Farm Dog 101: Training

There is no magic wand available. There are lots of options for “training” equipment – face halters, collars, harnesses, electronic collars, etc. – but no equipment can “train” an animal. It would be more appropriate to categorize all equipment as “management tools” which are more or less useful in the process of applying a training method in order to train a dog. However, if the dog will not reliably respond to a command without some type of equipment being used, the dog cannot be said to be trained. While no training is 100% – remember, dogs are not computers – a trained dog is going to be consistently responsive at a distance and under distraction. Training is about developing a relationship with the dog and relationships, as mentioned before, take time, energy and commitment.

Dog Equivalent of Running with Scissors

In my first Farm Dog 101 post I stated “ . . . as long as a handler is reasonably consistent with his/her approach to training, almost any type of training will eventually produce results. Training methods are a matter of personal preference.” While every dog is an individual, the basic principles of training are applicable to every dog, regardless of breed. Having said that, training is as much an art as a science and the trainer needs to be able to read their dog and adjust their training program accordingly.

At 4 months of age, despite his opinion to the contrary, Fix is not mature enough to be expected to handle a lot of pressure. While Fix has been accompanying me on chores from day one and has been “helping” move sheep for the past three weeks, he is not ready to start formal stock dog training. I need to be careful to push him enough where he is progressing but not so much that he can’t handle the pressure. It is my job to make sure he isn’t over-faced in any situation, so while we wait for him to get a little bigger and older, I am now prepared to ramp up his obedience training. Since I want a working dog, as well as a companion, I have a fine line to walk initially. If I stress obedience too soon, I run the risk of a dog who won’t work independently and who looks at livestock as another distraction to ignore. If I don’t start obedience before introducing my dog to livestock I run the risk of an out of control dog running my livestock into fences.

As Fix continues to mature, we will continue with daily chores while becoming more serious about obedience training. My goal is that, assuming Fix is ready, we will start stock dog training sometime in the fall. In the meantime, in progressing from teaching (i.e., associating the command with the required action) to training, I will start focusing on the first two of the 4 D’s of training (duration and distance). While the third and fourth of the 4 D’s (distractions and difficulty) will be introduced, these won’t be emphasized in my training plan until after Fix has started training on stock.

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