by Herbert Holmes
This article is difficult to write due to the many and varied opinions on grips as well as the number of different types of grips and reasons for gripping. I am assuming that the readers know that a grip is a bite. I believe that what I am about to relate to you about gripping holds true but I would not be so bold as to close my mind to different types of grips. Some are on command, some are not. The “on command” grips should be a bite (hit) on the nose or the heel of the stock. These should occur when the stock is not moving off of the dog after ample time has been given (i.e.. not rushed). Ideally the grip on the nose should be a clean but aggressive hit on the nostril part of the nose. After the dog hits the nose, it should immediately release the bite, stand its ground, and allow the stock to move away.
The grip on the heel should also be a clean and aggressive hit, but on the lowest part of the leg, just above the hoof. Similarly, the dog should release immediately, stand its ground, and allow the stock to move off.
What I have described above is ideal and difficult to achieve. A lot of nose hits are delivered in the face area, along the jaws and on the ears. Although this is not ideal, it is acceptable and generally effective. The heel grips are sometimes delivered higher up the leg towards the hock area. This also is acceptable, but is potentially more dangerous for the dog to sustain an injury from a kick.
Some dogs, after a grip, will become excited and continue to grip repeatedly or grip and not release. Most of the time, these methods are effective but, if the dog becomes too excited, the stock will not turn away as easily as one would expect. In fact, they may stand and fight or challenge the dog.
Another type of grip is commonly referred to as a “fear” bite. This generally occurs when the dog does not have enough confidence in his ability to move the livestock. This statement itself provokes enough thought for another article , but I shall save that for a later date.
Dogs will also grip when they are under too much pressure from the handler. This is a grip that is easily avoided by laying the proper foundation in early training and using good positive energy to create the proper paths for the dog to take around livestock. When handling a dog that tends to bite, one should give commands as calmly, quietly, and slowly as possible. This will keep your dog more relaxed and, therefore, reduce his tendency to bite.
It is generally not hard to teach a dog to grip. I believe that ninety percent of young dogs want to bite when they first go to livestock. It is very difficult to explain in an article, but I leave as much of the desire to bite in a young dog as I possibly canl while creating the proper paths for the dog. As you develop the dog’s ability to take commands and work livestock, certain situations will occur that make the dog want to bite. These may be good or bad, but either way, can be used to develop an “on command” bite. As you learn to anticipate when your dog is going to bite, give an exciting command. By exciting, I mean use a tone of voice that is louder and more rapid than your usual commands are given. The grip should be taught on gentle livestock so the dog does not get injured mentally or physically.
Judging grips at trials, regardless of the type of livestock, is very straightforward in my opinion. Any grip behind the front point of shoulder other than a heel grip at hock level or below should not be tolerated. Some of the grips that I would accept would be penalized by point deduction depending on the circumstances at hand. Disqualifying handlers for grips is a very difficult call to make, but must be done in order to maintain a level of content in the dogs that will enhance them to the public and the everyday stockman. Out of control biting damages the dogs’ image. Some judges have said that if they called every grip that deserves a disqualification, they would not have enough dogs finish to fill the prize list. I say, “so be it”. No one deserves to win if not done properly.
In closing, I would like to say that grips are a good and necessary tool to have with the stockdog. As with any type of tool, there is a correct time and proper method for its use. We as trainers and handlers should be disciplined enough to use this tool in the proper manner. I hope I have provoked some positive thoughts in your stockdog training.
this article was first published in the April/May 1997 issue of Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine