After the Clinic

After the Clinician Goes Home

By Lynn Leach
Downriver Farm
Australian Cattle Dog Club of Canada – Vice President
CKC Herding Representative
Herding Judge – CKC, AKC & AHBA

Last issue, I discussed some ideas to get the best out of your clinic dollar. It’s important to understand the clinic format to take away the maximum benefit. 

At the beginning, I would host or attend a clinic. The clinician would work my dog and make him look wonderful. Or I would work my dog with the clinician in the arena with me. I would end the clinic on a great note, feeling very happy with lots of great ideas. But the first time to stock alone – everything went crazy again. The stock seemed flightier, my dog wouldn’t listen to me, I became frustrated and then I’d decide not to work him again until I was able to get more help. Sound familiar? I think most of us have been there.

I think part of my problem was that I was hoping the clinic I was attending would have trained my dog enough that I could work him alone. I needed to change my approach to clinics. The best advice I can give you, based on my experiences in the beginning is: “go to the clinic with the intention of leaving with a training plan for your dog – not of leaving with a trained dog.” 

I began going through my notes from clinics and the different books or videos I had been referring to, then made lists for my training plans. I broke the lists down into smaller lists that easily became possible to work through in one session (if all went well). I had these lists with me as I worked stock alone with my dog. I had them in zip-lock bags so I could access them when it was raining out. I took several lists with me each time because I knew my plan might change once I got out there. 

I knew that my end goal was to get BJ, my ACD, not to push stock over me at 100 mph. Up until that day – that had been my immediate goal. That first day, my lists were extensive…they went something like this:

List #1:  (teach him to slow down)
Work in round pen so I have control
Allow him to pick up stock
If he pushes in too fast – ask him to lie down.\
**  If he doesn’t lie down, open gate and put sheep away so that I can catch him and go to list #2
If he does lie down, allow him to get up again and repeat
If he does this nicely several times – go to list #3
If not – keep doing this until he gets it!

  • Remember to keep moving if he is right
  • Remember not to nag him
  • Don’t block him all the time
  • Watch my stock
  • Allow him to cover if necessary

List #2:  (remind him the down)
Put the leash on him and ask for several down’s
Go back to stock and ask for several down’s
Don’t let him work stock unless he gives me that down

List #3:  (pick stock up from fence)
Allow him to fetch stock to the fence or a corner
Ask him to lie down (this is also practicing down’s)
Tell him “that’ll do” and walk away from stock
Set him away from the stock – I walk part way and send him – help him when he gets near the fence line Remind him to go slowly and think – not panic
Do this several times and if he does it nicely – go to list #4.  If he won’t slow down near the fence line – go back to list #1 and remind him what ‘slow’ means

My training techniques have changed slightly since then but the theory was all there. I needed to get my dog working for me and I needed to have time to think out there. In order to get that – I had to break it down into smaller steps – for me and for my dog. I also needed to have some flexibility. I realized that I may start with the intention of teaching one thing but may have to work on something totally different. I needed to stop waiting for it to happen and begin making it happen. I really needed to stop ‘working my dog’ and start ‘training my dog’. Your lists will depend on what type of dog you have and where you are in your training program. My ‘type’ of dog was fast, keen and independent and we were still at the beginning of our training. A good starting point for your first list will be the notes you took during that last clinic. You likely have some good feedback from the clinician and he/she has given you some techniques that may work for you. 

There are lots of things you can do after the clinician leaves that will help you and your dog to learn, without causing either of you, or the stock, a lot of stress and frustration. If you are new to the kind of livestock you are working with – practice working them without a dog. Each day you go to work your dog – leave your dog put away for a while and start with the livestock alone. Offer to help your stock provider when she is sheering, worming, doing feet, or vaccinating. This will give you practical experience that is absolutely invaluable. When you have a ‘job’ to do, you stop thinking about learning and concentrate on getting it done right.  You will be amazed at how much you will learn, and how it will help you. 

By the time you have an opportunity to work with another trainer, you will have done all your homework and be able to start working on new things and making new training plans.  

To sum this all up – end your clinic with a clear picture of the next few things you want to teach your dog. Make some lists that will remind you of the different techniques you can use to teach these to him and prioritize the list with the techniques you want to try first. Make each goal small and reachable. Continue learning with your dog. 

Happy Herding!

For more information on Lynn Leach’s training philosophy, training events or training videos please contact Downriver Farms, today!