PUTTING A LOOK BACK ON A DOG
by Ian Caldicott
I very rarely go out to train or work dogs with the thought that “today I need to work on a LOOK BACK”. The Look Back is something that just gets incorporated into the day’s work or a training session as a situation arises where there is an opportunity to work on it. Once a dog has a good understanding of balance and has a decent stop I start looking for opportunities to work on the Look Back.
Now a couple of things my dogs know at this point is BACK (as in get back to give the stock more room) and LOOK (as in look for sheep). I often walk through fields with stock in them and the dogs are taught from early on that they leave them alone until I tell them it is time to work with the LOOK command.
Whether out doing chores gathering and checking on stock, or during a training session, I watch for a situation where some sheep or cows get left behind. This could be because they were off to the side and the dog didn’t see them, or the dog just left them behind for whatever reason. Once the stock that the dog is working are perhaps halfway to me, I will stop the dog and start walking up the field toward them, then give a LOOK BACK command. By this time I am most of the way to the stock and the dog will usually try to do a wide flank around the stock in front of them.
When the dog starts the flank I will give a correction that they know well but do not hear used on stock, in my case this is NO. This usually causes the dog to stop and look at me (sort of a “what’s wrong now” response). By now I am probably at or even part way through the stock and I will hold both my arms up and repeat the LOOK BACK with a shooing motion from my arms. Again at the beginning the dog will often try to do a wide flank around the stock that are now basically behind me or glance to the sides (sort of a “I don’t see anything else” response).
If the dog tries to flank I will again give a correction, this time also moving to block the flank. Again arms up repeating the LOOK BACK along with the shooing motion all the time moving toward the dog and blocking any attempt to flank. After these three times I am usually about at the dog at which point I will call him/her to me and walk toward the stock to be returned to.
I repeat the LOOK a few times as we walk till the dog focuses on the correct stock. Then I will give him a quiet “shhhhh” to send him out to get them. I return to the first bunch and wait for the dog to bring the stock. It usually only takes three or four times with this procedure for the dog to understand.
One caveat is that I do not work on issuing flanks and redirects to help the dog find stock it has looked back for at this time; that’s something I don’t work on till much later — when the dog knows about blind outruns etc.. I only use the above procedure when the dog can easily see the stock to be gone back for.
Every once in a while I work with a dog that just never seems to miss or leave stock that can be seen (it happens all the time with stock that can’t be seen but again I don’t try to teach the look back in that situation.) With these dogs I usually teach the LOOK BACK during driving, or sometimes shedding.
I have the dog drive the stock a good distance away, call the dog off, then stop him halfway back to me and give the LOOK BACK as I walk toward the dog with the stock behind him. If the dog tried to continue toward me I stop him and repeat the LOOK BACK continuing to walk toward the stock. After three tries I will be at the dog so I call them to me and continue on to the stock following the procedures outlined above.
When shedding, after splitting off some sheep, I will have the dog fetch the stock to me as I walk away for a bit. As before I then stop the dog, walk through the stock and give the LOOK BACK and follow the latter portion of the procedure outlined in the beginning.
I have never considered the look back difficult to teach, in part I think that in everyday practical work it is something that comes into play all the time so it gets worked on and taught early and often. I think it is usually only a problem when the dog is worked only during training and on three to five head at a time in a limited area. Then the training of the look back gets left till later. When a dog gets a lot of experience without having to go back and bring more stock I think it is often hard for them to accept the possibility that there could possibly be more stock out there than the ones they already have.
I will never forget something Dodie Green once told me when I asked her in what order she taught things. She said that she teaches everything at once. It is obviously not literally true — that you can teach everything at once — but I think the point is (or at least the one I took) that there isn’t a set pattern to what you teach when. If you are using your dogs for everyday work the situations present themselves where a dog needs to drive, to shed, to look back or whatever. If you start to teach all of these skills as you go along and as the situations present themselves you will find the dogs pick the skills up quite readily.
(Working Aussie Source editor note: Ian Caldicott trials Border Collies and is an all-breed trainer who now lives in Scio,Oregon; more info at Wolston Farms. He also maintains the Stockdog Server, one of the first stockdog internet sites.)
this article was first published in the August/September 1999 issue of Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine