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Border Collies have a very high need for exercise and can be expected to have high indoor activity. They are vigorous dogs that require good hard exercise on a regular basis. They make good watch dogs and poor guard dogs. They have a high learning rate and a very high obedience level.
—Country Journal, December 1987.


 

FROM WEANING TO WORKING: AVOIDING THE PERILS OF PUPPYHOOD

by the staff of the Ranch Dog Trainer, October/November 1990

Most people purchase a stock dog pup with a picture of an adult dog in mind, a dog with all the attributes needed in a valuable working partner. Between weaning and working, however, are months of just plain growing up and gaining the maturity necessary before training on stock can begin. What does or does not happen in those six to twelve months can profoundly affect your dog's performance when it is started on livestock. Habits picked up in puppyhood can mar the picture-perfect relationship you hoped for when you selected your future working dog.

The PERFECT working dog—without a single fault—has yet to be born. To make the most of our imperfect dogs, we need to prevent problems that can both magnify faults and undermine good qualities. Experienced breeders and trainers might recognize the cause-and-effect relationship between behaviors established in a pup's early months and specific training glitches that can crop up later in a dog's career. These problems might include lack of confidence, apathy, hyperness, stickiness, clapping motionless to the ground, gripping, fear, lack of respect, and much more. Most new stock dog owners will have a difficult time recognizing—before they appear, that is—what these bad habits are, why they develop or worsen, and how they will affect later training and work. Essential to understanding how to avoid or prevent bad habits (and minimize our dog's natural faults) is recognizing the inherent elements that are vital to a good working dog.

First, stock dogs must possess balance, the ability to "read livestock and apply the right pressure at the right place and distance to work stock with steady, quiet authority." They must exhibit power, the attitude and approach that will show the stock that the dog is in control without upsetting the animals or making them nervous. It gives the dog authority over heavy, aggressive, or flighty stock with equal effectiveness. A dog requires a proper combination of style and eye, the vehicle with which the dog's contact, balance, and power are conveyed to livestock. Stock dogs must approach their work with confidence, the self-assurance to handle a variety of livestock in varied situations, independent of excessive handler help or reassurance. They must be comfortable to think independently—using stock dog logic, we might say—to handle challenging situations. Pups must be keen, wanting the work itself more than anything, including human praise or pats. They will encounter pressure from the stock, training, and sometimes the handler as time goes on, so they need an overwhelming desire to work before training can progress. Finally, a stock dog and its handler must share respect, showing the responsiveness and joy in working that makes the partnership rewarding even beyond the simple satisfaction of getting the work done.

Stock dog folks sometimes are quick to quote what seem to be the ten commandments for young puppy rearing (also known as the Shalt Nots):

#1 Do not let your pup run loose. Letting your pup run loose exposes him not only to extreme physical danger, such as getting hit by a vehicle, but also opens up the opportunity for him to get into all types of non-lethal trouble as well: eating or chewing things he shouldn't, hunting, pestering livestock or other animals, roaming, digging, barking excessively, and learning he can get away from you… to name only a few. Freedom to exercise, explore, gain self-confidence in the face of new experiences, and relate to people and other animals is important. It's essential that you commit yourself to take the time needed to supervise your pup's growing up period. This means you must take him for walks and watch him during his unfettered exercise periods. Often, people let a very young pup run loose without incident: the pup's too small to do any real damage and too meek to get into too many difficulties. Sooner or later, however, severe problems will arise, particularly when the dog's herding instincts switch on. Confinement, in a clean kennel or on a chain with adequate shelter, must be a fact of life to all stock dogs and their owners. Those who are not prepared to provide a proper place for their dog to live safely and comfortably and the time needed to exercise and train him would be better off without a dog.

#2 Do not tie or kennel him in plain view of stock. Placing your pup's kennel or chain in plain view of livestock can cause a keen dog to become excessively hyper and a hesitant or less-than-keen pup to become more apathetic. Exposed to the strongest stimulus that exists for these dogs (stock) while frustratingly unable to have any effect on the livestock, the pup will understandably go nuts, learn to be content to just stick and stare, or simply tune out such overstimulation. Trainers often suggest tying an unenthusiastic young dog where he can watch other dogs working in order to encourage more interest. There is a huge difference between using this type of confined exposure as a training aid (for a limited time period) and making the dog live with overstimulation around the clock. If the dog does end up apathetic toward stock, uncontrollable, sticky, or loose-eyed, it may be that his residential circumstances contributed to these problems.

#3 Do not let the young pup chase or herd cats, kids, hens, ducks, trucks, other dogs or things that fly. Allowing your pup to herd non-threatening substitutes for stock is problematic for several reasons. First, none of these substitutes reacts to the dog the way livestock will. Secondly, none of these put any type of pressure on the pup; they start out and remain a game. Allowed to satisfy his instincts without having any effect on the object of his attention, never having to exert pressure on the object or deal with pressure from it, and approaching work as play can set the stage for difficulties when you require your dog to confront and take control of stock when serious training begins .... A hesitant dog, used to play-herding, may "bow-out" if any type of initiative is require of him.

#4 Do not allow him to chase and grip stock. Chasing or gripping stock does nothing positive for the pup, the stock, or your blood pressure. You might think that a valiant chase by a wee bit of a pup, complete with a nip or two, shows guts and does the stock no harm, provided it doesn't go on and on. What is really happening, however, is that the pup has no chance to be right before he's learned to be terribly wrong. If the pup "learns" to chase and bite when he's small, that's exactly what he'll be inclined to do when he's older.

#5 Do not let him hold stock against a fence or in a corner. Holding livestock in a corner or against a fence is an eminently frustrating vice to permit your pup to get into. Not only does it become an end in itself for the youngster—some of whom would be content to hold stock in one place forever—but it frustrates your attempts in early training to get the dog to circle stock and then move them to you. Pups with this habit often will dive and stir up stock, only to throw themselves off of the stock, balance, and "stick" again. It's hard to ever get them to use a nice, steady push to control stock.

#6 Do not allow the pup to spend his days running back and forth along a fence line or lying outside one, staring in at stock. Running a fence line or staring in at stock may seem an innocuous bit of fun for your pup. It is not. Like the dog chained within sight of stock, the pup that is free to stare or run back and forth will end up with its natural faults exaggerated and others created as well.

#7 Do not overdo strict or formal obedience training. Exacting overly strict obedience from your pup can be detrimental to later training, particularly if you have relied on repetition, physical correction with collar and leash, and the standard obedience "drills" to train the dog. All that is absolutely necessary before taking a dog to stock is that the pup respect you and that you have control. If the dog will accept a verbal corrections, such as "No!" or "Acchh!" and comes when it's called, you should be able to handle the situations that arise when you first go to stock. The dog's primary goal when he goes to stock should be learning about livestock and developing his natural abilities. Worrying about the dog's obedience to commands, rather than its reactions to the livestock, is sure to frustrate both dog and handler in the long run. The dog may lose concentration, rely not on his own judgment but on commands, lose his independent authority and look to the handler, or fail to ever learn how to read stock. Stock work, unlike any other type of dog training, demands that the handler allow the dog to develop its own method, control, and authority. Only then can it work to the handler's commands, employing its instinctive abilities to help accomplish a common goal. Many will demand a stop—a "down" for instance—to prevent the dog from getting into trouble or to stop it when it goes wrong. Instead of learning from its mistakes or being corrected when it goes wrong, the dog is stopped simply to keep things tidy, with the handler in control. However, the dog will go right back to putting itself "wrong" if this is the trainer's technique. For some people, the "down" also can become not a simple command, but a reprimand that the dog comes to associate with punishment for being wrong. Having a mechanically obedient dog is NOT the key to having the dog's respect. In fact, many dogs realize that the person's authority comes only from the mechanical training device they've used and will show no respect at all in a situation where they think they can get away with not cooperating. While absolute acquiescence to our demands might build our egos as humans, true respect from our dogs is neither fear of the consequences nor coerced love and adoration. True respect issues from trust and fairness, not fear or puppy love.

#8 Do not let the pup get away with not listening. Allowing the young dog to disobey or ignore you as it grows up obviously leads to equally severe problems. Respect from the pup is something you must earn and it must learn. Teach it to come when called before it's so big that it can get away from you. Discipline it when it does wrong, teaching a verbal correction that it will associate with a physical correction or doing wrong. Failing to discipline the pup adequately at an early age not only leads to your headaches later, but also fails to prepare the pup to accept pressure during training. Discipline must occur; it should be fair and quick and not so traumatic that the pup dwells on it. While this sounds simple, it is one area where many people don't succeed. Always keep in mind how your discipline appears to the dog. It must be unambiguous (firm but not too severe), quick (not more than a few seconds), and fair (for an action that's obvious and understandable to the dog).

#9 & #10 Do not spoil the pup with excessive petting, praise, games, or toys. And on the other side of the coin, do not leave him alone without any human interaction, training, or exposure to things that are new or unknown. Spoiling the pup with excessive attention and praise or not giving it enough attention can both destroy the traits you'll need in a working partner. If spoiled, your dog may be unable or reluctant to do anything without your direction, approval, and reassurance or praise. Above all, he'll lack the ability to independently judge situations and act on them without the handler first giving a command or approval. He also may not be able to accept pressure from you, the stock, or demanding circumstances. Ironically, some of these same traits might be seen in puppies that are basically ignored while they grow up. If never allowed to encounter different people, situations, noises, or objects at a very young age, dogs may lack self-assurance. Easygoing, good-natured dogs usually were handled some, talked to, taken for walks, exposed to other dogs, allowed to explore new places, objects and noises, and encouraged to meet challenge when they were one to five months old.

Following these ten commandment will not guarantee you a top-notch dog; good breeding and sound training must be part of the package, as well. Conversely, there are plenty of well-bred pups that turn out fine in spite of all the mistakes made with them. These may, however, have been better, more easily trained dogs if they'd had every advantage a good start could give them.