Stop Means Stop!


Christian, my project dog, is one who does not like to stop. On top of that, she is immature, pushy and fast, too fast even for the sheep. I have been working with her for many years, made a lot of mistakes training this different type of dog. What type do you ask? Boy, I wish my mentor would have told me years ago (the easy way), instead of making me work it out for myself. She is a very sensitive type of dog, a line dog, and on the looser-eyed side for a Border collie.

My method, in the past, for training was to ask, then insist, then I would get more demanding every time I would repeat the “command”. No longer do I train quite like this, being a remnant from my obedience days...I have learned a quieter more emotionally controlled way of training a dog on sheep. And I learned much of this way because of Christian.

I am no angel, mind you. Far from it! I still do loose it from time to time, just not nearly as often as I used to. And I think my blood pressure thanks me for the change.

I started working Chris on sheep when she was about 9-10 months old. I thought she was ready to start training and did not realize that she was immature until several years later. She wasn’t terribly hard to train in herding, except she would not lie down. I was out there screaming it!..And because of that, in my little head I thought she was a terribly “hard” dog. A stubborn dog. The hardest dog in the world!

After consulting my trainer about her not lying down, she told me “why don’t you just have her stand, instead of fighting her and yelling. You can get the ‘lie down’ later”. That sounded very logical to me and took a lot of pressure off of me and Chris. I know several handlers who do not teach lie downs to their dogs early in training. This might be the case for this dog. So that is what I did, I got a stand on her.

A stand on a young dog has its issues as well. Dogs on their feet, move or creep much easier, especially when in front of stock. Dogs on their bellies, have a greater tendency to remain on their bellies until told to get back up. And that is what I got out of Christian...lots of non-stopping, driving me crazy.

I trialed her in nursery a bit, then was entering her in Pro-novice trials. And because she was fast, pushy, and didn’t stop, I was hating it. I hated trialing her. (I think she could feel it) I would come home from a trial and complain to my husband that I wish he would just take her as a pet and that it was not fun to trial her and I was just wasting my money. He would just brush me off saying she just needed more training or help. And in retrospect he was right.

Several years ago a fellow handler and I were chatting, and like most conversations at that time, I always talked about Chris. I guess she was getting to me. This handler mentioned to me that maybe a different approach to training Christian might help since she was a sensitive dog. A sensitive dog??? That was a revelation. The more I thought just about that comment, the more it made sense. Christian is pretty sensitive.

She suggested being very quiet with commands and when you ask her to lie down and she doesn’t, do not give another command-louder...drop the training stick (just in case) and immediately walk up to her, get nose to nose with her, with her cheek hair in hand, and scold her. That worked like a charm!!! I changed my approach to training sheepdogs based on her.

All of the yelling was killing her with stress. Her nose would hit the ground while driving indicating avoidance behavior, which is now virtually disappeared. And after a few sessions, I was getting a solid stand (lie down). Which was good, because there was still no pace from her.

Last year I spoke with two different school teachers about her. I told them how I had retrained her and what I had learned. I had learned that physiologically the body can shut down a sense as a coping mechanism to stress. And I believed that Chris was having her hearing shut down due to the stress she was experiencing while training or trialing sheep.

Both teachers conferred that children can suffer the same effect from stress, and it has been documented many times. Children can have their hearing shut down as a coping mechanism response to excess stress.

I was astonished when I heard that. So, my dog is sensitive AND she cannot hear me when her stress level gets too elevated. That explained so much with her behavior, and why she didn’t stop.

Today, Chris is trialing better and better, ups and downs, but on a gradual incline. She is trialing in Open and is a good shedder.  She is even stopping for me during a trial! If I would have sold her or merely quit trialing and training her, I would have missed a HUGE lesson in training sheep dogs. She is a tough one, and she has taught me more about this breed in herding than in all of my others except for my first herding-line bred bitch, of course. Christian, the tough one, has made me a better trainer and handler, for which I am very grateful.

Stephanie Summers

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