TEACHING A DOG TO TAKE TIME
by Herbert Holmes
As with all lessons on anything, I do not believe that a particular method is 100% for all dogs and/or people. So take what I write, digest it and incorporate it with your own method of training to develop a good, sound path for your dog to take. Also, the reader’s’ perception of what is written is sometimes different from what the writer is trying to say. Please bear with me! I will try to give you some help and answer questions as straight forward and honestly as I can.
Some dogs take time, have good pace and proper contact with stock naturally. This is a luxury not afforded to too many beasts. Other dogs seem to have a natural pace, but it is actually man-made into the dog through training for other things. Then there are the dogs that have no natural pace or feel and that must be totally instilled in the dog by the man. There is nothing that would indicate to me that any one of the above three things is disastrous to the dog.
Obviously, with the natural feel dog, it is easier to make it take time. This is the good side of the deal. The down side of it is that some young dogs are feeling the pressure from the stock so strongly, they will not walk up on them. Hence forth, the natural feel is sometimes a weakness and a bad thing. This opens up a whole other can of worms.
All dogs that show a natural feel are not weak. In fact, some of them are of the very strongest character because they have the courage and discipline to approach stock in a calm, steady manner. In conclusion, as regards the natural feeler, you should be happy if you have one, but do not forget that you need them to push on the stock if you ask them to.
The second type of feel in a dog is maybe the one I like best. The feel comes to the dog naturally through proper training techniques early in his career. When you are teaching a dog to circle and flank livestock, you do certain things to create negative reinforcement. When you want the dog to go around stock you position yourself to create energy between the stock and the dog to cause him to want to get off or away from them.
You create this energy with your body, a stick, whip, rope, cans or rocks, or any other of a dozen tried and true methods. By creating energy in the correct spot, in relation to the stock and the dog, you have created a negative response to the dog being in the wrong place or going too fast. He goes the correct way to avoid your energy. Before long, not only is he responding by positions, he will respond through pace as well because he does not want to feel the energy you have created between you and the stock. He will go slow to avoid the pressure your energy puts on him. You, as a trainer, must be careful not to create too much energy between the stock and the dog because you are taking away all of his confidence to work. As you use this energy to move the dog around and teach him flanks, stop and distance, you will automatically be teaching him pace or taking time.
The third kind of dog is probably the one that people have in mind when they ask, “How do I make my dogs take time?” It is a dog farther along in training than the dog in the above paragraph. Probably it is going too fast because it is responding to the handler’s pressure, or energy, that is being applied incorrectly. Or it could be that the reason you have these problems is that it has not had a good foundation in early training.
Allow me to stop here and explain . When your dog is getting too close to the stock or going too fast, you create energy to stop this action. You do this by stepping towards his head or cracking a lunge whip in front of him (towards his head.) Some people throw something in front of them. This causes the dog to slow his speed and/or get away from the stock. Then, most people take this energy completely awayfrom the dog, allowing them to regain their speed and get tight if the dog wants. The handler repeats the whole process.
My method is to keep the energy in place, in front of the dog. This will hold the dog off the stock, even stop him. The handler should redirect his energy to the shoulder of the dog, moving him towards the stock in a proper manner. The handler holds his pressure through energy on the dog at all times, never completely taking the pressure off of him. This is why you hear open handlers speaking their dog’s name during a run. This creates energy to keep the pressure on the dog at all times, no matter how slight.
Do not put pressure on abruptly, then take it off. This will only make the dog go faster and tighter. I am sure that this is confusing to everyone. I could have simply stated to you to go to the dog when he gets too fast and stop or push him out. But I am trying to get you to understand that the same energy you use to push out and stop should be left intact — work the dog so he develops the habit of going slow and staying out.
Let’s go one step further. Say you have a well trained dog that stops when you tell it, but goes too fast when you tell him to move; you do not have to physically go to the dog to create energy. You can do this by telling it to stop. The energy of the command stops it. Let the dog move, then stop — move, then stop. Before long the pressure to stop is slightly less but you still have contact with the beast, making him aware (or wary) of you. Now he will begin to move slow instead of faster in response to your verbal pressure.
In regards to verbalizing a “time” command, simply say what you mean. “Take time” when you energize to stop or push the dog out. This can then be used as a reminder when he gets too fast. A warning: only use the verbal one time. If the beast does not respond, energize, physically put the correct pressure in place to slow him down and give him the proper distance — the relation of dog to stock.
Well, I am sure I have confused everyone but maybe I have generated a thought process that will allow you to work out your take time problem.
this article was first published in The Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine February/March 1997