by Lacey Herbel
“Don’t chew on that!”
“Bad puppy! We don’t potty inside!”
“No! No! No! Stop barking!”
When buying a new puppy, many people find that they don’t come already trained. There are plenty of things that need to be tweaked before beginning training for a herding dog. Many times a new or even experienced owner doesn’t know how or when to begin “training” their new puppy. If not started properly, a puppy may never reach its full potential.
Before even buying a puppy you must make sure your house is “puppy proof” and you have all you need to assure your puppy’s health and wellness. If you want a quality herding dog, you’ve got to keep them safe during that curious puppy stage. Make sure anything of value that your new friend may find interesting and chewable is off the floor and high enough they can’t reach it. Find a place to keep your puppy when you’re not spending time with it. A crate works well. It’s important to keep control of your puppy, so they know you’re the boss. This will be a solid foundation for introducing your “Alpha” position, making training easier.
When bringing home a new puppy, always take care of vaccinations first thing. Within the first week of having it at your home, take your puppy to the vet and have all the proper vaccinations administered. While at the vet, it’s important to ask the doctor about booster shots, worming, as well as the prevention of fleas, ticks, and other parasites. This might also be a prime opportunity to think about spaying or neutering your puppy. Sometimes breeders will recommend that when a person buys a puppy, they do this to prevent unwanted litters. Even if this isn’t the breeder’s policy, it’s a good thing to consider, especially when the puppy is still young, to prevent hormones from developing.
Once your puppy has been vaccinated, wormed, and spayed or neutered, it needs proper acclimation. The more the puppy gets out and the more people the puppy meets the more “acclimated” it becomes. Exposing a puppy to different situations and encouraging them to react in a mature fashion prepares your dog for experiences in the future that could prove challenging in the herding arena. Check for stores like Petsmart that allow customers to bring pets in. This is an excellent way to introduce your puppy to new places and faces. If this isn’t possible, go to a local park and allow your puppy to check out its surroundings. When herding and trialing across the country, it will become apparent of the importance of having a properly acclimated puppy. No two herding arenas are the same and they all offer different challenges. If your puppy has been taught to observe these things and not react in a frightened or aggressive manner, it will be much easier to work your dog and not worry about distractions.
When your puppy has gotten used to traveling and is no longer reacting to strange people or places, you can begin training a recall and lie down. This will be useful for not only working on stock, but also in your everyday life. For a recall, start with your puppy on a long line or long leash. As they are sniffing the ground, eating grass, or playing with a stick, get their attention by calling their name (which they should know by now). As you say their name, follow it with “here” (I use “here” instead of “come” because of the confusion with “come” and “come bye”) and draw them in towards you by taking up the slack and shortening the lead, forcing them to come to you. Remember to say it as a loud, clear command, but not harsh in a way they think they are being scolded. Once they are at your feet, release the tight lead just enough to give them room to move but not so much that they are able to take off. Praise them and have a treat for them. Slowly, over time, wean your puppy off of you reeling them in. When you feel they are ready, say their name and here. If they don’t respond, give them a short, quick, but effective tug on the line as well as a verbal correction such as a growl or a “hey!” Once they start coming to you, leave slack in the line. If they start to turn the other way or stop, give another short, but effective tug and verbal correction, until they’ve reached your feet. Eventually, you won’t even need a line and they will respond to your voice alone.
When teaching a down, you also start out with your puppy on a line, but a shorter one this time. Once again, get your puppy’s attention by saying his or her name, immediately followed by “lie down” in a firm, commanding, but not scolding tone. As you give this command, pull the lead in and step down on it as close to the collar as possible, forcing the front end of their body downward. While you push the back end down with your hand, leave your foot and hand in place until the puppy stops squirming and then release him or her physically as well as with a verbal command. If done correctly and often, it will be easy to wean your puppy off of physical contact and they will respond to your voice command only. Once you feel they are ready, say the command and if they don’t respond, give a short, quick tug, but this time downward, so they know to “lie down,” as well as simultaneously giving a verbal correction. DON’T repeat the command, say it once and then make them do it. This goes for any command or action, because if you are consistent with your commands, your puppy will be consistent with his/her obedience. Once your puppy obeys, release and praise them with words/treats. Eventually you won’t need a line for this and you can gradually increase the time your dog is on a down. With a solid foundation like this, your puppy will soon be ready for livestock.
When getting a new puppy and training it towards becoming a stockdog, few people realize there is a lot more to it than just working sheep or cattle. A lot of time and work must be put in before the puppy is even introduced to livestock. Teaching your puppy these things and spending the quality time to make sure they stay healthy allows you and your new friend to bond and develop respect for each other as well as a special relationship you will never forget.
About the Author
Nineteen-year-old Lacey Herbel began working with dogs at a very young age. She began showing dogs in conformation at the age of five, long before she was old enough to compete in Junior Handling. The competitive herding bug caught up with her when she was 16 and the pup in the story, Strait, came into her life. As she brought Strait through the training process, she gained additional experience by trialing his sire, a dog already trained to the advanced level. This positive experience gave Lacey a solid foundation to training and trialing Strait, who just recently completed his Herding Excellent title. Lacey has also gained national recognition for her work with her dogs in the National FFA program, having been selected as a National Finalist in her SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience) in 2000 and 2001. Lacey is now working with her two new pups, 5 month-old littermates Ti and NOS.