Line Work

Working on a Line

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

If you are working a keen and excited dog, you can teach him many skills by working him on a line. In my last article, I talked about stock games that you can play to teach yourself about livestock. In game number three, the handler was to try to move stock to somewhere the stock didn’t want to go. This is a good time to work your dog on a line.

As you and your dog are approaching the stock, pay attention to what is happening and try to figure out why. When are you asking your dog to apply pressure?  My guess is that it’s when the stock is considering going in the direction you want them to go. What are you doing when you are not applying pressure?  Probably repositioning your dog. That is exactly what herding is…getting into the correct position, applying pressure to get the stock to move, then releasing pressure.

While your dog is getting to the correct position – he cannot be applying pressure – he must release his pressure (stop staring, harassing, or moving towards them). Herding terminology calls this a ‘square flank’, or ‘going wide’ if he is doing an outrun. If the dog is looking at the stock, he will move towards them. If he has released them, he will be more willing to move out of their flight zone. 

When you are working a dog on a line, make sure that the line is just there as a back-up tool for you. Have the dog make his own decisions. When you ask him to walk up, expect just that: a walk. If you ask him to release pressure, start walking away from the stock and invite him to come with you: “that’ll do bud, here…” As he looks at you and starts to come off the stock, add in a flanking command and invite him back to the stock. You are teaching him how to reposition properly. Keep the line loose at all times. You should be able to drop it at some point and he will not know that you are no longer holding on. If you are controlling his every move, he will depend on you always. You must put responsibility on his shoulders, or are you not doing any training. 

With line work, both you and your dog are learning many things. 

He is learning: 

  1. That he is working for you, not for himself.
  2. That stock is not a toy, it is work.
  3. That he has the power to move stock from a distance (you are helping him to build confidence).
  4. That you want him at the edge of the flight zone (the point where he can move stock calmly).
  5. His own self control.
  6. Herding terminology (because you are putting words to his actions).
  7. How to reduce his zone and how to work with you as a team. If your dog’s flight zone is larger than the stock’s, you will be helping him to reduce his zone. He is learning that you are working together as a team.

You are learning:

  1. Stock sense.
  2. Where the ‘Alert Zone’ is (the point where the stock notice your dog, but are not too concerned).
  3. Where the ‘Anxiety Zone’ is (when the stock start getting nervous. They may hold their heads up, begin licking their lips and changing position with each other). The dog will likely get nervous here also. He may start licking his lips, yawning or looking for sheep cookies. This is usually right before the dog gets to the edge of the flight zone. Your dog is telling you that something is going to happen. 
  4. To recognize these zones. This will help you become a better handler and help to prevent your dog from making bad decisions or panicking.
  5. To read your dog to prevent actions before they happen.
  6. Herding terminology. If he does a clockwise direction, say ‘go-bye’…you need that practice too.

As you can see, there can be many benefits that come from working on a line. It 1) allows training to occur with minimum stress, 2) helps to prevent bad habits from forming and 3) stresses the importance of creating a partnership between you and your dog. 

Happy Herding!

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