When training dogs and their handlers my aim is to rekindle the art of dog handling based on the dog’s instinct and the stocks behaviour in response to that.
This enables people to achieve great working relationships with their dogs as well as quiet, confident, co-operation livestock. This is an art worth protecting as we become more reliant on engine driven vehicles. With a need to achieve economical sustainability in hard times, the worth of good dogs is being re-discovered. Well-bred and educated dogs handling stock is a way of working like no other.
My training method works on establishing the handler as pack leader from as early as possible and using the dog’s natural instinct to its best advantage. Combined training using positive reinforcement as well as setting boundaries for your dog from the outset is the best possible way of forging a strong working partnership.
It sounds easy though, but part of my training dog courses focuses on making sure that what you think you are communicating to your dog is actually the message it is receiving. Once handlers understand this, it removes frustration for them, confusion for the dog and working with your dog becomes the pleasurable experience it should be.
4 keys to working dog training
The first key to being a successful dog trainer is to identify and understand working instincts (Prey Drive). This instinct is inherited from the dogs ancestor the wolf. Hunting, killing and survival is the same drive that propels our sheep dogs of today. Man has used this instinct and modified it to herd and direct his mobs of stock.
The second key is obedience, obtained using positive methods. Leadership and getting the basics – stop, sit, stay and release. Start training in an area without distractions, then extending to a more distracted place. Off lead and gaining control at a distance not just at heel, start close then extend further away. Then you are ready to introduce the dog to stock.
The third key is command on stock. This is a combination of balance, off balance, obedience and commands. Starting in a controlled area, then less controlled out in a small paddock, then a bigger area. The trick is asking and enforcement (assisting the dog). If this is not working, go back to basics in a controlled area. Technique, consistency and repitition to gain clarity of understanding for the dog.
The fourth key is stockmanship (reading stock), knowing where to position yourself and knowing where to position your dog at the right moment to influence the stock movement. How to identify the stock leaders, applying pressure until movement is achieved, then releasing the pressure, fine tuning force and applying it to the correct position as well as identifying the fear zones of the stock. Whether you are moving big mobs, trailing, working cattle or penning up for shearing, the key is to obtain stock flow through respect, not dominance and force.
About working breeds
The two main breeds of working dogs in Australia are Border Collies and Kelpies. They have hundreds of years of selective breeding for stock work. Collies, Smithfields and Australian Cattle Dogs also have a history of breeding for work. In more recent times many other working breeds main selection has been for the show ring, but many will still hold the ability to work. Breeds that have shown herding instinct include: the Belgian Shepherd, German Shepherd, Hungarian Puli, Kelpies, Collies, English Sheepdogs, Australian Cattle Dogs, stumpy tails and Corgis, with varying results, some showing excellent ability and focus, to others just starting to show some potential.
Regardless of what sort of dog you have, all dogs and their owners love the outdoors. Using your dogs for the purpose they were bred for make both dogs and owners more self confident and builds stronger bonds between you.