Originally Published in
American Border Collie Magazine. Reprinted with permission.
My dog, Jane, stops when I tell her to at the end of her outrun but she still has very fast lifts. Sometimes the sheep are half way down the field to the fetch gates before I feel that I really have control over the situation again. What am I doing wrong?
Lifts are difficult because they follow the outrun, where the dog is most excited and at the peak of her energy. It also occurs at the maximum distance from the handler and requires just about the most finesse from the dog of any part of the run.
It is possible with some work to get the fastest dog to stop at the end of her outrun, but stopping the outrun is obviously not the same thing as lifting the sheep. Frequently, with a dog that is very anxious to get to her sheep, stopping at the end of the outrun only makes the dog more determined to get to the sheep quickly. Once a dog like Jane is again allowed on her feet, she just hurries to get the sheep moving in case you try and stop her again.
In training this dog I would start by sending her around a quiet group of about 10 or 15 sheep who are no more then twenty feet away, and encouraging her to bring them quietly to me, while backing away from the sheep. This is very basic stuff and the dog should show a quiet approach and not be too hasty in moving the sheep forward as you back away. Also, be looking at her distance from the sheep as she goes around them and make sure that she isn't coming in tightly on the far side. Work on this basic stuff if it isn't correct; however, with many fast lifting dogs the up close work may well be quite satisfactory. It is the excitement of the run out, the dog's youth, the dog trial atmosphere, and distance from the handler, that contribute to over exuberance at the lift and early fetch.
Once the close work looks satisfactory, increase the distance and do some short outruns, up hill if possible, so you can see the dog as she comes around behind her sheep. Make sure that she is deep enough on her outrun. Often dogs, that are anxious to lift, begin their approach before ending the outrun, and can tend to be tight or flat on the top of the outrun. Just having the dog further back off her sheep will give you more opportunity to gain control of her prior to her reaching the sheep. Once the dog is deep enough behind the sheep, and beginning her lift-approach, try to use a "steady" or "take time" command to encourage her to slow down and lift more quietly. As she runs out, you should be walking toward the sheep so you are in a good position to go through them toward her if she is hasty on the sheep. You want her to know that she is going to be allowed to move the sheep, but she needs to slow down and take her time doing so.
This will all take some time, especially if the dog is older and has been allowed to lift sheep like this for a long time. Dogs are excited on their outruns and anxious to get to the sheep. I'm sure that's why they run out so fast. If she weren't anxious to get there, she wouldn't be a good a dog. You need to teach her that she is going to get to the sheep, and she is going to be able to control them; but must slow down and relax as she does so.
While you are trying to improve this dog's performance at home, you should also be handling her differently in competition. First you should be asking the dog to stop as she finishes her outrun, not when she has started her approach to the sheep. This should give you a little more room on the top between the dog and the sheep, when she does stop.
Quite often, when a dog is stopped behind sheep on the lift, you cannot see what the dog is doing, so it is difficult to make the command match the dog's behavior. In this case you have seen the dog lift the sheep often enough that you can picture what she is doing. Command her accordingly. Stop the dog at the top as she finishes her outrun. You might even want to give her a second stop whistle to make sure she doesn't get up too quickly, and to make sure she has really stopped. Then, wait a second to see if this is enough activity to cause the sheep to begin moving. If you are unsure of your dog, give her yet another stop command to keep her from moving forward. If the sheep begin to move stop the dog again. You can't see her and she may not have gotten up, but give her a stop anyway just to make sure that the movement of the sheep doesn't cause her to over react and run after them. Then give the dog a steady command followed immediately by a stop command. Don't wait to see the reaction to the steady command. Make it one command "steaaaaady-LIE DOWN". This is the same command you should use if the sheep do not lift immediately with your dog laying down behind them. Again you are keeping your dog under control, and not waiting to regain control after the dog spooks the sheep. If the sheep start to lift off line, more than likely all you will need to do is give your dog another steady command and she will move toward them and put them back on the line. If not, give a flank command and a stop. Again, don't wait to see her reaction to the flank command before giving the stop command. Give the flank and stop as one command. Once she gets chasing the sheep on the top, she will be much harder to control than if you never let her begin. Keep her under firm control on the top until the sheep have moved off enough that you can see her, and some distance has developed between your dog and the sheep.
These kinds of hasty lifts are fairly common with young, inexperienced dogs. These are dogs that haven't been to many trials and run much more sensibly at home. In this case using these additional controls at the trial, will keep your dog from thinking she can run away with you at trials, while you work on perfecting her lift at home.