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Training and Working a 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.

"Training a sheepdog is sometimes compared with driving a powerful car. The trainer needs to know - instantly and automatically - when to apply acceleration and when to hit the brakes. It is a misconception that a good working sheepdog is a short step away from a well bred young pup - there is no short or easy way".


Regarding training - I don’t call Collies obedience dogs - I call them disobedience dogs!
A good trainer must learn to adapt to the individuality of each dog.
Most dogs are trained without them realising that they are being trained and then they are polished and usually it takes until they are five years old to come to their best. Then they are moulded just how I want them and are so beautiful to watch working.
Instinctive behaviour, if it is bad behaviour, is the most difficult to prevent and ways need to be well thought out if trying to cure a dog of bad instinctive behaviour. sometimes, unfortunately, you need to install fear in the dog so that the fear is stronger than the dogs instinct - especially if the dog is a sheep or poultry worrier or has a major fault.
It is better to keep a dog out of situations that it cannot deal with. Often people will practice and practice at something that the dog is doing badly and in fact, they are ingraining that fault. It far better to keep the dog out of the situation that it cannot handle until it is more mature.
If the dog is a tight outrunner often putting it up a steep hill face to herd sheep, learns it quite quickly to open out on its outrun. If not you will just have to stop the dog, move a few yards to your right or left while getting its attention and follow up with the appropriate right or left command.
If this doesn’t work, stop the dog and walk towards it, get slightly in front of it so you are in a position to keep it out, always be very patient and very quiet. If your quiet the dog will strain its ears to hear, if you roar and shout it will fall on deaf ears - always remember - actions speak louder than words.
It is best to gather spread sheep as well as positioned sheep this gets the dog to 12 o'clock and passed the 12 o'clock position. This is very important as dogs which stop short often loose too many points to be in the prize list.
Shedding is the last thing I teach. If you teach it earlier on the dog will cut in on the flock and bring the nearest sheep to you. When I teach shedding I get a flock of perhaps 30 ewes and make a large gap, asking the dog to stand on the other side. Then I get down on my knees if necessary to encourage the young dog to come to me.
If the sheep are quiet, the dog and I can walk A away from B. If the sheep are tricky and want to break back, I quickly move around in front of a leaving the dog to hold the sheep to me until we get away a sensible distance and I come back to the dogs side and together we walk the sheep away.
When we get a suitable distance I distract the dog back to the sheep it has left, teaching it what the ‘look back’ command means
This exercise trains the dog to shed, to drive - because its taking the sheep away for a reason and to look back for more sheep.
Some dogs are free flankers, other dogs are line dogs - a follower and a flanker is what we are aiming to breed - however it will be obvious early on if the dog is a flanking type and it should be kept on few sheep - stopped at a distance and then be asked to walk up repeatedly.
If the dog is a line dog it should be on wild sheep on a steep brae where it has to flank naturally.
If the sheep are wild at the pen, wait until they are approaching before you open the gate. sometimes they will than see it as a bolt hole and move inside.
Never open the gate fully until you have the sheep as near into the mark as possible and then take a couple of steps backwards, pulling the gate with you. Often the sheep will follow you into the mouth of the Pen.
Never be in a hurry to put them in - let them see where they are going. If they are Black faces, once they start to go, follow them in with the gate otherwise they will come out again.
Often I turn my crook upside down, the sheep think its a hand and it definitely helps.
All my dogs are capable of doing an outrun, a lift and fetching sheep straight to me without any commands.
Years ago one could do this regularly at trials where the sheep were heavy. These days one often has to get a cautious lift so the dog has to be stopped. this is a great pity.
One of the most important commands that I teach is ‘take time’ - said slowly. If you say it quickly it encourages fast tight movement from the dog.
The same with whistles, slowly given whistles encourage wide careful movement, quick whistle tight fast movement.
Once you have decided on your commands you must stick to them. Because I regularly run two dogs, I have two sets of commands with corresponding sets of whistles.

'Out' to the right                          'Way' to the right

SET 1             'Bye' to the left                           'Come' to the left           SET 2

walk 'Up'                          walk 'On'

There are certain words which dogs seem to love.
One is keep - it means ‘give the sheep room’ When the dogs are young, I spend a lot of time on the walkabouts getting between them and the sheep and with my crook, gently pushing them out at the same time saying ‘keep’. They all respond well to this word.
Another word they seem to like is ‘comeear’ (Come here). Its the tone of words that they like. Part of their language is sound, scent and movement, so when you say ‘comeear’ in a slow lilting way, it is quite easy to get a young dog to come towards you before it knows its right and left commands - for instance, when you are driving sheep away.
It is important to remember that a collie dog is very primitive. It has been made sensitive in order to be receptive and intelligent, Its not normally bred for its temperament because it is not a priority to breed for temperament in working lines.
I like a dog that is slightly wary with people but is very bold around sheep. This is a good combination and makes the dog good to handle .

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