Watch The Stock
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I forget where I heard this piece of wisdom but a top handler once said (and I'm paraphrasing a bit) "by the time I get to a trial, I don't even watch my dog. I watch the sheep and control them". Again this is another classic example of someone building their dog to a point where they trust them enough to do their job. It is something we all should aspire to with our dogs. Yet watching the stock is a bit more complicated then that. It is also hugely important in training. People I've coached over the years will probably vividly remember me saying "watch the stock" while they're training. They probably also remember their own frustrations in trying to dissect what I meant. Luckily my for my faithful readers, I have become a lot better at explaining it. At the root of it, the stock will tell you exactly how your dog is working and exactly what they are doing wrong. If your dog is cutting flanks, the stock will jump away exactly where the dog cut in. If the dog has bad pace, the stock will be running when driving instead of walking. Even more interesting, different stock will show you different things. Real hard to move stock will challenge less confident or weak dogs where as a confident strong dog will move them easily. Stock that are very wild and fast moving will show whether a dog knows how to cover and balance properly enough to keep them grouped. I also often hear people say "I can't see what my dog is doing behind those animals". But you don't have to see the dog. The stock will tell you exactly where that dog is and what it's doing. If they're running off at a 45 degree angle from you, then send your dog over back to balance until the animals are coming straight again. If you see the group of animals zig zagging toward you then your dog is wearing to much and needs to be slowed down and straightened out. If the animals at the back randomly jump up like they got spooked by something the your dog is probably diving in a biting those particular animals. The examples are truly endless. Yet for me, it all comes back to my underlying philosophy. Whether your trialing or just farming, we all are trying to achieve the same thing. We are trying to, within our dogs and selves, achieve excellence in stockmanship. Don't worry so much whether or not your dog takes every command. Or if they take every command exactly technically correct. Worry whether you can move any stock at any time however and wherever you want. Put commands to the stockmanship. And if you're ever wondering whether or not you're on the right track, stop watching the dog; watch the stock.