Dog Trainer vs Home Training

Author unknown - OBCC newsletter 2001  

How many times have you bought a puppy, or raised one from your own stock thinking, man, this one's going to be a real winner! It shows all the right stuff from the start: the pup starts working when really young, and shows a nice eye, has style and plenty of balance, and you decide you want to give it the best start by sending the pup off to your favorite dog trainer.

There are a few good dog trainers around - both here in Canada and south of the border. You want the trainer to do the best job possible, treat you fairly and honestly. You need to be upfront about what you think is the dog’s ability and temperament. Give as much history about the breeding as you can and your expectations for the long term. These things are very important so the trainer will know where to begin and the direction that the training will take. Remember some dogs, regardless of their breeding just don't make it. Some do not have the ability or interest to finish out. Finishing out could mean several things: perhaps all you need is a little help around the farm, or maybe all you need is a fetching dog with plenty of grit, not really a fine-tuned dog for trialing. Thus, you explain to the trainer that you need a good outrun and stop on the dog and that is it.  However, if you prefer to also have a trial dog, be prepared to leave him longer in order for him to learn all the basics and be introduced to the more precise trial work.  

Whatever your needs are, a good dog trainer should be able to evaluate your dog's progress and determine whether it will finish to your standards. If the dog is not going to make it, the trainer should call you and have you pick the dog up in a few weeks instead of training him for possibly 4 to 6 months. A good trainer will not waste their time and your money on a dog that will not fit your needs.

Most trainers will not take a dog until he is around a year old and can handle the rigors of training. So the day comes when your pup seems mature enough, you ship him off with high hopes. This is an exciting time, thinking you have a potentially good stock / trial dog, but not really knowing until the trainer has time to evaluate your pup. Sometimes this could take weeks to know how good he is going to be. You leave the pup and every so often you check to see how he is doing. Remember be patient, good things take time.  

So far so good. The trainer thinks he is going to be a good one. At the end of the time you and the trainer have agreed upon, you drive to pick up your new stock dog. The trainer gets him out and you cannot believe it. The dog is perfect. A solid 400 yard outrun, the youngster drives sheep 200 yards in one direction through some panels, then cross drives 200 more yards through another set of panels and back to the trainer. Next, the trainer sets him up for the perfect shed.  

Gosh, you are happy. Surely there won't be any chore around the farm too big or any trial you cannot win with this dog.

All the way home you can only think about working your new dog. As soon as you park the truck, you take your new super duper stock dog directly to the back pasture. You set him up on the right, take a deep breath and say away to me. The sheep are only 200 yards away, no problem, its only been a short while since the trainer sent him 400 yards.

Without a bit of hesitation, the dark dog darts off like a bullet straight up the field. You calmly give him a down whistle, the dog doesn't seem to hear your whistle. So you follow with another down whistle, then with several verbal lie down commands. The dog reaches the sheep. He busts up the flock and you are now running up the field as fast as you can. Before you can get there, one ewe has run through the fence, five or six more are on top of your flatbed trailer. Your super stock dog has a few trapped in the corner of the field, and the rest are racing towards the barn.

After repairing the fence and doctoring a few sheep, you calmly sit down and try to figure out what went wrong. First do not panic. This is not all that uncommon. One thing to remember is that you cannot buy your way to a successful working stock dog. Whether you send your dog off to a professional trainer or buy the best imported stock dog from Great Britain, only time and hard work together will get you where you want to be. Like a long time handler once said, spending a lot of money will not guarantee anything. You have to dedicate a lot of time learning how to work a dog - become a team, then walk a few miles doing it before you have anything.

First, take a little time and really learn the dog’s whistles. If you are not proficient on his whistles, you will only confuse him more. Second, only work your dog in a small fenced area, if possible, for a few days. Stay close to your dog and sheep. Demand the dog listen and respect your commands. You can't do this in a large field but in a small area you can. You might have to put a line on the dog to reinforce your commands. After you get total control in a small area you can move on to the larger field. Start up close and gradually increase your distance. Remember, at first never give a command unless you're close enough to back it up. And in a few weeks, you will be surprised at what you and your young dog can do.

If you're only going to work your dog at home, you are well on your way in just a few short weeks, but if you plan on trialing, your work has just begun. Plan on taking your dog to as many different fields as possible, experience is what's needed now. It's better and less expensive to train and correct your dog at a neighbor's farm rather than on the trial field.

Maybe, after all this, you're thinking "maybe I would be better off training my own dog." Well maybe you would. If you have the time, knowledge, and facilities, there is no doubt about it. Training your own dog from start to finish will give you a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure. However, for one reason or another everybody cannot train his or her dog and that is why we could be thankful for the dog trainer. 

*Photo credit to Kris Kiviaho

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