Trainers see it all the time. People bringing in a puppy that they have made mistakes with for the past 10 months to a year and seeking help. It happens all the time and that is why there are professionals ready to help. Just remember that it takes time to straighten out mistakes that have been made. And even worst all the time that the trainer is trying to be the dog’s friend they have to be reprimanding them for something that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen. Here are 10 suggestions to making your pup a welcome addition to your working staff.
1. Socialize your puppy.
Don’t just get a pup and put them in a kennel or put them in a stall in a barn and expect them to come out a year latter and have someone be able to train your dog. Let a puppy be a puppy. Lots of contact with the family, and in my personal opinion, there is nothing better than having a puppy grow up with kids.
2. Teach your dog the basics early on.
That means spending time with your pup. Teach your puppy it’s name. Teach it to come when called. Teach what NO means along with a down and a stay. Those are basic things that if you don’t teach, your trainer is going to have to all at a cost to you. It is always more fun to start with a well behaved dog.
3. Teach your dog good kennel habits.
Crate train your puppy. A puppy will resist a crate at first because of the confinement, but will learn that a crate is their own protected area and love the security a crate provides. Provide adequate time out of its kennel to do its duties . A dog likes to have a clean place to live and will appreciate not having to use its house as a toilet. There is nothing worst than a dog that is always fouling its kennel.
I know a lot of people just let their dogs run loose. This is not acceptable for a working dog. The number one reason of mortality for working dogs is being run over by a vehicle. That speaks for itself. I don’t know how often someone will bring in their young dog, we put it on the stock and it looks like it is afraid of the stock or it looks back at its owner afraid to go to the stock. Almost always you find out that the dog was out running loose and was chasing the horses, cattle, sheep or even chasing cars and was gotten after for doing that. That translates into punishment for working.
To an untrained dog, what might be chasing to you is working to the dog. Many of these dogs, when you get them on the stock and encourage them will work again but many will never reach their full potential. This is a mistake that can easily be avoided by putting the young dog in a kennel and not letting these problems occur. But you are going to say, Heck, I don’t want my young dog in a kennel all the time but also don’t want them chasing after the horses or running down the lane after a car. That is true, but the way to stop them is to have control on your dog and once you start getting your dog broke you will be able to have a down and whatever it is chasing , you will be able to down it, stop it and call it back to you. And that is the best way of controlling the situation.
4. Allowing your pup to watch the stock.
To just sit and stare at stock either from inside its kennel or out, running up to the fence and just sitting there by the fence and watching the cattle or sheep all day long can make a young dog both clappy and sticky on sheep and develop too much eye. That is easily avoided by moving your dogs kennel to where it can’t see the stock, building a blind and keeping it in a kennel.
5. Teach your pup that you don’t like barking all the time.
It is fairly easy to do when they are pretty young. You can just yell NO harshly at them and again they should know what the word NO means from your previous training. And if necessary, grab them by the nose at the same time and say NO. By the time a pup is 3 to 4 months old and if it’s barking you should just be able to say no and have it be quiet. If you do send your dog out for training when its almost a year old and its barking, the first thing your trainer is going to have to do is work on it to stop the barking and its counterproductive to bonding with your dog.
6. Electric Fences.
And for some reason I hear this fairly regularly, I went to work the stock for the first time or my dog was looking through the fence and it got hit by an electric fence When a dog is looking at the stock and its mind is focused on the stock and it is hit by an electric fence, the dog thinks it is the stock that did it not the fence. He doesn’t relate to the fence hurting him, just the stock.
7. Introducing your Dog to Stock.
When you go in to introduce your dog to stock make it a really good fun experience for the dog. Use dog broke stock. Don’t let your dog get driven into the ground by the stock that is not broke or too spoiled. Help your young dog. Use your voice to praise your young dog. Get your dog excited about the stock. I don’t think there is anything a dog can do wrong the first time you take it to stock. Whatever happens the first time a young dog goes to stock, I’m not disappointed. It’s not the way they start, it’s the way they finish that counts. For young dogs, keep the training sessions short. 10 minutes or less, 2 times a day is much better than once for 20 to 30 minutes.
8. Timing is everything.
Ultimately, for quick results training a dog, you need to give correction when the dog is thinking about doing something wrong, not after it is done. For example, if your dog is a big time gripper, the time to correct is when he is thinking about gripping not after he has gripped. When you watch your pup, most generally it will grip in the same direction all the time. Watch for that grip and when you see it coming, be prepared for the correction. Warning signs of the impending grip are the tail coming up, picking up speed, or a change in the eyes. Make your correction before it grips. Most people say Well I can’t correct it because it never does that at home. I can assure you that it is thinking about gripping at home and you have to think like the dog. Stop thinking like a human and start thinking like the dog. When you start thinking like your dog, training will be easier for you and him.
9. Dogs are creatures of habit.
If a dog does something wrong and does it once it is no big deal but if it is allowed to do it over and over again, it becomes a bad habit. Anytime a dog does something 15 or 20 times it has become a habit. The good news is that if it does something right 15 or 20 times it becomes a good habit. The lesson to be learned here is, don’t let them do it wrong in the first place because it is a habit you are going to have to change. It takes a long time to make a bad habit into a good one. If your dog did something correct 5 or 6 times and you are thinking how great that was and then does something wrong once you are going to have to do it again 5 or 6 times correctly before you are back to where you started when he did it wrong just that one time. When training your pup you need to make use of every opportunity for good habits.
10. Shorten Back Up.
Number 10 may be something you already know. That is, no matter where you are in training, whether it is a very young puppy learning to come to you or you are working on your dogs outrun or just trying to get your dog to stop, if you are having difficulty with it, you need to get closer to the dog. To shorten things up. Again, don’t let your pup get the opportunity to do something wrong. Don’t expect your puppy to come when he is in hot pursuit of the neighborhood cat. Instead, get into a control situation, where you are fairly close, where you know he is going to obey and set it up where you can say That will do and he will come to you. If you are having outrun trouble, don’t try to fix it at 2 or 3 hundred yards. Fix it at 75 yards or 50 yards even and then slowly make your outrun longer and longer. If you have a failure, back it up. Do half the distance again and work your way back out. This is the golden rule of dog training. Whenever you are in trouble just cut everything in half. Get control and slowly work your way out again.
To me, I think the main difference between a professional and someone just starting to train stock dogs it that the pro sees a problem before it ever gets to be a problem and avoids it completely where a beginner doesn’t know they are having a problem until it is too late and then they have to go fix the problem. Be ready to spend quality time with your pup and seek professional help if you are unsure or having a problem before it develops into a habit.
It is helpful to be reminded of some basic principles of dog training. It is really hard to put down on a top ten list when you really need a book.
11. A Carrot and a Stick.
It is really simple. Your dog needs to know when he has been good or bad. Dogs can’t really understand what we are saying but they can understand the inflection in our voice. In other words, when your dog is doing something good, you need to almost “sing” with praise. “Good Boy!” And when your dog is doing something bad that you don’t want him to do you need to be able to get loud, to growl, like “what are you doing” or “no” People that have a monotone voice make poor dog trainers. Generally, I think men need to work on their voice giving praise and I think women need to practice their growling, being loud and making their voices deeper.
12 The Down.
I’ll teach the down to a dog when he is off of stock. And make the dog lie down but all the down actually means stop, that is all it means. It doesn’t mean lie on your belly and most dogs even when you teach them down, then you go to the stock, they forget all about it anyway. I have found the best way actually to teach the stop is to give that command to the dog when he pulls up on the balance point is the time you can, when you are in a small area, you can use your body to block the dog and when as you do that and the dog comes to a stop you just tell them to “lie down” and this way most dogs learn to stop on their feet. I can’t stress how important a stop is on your dog. If you can stop a dog anytime you can stop unwanted behavior. If you have a young dog that will stop when you tell it to, already you have a useful dog around your ranch.
13. Don’t Nag at your Dog.
If you find yourself giving the command over and over again and the dog not changing his behavior, for example, if you are yelling “come by, come by, “ and the dog continues going straight, you’ve got a problem. What you are actually teaching the dog to do is to disobey you. Although this principle I actually learned from my wife and my kid, Where my wife would tell my kid to do something about five times. The kid got to know that on the 6th time he was gonna get smacked on the back of the head. And he would usually take the full five times before he would change what he was doing. Typically I will give a command twice. I’ll take time to stop and enforce the command so the dog is listening to me. Again if you find yourself giving the same command over and over again get into a small area, a round pen or up against a fence where you can enforce your commands both with your voice and with your body language.
14. Work on Good Habits Only.
I know some ranchers that will run a young dog with an older dog expecting the young dog to pick up on the job. My opinion is that they hardly ever learn any of the good habits of the old dog most generally they develop their own bad ones. And when you are doing a lot of hollering at your young dog to change the unwanted behavior you need to understand that your old dog is actually hearing that correction too and thinking it is intended for him. I don’t doubt that you can eventually train dogs this way but it is the slow way to do it and not the best.
15. Be Consistent.
Give the command in a calm voice, not too loud just loud enough for the dog to hear you and if it doesn’t obey, give the correction in a loud voice and then go back to giving the command again and drop back down to the normal voice again whatever it takes to get the job done. If you find yourself hollering all the time, your training program is in trouble. Get back into a smaller area and get things in control again.
16. Know When to Quit.
Always leave with your dog when the dog is still wanting to do more. If you are working your dog all of a sudden it leaves the stock to go get water or goes to lie down in the shade understand you had a monumental failure. Understand it is YOUR failure, not the dogs. Some dogs can take more work than others. And you can actually train a dog so that it won’t work at all or be alert to the signs that your dog has had enough training. It will start looking away from the stock, running too wide or you find yourself calling it back onto the stock. Call it back on the stock, get it excited one last time and then quit when you want to quit not when the dog does.
17. Don’t Sour Your Dog.
There is an old saying “dogs don’t get any better in Kennels” but actually sometimes they do. If things are going bad and particularly if you don’t know what to do about fixing it if you’ve got a dog that is starting to turn off or if you’ve got a dog that is starting to do something that you think might be a problem put the dog up for a week maybe even two weeks when you take it back out again it may forget that unwanted behavior and sometimes the break will do you both good.
18. One At a Time.
Teach one or two things at a time. What we mean here is, if you are working on your dog to get back, they basically work on the get back. It doesn’t mean that you can’t tell your dog to lie down or work more on balance. It just means what your emphasis is on. Put your emphasis on one or two things don’t try to teach eight things at once. Basically, teach one thing and get it right before going on to something else. You will be done faster than trying to teach a bunch of things at once.
19. Top Dog.
You are the top dog in your kennel. Whether you have one dog or twenty remember that you are top dog. You are number 1 in the pecking order. And you above all else are to be respected. All dogs have a pecking order that is in the kennel. Dogfights can be very expensive, physically to the dogs and financially to you. And unhappy dogs don’t work up to their full potential. Dogs that growl or show their teeth to another dog or walk around with their fur up and their tail high are really just a dogfight looking for a place to happen. You must make it perfectly clear to the dog that is exhibiting this kind of behavior that you don’t allow it.
20. Magic & Mystery
Back in the old days when pickups weren’t as reliable as they are today. When things were simpler we use to be able to work on your vehicles ourselves. So when the truck wouldn’t start, Dad would go out would go out with his jumper cables, a screwdriver, a flashlight, and a hammer and see what he could do to get it going. And when he tried everything that he knew, he would always come back in and proclaim that it was the carburetor. Now Dad didn’t know anything about carburetors and they were a complete mystery to him and yes, he even probably thought they were a bit magical.
Well, anyway, after he tried everything he knew he would finally give up and call the guy down at the garage so that he was sure that the mechanic had some tool or knowledge that he didn’t have to fit his carburetor. Looking back on it for the past 40 years, I can safely say that the carburetor was probably never at fault because after the mechanic left and the truck was running we never actually heard what was wrong with the truck. We were left to believe that Dad was right and the mechanic had some secret to get our truck going. We all want to believe that the pros have secrets and perhaps even a little bit of magic for training dogs. But actually what they have experience, skill, and knowledge.
I’ll tell you this story because a young rancher came out with his young dog. We put it on the stock and at first it kind of went in a busted them up, we started getting her going around one way and then the other and she started looking around, she wanted to leave the stock and he has had this problem with her. In fact, she would run off and he would not be able to catch her. I told him how I would fix it. But he was sure there was some magical way we could do that to give him immediate results and thought that if he could get an electric collar that if she started to leave the field that he would be able to stop her and get her back on the stock again. What I had to explain to this young man was that people that use electric collars simply don’t understand how to get a dog to stop and collars are never the answer to training stock dogs.
The moral of this story is ‘There ain’t no such thing as a magic wand that we can wave over a problem and it will change just like that. If you are having trouble just back up. Get in a smaller area and let your dog know how important it is to stop when you tell them to stop, where you tell them to stop. Use your body and the pressure of a fence or round pen to be able to help stop your dog. It is always easier to start with these basic training principals like your dog stopping when you tell it to, then it is to go back and fix a problem later when a dog has been allowed to develop a bad habit such as not stopping at all or taking 5 or 6 steps after you tell him to stop. There is no dog that can not be stopped. I don’t care how hard you think your dog is. If you are consistent and your dog believes you can make him stop, he will. Don’t let your dog give you the “doggy paw”!