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Using muddled commands is bad practice, and not fair on the dog


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Thumbnail image for the sheep and cattle dog training tutorial: Learn Your Commands

Attempting to train a sheep or cattle dog when you’re not fully conversant with the commands can cause serious problems. It’s completely unfair on the dog because you’ll be blaming it for going the wrong way when in fact it was doing exactly what you asked.

Training a dog to work stock can be confusing enough, without you adding to the chaos by talking rubbish. This tutorial will give you some tips to make learning your commands easier.

14 responses to “Learn Your Commands”

  1. Rose Rushton avatar

    Hi. I have used the left and right commands but not in relation to the dogs left and right but my left and right. This still equates to anticlockwise being right and clockwise left. As my dog Lexie is only 6 months and keen I have done obedience training with her and am worried that come bye sounds too much like the command “Come” which will pull her off the sheep and bring her back to me. Any suggestions? I do say “sheepo” before we start sheepwork so she can differientate between walking with me in the paddock without chasing (sometimes she blots her copybook LOL) I can see I have made quite a few mistakes!

    1. Andy avatar

      I have used the left and right commands but not in relation to the dogs left and right but my left and right. This still equates to anticlockwise being right and clockwise left.

      What you say is not clear to me Rose. Be careful that you fully understand the directions.

      If the dog’s on the opposite side of the sheep to you, a command to send the dog anticlockwise will have to be a command that tells the dog to go to its RIGHT and your LEFT but if the dog’s on the same side of the sheep as you, a command to send it the same way (anticlockwise) will still have to tell the dog to go to its RIGHT – but now that’s your RIGHT. This is why it’s far less confusing to think of it in terms of clockwise or anticlockwise, rather than left or right.

      I have done obedience training with her and am worried that come bye sounds too much like the command “Come” which will pull her off the sheep and bring her back to me. Any suggestions?

      You underestimate the intelligence of your dog. She’ll learn the difference between herding and obedience commands very quickly. We use “Come bye” with all our dogs, and when we want them to come to use we say “Come here”. Even when it’s facing sheep, a dog will quickly learn the difference. You’re worrying unnecessarily, these dogs are super-intelligent.

      1. Rose Rushton avatar

        I see your point. I guess I was not wanting to confuse her but I do know she is smart and should have more confidence in her ability.

  2. Janice Blakiston avatar

    Hi Andy quick question- I’m training my 3 month old currently in obedience, in the hope that she will eventually be a working dog. I have no sheepdog experience whatsoever, but have always had dogs. My query is on the wording of the re call. I started with come (which I have always used with prev). I see you use “that’ll do” so that is what I have changed it to. I appreciate “come” not so good as far as being shared with the “come by”. I’ve seen you re call your dogs from a relatively short distance and this works well, but I sometimes recall my old collie on a still day, from up to 100m, such a long command seems a little strange, do you change your voice to a long encouraging sound, “THAT … LL … DO….”. Do you still use that command? Or just call their name or what? I realise I can use any command, but I want to do what you do, since I’m intending to learn with you. Janice

    1. Andy avatar

      I use “That’ll do” whatever the distance Janice, but you can use any command as long as you’re consistent. The dog will learn what you mean. It can help to avoid using the word “Come” if you’re going to use it for “Come bye” but to be honest, I often tell my dogs to “come here” and they learn the context and from the tone of my voice. For example, if the dog is lined up and staring at the sheep and I say “come here,” the dog may flinch a little before it realises what I mean but these dogs are super-intelligent and learn very quickly.

      1. Janice Blakiston avatar

        Hi Andy – thanks for the response, I’ll stick on “that’ll do” then Janice

  3. James Fougere avatar

    Great tutorial!

    I’m about to begin training a 4 year old BC who has no experience with sheep but knows many commands and listens very well.

    She already knows Clockwise and Anti-Clockwise flanking commands, but what I’m wondering about also is the “Lay Down” command.

    She knows “Down” as commands to lay down immediately. Of course, when she’s excited, I may have to repeat it to have her go all the way down to her belly.

    She also knows “Wait” as a command to stop moving, but not lay down.

    I’m unsure which command to work with to have her assess the situation herself. I feel like the “Down” command has been so imprinted on her mind that using the word will not allow her to interpret the situation as you say.

    We’ve only just began training her to “Wait”, and she already creeps towards me if I say it gently, and stops quickly if I give the command with more intensity.

    In this case, would teaching her a new command be useful, would using “Wait” and “Down” be alright to use together as a scenario unfolds, or just stick with “Wait” and try to teach her that a less intense “Wait” means slow it down, and a more intense “Wait” means hold it!


  4. Linda Stoddard avatar

    I have noticed that when you give a down that you often don’t reinforce it to get it. Do you accept a stop for the down? I have sheep & ducks & corgis & a BC. I often just want a stop on the corgis, especially on sheep, but often I need a down on the ducks. The BC I down as well as stop her on her feet on sheep, but with the ducks I use the down more.

    1. Andy avatar

      This is a tricky one, Linda!
      I don’t have any ducks. We only train on sheep and occasionally cattle.
      If by “reinforce” you mean I don’t insist the dog lies on the floor, this is because I prefer my dogs to stay on their feet. I believe a dog standing on its feet will be more confident than one which is compelled to lie down on the floor. To me this is particularly important in the presence of aggressive sheep or cattle. A dog lying on the floor must feel more vulnerable than a dog which is standing on its feet!
      So if I prefer my dogs to stand up, why don’t I use the “Stand” command instead of “Lie Down”?
      Well, this is because I’ve found that a long drawn-out command is often more effective than a short, sharp command – simply because you’re giving the command for a longer period. Quite often, a very keen dog will slow down when you give a short command, and then it will move on again as soon as the sound of the command stops. If you try it for yourself, a long drawn-out “Stand” sounds as though you’ve had too much to drink or something, whereas a long drawn-out “Lie Down” doesn’t seem so bad! (To me anyway)!
      So the answer to your question is that I prefer a stop to a lie down – although I often don’t insist on the dog actually stopping and standing still every single time.
      There are two main reasons for this. In my experience, the stop command should be interpreted by the dog reading the situation and understanding the emphasis you give the command, so a gentle “Lie down” might mean you just want the dog to check its speed, whereas a very firm command tells the dog to stop straight away. Collies learn this quite quickly if you’re consistent with them – and you get a far more intelligent worker if you allow them to interpret the situation whenever possible.
      The other reason for not insisting on a perfect stop is because I want to preserve the dog’s confidence, and its will to work. I’ve seen dogs lose their spirit because the trainer has been too hard on them in the early stages of training, by insisting on perfect obedience far too early.
      Of course, we must keep nagging away at the more headstrong dogs to stop better, but if you have a really good bond with the dog, and you train it properly, the stop will improve over time (and nagging) because the dog will want to please you, and it will understand that a good stop means it works more efficiently – and working efficiently makes you happy!

      1. Linda Stoddard avatar

        I understand your reasoning. I was mainly curious as to the whys & wherefores, as it were! Because of the corgis the gal that I train with prefers for them to stand. The bitch that I trial tends to be really pushy on ducks & for them I’m not so worried about downing her. She has had more than 1 duck come hissing at her! We’ve not worked sheep in a good while but I plan to do less downs & more stands on them. Being small being in a down on flighty sheep really puts them at a disadvantage!
        Thank you!

  5. Linda Stoddard avatar

    When you inadvertently give a come-bye when you actually wanted an away, what do you do? I find myself having to apologize to my dog, as she did what I asked but it was not what I really wanted. I certainly can’t scold or correct her, she did exactly what I said.

    1. Andy avatar

      Tricky question, Linda – but there’s absolutely no point in apologising to the dog because it won’t have a clue what you mean.
      The best thing to do is make certain you’re absolutely fluent with the commands in the first place. Having said that, we all make mistakes from time to time, so if I give a wrong command, I try to make it as easy for the dog as possible.
      The worst case is when you’ve erroneously “corrected” the dog before you realise it’s your mistake not the dog’s. On the rare occasions this happens, I immediately try to reassure the dog that all’s well by using a soft voice to say “good boy” (or girl, as appropriate).
      After this, I continue as normal, making certain I don’t make the same mistake again.

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