By Pat Taylor
Fellstar Bouvs, TX
I am not discussing anything new in training. The concept of sequencing has been around forever. I am asking for you to consider herding, the ideology, methodology, whatever, using a philosophy I’m calling Pattern Training.
Aficionados in agility and obedience use sequencing in training to form a behavioral pattern. This behavioral pattern becomes a habit in the dog as the dog repeats the pattern of behavior repeatedly over time. As an aside, I read somewhere that it takes a repetition of 6,000 times to create an ingrained habit that is done as muscle memory (unconscious thought, automatically). I am NOT asking you to drill your dog. I AM asking for you to think about HOW you are training your dog in herding.
Whether you know it or not, everything you train your dog to do, throughout its lifetime, is training your dog to pattern its behavior. We are training the dog to correctly perform a series of specific moves/actions that, when put together or sequenced, form a pattern. I train my dogs to wait before going through a doorway. At least I used to be consistent at doing this. When I open a door, go through a doorway, open a gate; my dogs automatically wait for permission to proceed through. That is an ingrained habit I’ve taught the dog, especially as I get older, to keep me safe and to teach respect for me in the dog. I don’t tell my dogs to down or wait. It is their job to remember and have the self-control to automatically respect me enough to allow me to go through a doorway or gate first. You may think this is just a one-step command but I’ve had to teach the dog a series of behaviors to achieve him falling back, stopping/downing and waiting patiently for permission to proceed.
On the flip side, your dog has probably taught you some pretty nifty tricks also. It may punch you with its nose several times then go to the back door, look over its shoulder and wait to be let out. You first notice the punch, then that punch makes you watch the dog for a secondary cue to get up and proceed to the door to let the dog out. And here you thought the dog was taught that neat trick. Nope. You taught it that it HAD to go outside to potty but the dog handily morphed that into a series of moves it completes to inform you, “I want to go outside to play, chase squirrels, bark at the neighbor whom I heard crank up their car when I was lying at your feet, etc.”. YOU just taught the dog to ask to go out to potty. The dog taught YOU to pay attention, watch me, get up, come to the door I’m standing at and let me out. Congratulations? You sequence quite well. The dog brings you a toy and pattern trains you to throw it, or play tug with it. You thought you trained the dog. Yeah, sure. It’s your story and you can tell it any way you want.
This same two-way street for mindset works in everything you do with your dog. What I want is for herding folk to think about training and to think about e-v-e-r-y movement required of a dog to accomplish an exercise. Combine that with every move YOU have to perform to accomplish the training and communication with your dog.
I want herding folk to break exercises down into their most minute elements, then sequence those elements into a pattern. To take the same philosophy in training that the dog readily understands and use it.
Something as simple as telling a dog, “THERE”, contains several elements that will be sequenced together for a dog to successfully accomplish the “There” command AND for the dog to understand exactly what you are communicating. The dog needs to be mentally oriented to stock and understand that the “There” command means to turn toward/face the stock and come on contact with the stock. It does NOT mean to move the stock, yet. The dog has to understand the Down command and such command be sequenced to follow the There command so that, in MY world, the dog automatically STOPS ALL FORWARD MOTION when it hears the “There” command, turns in/toward the stock and Downs, waiting for the next command. So how many other behaviors need to be taught to successfully teach a “There”?
Think about a FLANK. To correctly train a Flank you are first teaching the dog to yield away from pressure. The Yield Away From Pressure is an element of a Flank; to be trained separately or clarified separately.
Second you should require the first step in e-v-e-r-y Flank start at a 90-degree angle (Square Flank). You’ll have to teach that so that it becomes a habit and can be sequenced into a Flank that goes several steps or becomes an Outrun (Short Flank or Long Flank). This 90-degree angle should be maintained for a greater and greater distance depending on whether or not you are using a Short Flank or Long Flank. But, that first step should always be at 90-degrees and is an element that is sequenced in to training a longer and longer Flank.
Then you teach the dog to continue around the stock in a wide arc (Long Flank). The Flank after the dog gets 15 feet or so away from you becomes a whole different training issue. You break the Flank up into segments for clarification of what you want from the dog. That is another element to sequence in, teaching the dog to maintain a specific distance from the stock while Flanking. The longer the Flank the more segments you may have to sequence together e.g., a Blind Outrun (dog cannot see stock) would add another element that would have to be taught and sequenced into the Flank. The first step, the first 15 feet, the middle of the Flank, THEN you will train the dog how to finish its Flank by coming in deep behind the stock. Again, another element to sequence in. An automatic Stop At The Top (stop at end of Flank). Another element to sequence in.
You will have to train the dog to be OFF Contact while Flanking. Or, if you want to play semantics, you will have to train your dog that flanking is a positioning exercise and that the dog is not to try/attempt to move the stock until told to do so with a There, Walk Up. Yep, that’s another element to teach.
Each element of that flank needs to be taught as a separate exercise. You want a behavioral pattern that becomes a habit. Each behavioral pattern is then modified at will through the issuance of commands. But, the end result is a pattern that is taught through sequences of smaller pieces of the total. A complete pattern may be ONE Flank command with the dog Downing at the top. How many different elements have we had to teach and put together to form a pattern of behavior the dog understands and executes flawlessly.
From what I’ve seen in herding training we do not break exercises down into small enough pieces for training purposes or for communication with our dogs. I want trainers to break their training up into smaller pieces.
All training will depend on the innate talent of the dog. Some people don’t have to train every element as the dog may naturally/automatically do that element. You may simply need to add a command/word to the behavior that already exists. But you STILL have to take each behavior, name it, control it, refine it, and then sequence those natural behaviors together for an acceptable end result.
Dogs thrive with this type of training. It allows the dog to succeed quicker in the successful execution of a command and allows the trainer to quickly reward the dog for such successful execution of a command. This means the dog is being motivated through marking/praise/reward more frequently in training. You get a dog that LOOKS for such markers/praise/reward and repeats behavior predictably and consistently to find that reward.
Everything we do in herding is geared toward gaining the cooperation of our dog so that we may be a team and complete some task. We are TEACHING cooperation in the dog. We are not subjugating the dog to our will. We are building a relationship that will be unlike any other. A true way of communicating and talking with our dog where BOTH parties get to cuss and discuss any given task and come to a MUTUAL meeting of the minds on how the job is to be done.
This is NOT obedience or agility. Our herding dogs MUST work when we NEED them. They have no choice. Unlike in obedience or agility, when you are in the middle of working stock you cannot bribe, cajole, or treat your dog when it is tired, hurting and thirsty. You cannot put the dog up as punishment or not give a treat as a marker for inappropriate behavior. Only a good working relationship and complete understanding will get the job done. That means we need to build a relationship unlike any other in the dog world.
I believe that if you better understand the elements needed to get that job done, and train for a complete understanding in the dog of what is required you will have taken a good, solid step toward having that unique relationship with your herding companion.
Just a little something for trainers to think about and contemplate.
Modification of technique per the need of the dog is the key to success.
Time spent training is not the answer to a well-trained dog; it’s the quality of understanding in the time spent.
Marking behavior is not a motivational tool. It’s a communication tool.
The art of Training is actually the art of Communicating. Treat it as such. Be a better communicator to become a better trainer.
Don’t fight gravity. Take the behavior the dog is giving and modify it to what you want.
The talent in the training lies not in the telling but in the listening.
To err, is human, to forgive, canine. (From Vortex by Cherry Adair, Author)