Just how do we go about reading our dog’s mind?
Well, we can’t exactly do that but we can get close. This is one of the trickier parts of sheep dog training – you need to read the dog’s body language! If you study it, you’ll see that when the dog’s preparing to grip, his ears go back, his hackles up and his head goes down. Often his tail goes up too (but we’ll talk about this some other time). When you see signs that the dog’s preparing to grip THIS is the time to shout! You’ll be amazed how effective it is if you get the shout in at the precise moment BEFORE the dog grips.
I realise it’s not easy to read body language of a dog which is probably travelling at full speed, in what appears to the novice trainer as a whirlwind of sheep and dogs, but it’s worth practising as it can make the difference between a poor sheepdog trainer and a good one.
Reading the dog’s body language in a training session (or when working) is enormously important. If I’m standing on one side of the sheep, and the sheepdog’s standing (or lying) on the opposite side, I can normally tell which way the dog wants to circle the sheep next. Regardless of what I say, he’ll probably go that way. In the early stages of training, I may use this to give the dog the correct command for the direction it will travel in, but quite soon, I’ll use it to make the dog go the other way, to show the dog it must go the way I want it to, and not the way it wants to. Difficult? Not really, I’ll tell you later, how to get the dog to go your way and not his.
If you manage to train your dog to a good enough standard to start entering sheepdog trials, remember, there will be people watching and sooner or later (probably sooner) he’ll do something at a trial which makes you want the earth to open up and swallow you. It happens . . . how do we know it happens?
Because it happens to US and we’ve seen it happen to the greatest dog / handler combinations in the world – so we can be fairly sure it’s going to happen to you! The point is, the dog’ll come back to you – probably knowing things have gone wrong and not feeling that good about it himself. This is the point when you have to swallow your pride and welcome the dog back.
Don’t make a fuss and pretend everything is perfect – but you must be glad that the dog has come back to you – just as you’ll notice if you watch them – dogs are ALWAYS pleased to see us (unless they know better for some reason).