By Pat Taylor

​Fellstar Bouvs, TX

​Driving

NOTE:  Driving different kinds of stock requires slightly different skills in the dog.  For instance, sheep can usually be driven from a position more to the rear of the stock as they have fairly good rearview vision.  Cattle see sideways and so the positioning may have to be different.  Ducks drive like cattle, kinda sorta.  Goats drive different than sheep… more like cattle.  You will also learn that if your dog is a “head hunter” while driving, you can cause problems in maintaining forward motion and/or in drawing the stock in to fight the dog.  (Of course, a straight Walk Up would cure that excessive head hunting.)  So remember, driving is a relative term as to the positioning of the dog.  Depends on the stock in the pen at that time.  You get controlled forward motion in your stock then it doesn’t matter what position the dog is in.  It is driving effectively.  Do NOT make up your mind the dog has to be in position A or B or whatever for the stock to move in a given direction.  WATCH YOUR STOCK!!!  They will determine what position the dog needs to be in to effect proper movement in a given direction.  Wherever that is, that is where the dog needs to be; NOT where you may have some preconceived notion the dog needs to be.  

Driving stock with a dog seems to be a concept that is misunderstood and which actual meaning is misaligned.

​What many people don’t realize is that the view for the dog never changes.  Whether driving or fetching the dog always sees butts.  In general, he’s behind the stock.  It is WE that seem to have the problem of figuring out exactly what we’re doing or trying to accomplish.

​Let me make it simpler.  Driving is nothing more than teaching a Walk Up and letting the dog take the sheep somewhere.  It doesn’t differentiate whether the dog is bringing the stock to you are taking them somewhere else.

​Driving means the dog is “pushing” on the stock.  The dog pushes the stock in a direction; right or wrong.  It is up to us, the handler, to communicate to the dog in which direction we want the stock pushed.

There are several errors/problems I see in training driving.

#1 Handlers have trouble differentiating between dogs following stock instead of pushing stock.

#2 Handlers cannot see a straight line when teaching their dogs to drive and allow the stock to determine direction of travel instead of the dog “setting the line” to determine the direction the stock are to move.

#3 Handlers allow their line to curve, usually because they drive too far in beginning training and the dog cannot maintain the line.

​#4 Handlers don’t watch their stock; instead watching the dog; and don’t set their line as per what the stock are doing.  Instead they try to set their line (stop the dog and start their Walk Up) at some preconceived spot and cannot understand why the stock is not going in the right direction.  WATCH YOUR STOCK as that is what determines WHERE the dog needs to stop and start its Walk Up.  That is where you SET YOUR LINE!

​I start my dogs driving fairly soon when I start training them to herd.  Depending on what instinct and talent the dog has, I may concentrate more on group and fetching (using me as a focal point) for a while when I start a dog but I will intermix driving, somewhere other than toward me, into the game fairly frequently.  Why?  Because if you allow a dog to fetch ad nauseam for a long time it takes an act of Congress to get him to quit orienting the stock to the handler.  I want the dog to disengage from the handler and show more independence fairly early in the game.  Just makes driving with the dog a whole lot easier early on.

​I PATTERN dogs.  Yep, that’s exactly what I do.  I train mini-exercises that help the dog understand how to handle sheep.  Dogs pattern quite easily as evidenced in the sport of Agility.  So why not use it in herding too, especially on upright, loose-eyed dogs that may need a little extra help to learn how to herd for trialing purposes.  (I don’t care how it’s done in the pasture.  If it works then it’s fine by me.)

​I start driving on lead and in the round pen.  It’s called a Walk Up.  I’ll only ask for 3 to 5 steps IN A STRAIGHT LINE before I Down the dog and disengage the Drive/Walk Up.  My focus is to keep the sheep ON the fence while the dog is driving.  I don’t want the sheep bending/coming off the fenceline and coming to me.  I want them kept ON the fence while moving forward at a controlled speed.

​I’ll work both sides, meaning I’ll have a dog on a 6 foot leash and work the dog on both my right and left side equally.  My PATTERN for training is to Flank the dog to the heads and as those heads start to turn, I’ll give the There/Down/Walk Up command, allowing the dog to push/drive, causing the stock to finish their change of direction and then move forward for 3 to 5 steps.  Then I’ll flank the dog behind me the other way until he catches heads on that side.  Then There/Down/Walk Up for 3 to 5 steps IN A STRAIGHT LINE.

​In a 45 foot round pen you cannot drive in a straight line for very many steps.  If you view a complete circle of movement from above, the drive “legs” will look more like a hexagon in the round pen.  Why?  The sheep begin to bend around and the dog no longer is walking in a straight line but “bending” with the sheep if the drive legs are not reset fairly frequently.  If you allow this, the dog quits pushing and starts just following the stock around the perimeter of the round pen.  So you reset your line frequently, making sure that each time you reset the line you see a marked “reset” in the dog’s body posture so that the dog is resetting to walk a straight line directly at the last hip on the last sheep, or thereabout.

​Again, if you want to continue driving forward instead of reversing direction, then you will RESET your line with a There so the dog doesn’t fade to the fence and start following the stock.

​The way you SEE that the dog has started following instead of pushing is that he “fades” toward the fence a little and is positioned more behind the stock than out to one side where he can influence both the forward movement AND catch the eye of the front sheep to control the speed of the forward movement.  

​Another way to SEE following is the dog fades to the fence when driving along a fenceline and the sheep peel off the fence with the dog following behind and making no move to control their new direction.  His presence is propelling the stock along; not him actually pushing.  

​Another way to SEE following is the dog runs along behind the stock going as fast as the stock will run without effort to control the speed of forward movement.  He’s chasing.  In chasing the dog generally just following wherever the stock go instead of trying to control direction.

​Sometimes you may have really light sheep and they keep running.  That is why you FREQUENTLY change direction/catch the heads of your stock.  You may only get a step or two driving then have to catch heads again to get control of the stocks’ speed.  But, if you drive a step or two then catch heads you are CONTROLLING the speed and movement of the stock and the stock will eventually slow down because the dog is controlling them.  They give up running because the dog is showing it can handle them.  Then you can get a few more steps in a straight line before flanking to the heads again.

​Your dog is LEARNING as you do this that it (the dog) has the power to control both speed and direction. It is learning HOW to cover escape.  It is learning that there is no need to panic; it CAN get the job done.  The round pen ALLOWS that increase in confidence in the dog in that the dog realizes it can handle the stock!!!  Why?  Because the dog isn’t losing; the stock CANNOT get away.

​For many reasons people don’t like to start driving in a round pen.  If you cannot see a straight line then you may wish to start driving in a square pen or small arena so that you are driving down a fenceline and don’t have to worry about that straight line.  BUT you NEED to be able to differentiate and SEE the difference in a dog following or pushing or the line bending.  It is important in the training of the dog.

​Some dogs naturally drive/push.  Some dogs want to follow and are placid about following.  Some just want to chase and don’t want to rate.  Doesn’t matter what they do; I start them all the same.  I want control of my dog when driving.  Starting the dog on a 6 foot leash gives me several advantages.

1st - Your dog needs to be proficient in doing short flanks when you are driving.  Starting a dog on a short 6 foot leash means we START the dog doing short flanks.  The dog should get fairly expedient at giving good short flanks if started this way.

2nd – The short leash allows for reinforcing a good, hard, sharp turn-in for inclusion with the There; needed to end that short flank.

​3rd – It allows for you to correct and reinforce the Walk Up so that the dog doesn’t “stick” when you say Walk Up.  I want my dog moving forward when I say Walk Up.  I don’t want to have to plead, beg, cajole or wonder if my dog is going to walk forward on my Walk Up command.  In general the sheep are enough draw for the dog to Walk Up quickly and effectively but if the dog has problems with pressure then you may have to work more on work ethic than on the Walk Up command or work on the pressure issue at the least.  (NOTE:  I’m not saying to make your dog walk into fighting sheep (pressure) here.  But when a dog is driving there is always going to be a certain amount of pressure ON the dog both from you and the stock pushing back.  Make sure you have stock that WILL move easily off the dog to START with.  Don’t borrow trouble by putting sheep that are so heavy (or fight) and don’t move away from the dog.)

​As you work the dog in the round pen and start working him off lead, KEEP YOUR SHOULDER EVEN WITH THE LAST SHEEP’S BUTT!!! That is your line of demarcation that you do NOT want the dog to pass.

​Keep the dog on one side of you working just that one side and driving the sheep forward while you stand in the middle of the pen and slowly rotate in the direction of the flow of movement keeping that shoulder aligned with the butt of the last sheep.

​I’ll not ask the dog to keep the sheep on the fenceline in this little doodle exercise until I have better control off lead.

​In THIS exercise we want the dog pushing on THAT BUTT that is behind your shoulder.  That is the sheep that needs to catch up with the rest.  The dog will now learn how to WEAR while it is driving as it works along the rear of the sheep pushing whichever butt lags behind.

​THIS IS IMPORTANT as you are TEACHING the dog to keep the GROUP together and WEAR behind the stock as he pushes forward.

​If the front of the stock get too far ahead do NOT let the dog back flank (reverse direction) and go to the other side of you to push.  If the stock get too far ahead and start wrapping around you FLANK the dog behind you to their heads and CHANGE DIRECTION and start driving from there.

​You’ll reverse direction frequently but you will stand in the middle of the round pen taking almost NO steps while you LET the dog work.  Eventually, you will call your There closer to you and play at putting the stock back on the fenceline (keeping stock away from you) and driving the stock around the perimeter.

​Work the dog in DIFFERENT places to keep stock to you or drive them back to the fenceline.  Just doodle.

​Anyway, I start my driving in the round pen for the above reasons.  I work the stock both directions and eventually I’ll move further and further from the dog INSIDE the round pen until I’m off leash and doing driving in both directions with the stock ON the fenceline and I’m on the fenceline too (I’m not in the middle for this exercise).

​One of the cool side effects for driving in the round pen is driving the stock past you while you are standing on the fenceline.  The dog learns from the beginning how to push stock OFF of you depending on how heavy the stock are.  The stock AND the dog learn fairly quickly to flow freely past me as I stand on the fenceline when they are being pushed along the fenceline by the dog.

​This also allows the dog to get comfortable passing in FRONT of me (Inside Flank) and ignoring me to drive the stock past.

​After the stock can be driven in a 360 degree circle around the round pen I’ll remove the lead and repeat.

​Then when off lead is comfortable for the dog I’ll move to the fence and repeat the above exercise with me standing on the fenceline.

​Generally, when I move to the fence the dog WILL have problems once he hits 12 o’clock (to me) and is now flanking TOWARD me.  At this point I may “tweak” the flank with a “Here” command to help the dog understand that it is still to keep flanking but come TOWARD me while it is flanking.  This usually helps PULL the dog toward me.  If the dog is doing an Away flank I’ll say Away Here if the dog hesitates or tries to reverse its flank instead of continuing in the same direction.  If the dog keeps bouncing back away from me (reversing direction) I’ll Down the dog and walk toward the dog (I’ll follow the fence toward the dog) and repeat the command when I’m closer to the dog.  (Remember I’ve been flanking the dog behind me for some time now.)  If the dog won’t go in front of me to complete the flank then I’ll step out away from the fence and let the dog finish the flank behind me then I’ll just step back to the fenceline again.

​As the dog begins to understand to continue flanking I’ll not have to “tweak” the flank but may have to step away from the fenceline to help him by letting him pass behind me.

​Once I get him free wheeling 360 degrees I’ll begin to require him to pass in front of me.  Instead of stepping away from the fence if the dog is having problems, I’ll down the dog and simply walk to his other side then ask him to continue on the flank.  In other words “I’ll” walk to the other side of the dog passing BEHIND him.  He’ll be in a down.   If you do this several times the dog will gain confidence and be more comfortable with you being behind him and he’ll then simply pass in front of you for that inside flank.  You can also “call him through” by blocking him from going forward with your stock stick and using your hand to “lure” him in front of you to complete his flank.  You can “call him through” by forming a “tunnel” with your stock stick, laying the tip of the stock stick on the ground in front of you and call him through the opening you’ve created.  Whatever you do, the idea is to HELP him become comfortable with passing in FRONT of you.  Do NOT let him cut his corners to the point of crowding the stock though.  KEEP him ON THE FENCE to complete his flank.

​Now we have a dog that you can stop and turn in and Walk Up anywhere on the clock face OR do a complete 360°+ flank.  Next, this will allow me to work on calling a flank for the dog to “push through” the stock on the fenceline and turn the stock so that they move across the middle of the round pen with the dog driving them.  (Cross-Drive)

​You may have to back flank (reverse your flank) a few times to gain control of the stock so that they are not moving too fast along the fence.  But when you have changed direction 2 or 3 times, let your dog continue and call your There/Down/Walk Up with the dog at 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock to you.  You are going to drive the stock in front of you then turn on the fenceline and start along the fenceline again.

​It puts a LOT of steering in the dog WHILE DRIVING!!!  All in the round pen.

​AGAIN, since you are in the round pen you don’t have to worry about losing the stock.  Neither does the dog so he gains a LOT of confidence in driving and pushing. That round pen just keeps things contained and happening slower to give a better atmosphere for learning.

​AGAIN, if the stock is fairly light then we do a LOT of flanking around to the heads to stop the panicky forward movement of the stock and turn them around to drive for a short distance in the other direction.  On short legged/slow dogs the round pen is a wonder drug for allowing them to actually maintain control on flighty stock, as the stock cannot outrun the dog.

​You are literally patterning the dog to flank to the heads when the stock panic and start running.  It’s just EASY in the round pen.  The dog always wins.  Stock always lose if they do something stupid.

​While driving around the entire round pen, AGAIN, you will have to RESET your line often to maintain that straight line where the dog is constantly walking a straight line to the last flank on the last sheep to move the group forward.  You may have to reset that line every 5 steps.

​What happens is your dog LEARNS to reset its own line as you PATTERN this in the dog.  It learns to push on that last flank and not get ahead of the stock.  It learns to TARGET a sheep to move ALL of the stock.

​Now, the handler may think they don’t need to move much in the round pen.  Oh, contraire.  The WHOLE time you are working your dog in the round pen MAKE SURE YOU ARE NOT IN THE DOG’S WAY!!!!!  If you try to do a parallel drive (walking beside the dog) EVERY time you say There you will have to take a step or two backward to get out of the dog’s way.  You’ll get ahead of the dog if you don’t.

EVERY time you flank the dog and say There you’ll have to take a step or two backward.  AGAIN, you’ll be in the dog’s way if you don’t.

​As you work the dog in the round pen and start working him off lead, KEEP YOUR SHOULDER EVEN WITH THE LAST SHEEP’S BUTT!!!  That is your line of demarcation that you do NOT want the dog to pass.

​Keep the dog on one side of you working just that one side and driving the sheep forward while you stand in the middle of the pen and slowly rotate in the direction of the flow of movement keeping that shoulder aligned with the butt of the last sheep.

​In THIS exercise we want the dog pushing on THAT BUTT that is behind your shoulder.  That is the sheep that needs to catch up with the rest.  The dog will now learn how to WEAR while it is driving as it works along the rear of the sheep pushing whichever butt lags behind.

​THIS IS IMPORTANT as you are TEACHING the dog to keep the GROUP together and WEAR behind the stock as he pushes forward.

​If the front of the stock get too far ahead do NOT let the dog back flank (reverse direction) and go to the other side to push.  If they get too far ahead and start wrapping around you FLANK the dog behind you to their heads and CHANGE DIRECTION and start driving from there.

​From this point you’ll leave the round pen and continue to train identical flanking and driving procedures in an arena.  Remember to COVER escapes.  LET your dog work.  Do NOT micromanage.  If you’re having problems with the stock escaping then change direction frequently.  That’ll solve that problem.  PATTERN your dog to cover stock don’t MAKE him by calling flanks all the time.  LET the dog cover instead of micromanaging by calling a flank to cover.

​As you progress in driving you will need to MOVE around the arena or field to different places to desensitize your dog to YOU.  You do NOT want the dog watching you all the time.  Checking in is fine.  But staring at you means you are micromanaging the dog and taking his attention off the stock and putting it on you.  Stop it!!!

​REMEMBER TO MOVE YOUR FEET!!!  GET OUT OF YOUR DOG’S WAY!!!!  The most common handler error is not getting out of the dog’s way when you are in the beginning stages of training.  The handler thinks they have to be up close and personal to effect control over the dog.  The control comes from good training for teaching the dog to MENTALLY turn loose to effect a good square flank.  Control does NOT come from you being close to your dog.  Fix the problem.  Don’t get closer.

There is NO difference in driving in a round pen or an arena or a field.  Straight lines and cover.  Period.

​Enjoy the journey.

FELLSTAR  BOUVS