General Info

Down or Stand?

By February 17, 2015February 1st, 2016No Comments


by Gemi Sasson-Brickson, Jamie Burns, Anne Jespersen, Maarten Walter

Gemi Sasson-Brickson
I’d like to know, for those of you who use a stand-stay when working stock, how you go about teaching that to the dog. Does this just work better for some dogs from the get-go? Or do you insist on a down-stay early in a dog’s career and then later, when the stays are more reliable and the dog is more experienced at reading situations on their own, then start working in a stand-stay?

I have a young bitch who is very keen on the stock’s every movement and when I ask for a down-stay at balance I guess she feels like she is going to lose control. I can get the first few downs, but after a while it becomes a battle. Yesterday by mistake I just told her to “stay”. She walked a few steps, froze on her feet and looked at me, calmly waiting for the “walk up”. She was noticeably more relaxed about doing this than a down. The dog I was working more earlier this year would down at the “l” of” lie down” and not move a stitch until I gave her the signal to move. This recent dog is entirely different. A down in the pens or at the gate is doable, but when moving the stock it’s a stretch for her.

Jamie Burns
I teach both the lie down and stop to the dogs. I start in the small pens, having a dog hold stock on the side of the pen or in a corner. My backside to the fence, not letting the dog come in. When the dog stops motion, I’ll ask for a down. Let them stay in that position a minute or two, then move the stock and say ‘watch ’em’; the dog will have to get up and hold the stock back to me, then I use the word ‘stop’ when the dog has the stock trapped again and I let the dog hold the balance point, which may or may not be 12 o’clock.

Some sheep will lean to the escape route and I let the dog ‘stop’ in that position, using the word ‘Stop’, holding my training aid out horizontal or using my hands and voice in a low calm tone. It seems to work best when teaching on a fetch, then we slowly go to off balance stops when doing circling exercises and stopping the dog off balance. I ask for a down and a stop during these exercises. I want the dog to know the difference.

I started teaching the standing stop when a fellow’s three border collies were run over and killed by cattle when he asked them to down in tall grass . . .

Anne Jespersen
With Kip I worked on getting a down first, then when it was obvious he wasn’t comfortable with that, especially when driving, I worked on a stand stay, but I still have the down for back up- basically, if he doesn’t stop on his feet with the “stay” then I tell him down. The stand stay they are much more likely to cheat on by inching forward, so it’s good to have another command for when you really need them to stop and stay without moving at all. For me the stand stay is a “hold that basic position, but also cover the sheep so some foot moving is ok” type of command.

Some of my dogs will sit when I say down, especially since we have a lot of tall grass, and I don’t insist that they go all the way down when that means they lose sight of the sheep. Luke generally does the down better than the stand- sometimes when I tell him stay (means stand) he will go ahead and down anyway. Cinder’s one of those cheater (always pushing) dogs who if I say “lie down” slowly and calmly she will stand. If I say “lie down, lie down!” she will down or crouch or sit if she doesn’t think lying down is a good idea. If I yell “DOWN” she will down. If I say “stay” she will stop and then inch forward slowly. It may not make much sense, but we have our own communication system. With my new pup, Hank, I’m working on both the down and the standing stop from the beginning. Right now he prefers the stand, but I want him to know down also.

Maarten Walter–
How to stop a dog, hmm, this is a good one. I know that Bob Vest is a good one for this one – he has a lot of tricks up his sleeve.

First off, I don’t worry too much about stopping my dog early on. Frequently it turns into a head-butting game because you can’t enforce a down anyway so the dog learns to ignore you, you get angry or frustrated,
start yelling, the dog gets intimidated or learns to ignore you even more, etc.

And remember, I’d much rather have the problem of a dog not stopping than a dog not wanting to work. . . So, lets think from a dog’s perspective; the sheep are moving, she’s in charge of keeping them together and bringing them to you, perhaps the sheeps’ little heads have passed you up and so she needs to whip around and start all over again, gee, if only you and the sheep would stop moving. . .

What this means is that on one hand we’re telling the dog that we want her to control and work the stock but a second later, for no apparent reason to the dog, we want her to stop doing that. Pretty confusing I’d say.

Then, to make it more confusing, we use all kinds of body language similar to flanking commands, to get the poor dog to lie down. Especially by waving our arms, crooks, whatever at the dog which normally is a blocking move to get the dog to go away from us, towards the sheep.

So that’s why a good working dog doesn’t want to stop. I guess it’s a communication issue . . .

Like I said, I don’t like forcing a dog into a stop too much or too early on in training. Not until they are much, much more relaxed while working their stock will I start asking for a steady stop. I’ve never taught a dog to stop using a rope, that seems very artificial and mechanical to me. All my dogs cheat on me because I taught them to stand-stay. If I plop them down then that means they’re done working and aren’t allowed to move.

Of course, the first step to stopping a dog is to make sure that you’re consistent with your command and that the dog knows the command already. So spend some good time outside of the herding area teaching your dog a solid down. Or a solid stand or a solid sit, whatever you prefer. Lately I much prefer the stand, Aussies just don’t like to lay down like other breeds do.

So Anne has hit most of those points and has some good ideas on stopping the dogs. My advice is to try some different things just make sure that you remember the basics – don’t give commands you can’t enforce, don’t go against the dog’s basic instincts early on in training and make sure the dog knows and clearly understands what you want. I know it’s probably not good dog training technique but I’ll take a dog slowing down at first, then I push a little harder and get them to almost stop until eventually they’ll stop. So its a progressive down as training happens over a couple of months. Sorry – there are no short cuts:)
This article first appeared as series of posts to the Yahoo group Aussie-Herders