Sheepdog Training 6 – Bond with your dog

Sheepdog trainer Andy Nickless greets his dog Tiny

The importance of forming a bond with your dog.

A good dog, which is strongly bonded with the handler, will do almost anything it possibly can for its handler. Its number one priority in life is to please. To form this bond isn’t so difficult if you’re kind and consistent whilst leaving your dog in no doubt who’s the boss, the bond will form sooner or later.

Probably the best way to bond with your dog and gain it’s acceptance of you as pack leader is to train it to walk on a lead PROPERLY. By properly, I mean with the lead slack most of the time (away from sheep).

A dog which pulls on the lead is trying to control the handler

I don’t expect a young dog to walk properly on the lead when there are sheep nearby, in fact that would be a bad sign. We want the trainee to be really keen, but if the dog pulls on the lead when it’s away from sheep, it obviously hasn’t accepted the handler’s authority over it – because it’s trying to control the handler.

It’s a good idea to spend some time with your dog each day. Feeding, cleaning out, exercise, playing and grooming should all be done by you (the handler) if it’s practical.

Another important task is to take time to WATCH your dog. This is especially effective if you have several dogs. Watch them at play together. Not just when you’re out for a walk or in the park – watch them when they’re at home, in their pen (if housed together) or just in a yard or your garden.

You’ll find out a lot more than you think. Which one’s the boss? Who’s challenging for top spot? And much about your dog’s temperament with other animals. Study your dog at play with others and it will give a valuable insight into the way he’ll work sheep.

When dogs play it’s a rehearsal for hunting and fighting. Watch carefully and you’ll see which dog will dash in and start a “bundle” or which one’ll try to ‘head’ the others (run in front to stop them). It’s important to bear this information in mind when your dog’s under pressure such as during shedding or penning. If you really know your dog, you’ll know how much pressure it can take.

Perhaps most importantly of all, your dog must trust you. It’s a sad sight at a sheepdog trial to see a great run and then in his moment of triumph, the handler stoops to pat the dog and the poor thing cowers or dodges out of the way. Unfortunately, it’s possible to train a dog with fear – but that doesn’t make it right (it’s worth mentioning that if a dog cowers or runs away from its handler, it doesn’t necessarily mean the guy’s been abusing the dog – it may be a legacy from a previous handler or trainer or the dog may be a nervous type).

We believe you’ll get better results from a dog which trusts and respects you. This doesn’t mean you have to spoil your dog. The more we spoil a dog, the more likely it is to feel insecure. This is because extra attention is lavished on the dog according to our mood – we can’t help it, that’s the way we are.

How many times have you allowed a dog to jump-up – and how many times have you (on a different occasion) brushed the dog aside because you don’t want it to jump up at that particular time? Now consider it from the dog’s point of view – sometimes, you’re great fun when it jumps up and at others, quite inexplicably, you reject it – puzzling eh? Of course, if we consistently spoil the dog, he won’t work at all! Far better to behave in a temperate way.

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