Should the dog lie down, or remain standing, when you stop it?
We’re often asked whether a working sheepdog should lie on the ground, or remain standing when it receives a stop command. Logically, a dog that receives the “lie down” command should lie on the floor, and one which is told to “stand” should remain on its feet.
If you leave it up to the sheepdog itself, whether to stand or lie down on the stop command, some will remain on their feet, and some will naturally prefer to lie down (whatever the command).
Personally, I much prefer a dog to remain on its feet – simply because a dog which is already standing up, can surely move more quickly than one which has to get up off the ground first. Therefore, a young trainee dog that’s encouraged to remain upright, will hopefully feel more confident of being able to dodge away from trouble if the sheep are aggressive. Confidence is paramount in a sheepdog.
It’s not a big deal though – one of my best bitches (Kay) nearly always lies down, and she has no problem with aggressive sheep.
Some trainers insist on the dog actually lying down when they say lie down, and standing when they say stand, but to me, this is unnecessarily strict. The dog should learn what’s required in a given situation, from the urgency in your voice, and a good dog will act accordingly. Beginners, on the other hand, often prefer the dog to lie down, because a dog lying on the ground gives the impression it’s going to stay there for a while, and the trainer feels they can relax a little.
There are no hard and fast rules on it, and it’s interesting to watch different reactions from different dogs (and trainers) under similar circumstances.
To further complicate matters, I prefer to use “lie down” as my stop command, even though I prefer the dog to remain on its feet. The dogs are perfectly happy with this, because they know no different, but some of those who attend our sheepdog training courses are a little puzzled by it, but as I see it, “stand” begins with ‘s’ and as such, must begin with a hissing sound. Hissing and shushing sounds are frequently used (by me and a great many other sheepdog trainers) to excite, motivate, or speed dogs on their way. This would seem to be in conflict with the result we’re expecting.
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A dog’s brain works many times faster than a human’s, and in my opinion, sometimes, “stand” (especially when the ‘s’ is prolonged) can give the dog conflicting messages. Watching keen young dogs react to my telling them to “come here” when we’re close to sheep, has proven this to me time and again. Just the letter ‘c’ is enough to trigger the dog into a “come-bye” outrun, but within a fraction of a second, the dog will realise what I actually meant, and will come back to me, often looking apologetic.
Call it petty if you like, but I like to eliminate every confusing factor when I start training a young sheepdog, so I use “Lie down” spoken as softly as the situation allows, to give trainee dogs a clear signal that I want them to stop.