I have spent several columns on the techniques for training your dogs. However, I neglected the most important aspect of this exercise
HANDLER’S MENTAL ATTITUDE.
This training stuff is not easy. It takes concentration, perception and consistency. The more mistakes you allow the dog to make, the less reliable he will be. You are creating a TOOL; one that will be an incredible labor-saving device, if done properly. Your ability to grow as a handler will only be to the degree the dog lets you handle. If your dog misses 50% of his commands, how do you know if you were correct or not? Better you give the WRONG command, dog obeys and you realize you goofed than dog blows you off and you NEVER find out if it was a correct call or not. So, you need a dog to do what he is told.
This takes up back to the necessity of proper training. It’s BORING, BORING and REPETITIVE. Dogs don’t like it and neither do people. This is where herding is NOT FUN!! In any endeavor that demands excellence, there is a period of time when it is NOT FUN!! Think of school, sports, jobs. What got you through it? MENTAL DETERMINATION.
I have a number of clients who successfully completed their Started titles and are moving into Intermediate. In USBCHA, they are ready for ProNovice. The jump from Beginner to Intermediate is HUGE! The dog needs to be worked in a whole different manner. Both dog and handler have become comfortable w/ walking around a course, letting the dog “do it’s thing”. Not so in the higher levels. Handler becomes a “puppeteer” not a magnet. Dog must be placed in EXACTLY the correct location to move the sheep to the desired obstacle. Dog must be looking at the sheep, not at the handler. Suddenly all terminology is about the sheep and handler is trapped in concrete shoes. The only way this is accomplished is when the dog is obedient.
Sadly, some dogs don’t always have the drive to work through this. Ironically, I see more people give up than dogs. It has become difficult and repetitive and BORING. Hours are needed to teach these dogs the lingo to match the behavior. You will spend 80% of your training just reinforcing commands. You can be sure if the dog misses 1 out of 4 commands in training, the number become 1 out 3 in trials. Or worse. You will not get those pretty blue ribbons with numbers like that. Trialing is expensive and each run should count for something. I had one missed command cost me $500 at a trial. My dog didn’t take my first “Go Bye” at the drive panel so I had to give a 2nd one. The delay allowed the sheep to go around the panel, throwing me into 2nd place. $500 was the difference between 1st and 2nd. Needless to say, I went home and worked DRILLS.
This is actually one of the most interesting parts of training for me. This is when I see the dog begin to LEARN the commands and respond. I watch little light bulbs come on, snap,snap, snap. I LOVE when the dog asks ” Is THIS what you want”? I can’t sculpt or paint. Taking a active, silly dog and making him a well-oiled tool is the closest I get to ART! As the dogs learn, they achieve confidence and they LIKE it. The want our approval and they want to work sheep. The better they obey, the more sheep they get and they figure that out! This is the groundwork for the “team” you and your dog become.