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Bringing on a young Border Collie - by Viv Billingham Parkes

This information sheet has been initiated by and for Border Collie Rescue to give insight and perspective to the background and behaviour of the breed.

The following text and information has been compiled by BCR member Viv Billingham - Parkes.

"A working sheepdog must be moulded with great care over a period of time, depending on the quality of the material provided and the intricacy of the shape required, until finally you behold the finished article - your creation - hopefully a combination of brains ability and great beauty".

In the early days, the less training the better.
From 3 months of age I take them to sheep, only when I can spare the time. I sit back and watch their antics. Often they will make many mistakes but the more mistakes they make the better because they learn from their mistakes and what is more important, they get confidence in their own ability.
So - when they chase the sheep and split them I just sit back and smile.
I don’t like to see a pup that is overly aggressive, but if they pull wool it doesn’t really bother me - they are just frightened they will lose their sheep. If later they start to bite the sheep and this biting is accompanied by a growl, I keep the pup away for several months or until it is old enough to stand a reprimand or I do what a call the Rope Trick.
This is a light rope, usually a washing line, from the collar down the middle of the back, put the slack under the dogs belly, up the other side and through so that it tightens above the hips when the dog runs to the end of the line. Just as its going to bite the sheep I say NO and pull on the line if necessary. The rope trick is a wonderful way of controlling a dog without harm or pain and teaching the dog to work sensibly.
No animal wants to be choked and for this reason I would abolish the choke chain. I think it is a dreadful thing to use. A broad leather collar should be put on a young working dog only when it is being led.
It stands to reason that if you choke an animal it is going to pull away from you - so - by doing the rope trick for as little as 20 minutes you will have the dog walking sensibly at the side of you.
With no interference, by the time the pup is about seven months old it will begin to look to you for guidance. It will accept you as the pack leader or parent dog purely because you take it to ‘hunt’ the sheep.
After all the working instinct is the hunting instinct, preferably with the killing instinct bred out so that the dog can be trusted to work alone and out of sight.
Dogs that never loose their aggression will never be used for breeding by me and will be sold only as cattle dogs.
When a dog is around 1 year old I can see in which areas it shines and in which areas it needs help. By then all manner of nice moves should have begun to occur and usually they are going around their sheep and holding them to me wherever I go.
At this point I will go ‘walkabout’ with a few sheep all over the area, encountering all the hazards the dog is likely to meet as an adult. Things like gateways, rough ground, forestry, rivers - this keeps the work interesting for the dog.
Once it is beginning to tire and the sheep are running out of steam, I get the dog to do a little driving, but generally on the ‘walkabout’ the dog is flanking to hold the sheep to me so I can fit right and left voice commands and whistle in with these movements.
When the young dog is tired or I allow the sheep to run into a corner, the dog will stop and I can fit a stop command in with what it does. When I move away the sheep follow me and the dog follows the sheep so in reality I am creating movements that the dog reacts to so I can fit commands in with those movements.
I like the dog to make as many mistakes as possible because it learns by its mistakes and gives me the opportunity to show it how the job should be done.The dog will comply because I have never been unreasonable and because it will save energy by working with me rather than against me.
Young dogs should be kennelled inside, where they can’t see what is going on in the main working area and preferably where they can’t hear what's going on. Dogs that habitually bark do so because of frustration.
Usually they are chained up outside or in runs where they can see everything that is going on but become very frustrated when they can’t participate, and thus get into the habit of barking.
When a dog is kept inside it has time to think. It has time to look forward to being with you and therefore wishes to please.
You must remember that all dogs will have ‘off’ days and if your dog is having an ‘off’ day and nothing is going well, just take it and put it to bed and forget about working it until the next day.

Often - if things go really wrong I keep a dog away from sheep for a few days but take it for a long walk both morning and evening - a regular routine is very important to a young dog.

When training it is better to nip some faults in the bud - before they become a habit - because dogs are creatures of habit. however, sometimes they need to be allowed to make mistakes in order for you to be able to show them the right way.
I always have my crook with me when I take the puppies and young dogs walking. They must never fear it. It is an extension of your arm, there to help the dog to pen with.
Young dogs should never be overfaced. A child that is abused never forgets. Always run to help a young dog with difficult sheep. Also work a dog at hand for many months so that eventually, when you do start to increase the distance it will work exactly the same away from you as beside you.I
I have never found it necessary to make a young dog lie down. I have never found it necessary to make a young dog do anything. I don’t see the point in making a dog lie down and then having to teach it to stand up again.
I always ask my dogs to stand and then give them the choice. They soon get to know that they have to keep a low profile when the sheep are wild and that they should be on their feet when the sheep are bold.
One weekend my bitch ‘Jess’ compromised because the sheep were very difficult to read. At the pen she had her head down and her bottom up.
If you are running a young dog at a trial stand it behind the judges car and ask it if it can see the sheep two or three runs before your turn. This will help a young dog.
Try to hide it from a view of the outlet pen because if it sees the sheep going off after a run, it may think that the sheep it needs to collect are at the outlet pen.
Also, if your dog is inclined to be a wide runner, set it up slightly in front of you before you ask it if it can see the sheep. If it is a tight runner stop it when you are walking to the post and continue to the post without the dog so that you can put it out wider from behind you.
I do not believe that any trials should have fetch gates. It means that the sheep have to be positioned at the post at the other end of the field and this will often upset them.
Also, flanking a dog, purely to hit fetch gate on the fetch is removing the lining up ability.
It is important not to overlay human values onto your pup or young dog. Best is to be one of them rather than expect them to think like you. Encourage them to be DOGS.

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