Question and Answer Forum

By Michelle Weese
Rt 1, Box 603 Westville, OK 74965
(918) 723-3052


This is a question that Cyn-Dee from the RDT magazine faxed to me to answer.

Happy Herding,
Michelle Weese


QUESTION: I have not been able to find an effective method for training a dog that has grown to an age of one year or older without any socialization skills having been developed. By this I mean the people play with the pup until he gets big enough that heís not cute anymore. (Usually about the age of three or four months) then they stick him in the back yard and the time they spend with him consists of how long it takes to throw out some food in the evenings.Then when I get the dog, he has never been reprimanded or praised for doing something right for you. So when we go to work stock he either refuses to work stock under my rules or just completely ignores me. I have tried the balancing act of letting the dog go and just gradually stepping into the picture so the dog wonít notice it all at once. But then the dog just tries even harder to chase the stock away from me. If I step in and wonít allow this to happen he reverts back to refusing. Does someone out there have an answer to this problem or do we have to keep sending these dogs home saying they will never be stockdogs? Rusty Johnson

ANSWER: Michelle Weese, Westville, OK. This is far too common a problem! Anyone who has ever trained stockdogs for the public can sure relate to this question.

An effective method for dealing with this problem may not be a cost efficient one for the owner. Progress with this type of dog will not be as fast as with a dog that was raised correctly.

Since social (pack communication) skills have not been properly developed with this dog, we need to deal with the root of the problem. (Lets call this dog "Spot".) Spot doesnít know when we are displeased or happy with his actions. Put him on a leash and have informal obedience lessons with him every day before your livestock sessions. By informal, I mean no strict heeling or harsh (fear) training methods. We have to remember when dealing with dogs to actually teach them what it is we are after. We forget this all too often! TEACH BEFORE CORRECTING.

The first problem we are dealing with is Spot not actually knowing that we are part of his pack. Obedience is a great tool, if used properly, to teach a dog this. I use obedience as a means to an end. If Spot sits when I tell him, he gets praise. (Genuine praise--- A dog knows when you are faking!) If he doesnít sit he is placed into the sit position and then gets the praise. Later, when Iím sure he knows the meaning of "sit", but fails to do so, I growl at him and give him a leash correction. As soon as Spot sits, he gets the praise. The down and the recall are taught the same way. I keep sessions upbeat and varied. When Spot pulls on the leash while walking, I give a sharp jerk on the leash and growl. As soon as he "gives to me" (slack leash) I will praise him. This may not seem to have anything at all to do with stock work, but it does. Spot will learn to accept your authority and not "turn off" of stock if he is taught correctly.

Donít hold a grudge while training. Dogs are right or wrong. As soon as they arenít wrong anymore they are RIGHT. We often forget this and are still mad about the sheep being crashed a moment ago.

When training dogs to work livestock you are, in essence, creating an addict and then controlling the substance heís addicted to...We want him so addicted to his sheep that he will accept any conditions that we put on him.

Goal #1: Teaching the dog that "SHHH" means to circle his sheep.

I put Spot in an escape proof found pen with some dog-broke sheep. The pen I use has 14 cattle panels in it. Every time Spot goes to his sheep, I say "SHHH". I also use a Ĺ inch PVC pipe to gently nudge him away from the sheep. I put the PVC under his arm and lift up and away. All the while saying "SHHH". The biggest "turn off" for this type of dog is VERBAL HARASSMENT. I may hoot and holler. I might not give any commands for several weeks. Iíll just use my body language and my PVC to get him to change directions. "SHHH" him every time you change directions. Most canine communication is non-verbal. Remember that wolves hunt cooperatively quite well without yelling at one another.

Since I am in the round pen I can keep things under control. Donít let Spot do whatever he wants. Donít make eye contact with him while he is actively circling the sheep, he will stop and look at you if you do, or he will quit. Enthusiasm is contagious to dogs. When you get to the point where you can just say "SHHH" away from stock and he is up and running, looking for the sheep, you will know that you have one of the tools you need. (His reaction will put him back on the sheep.)

Goal 2: Now we will teach Spot to start accepting pressure while working sheep. Still in the round pen...."SHHH" Spot around the sheep. Change directions every once in a while ó say "SHHH" every time you change directions. Step between the sheep and Spot but donít step toward him as this would be too much pressure. Face toward the dog, with the back of your legs touching the sheep. Say "Stay" and hold your stick out in front of you with both hands on the stick and it is parallel to the ground. You are going to side-step and play "Dodge Dog" until he stops and looks at you. Make eye contact while you are keeping him from going around his sheep. If the sheep are against the fence, the stop will be easier for you to teach. DO NOT GO TOWARDS THE DOG. This would be too much pressure from you. Go from side to side until he stops and then the instant he stops, "SHHH" him and give him back his sheep. I turn my head away from him while "SHHH"ing him. This is all give and take, give and take. It is done very gradual. Spot will turn away and quit if you insist he stop too long, it is too much pressure. You have to read the individual dog to know at what increments to extend it by. Spot WILL eventually stop without resentment because he knows he will get what he craves most (the sheep) if he does. I use the "SHHH" instead of "good boy" throughout his training. If he starts to crash the sheep - Iíll growl. (Heís learned what this means from our daily obedience.) I might step toward him while I growl. If he gives a hair, Iíll "SHHH" him back to the sheep. I give him an instant reward for yielding to me in the slightest. Be sure and move back and away from the sheep when you give them back. If you donít, you arenít giving them to him at all, you are still applying pressure.

The dog will progress in small increments at first, just bide your time and donít panic when the dog crashes the sheep. This only excites him more. Yelling WILL make a dog nervous and anxious. Can you concentrate when you are upset?

It is important to understand that I donít use the stop to keep the dog from crashing the stock. That would be AVOIDING the real problem, the desire to crash. I deal with the crashing by using the growl I spoke of and also a hard step toward the dog. Then I move back and away while "SHHH"ing him on.

I wonít take this type of dog to the pasture for quite some time. More time spent in the round pen now, will help later. My round pen is quite large and I start short outruns in it. I follow the previous guidelines to achieve this.

There are several "tricks" that help all of this come together.

1.) Have the dog in a quiet area for at least two hours before his obedience lesson. A crate works well for this.

2.) Put the dog back into the crate for one hour after his stock session. I call this his "think tank". Itís better than him running back and forth acting crazy while you work other dogs.

3.) If the dog isnít keen enough on his sheep, Iíll tie him inside the pen while I work a few other dogs. Let him work alone for just 2-3 minutes and them tie him again.

On a final note let me say that a young coyote canít fully hunt on itís own until it is two years old. Perhaps we simply pressure dogs sooner than mother nature herself would. Michelle Weese

Michelle lives in eastern Oklahoma, just North of Westville. She is married and has a nine year old daughter. She has been training dogs since she was 12 years old in one form or another. For the past 10 years Michelle has been training and selling Border Collies. For five years now it has been her full time occupation. After initial training on broke cattle she "stair steps" the dogs up to working cow/calf pairs using local farmer's cattle. She lives in an area where there is an abundance. Realizing that beginners need a realistic view of what happens when they start their young dogs on stock, Michelle has produced a 2 hour video entitled "Border Collie Basics For Beginners" ( $38.00 ppd)

Lock-Eye Border Collies
Rt 1 Box 603 Westville, OK 74965
(918) 723-3052



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