by CynDee Cooper
Pressure comes in many different forms. There is pressure from a trainer, pressure from livestock, and pressure from the environment. Understanding pressure and how it works is one of the keys to training and using a stockdog.
When a person starts a young dog in their training they use various forms of pressure. As an example: in order to get a dog to the other side of livestock the trainer makes it uncomfortable for the dog to stay on the same side as they are. This causes the dog to go around to the other side.
This is where I would like to touch on the definition of a word that I think is greatly misused. The word is balance. When talking about Border Collies, especially, it is most often stated that the dog’s number one instinct is to go around the stock to balance and bring it to you. This is often considered balance. It is my opinion that this is a misuse of the word.
A dog uses balance to hold stock in a bunch, be it against a fence, barn or person. Until the dog feels like it has the stock stopped it will continue to try to find the right position. There are those dogs that are not happy when the herd is stopped and will continue to fly in and molest them to create more movement.
If balance was that natural then we would never have to teach a dog an outrun. They would, from the first time out, go around the stock and bring it to the trainer. As a rule this does not happen. A dog will continue moving around the stock regardless of the position of the trainer. Balance is the position a dog needs to be in order to hold a herd together, be it moving in the desired direction or holding them in place. Sorry to get off track. This is just my opinion.
Correct Use, Incorrect Use and Too Much Pressure
While working a young dog it is important to set in good habits from the start. If a dog has a tendency to come crashing into the stock, the trainer needs to be able recognize the signs before the dog comes in, and put the necessary pressure on the dog to keep him out. There are many handlers that create more problems with this than they can solve. A dog will all too quickly make a game of “catch me if you can”, if the right timing and proper pressure is not applied.
Don’t dally around with this. Harshly correct the dog and down him before he has the chance to get in to the stock. If you get on the dog too hard for this he is likely to do one of two things; come in harder or fly out and turn tail or spin. Don’t yell and badger the dog or throw stuff at him. Simply give him an “AHHH”, or “down” before he actually comes in.Then back off, let the stock start to flow and release the pressure of both you and the stock and allow the dog to come up quietly. Learn to recognize when and where your dog starts this behavior. Some dogs cannot stand to get in too close to the stock without basically attacking them.
Other dogs have a flanking direction in which they run tight and reach in every time they go that direction. Take notice of that certain direction and make sure to always, during the dogs initial training, be in a position to quietly push the dog out and around the stock. If he starts to come in, down the dog. Don’t start yelling or throwing, this will only create excitement in the dog and cause it to come in faster and harder. The fault lies with the trainer not being in the correct position to avoid the wreck.
Most often undue pressure is put on a dog when it is asked to “down” or “come”. This will often cause a dog to quit and no one likes a dog that quits. These two commands are the most basic and should be obeyed instantly. Once a dog has learned to accept these two commands the training really gets on a roll.
The ideal pup is eager to come when called and respects authority when asked to down. The problem is not with the ideal pup, but the difficult one. There are many methods to training a dog to come. But as with all training a method that works on one dog may not work on another.
If a young dog insists on not coming to you it is best not to continue calling his name. Wait until you can get in a position to catch the dog. When you do, hold your temper and give the rascal a good pat on the head. If the dog does not understand the come then the trainer is at fault, not the dog.
Move the pup to an area that he cannot get out of and let he run for a spell. Then call his name. If he does not come to you then make it uncomfortable for the dog to ignore you. Growl, or clap your hands, or stomp your foot. When the pup jumps and looks at you then immediately stop and call his name. The second he turns to ignore you again get a little harder with the reprimand. When the pup turns again to give you his attention, back off a little and ask it to you again. By backing off you release pressure that will allow the pup to feel comfortable about coming toward you. If you have to, keep backing up a few steps as he comes up. If you go towards a pup to try to catch him you are putting on pressure that pushes him away.
There are lines of dogs that have a good pace on stock. There are others that do not know how to pace at all. Everyone likes to see a dog that is up on his feet and steadily moving in to stock.
If your dog does not know how to pace then him must be taught. Caution must be taken not to push on a dog too hard or once again he will quit or start to turn tail. Send the dog around the stock and let him get to the other side. Ask the dog to walk up and the instant the dog starts to come on too fast – you step to him and push him back. Do not let him go around the stock. Push him back. You must realize that a good thing that is overdone becomes a bad thing. So mind your manners here. Push the dog back by growling a little. A stop is even good enough. As long as the dog stops pushing the stock. Continually asking the dog to “lie down” and “walk up” will not, as a rule, teach a dog to pace. In fact some dogs will give you the slingshot effect. Once you lay him down he comes on twice as hard since it feels as if the stock is getting away.
There are many dogs that can be pushed back really far and still not quit. With this type of dog you can put enough pressure on him to force him back 10 yards or more then ask him up (“walk up – take time”). If he comes on too hard and does not pace you can growl at him and push him back farther then repeat the “Walk up – take time.” But you need to remember that some dogs cannot take this and will head back to the kennels. Too much handler pressure.
When evaluating the dog you quickly need to decide how much is too much. If your walking AND growling turns the dog completely off then try just walking toward it quietly or growling without moving toward the dog. Dogs have a threshold that can not be crossed without causing damage to its working ability. That threshold is just in different places on different dogs.
Do not punish the dog for biting, only for biting unnecessarily. The bite in a working dog is one of its most useful tools (I know all of the controversy – have heard it year after year). I’ve seen it too often for anyone to convince me of anything different. When working stock there is ALWAYS going to be a time when the dog will need to discipline the stock. ALWAYS. Sooner or later.
The problem with bite is that most trainers do not teach a dog to bite. Yes, dogs can get hurt when they bite, hide can be torn. The key to this is not to let a dog that has not been properly trained run roughshod over a herd. This type of dog will often have little or no herding ability, just bite. If you were to push this dog out and insist that it work quietly you would take all of the “work” out of the dog. Well heck, I would rather have a dog that was a little out of control than one that allowed a herd to win and run off. If you can keep enough pressure on this type of dog to keep it on the back side of the herd then you will hopefully make some progress.
When teaching a dog to bite remember to praise it while biting: “Atta Boy”, “Take Hold”. With a hard hitting dog if you put too much pressure on for biting then they will come in anyway – but they will come in harder and faster.
If your young dog decides to run and bite put a command to it, what better time? Then, the second you have the opportunity, stop the dog. Keep yourself cool and the dog will remain cool, then go back to working. Try to anticipate when your dog runs in and grips and stop him before he goes in. But again remember that you have your dog to move or stop livestock. Don’t give the dog conflicting commands. If he has to bite to move stock or bite to stop them from running off then let him. Only don’t let him bite when it is not necessary. Again, stop the dog, don’t get mad and punish him for biting. Put enough pressure on him to keep him off of the stock but not too much that you create a battle and push him on the stock.
Whether you realize it or not a fence is pressure to a dog. A corner is pressure to a dog. Consider this scenario, you are in the pen, the stock is pushed against the fence or the corner. The dog can’t come your way, he can’t go through the stock, he can’t go over or under the fence. (Kinda like being cornered in a small alleyway with a big guy standing at the opening with a baseball bat.) You can really blow a dogs mind and confidence by improperly forcing it in the corner or against the fence. The pressure is too great.
Back off a little. Make sure there is a little daylight between the stock and the fence. You also need to be aware of the stock that you are working. If they are nasty and you know that they are going to slam the dog once it gets in there you better be prepared to do a lot of re-training. It only takes a few times of helping a dog in a tight spot to make the dog comfortable with the idea. But if you continue to put him in that tight spot and he gets hurt every time then you will find it next to impossible for the dog to go through clean. If you have to, put him on a rope and go in the corner with him. This takes off most of the pressure.
Many times a dog that is taken to a new place feels pressure. It is uncomfortable with its surroundings. Be it a new home, new pasture, or trial field. There are some types of dog personalities that will not tolerate a trip to the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show Stock Dog Trial. They cannot handle the pressures of the crowds, smells and surroundings. Know your dogs limits as far as to the environment around the dog.
All types of stock put pressure on a dog. If you don’t believe me come with your tough dog and try to move my b-b-doe ewe with her newborn lambs. She was a real honey until they hit the ground. Now she will stand and fight and try to run off any dog that comes in the pen. She’s ready for the fight. Mother Nature makes it so.
I have seen ducks backed in a corner and come out fighting, although it was quite a hilarious sight to behold.
When any form of livestock takes it into their head to run off it takes quite a dog to get them stopped. A dog needs to be able to handle the pressure of an animal, that outweighs it, who is determined to be somewhere else.
Dogs need to learn how to handle the pressures of livestock. This first must be bred into the dog and second, taught. If your young dog is being consistently run off then you better get your tennis shoes on and go help him win the battle. Do not leave him out there to fight on his own when he is too young to handle the situation. If you do the dog will begin to mistrust your commands since you put him in impossible situations. Help to build his confidence a little. But remember there are too many dogs out there that will never have the courage no matter how much you help him. Sooner or later, when the going gets tough, he will let you down.
Correct movement of stock
When I was a kid we used to go to my great-grandmother’s and work for the marking and shearing on Easter weekend. We would start out early in the morning, before daylight, and ride to the backside of the pastures. Some of them were well over 1000 acres. Once everyone was in place the “whooping” would begin. Then we would all stay in our position and ride towards the house. As the sun was coming up the trails of sheep on the rock and cactus covered hills could be seen heading towards the shearing pens. What a sight.
Pressure was put on the sheep to start them moving. We were out there making noise and pushing. With everyone in the proper position the sheep had only one way out and that was towards the pens. If anyone was ever out of place then there was an opening and stock was left behind. (Then there was heck to pay.)
Once we got to the pens everything would slow to a crawl while waiting for the stock to settle at the gate then with a little pushing the 200 to 400 head would start to filter into the corrals.
When working livestock there needs to be pressure applied in the areas in which the stock are not to go. There must always be a place for them to go.
Many times a dog that works out of control he will get the stock moving then go to the head and grab a body part as it goes by. The animal turns the other direction and once again the dog comes around and grabs another body part (Now if I galloped out in front of the herd, that was steadily moving toward the pens, and turned them back on the men I would have been jerked off my horse and tied to a bush for the rest of the day.).
When a dog puts on too much pressure but does not allow for the stock to have a way out, there is no progress made in the desired movement of stock. Confusion sets in and the animal will quickly begin to fight for its life.
Any time a dog heads off the stock once you have it moving in the direction you want it to go, whether it is fetching or driving, you need to correct that dog and get it back around to the side that you wish him to be on. Do not let the dog run out of control.
Let the dog win its battle over the stock but always remember that the stock need to be allowed a way out. Hopefully you can stop the dog and that way out will be the correct direction.
Pressure is not too tricky and is necessary in training dogs and moving stock. This is the rule and not the exception. The important thing is to realize when you need it, where you need it and what is too much.
This article was originally published in Ranch Dog Trainer magazine June/July 2000