Originally Published in
American Border Collie Magazine. Reprinted with permission.
During the winter, I take a small number of outside dogs in for training. It is the ideal time for me as I am home for a long period of time when the weather is too unpredictable for traveling and sheep dog activities. I usually get home in December and have an open schedule until sometime in February when the winter starts to break.
Over the years, I have been fortunate to have some wonderful individuals in for training. They were not only very talented on livestock, but also a great ability to assimilate training. On the other hand, I have had some really unfortunate individuals that may have talent on livestock, but had no ability to use that talent with other individuals. You were able to see the talent when the dog was working on its own, but add the other important element of training with a person, the talent was lost by not being able to cross the line into training.
My attitudes have some what changed over the past few years in regards to training. I once thought that I wasn't very good at raising puppies as I lived a busy solitary life and they weren't exposed to enough different situations. The puppies that I kept, I would farm out to friends and individuals for a period of approximately a year, and then get them back to train and develop. After using this system for a period of a few years, I discovered that I wasn't getting a consistent individual when they came home. Some of the pups were raised well and went on to be good dogs, but some seemed stalled and had a difficult time making the transition.
I have come to conclude that I do actually do a good job with my pups. They probably do miss out of some of the great activities that only a family can provide, but when they do start training at my home, they understand the basic concept of acceptable and not acceptable. My pups might not have some of the fancy tricks or cute behaviors, but they understand what pleases me, and more importantly, what displeases me. When they are raised in my home, they are neither afraid nor excited when I ask them to complete a request.
I think that the most important lesson that a pup can learn while they are being raised is what a correction. A correction shouldn't frighten or confuse the pup; it should help to get the pup to think what is the right response to do. That means that if an individual is asked to do a task, and chooses another task instead, a correction will make him stop doing the wrong task and search out to find what is the correct or right task.
With a proper correction, the individual learns that he has made the wrong choice and must choose the right decision to please his leader. Many people get confused and misguided in how to train as they think that a positive response will always get the dog to make the right choice. This is true as long as that positive response is always available and is more enticing than the other responses. For example, training positively by food is a good way to start pups in simple obedience commands. You might ask them to sit or stay, and the pup is readily available to do this as long as you have a hunk of food in your hand. It is when you don't have the food that the problem usually arises. The dog also needs to be taught at the same time, that not only does the correct command please himself, but also it pleases his leader.
Many of the pups that arrive to my house for training have good socialization skills. They like individuals and are not afraid of new situations. But some of the pups lack the foundation of corrections so that they can readily go on and develop their sheep skills and talent. The first few weeks are stalled as they unsure of the corrections and I must take them slowly so they can learn the lessons. It seems that some of these individuals can overcome their misguided beginning and still become good dogs. Others it seems have a difficult time in ever overcoming their background and struggle to become useful in a team or partnership. I am not sure of what the difference might be, but I tend to think it has to do more with the temperament and time of training than anything else does.
In my business, there are lots of new and uneducated dog owners that are coming to get some help in their training and backgrounds. It is important to remind them that the background of their new pup in training is as important as the training itself. A young dog that is ready to take instruction is one that can succeed at most any task that it is asked to perform. A young dog that is confused and unwilling to try and please the instructor is doomed to a period of confusion and stagnant training. Nothing is more thrilling to me than to work a dog that is looking for me to help teach it to succeed. These individuals are the ones that make you get out early each day to train and make you want to come back the next training session to see their progress.
Today, it is rare for me to send a pup to another home to be raised. I find that I will have a much better pup if I concentrate on the individual and be careful not to take more pups than my schedule can handle. All my pups are raised in the house so that I can spend as much time as possible with them. It also forces me to spend time with the pup, instead of putting them in a pen that I can conveniently visit when I have time. When I travel, I try to take the pup with me to expose it to the routine of the road and travels. Many times if I am extremely busy, I take the pup with me to town when I run errands. Sometimes this is the only time that I can spend alone with my pup and both the pup and myself really enjoy this time.
I think one of the biggest mistakes we can all make when we get started in sheepdogs, is letting our enthusiasm get the best of us and getting too many dogs. We forget that the dogs are individuals and collect them like trading cards; hoping that each of them will increase in value as it sits in the kennel. Many of these pups are the ones that are sent to the trainer with great hopes of the next champion in our mind. But unless it has had the proper socialization background, it will be rare that it has the foundation to make up a great individual for part of the team.