Notes from Windward: #70


Charlie's Training: Phase 1

Sarah details the plan and method she's using

Positive Training

     I can't find a lot of information about basic obedience and puppy raising within the herding/working dog realm, so I'll generally be synthesizing herding training methods with the "positive training" method of basic obedience. Positive training focuses on positive reinforcement of good behaviors that the dog offers, combined with negative punishment, wherein the dog's bad behavior "makes something good go away." Techniques I'll be avoiding are positive punishment: the dog's bad behavior makes something bad happen, and negative reinforcement: the dog has to do something good to make something bad go away.

     Positive training methods can be as obvious as not using shock collars, or as subtle as not using your hands to mold the dog into a sit position, but instead rewarding him when he sits naturally, which he will naturally do twenty times in a row if you're holding a treat at your chest. I'm hoping this method will merge well with herding training, because it encourages the dog to offer new behaviors, rather than to be afraid of doing something wrong.

     The herding folks I have read from or talked to have all said that rough physical punishment sets you up for failure on the field, though they do seem more apt to occasionally do things like jerk back on a leash. Working in the field can be dangerous for dog, sheep and human, and requires great concentration from the dog. Finding the balance between positive training and using force when absolutely necessary, and tailoring all of this to Charlie's developing personality, will likely be my biggest challenge in training. Second, maybe, to maintaining my own sanity as Charlie's mother, trainer, boss, and playmate.

     If you hear a lot of clicking when Charlie and I are in the vicinity, that's because I'll be using a "clicker," something originally used to train marine mammals, as a reward marker. Charlie associates the click with treats and praise, and this allows me to be very precise (as quick as a click!) in the timing of which behaviors and movements I reward.

Charlie's dad


General Training Areas:


     Charlie is learning to sit to greet people. He should not be acknowledged when jumping, even with eye contact. This is a hard rule to follow, but will pay off big-time when he is larger, stronger, and dirtier.

100 New Experiences in 100 Days

     I'm trying to expose Charlie to as many new things/people/experiences as possible in the early days so that he is not fearful of new things. If you can think of anything to add to the list, let me know.

Name/trainer Acknowledgement

A short period of time will be spent intensively rewarding Charlie for looking at me whenever I say his name.

Intimate Contact and Resource Guarding

     I will be touching Charlie as much as possible in all the places that can make dogs uncomfortable (mouth, teeth, ears, paws, belly, genitals, etc.). He's responding well to this and it will set him up for easier handling and health maintenance tasks later. I also pet him as much as possible while he's chewing his rawhide or bones, or otherwise involved with a "resource" that dogs are likely to guard. I'll be approaching his food bowl while he's eating to drop in treats, and will try to trade what he has in his mouth for a treat anytime I have to take something away. So far he likes to chew near me or on my lap, but tends to walk away if I approach while he's eating something special he found outside.

Bite Inhibition

     This concept refers to shaping/training a puppy's bite to be more and more gentle. Biting is a natural dog response to various situations, especially in puppies who play by wrestling and nipping at each other, and who are teething. Puppies begin this training with their moms and littermates who often halt play if they get bit too hard. Basically, our job is to play with Charlie in his normal puppy manner (lately a combo of wrestling and fetch), allowing him to nibble or even latch on, as long as it doesn't hurt.

      Whenever he bites too hard, say "ouch" or "oops" and stand up and turn your back on him for 20 or 30 seconds before resuming play. If you really get him going in a romp session, you might have to model this interruption a lot. Gradually, we'll employ this response with softer and softer bites, until he's about 6 months old, when we'll interrupt play for any bite contact with human skin. The idea is not to discourage biting altogether from the beginning (because some day he will have to bite), but to train him to bite softly.


     I try to give him three good, outdoor play sessions per day (about 9 am, 1pm, and 6 or 7 pm). You are more than welcome to participate, although some of these sessions will be more training-oriented and require less distraction. Generally we walk out to the woods where he's less intent on sniffing out people/places he knows, and will stay in one place to play.


     I'm training him to walk on the leash at my right side, without pulling. I might back up and do some clicker training off the leash to teach him the delicious benefits of staying at my heel.

Charlie's mom "Penny"


Commands I'll Be Teaching: Basic/Phase I


Traditional, used for greeting people and getting what you want, i.e.: food bowl lowered to the floor. Down or Lie Down:To be developed into a running stop; essential in herding and for general safety of the dog and his prey.

Stay: Stay where you are.

That'll Do:Release to follow other herding commands, primarily Down/Stay.

Here: Come to me now.

Give: Give me what you have; ideally, trade it for a treat.

Leave It:Disregard whatever you are approaching, sniffing, jumping on the counter to get at, etc.

Wait: At doorways, car doors, etc.

Off(?): As in get off of me, the counter, the bed, the picnic table (might be superfluous with Leave It and Get Out.



More Advanced Herding Commands: (Save these words for this purpose)

Walk in

Come bye

Away to me


Look back

Go back

Get Out

Charlie meets Sarah


Windward Community: What You Can Do to Help


     The more friends Charlie makes early on, the better. So let's play! Also, you can help me introduce Charlie to any visitors you have on site, and welcome him to any of our puppy-safe recreational activities.


     Don't reward Charlie for jumping on you by bending over him, petting, or making eye contact until he settles and sits down.

Tone of voice

     Use a happy, relaxed tone of voice with Charlie. He must learn to respond to my normal speaking voice when we are out in the field amidst sheep, and loud, angry tones must be reserved for emergencies. When he does something wrong in play, it is best to say "oops" and turn around and ignore him for 20 or 30 seconds. As a part of positive training, I will be setting him up to succeed and require few reprimands (i.e. don't leave anything on the counter that he's going to want to jump up for).

Praise for "Here"

     Most of the command-giving should probably be left to me at this point, so Charlie can develop the bond that will be critical when we're out in the field. But, in addition to praising him for calm greetings and other good behaviors, you can help me develop his response to the "here" command. Any time we are playing outside off leash and he starts running toward you, say "here" and give him LOTS of praise when he arrives. Of course the "here" is his idea in this situation, but it helps to reinforce the word and give him positive associations with the action.

     When he begins actually responding to and following through with human-initiated "here," it is critical that when he arrives, he not be scolded for what he was doing when called. The fact that he left his play to obey the command is a triumph to be celebrated. "Here" and "down" are the most critical commands a herding dog (i.e. prey-driven dog) will ever learn, and the ones he will have the hardest time obeying if they are constantly used as reprimands or to signal the end of play.

Play Low

     In helping to train him to bite gently, I have found it critical to keep play low to the ground, on his level. This way he's not vying for attention when everyone's trying to play above his head, and when you do stand up to ignore his biting, he gets a clearer idea that you're interrupting play, and usually does not continue to jump all over you. We might also experiment with playing with him on a tether, so we can move out of reach when he gets over-excited.


     If you are ever willing to watch Charlie while I'm town, I so appreciate the help and will be happy to "trade" labor if you'd like. I'll tailor instructions (whether or not to keep on leash, etc.) depending on the day and how he's developing.

Avoid the Livestock

     This is absolutely critical right now, and one of my biggest challenges. Every time a herding dog sees livestock "out of balance" (moving, not in the handler's control, not where the dog wants them to be) the dog feels an internal pressure which is what drives him to attempt to put the stock back "in balance."

     But until Charlie knows his basic commands and we have a controlled environment set up to begin his herding training, no good can come of him running amidst the sheep and goats. And the more times I have to pull him away from livestock, i.e. force him to ignore his instinct, the harder it will be to make use of that instinct when the time is right.

Other Potential Prey

     I've been allowing Charlie to chase squirrels and deer in the woods as a small way of nurturing instinct, and because there's little chance of puppy-trampling as with penned sheep. I've also observed him in several unintentional run-ins with the guineas and ducks. He hasn't shown any biting aggression towards the birds, though he will chase them and bark, and can certainly outrun them. He tends to bound around, scattering them and wagging his tail with pride.

     I'll be closely monitoring this behavior as I develop a method to teach him which animals to chase and which to leave alone. Bird herding is also a legitimate enterprise for a dog like this, though I haven't found much information specifically about that. Sheep will be the training focus no matter what our end goals.

     As soon as I read more about the best way to introduce cats, I'll need to work with the cat owners onsite to help Charlie learn that cats are off-limits. The best medicine for this is likely to be making the cats comfortable enough that they don't run from him whenever he's in sight. The chase is what he's interested in with small animals.

     Thus far he seems afraid of cars, unless he's riding in them, and this is not a fear I'm prone to breaking, as border collies and the like are known for dangerous car chasing.

     We picked Charlie because he was the least aggressive of his cowdog litter, and apparently wouldn't bite the goat he was tested with, as many herding pups do (and arguably should) in their early tests. However, it will take many months, if ever, for Charlie to earn the right to roam unattended. The instinct, intensity, and speed of dogs bred for herding are qualities to be respected and not taken lightly, no matter how sweet an individual dog is.

      Training for a herding dog is all about teaching the dog to interrupt his own instincts long enough to respond to the handler's specific commands, and this dog-handler relationship, when properly developed, is quite productive and rewarding for all involved.

     This information has been synthesized primarily from Herding Dogs: Progressive Trainin by Vergil Holland, and The Whole Dog's Journal Handbook of Dog & Puppy Care and Training, edited by Nancy Kerns.

Charlie pup resting after a long
day of play and training


Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70