By Claudia Frank

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Training a “stockdog” begins WAY before you put them on stock. While looking at what it was that might be part of the makings of a good stockdog (besides a good genetic background) I saw that “self-control” was demonstrated by the correctly performing stockdogs. These dogs walked near their handler without a leash, greeted other dogs politely and then moved along, calmly sat tied while other dogs, people and even stock traveled past. They easily moved through the trial crowds not attempting to go to the stock but relaxed near their seated handler without a leash or commands. It became obvious that these dogs understood that there was a “standard” for their behavior. This standard was displayed by their obvious self-control. Since these dogs were brought up with standards for their behavior in their mind set why wouldn’t there also be standards for self-control and behavior while on livestock?

It often happens that dog trainers begin “training” their dog by issuing a command or using body English and then somehow get the dog to conform somewhat to what the desired behavior was expected to look like. Very rarely is any thought given to “preparing” the dog to learn.

In stockdog trialing, as in any sport, you must have the “ideal image” of what you want and expect burned in your mind. While rewarding effort heading in the right direction, you must maintain the ultimate goal for which you strive. In order to march toward these goals and make the best use of training time, it is essential that your dog is in the best frame of mind to learn when the stock opportunity is available.

When looking at a top performing seasoned dog, quiet careful moves are seen with the dog obviously very thoughtful in its work. The word “biddable” comes to mind. The dog takes its natural talents and trained skills then combines them into a very useful partner. In some instances this “biddable” dog may have been natural, but, in most cases the dog was encouraged to be a team player and in other instances a great deal of time was spent showing the young dog that it was to his benefit to play the game as a thoughtful partner.

To reduce the time spent on stock in a non-learning frame of mind, certain situations can be set up at any age before the actual exposure. You need to build (if it does not appear naturally) an “obedient mind”. This mind is aware of and performs “standards” set for day to day behavior and later behavior on stock not because it is “commanded” to act a certain way for a certain period of time but because it knows what is expected and readily adjusts to meeting those unvoiced standards. A friend uses the example with his children, he doesn’t have to tell them what to do and what not to do each morning when they get out of bed. The child knows there are certain standards of behavior expected of them. As they mature, the child’s standards and understanding of them increases but they should not need to be constantly reminded of them. For a young dog the standard of behavior could be walking by your side on a loose lead (even near livestock) and perhaps remaining at your side when you stop moving. It could also be to lie in one spot automatically when coming in the door to the house and/or getting readily in and out of his carrier in your vehicle. Laying quietly and still at your side while you sit and visit with others is also a standard that should not require constant commands. A standard for working livestock would be to go through the gate and wait calmly while you fasten the gate and then decide on your next move rather than running anxiously toward the stock before any direction is given. The dog is not told when not to go to stock, that is expected, but the dog is told “when to go” to stock. This standard would be in place of giving the dog commands to “heel”, “down”, “come,” “stay, “etc.

If a handler takes his dog to stock and the dog is pulling on the lead you can be certain that the dog is not in an “obedient” mind and is not ready to learn. Whatever he does learn will be with that incorrect mind set so when you finally do get the dog biddable the behavior may need to be relearned because the incorrect frame of mind was part of the original behavior. An example of this would be the flank which includes the correct distance from the stock, the correct speed needed, the right direction AND the correct thoughtful obedient mind. If the flank is a learned direction only and without correct distance, speed and frame of mind, the dog may temporarily be unable to perform what you thought he knew originally. This is because he had learned this in a thoughtless manner.

To make the most of your time on stock for training make sure the dog is in an obedient mind and ready to learn. The time you spend setting standards prior to your actual stock work will be used to make the learning done on stock go much more correctly and quickly forward.

Page Updated 11/17/2008

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