There is a famous quote, “Simplicity is a great virtue but it requires hard work to achieve it”….
Sometimes handlers are quick to want to teach their young dog more complex aspects of training when in fact, it’s making a good job of teaching the fundamentals, that most encourages young dogs to develop.
Perhaps one of the most underrated parts of starting a young dog is walking straight backwards and away from the sheep.
Lots of people walk backwards, however, it’s often with sideways movement such that, their dog is mostly flanking instead of lining out. While, sideways is quite good for teaching flanks (and necessary when sheep aren’t ideal), it doesn’t help as much with your dog learning to balance and read sheep.
For us, it’s important to build a foundation rooted in our dogs natural desire to get to balance point, instead of, pushing our dogs off of sheep with pressure.
Once your dog is committed to seeking balance point, when you walk away from the sheep, your dog will react to the movement as he holds the sheep to you.
Because you’re facing your dog when walking backwards, you’re able to watch his work and because you’re quite close, you are in a position to help him whenever necessary.
—We don’t focus much on pace when our dogs are young and don’t mind them applying pressure to sheep.
We do, however often employ a ‘lie down’, ‘stand’ or ‘time’ command to prevent our dogs chasing or pushing the sheep past as we back up.
Walking straight backwards fosters your dogs understanding of the concept of ‘the bubble’ (the distance at which he influences the sheep) and the reinforcement of having the sheep lined out naturally encourages your dog to keep the sheep together (and thus discourages his desire to split them apart).
This fundamental and simple practice makes teaching more complex aspects much easier, accelerating your young dogs feel and thought processes, as well as providing him the enjoyment of working on his own.
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