This might seem like it will be a post about how to avoid making a dog mechanical or even a petty promotion for board training but that’s far from the case. Let me start with something people ask me all the time. What can I do at home, home being in town in most cases, to facilitate training? I always respond saying to work on your dog giving in to pressure and just generally respecting you. That is honestly most of what you can accomplish away from stock. I believe that what we do is not training so much as it is guiding or teaching. I define the idea of training as being the patterning actions so that when a command is given, a predictable action follows. A classic example is ‘training’ your dog to balance a treat on their nose and catching said treat on command. Whereas ‘teaching’ is working with a dogs natural instinct to herd and move livestock and teaching them how to do it as effectively and efficiently as possible. Of course, there is a great deal of vocal commands and subsequent obedience that goes with it but that is only a part. Take the trial circuit as an example. I’ve heard people say it is largely a competition to see whose dog is most obedient. That theory falls apart when you look at common obstacles like the pen in sheep trialing. The pen is sometimes the unsung hero to my mind since it typically isn’t worth that many points and isn’t at all as fun to watch/do as driving or shedding. But, if you watch the real special dogs at the pen, most of them will pen the stock without hardly any guidance from the handler. How do they do that? Well they were taught how to read livestock. They know when they need to only half step on a flank when they need to or back off completely. They know all the nuances of how to apply the perfect amount of pressure in the perfect spot. That I don’t believe is trained behaviour. I’ll give another example and it’s a common theme when I talk about dog training. Parenting and training stock dogs has far more in common than one would realize. You don’t train a child on morality, you teach and guide them throughout you’re tenure as a parent. That is exactly what it is to teach a dog stockman-ship. And, at the end of the day, you are simply helping them flourish at what they’re good at. If these dogs weren’t good stockman then they wouldn’t have been bred and trained for the past 100+ years. So what I tell new people all the time is to stop thinking of yourself out here training a dog, think of yourself as someone who is teaching a new right hand on proper stock handling.
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