By Claudia J. Frank
(With Edited Comments from Discussions on the * Kelpie-List)

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There is much talk in herding circles about needing strict obedience, for example a down. What I'm finally seeing is that there are TWO kinds of obedience. Before you can get the correct type of obedience you must have the correct type of attitude.

One is where the dog knows it MUST obey or else... get corrected or receive a cookie.

A further look will show that this first dog is not really under self control, even though he takes the "down" command. He does "stop" physically but his intensity toward the sheep does not diminish. Since he isn't really under control but only stopping to please the boss, he keeps the pressure on the sheep through his demeanor. This is particularly true if the dog stops on his feet. That is one reason why it is recommended that all beginning handlers require their dog to go to a full "down" position when stopping, even if the dog is already trained and will stop on his feet. The reason for this is three fold. First, is that if the dog is on the ground he is less likely to cheat. Second is that a dog in the down position puts less pressure on the sheep and reduces the chance that they will flee in fear. Third is that the beginning handler needs the extra time provided by putting the dog down to think.
The second type of obedience is where the dog wants to obey, is more comfortable obeying, is under total self control, feels the sheep are under its control and the sheep sense this and is happy with this dog. This describes a dog that is finally and truly under control.

The dog's instinct tells it to maneuver itself into a position to kill the sheep or bring them to us to kill. We have to teach him control and restraint so we can take advantage of the instinct.

This is very hard to explain but I just went through this with a young dog. She first went to sheep very quietly and obediently and then started feeling her oats after a few sessions and began creeping out to the sheep as we walked into the field, would sneak off the 'down stay" to get closer to the sheep or start to soon. She had a good foundation of obedience away from the sheep but I was not surprised when it failed in the pasture. Usually stop training needs to begin all over again if the dog has the right stuff. Dogs have to learn control and restraint so we can take advantage of the instinct.

These actions showed that my youngster did not have the correct attitude in the first place. Correct attitude comes BEFORE obedience. I worked with her attitude; quietly walking with me in the vicinity of the sheep was a good start. She then didn't need a "stay" command because she was remaining in position waiting for the "shush" or next command. What I am describing is a dog that is finally and truly under control.

Can you see the difference - the dog that has obedience put on it and the dog that IS obedient?

Continuing this thought each component of herding consists of several parts. The component should not be named until ALL the parts are performed consistently correctly. For example, a flanking command is not only a direction around the stock but the squareness and distance from the stock AND the correct attitude.

Now the big question! How do we get the correct attitude? This is an impossible question to answer given that a command to down even when taken may be wrong when it is obeyed with the wrong attitude. This is where experienced good instruction plays an important part. Also, the handler must have a clear definition of exactly what constitutes the correct attitude and is willing to work on that FIRST prior to continuing to the livestock. It does no good to try and advance through stockdog training skills if the dog lacks the ability to control itself first and foremost.

I personally have found that dogs raised to be companions first take stronger actions and harder work to get their attitudes right for self control obedience. They often look at the owner as a littermate rather than as the leader half of a working team. The demand for correct attitudes must carry over into everyday life to keep from having to redo progress every time the dog is off stock.

To help gain respect and cooperation from your dog I've found a good site written by Sue Ailsby called "Leading The Dance". It is aimed at the novice that is finding it hard to make sure his long time companion and newly enjoyed herding hobby will be as successful as possible. This is a good program for maintaining/becoming the leader in your working partnership with your dog.

* Kelpie-L is a listserv dedicated to the discussion of the Australian Kelpie dog. While we welcome posts on all things Kelpie, the emphasis is on the working dog. Posts related to health, breeding, training, stockwork, and trialing are welcome as are discussions of livestock, particularly livestock management with dogs. We allow litter announcements (not for sale ads) and occasional advertisements of Kelpie items for sale.

To join Kelpie-L send an email message to: in the BODY of the message write: Subscribe Kelpie-L (make sure to have nothing in the Subject: line and to turn off any signature files...subscribe message only in the body). For further information about Kelpie-L, please contact the list administrator Deb Schneider at "Leading The Dance" article used with permission of the author Sue Ailsby.

Page Updated 10/22/2007

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