praise, but perhaps not as consistently as I should. So now I think I shall have to do some rapid revision on recall, reread “Cautious canine”, and possibly set up increasingly exciting situations to work around.

    Any advice from those who already have the t-shirt for this gratefully accepted!

  11. Melissa says

    I find myself constantly tempted to go that one step further just to see what happens. I do it all the time, I guess because my natural curiosity and desire to see for myself is strong. Recently, I have dropped out of agility classes with my younger dog because a couple of problems arose and I was having trouble fixing them and keeping up with the class at the same time. My boy stopped tugging in class. It looked like a new problem, but once I took him out of class and looked more closely at how often it occurred and in what environments, I realised it had been building for ages and I had done nothing about it despite being vaguely aware of it because, let’s face it, I’m lazy and impatient sometimes. And I tend to wave off details and say “eh, it’ll turn out all right”, which I guess is quite Australian.

    Anyway, so I’ve gone back to very tugging basics with my little tugging maniac and am patching up all the holes I left the first time around when I let him learn that we only tug sometimes and if he doesn’t feel like it he can go do whatever he would rather do. I realised I needed to be more proactive and better assess whether he was in the mood to tug before I asked him to! Me and my “let’s just see what happens”. This little guy has taught me the importance of solid foundations. If he isn’t doing the basics quite right, then it won’t all miraculously come good if I just jump to the more complicated stuff. The stricter my criteria for foundation behaviours, the easier it will be to build on them and the more solid what I build on them will be.

  12. says

    You asked about backing up to take smaller steps. Sometimes I need not only to make smaller steps but to stop what I’m doing entirely and go a new way so my dog can succeed.

    Honey is a typical Golden Retriever puppy. She loves everyone and greeting folks is her biggest reward. I’ve been working on having her sit for greetings but she’s struggling. And I end up holding her collar to keep her from jumping.

    Yesterday on Eric G’s blog, “Dog Spelled Forward” he suggested teaching your dog to touch the hand of someone they wish to greet instead of sit. I think giving Honey something active to do will be easier for her than asking her to sit passively. At least at first.

    And, perhaps more importantly, it will be easier to teach my co-workers who keep riling Honey up by repeatedly yelling “sit” in loud squeaky voices.

    So that’s our goal today. Sitting was obviously too much to ask and I need to take a step back.

    That said, if teaching a calm greeting is stumping me, just imagine how I felt seeing those herding pix. Amazing!

  13. mungobrick says

    It’s not just backing up, sometimes I think it’s accepting that your dog may not be able to do what it is that you want. (Or that you may not be able to cope with all the issues that her nature requires in order to reach that point…) Daisy is the brightest dog I have ever had and it’s clear that she could – in theory – learn to do just about anything a dog could do. But she is noise and motion sensitive genetically and I have finally come to accept that she is not the right dog to be a super model obedience dog. Maybe if she was your dog…but I’m not a trainer, nor do I have access to any good ones. She’s my first clicker dog and when she developed clicker reactivity at 10 months I was devastated. I have come to appreciate what I have in her – a sweet, loving dog – my soul dog – and not to worry that she can’t do tricks. She’s obedient by nature, wonderful with other dogs, and the light of our lives. She lives a full and rich life with us, and who could ask for anything more?

    But wow, those sheepdogs you guys have – I am so impressed!!!

  14. says

    One of my favorite teaching techniques when I’m teaching people how to do a front cross in agility is to put a piece of surveyor’s tape on the ground to show them exactly where their path should be. I also use visual aids when I teach rear crosses. It makes it much easier and the students seem to have more fun, too.

  15. Alexandra says

    Pamela, my 3-yr old Labrador with his GCG certificate STILL struggles to greet people politely. He gets so excited to greet people that he is still not 100% reliable at not jumping during the initial 30 seconds of “Labrador greeting frenzy” as we like to call it. After the initial excitement dies down, there’s no jumping whatsoever. What has helped me is letting him greet people very briefly (we’re talking 2 to 3 seconds if he’s meeting a special friend we haven’t seen in a while and he’s extra excited), then immediately redirect him to focus on me with a treat and do a few tricks or obedience commands, then he gets to greet again for a few seconds. I quickly redirect him with a treat if it looks like he’s going to lose control and jump, and now at least he is 99% reliable at not getting completely airborne (4 ft in the air, at your face, SO no cool.) during greetings. He still likes to jump, he wants to lick faces so badly, but keeping things short has been helping him be more successful at building emotional control. It’s really hard for him, though, and I suspect we’ll be working on it for a while.

  16. Donna in VA says

    “behavior that is reinforced will be repeated” — exactly!!
    I was struck in some of the earlier blogs about a dog having “regressed” from a behavior that had been overcome. Why assume that the behavior is cured and no longer needs to be addressed or treated? I continue to reward my sheltie EVERY TIME we pass by another dog without incident. (The first year I had him he was dog-reactive / agressive about 70%+ of the time.) Four years later, he still gets a treat every time we pass by another dog, and we hardly ever encounter a dog he finds disagreeable, and I have had him in some close quarters with completely unknown dogs. He even looks at me expectantly if the dog is on the other side of a 4-lane highway and I often even reward that just because it’s funny. I also pay for “business” conducted outside first thing in the morning. The 2nd winter I had him, he decided it was Ok to sneak to the basement in the middle of the night if he had to go. So I started rewarding outside in the AM since he did me the courtesy of waiting, and I still do. Some things I am just happy to pay for – for the rest of his life. My friends think this is ridiculous. I say, pay for what’s important to you.

  17. says

    I loved hearing that both Willie and Hope are doing great. I kept thinking about how he’s adjusting to his new home and I am really glad to hear he’s doing so well in his new environment.

    Of course, I completely understood the reasons behind re-homing Hope and thought that it was the right decision for you all but still I coudn’t stop thinking about him. I am very glad he’s happy!

    Have you ever thought about getting a second dog of a different breed as a companion for Willie? Or are Border Collies the only breed you’d consider because of your farm and sheep?

  18. Ann W in PA says

    Love the discussion! Two examples come to mind.

    First, I kind of stumbled onto using visual aids for my students in dog training classes, and I’m so happy that I did. I now have cones, mats, gates, and all kinds of things set up during class to help people understand where to go and what to do. (I think it also looks more interesting than coming into the same wide open training room floor each session.) I hadn’t realized it before, but the person understanding what they are supposed to do in an exercise is a step that can be made much easier!

    For instance, before I would just ask the handlers on one side of the room to walk across the room and back, doing two sits in each direction, and practicing saying their cue word only once. This sounds easy, but there’s the leash, and the treats, and remembering to say the right cue word only once, knowing when it

  19. Carolyn says

    Great post. I’m happy to hear the Hope and Willie are both doing well. I’ve taken a lesson from Alasdair and he’s great. I was at the Portage trial on Friday just for Nursery – sorry you weren’t there as I would have liked to meet you. I am also an agility handler and have discovered the same thing about shedding. Last summer I went to a shedding clinic with a well known handler and realized that his method of teaching a dog to shed is similar to the “recall to heel” part of a well known agility handling system.

  20. Annika says

    You know, I have a Swedish Vallhund and we have completed our HT and are working on the one hand on the PT and on the other on our Junior Herding Dog pattern (my dog is 22 months as we speak so still pretty much a baby).

    Both in herding and agility, I’ve been trying to remember to end on an easy task (back to the HT or running a course which is a straight circle with nothing complicated, just speed and easy directions) because it makes both of us feel really good to do something we know we can master and that, in turn, makes it more fun to come back the next time.

  21. Mary Beth says

    I’ve trained my dogs to do, oh, so many things! The lessons learned in all the different venues certainly teach you to look at things differently. For instantly, a moving stand in obedience is a simple “whoa” in bird dog work. Or the turn in sit exercise in obedience, a simple retriever whistle stop.
    Recently, I tried my hand at dock diving. Oh dear. It says right on the website that you don’t need to train your dog…you can just do it. Okay, so I went to a dock and tried it by myself. I’ll just tell you that the audience down the way laughed so loud I heard them clearly. My dog and I laughed too, so it was all for the good. Then I went to the one day seminar and realized that I clearly needed to break it in to much smaller segments. Some things I needed to train myself on, some things the dog needed to be trained on. My dogs swim and retrieve so I thought they had it all. Nope. They don’t jump in the air and grab at bumpers, nor do they splash in to the water. When the clinician showed us how to teach the dogs to simply jump up and grab the bumper…a trick you can teach in your house, never mind the dock, it was like a light bulb. Duh! Small steps for new things to get the success!
    A great reminder!

  22. rheather says

    “being capable of doing what is asked”
    For some reason this was a lightbulb moment for me, even though I’ve heard similar things before. And it was really put home with some of the comments-I love the comments here.

    I realized I’ve been asking PTSD Pony for a smidge too much and I need to slow it down. And having her ‘look’ at me when I’m touching her barrel has made it into ‘an okay thing for this person to do’. Now I just need to put look on cue….

  23. JJ says

    Figuring out how to break down a task has definitely been a challenge to me. I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but I still struggle. It is nice to know that even an expert can find room for improvement in this area.

    What often floors me is seeing what seemingly tiny changes (from my perspective) can stump my dog.

    For example: One of Duke’s best tricks is doing a complete turn “left” or “right” based on the cue. It is a very fun trick to do for a crowd, who are usually awed at Duke’s brilliance (which makes me laugh, given how very not-smart Duke is). Also, Duke adores this trick. Asking for a “left” or “right” usually results in Duke doing part of a way, rising his tail, picking his head up really high, and then throwing his body into the turn. No one can watch Duke do a left or right and not see that he loves it. And frighteningly enough, Duke knows his left vs right better than me. Usually.

    You see, usually I ask Duke for his spin when I either have no treats on me or when I am holding a treat/have it in a bait bag. A couple months ago, Duke and I happened to be at my parents house and I needed to modify our dinner time routine a tiny bit. Duke eats the bulk of his dinner from a food dispensing toy called a TreatStik. Instead of holding the TreatStik this time, I put it on the ground between us. Then I asked for a “right”.

    Duke couldn’t do it. He tensed. He wagged his tail. He backed up. He gave a frustrated groan noise. When pressed, he would slightly turn his head in the proper direction, but could not make his whole body turn away from that ambrosia lying on the ground. It seems like a pretty small step to me (treat on ground vs treat in hand). Is that really to big a step for Duke? Apparently. Head scratchingly. (for me)

    The problem was not the distance since Duke has done this trick many times at further distances in the past. And the problem was not that we were in my parent’s living room. Duke has done this trick many times in many locations, including my parent’s living room.

    I’ve been working on this special distraction in my own living room ever since – with only minimal results. This post was a good reminder to me to bite the bullet and break this problem down into smaller challenges, work my way up. I just couldn’t believe that I would have to go to all that work for something like this (assuming I care – which I kind of do, if nothing else as a special challenge to me).

  24. JJ says

    I think a fantastic new feature to offer on your site would be some kind of “Break It Down” forum. People could post a trick or behavior (wag tail, play bow, spin) that they want to teach their dog and anyone interested could reply with steps for breaking down the trick into tiny steps to help the dog learn it. It could be a real learning experience for everyone.

    I know that I greatly appreciated someone breaking the steps down for me on how to get my dog used to a Dremel for sanding his nails. I was happy to put in the time and do whatever steps were necessary, but I was such a newbie, I had no idea how to break it down. It was getting advice such as this – about tiny steps to take – for many different tricks that helped me to start to figure it out myself for new issues later on.

    Just an idea.

    FYI for anyone interested, here are the steps that I was told. It worked. I used lots of treats for each step and still use a major distraction food when I sand:
    1) get dog used to having all four paws handled, including pressing on nails.
    2) get dog comfortable with machine itself (turned off!!!), seeing and sniffing it
    3) get dog used to having the machine (turned off!!!) touching each nail
    4) turn on machine several feed away from the dog (you may have to start out with machine very far away depending on your dog. Duke was OK with the noise several feet away)
    5) turn on machine next to dog – or may several feet away and bring it next to dog slowly (don’t remember exactly how I did it–just don’t surprise your dog by turning it on right next to his head without him knowing the machine is there!)
    6) do a tiny amount of sanding on one nail on each paw.
    7) work your way up to all nails

    Voila! You can now sand your dogs nails.

  25. JJ says

    oops. Correction on two posts ago. Where it says, “…usually results in Duke doing part of a way…”, it should have said “…usually results in Duke doing part of a wag…”

  26. Mary Beth says

    JJ, I love that idea! The hardest part of teaching a new task is often trying to figure out how to break it down in to steps!!!!!!

  27. says

    That was a good reminder for me – always set up situations where the dog can “win.” I often look at training concepts in steps too big for my dog to easily grasp. Right now I’m trying to teach him not to go through doors until he gets a signal from me that it is OK.

  28. Christi says

    First let me say that I really identify with your books and this blog. I am a novice trainer (in my opinion – but the only game in town which garners a lot of opportunity!) and a novice herding enthusiast! When I finally broke down and looked into yet another training book that was recommended to me (some are so conflicting), I was thrilled to find that “The Other End of the Leash” was a book written with humor, and respect for the human element of training!

    Second- I loved the comment by Beth, about the “human aspect” of competing with your dog! I have been in the position where my dog attempted to be helpful and remind me what I was doing…given the wrong command (“away” instead of “come by”!) and had my dog look at me as if to say, “are you SURE that is what you want?” I am also a novice agility enthusiast, and I love the chance to introduce the opportunity to my clients to participate in a partnership with their dog, rather than be frustrated that they are finding their own entertainment!

    Great blog again. wonderful books! Thank you!

  29. Rachel says

    I have been getting more and more involved in sheep herding over the past couple of years, and was very excited about reading this blog. I think it is so fascinating, watching these dogs work. There is a two-part “Nature” show from PBS on dogs that has some great footage of border collies working in some very rough country, herding sheep and it is just beautiful (it always helps to have some great music playing in the background, too.). This past June, I adopted a great little border collie puppy, Pete, who looks like he is going to be an awesome working dog. Granted, he is only five months old, but I think he’s really special. I’ve been lucky enough to take a couple of herding clinics this summer (auditing) including one with Jack Knox (he told me that he worked with you when you were doing your Phd work) which was a great learning experience. He showed us how to encourage the dog to go where you want him to, by backing off and allowing the dog to think and make up his own mind about what should be done. And even dogs that had problems, with losing interest (running off through the field and sniffing the ground) or going nuts and chasing and griping the sheep, began to show enthusiasm toward working the sheep in a calm manner again, once it was made clear what they were expected to do.
    I can’t wait to get started with Pete, but I keep telling myself to be patient and not to rush it, to allow him to be a puppy and go through regular training, socialization and lots of playtime for now. But, there is a herding trial at the farm where I attended the clinics next weekend, and Pete and I are both going to watch. I’m hoping for good weather.

  30. Heather says

    I love reading about your herding adventures! Can you recommend a good book on training a herding dog with positive reinforcement?

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