Widening A Dog

Widening A Dog

by Carol Campion
PART I

I have this in mind from the pups first approach on its sheep. Let me first say though that my approach to training is to get the dog to do the work-properly-and then to put commands to it. I want a more natural dog that I need to adjust in its work rather than to tell it what to do. I also want a dog in contact with its sheep.

I use a rather large round-cornered oblong pen to start my pups. Is maybe 70-80 ft long and 40 feet wide. Me, dog & sheep are on the inside of the pen. (I want the dogs to be in contact with the stock and I want the stock to not be able to run away). The first approach is always with dog on a very light cord that allows me to catch up a dog that is wild or rough and to protect my sheep. (There is not enough said about the sheep on this list. We are their caretakers and training shouldn't be at their expense.) I want my dogs to learn to gather properly. My main goal at this point is to get the pup to the other side of the sheep. In a pen, the sheep often will run to the other side and hug the fence when I enter. I approach the sheep with pup on a lite line holding it on the side of me I want it to bend out from. (Picture sheep straight ahead and facing the right. I would have the dog to my left and want it to bend come by to cover the sheep.) I will sometimes use an older dog to get the sheep off the fence. As the pup and I approach the sheep, they will start to move away. As soon as they do and the dog starts to bend around them, I let the line and pup go. Often a pup will want to head them. I try not to let it go til it is bending around the side I start it from rather than heading, otherwise the pup can get into holding the sheep against the fence. If I am consistent, in a few session, often in one session, I can get a pup shaping around the sheep. This approach also helps get a pup confident in getting sheep off a fence. I am in control and the pup doesn't get a chance to get ahead of me and chase and split sheep. Occasionally one can get away from me, but by dragging the line, I can catch it before it develops bad habits.

I then catch the pup and try repeating this approach just to get the pup use to bending around stock as its first approach. There's no need for corrections-just a watchful eye to know when to let the pup go. This can be done in the open with sheep that won't break away very fast. Also in an open field, I could also use a pups heading instinct to get it to cover sheep that are moving away. In my situation, my sheep won't stay put in the open as well as in this pen and so to avoid bad habits and protect my sheep, I start things there.

Once going around stock, my goal is to have the pup give more room at the top side as it goes around. How I do this varies with each dog. I usually will find some way to push it out at the top depending on the temperament of the dog. If they are naturally bending, I leave them alone. If they are a little tight, I may flick my hat at them; if they are diving or shouldering sheep, it will be something to make noise something stronger--slapping my hat against my leg, swishing a branch in the air; something to get the dogs attention and let it know to consider me in the equation. I am not trying to artificially put a dog off-I merely want them to consider me at this point. Once they consider me-then I can move in toward the dog (I look like I'm fencing) at the tight spots and as soon as I get any bend from the pup away from the sheep, I back away and let the it have its sheep to reward it for giving room. You may get big bends--you may get small. I build on what I get based on the pups consideration of me & the stock. I try to keep it in contact with the sheep all the time though. You need to get some depth behind the sheep for the pup to be able to settle in and bring the sheep to you-if its tight, it's pushing them around as it circles and can't really come on straight.

Its hard to get a pup to switch directions if too close to the sheep. By getting a little bend off the sheep in the beginning, the task of switching the directions becomes easier because there is room for you to maneuver to set up the other way. If you find the dog is splitting sheep when you are trying to change directions, probably you are trying when the dog is still too close to the sheep and/or you cut in front of the pup. Some pups are so one-sided that you can't switch directions right away. If a pup has trouble bending off in a certain direction at the start-try starting from the other direction. It may be uncomfortable going in a certain direction at first.

Don't force a pup in a direction it is uncomfortable going in. It will either split the sheep or grip. Rather, try to block it from complete circling. Often they will get wider to try to get around you. (Make a note of this. You can use it later to widen the dog out.) But for now, when it gets wider, fall back and see if it will maybe fall in behind them and bring them to you. If not, just keep repeating the whole scenario but not forcing the issue. Then try the blocking again and once the pup will fall in and bring the sheep, you can be watching for a time to try going in the uncomfortable direction as a small pivot as the pup is fetching. You almost trick it. It can be done so the pup isn't even aware that you have gotten this to happen! It may only go 2 feet in the uncomfortable direction, but build on it. And above all, watch for the conditions that led to it and try again. Don't work from a preconceived idea of what you want the pup to do--rather watch for what the pup is giving you and build on it. Watch for any parts of its work you may want to build on later! From here I begin to try to get a stop on the dog. Once it will bring me the sheep, it is usually more willing to stop. I like them to lie down in the beginning. Then I seriously work on having the pup leave the stock at the end of the session. I usually give this a lot of attention. When the pup is stopping and leaving sheep, it is a sign I am being considered and the training has a foundation to build on!

A big concept to understand in my method of training is that I set conditions up to reward the dog when it bends off its sheep by letting it have the sheep.

PART II

So far we have a pup that upon approaching sheep will cast out around them with the intention of bringing the sheep to you. You can also increase the difficulty of where you ask the pup to stop. Get it to happen wherever it is easiest for now, be it on balance or next to you. If the pup drags a cord, you can step on the cord at any point to help get the idea across. Once it will stop, start asking it more often in different places so that you can stop the pup on any point in the circle around the sheep or on the ware (fetch). This is a necessary tool for widening out later. You want to strive towards being able to stop the pup in its arc around sheep before it turns to come onto them. And you need to assess how the pup manages stock to decide how to expand on the above and make it into a real outrun.

All dogs have their own method of managing livestock. Some are direct, some are flanky, some are full of eye, some are free moving. You need to look at how your dog starts to move around the stock as you pivot oyou move you can ask the dog to move to its left as well. I don't start giving commands for this yet, even though what you are doing is asking the dog to flank. If you start associating a word with the flank this early on and the dog is flanking either too tightly or into the sheep, it will associate this method of flanking with the phrase. You will then have to fix the flank later. So just move without a command or with a shush sound. I do add the flank command once you get the behavior to be what you want. If you have a pup that does flank naturally off the sheep, do start giving the flank command.

Watch how the pup moves as it leaves its stopped position. Many will come in toward the sheep in their eagerness to get on with things. You can be clear that this is happening if the sheep move with the flank. (You can always gain judgment of your dog by what effect it is having on the sheep.) What you want is for it to turn in an arc around the sheep rather than at the sheep. If earlier on you have successfully pushed your pup out as it is coming around the top side of the sheep, you can use this body language to help the pup understand it is not to come into its sheep, but around them when it leaves. I look as though I am swordfighting/fencing! If the dog is moving comebye, I am facing the dog either on the opposite side of the sheep or in between the dog & sheep. I have my hat or swish stick in my RIGHT hand as I ask the dog to circle. Yes--the right hand. That is the opposite of what you would naturally do. I have my body in the position to tell it to go come-bye, but my hat/hand/stick/feedbag-whatever-is in my right hand causing the dog to turn its head out as it goes around it. It is there for the dog to catch with its eye, not to chase the dog. If you have used it earlier, say to make a noise or flap it when the dog is approaching sheep on the line from lesson one, it already knows what it means. (I used it there if I had a pup approaching on the long-line that is really trying to get "at" the sheep. I make a noise or something to get myself in the picture. Do not chase the dog. You know it is feeling chased if it scurries past you.) If you merely flick your hat or stick up as It leaves, the dogs will usually turn out as they leave to flank. If it turns out in an arc, let it go around with you balancing to it until it gets tight and starts into its sheep. Make a note of how far that was. As soon as it gets tight stop it. I often will give a growl or say no or slap the bag against my leg just before it gets tight. I can anticipate where that spot/condition will be based on watching and assessing the pup all along. If it goes in an arc 5 feet and corkscrews in, assume that it will do it the next time and at 4 feet give it a growl or flick of the hat as a warning and to see if you can keep it out or bend it a little farther out. Once you can, assuming you are on the opposite side of the sheep, fall back and let it have its sheep-in other words, let it fetch the sheep. You keep rewarding when the dog has given the sheep room by letting the dog make contact and fetch the sheep. If you are consistent, before too long the pup will understand that it is to bend around the sheep and give room to be able to fetch them.

Now, there is still a ways to go before actually outrunning. The next step is to execute this exercise with the dog starting at many different parts of the circumference. Often, it's staying out will be based on where you are and if you are in a new spot it is unfamiliar with, it will spiral in getting tighter. If and when it does, stop the dog and ask it around again. Don't get yourself into the habit of avoiding the challenges that cause the dog to be tight or wrong. Set things up to bring this out so you can correct it. If it is tight, go back to the pushing out earlier to help the dog understand what you want. Reward it with a having its sheep if it is right. Encourage the right-check the wrong.

The next step is to let the pup fetch the sheep part way and ask the pup to flank when it is much farther away from the sheep and you. Up till now all this has been done with the dog fairly close to the sheep and that needs to be expanded on. In the beginning the dog is maybe 10-15 feet away-more or less-try 20-25 feet away. To set this up, lie the dog down and continue on with the fetch a little farther. Leave the dog there. The sheep will follow. Start the exercise from this point. Almost always at first the dog will come forward to catch up to you & the sheep to be at the proximity they are used to working at. This is a crucial development! Immediately stop the dog and do not let it in towards the sheep. Make it bend from there around in the arc equal to how far away it started. This is a place where I often find the greatest work. By now I have given that act of turning out a name-say "Out" and if the dog starts in I can say "Out" and let it go if it turns out, stop it if it's tight. You can start letting the dog go as far around the sheep as you like-say half way or more, as long as its correct. Watch for it corkscrewing in. Let the dog fetch the sheep from its deepest point around them. Say your dog will arc from a position 30 feet from the sheep. (You may even have to lean into it to get it to stay out.) When your dog leaves, if you see the dog is correct and bending, get yourself AWAY from the sheep to give the sheep somewhere to fetch to and to reward the dog for being deep. You will find if you stay near the dog or move into the dog here, it tightens the dog up and actually encourages it to be tight.

VISUAL: Picture a "V". Make yourself the bottom of the "V", lie the dog to the top left of the "V" and the sheep the top right. This is a good visual to keep in mind. You want the dog arcing around the sheep to the balance point at the top and not corkscrewing in until it gets there.

There are many possibilities and behaviors that occur along the way here. Try playing with some of this. If things get tight, go back to this "V" and arc the dog out. Then try sending the dog not too far, but from your side as a test to see where it tightens up. You can then START sending the dog from the tight point rather than from your side. Say for example the dog leaves your side and goes to 10 minutes to the hour (in clock terms) and starts in toward the sheep. You need for him to go to 12 correctly. Stop him and start all the bends from 10 minutes from the hour to back around the sheep. Make that "V' at 10 minutes to the hour. Then once it does consistently does it correctly, make it 15 minutes t the hour, then 20. Each time, as soon as it gets tight, stop it and give the "out" phrase with appropriate body language. Not only are you teaching the dog to bend properly around stock, you are teaching the meaning to the command. If the flanking behavior is correct, start saying the flank's name using "out" as the correction.

No one ever said you need to teach an outrun by sending the dog on a whole outrun right away. I use all the above to get the top of the outrun correct first-Then add the lower part. The part farthest away from you is the place where the dog is usually the tightest, so I get that proper first, then slowly get the dog closer to me when I send it.

You can additionally stand off to the side of the dog but in the arc of movement you want it to go to asking it to go "come-bye" making it come out and around you-basically an off-balance flank. (Picture the sheep in the middle, the dog 5 feet away to the right of them and you are to the right of the dog on a plane that will make him turn back and pass around you on his way towards the sheep. It is the opposite of going to the balance point). As soon as it goes past you and it starts to turn in, stop it. You want it to learn that when it hears a flank command, it is to turn out and stay out still you stop it. If it goes past you and is arcing out, switch sides with it and it will then have done an entire outrun. As it passed around you, it is again in that same familiar position as it was from step one, in a "V" and it knows what to do here.

I start stopping my young dogs at the top before they fetch just to get them used to the idea of stopping.

An important thing to keep in mind however, is that in all of this, let your dog make contact and feel its sheep whenever you can. In all this pushing out and stopping, you need to include work where the dog has contact with the sheep. On the fetch, when I stop the dog, I make sure it has reached the sheep each time and has a chance to "feel" them. Otherwise you may develop a dog that only is working very far off its sheep. While this may be fine for trials, it doesn't help develop a dog that can think for itself and manage and control livestock. We need to develop both aspects of our dogs.


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