The best dog training tool you have is your voice. Use it to your advantage. Keep emotion and tone flexibility as part of your commands. If you are trialing in arena courses your voice is all you will need.
Your dog is in charge of moving the livestock. Helping him understand exactly where and how you want him to move the livestock is your job. It shouldn’t be a secret. This isn’t a surprise test, it is a team effort. You should build a vocabulary the two of you understand and can use together.
The commands listed are suggestions only. If these words don’t work for you, change them to meet your needs. The exact words are not as important as the concept of relaying your commands so your dog understands what you want him to do.
Talk to your dog, don’t yell. Save that big voice for corrections when they are needed. The rest of the time, think about preparing your dog for the correct action required, and use your voice to give the correct information to him. There are four basic movements, the stop, two flanks and a walk up. But… there are many degrees of each and other factors that influence the exact movement and speed you need.
The stop command is normally, “down.” Prepare the dog for the down by using a “get ready” word before the down. Example, lie down. When the dog is approaching the spot where you will want him to down say the word “lie.” This gives him a clue you are about to stop him, allowing him time to gather himself to down. When his next step will put him in the correct position, complete the command, “down”. “Lie” is the prep word, “down” is the action. Dogs who take longer to lie down might need the word “lie” drawn out: l-i-e.
When the dog is flanking and it almost time to move the stock a “there” cues the dog, followed by the “walk up’ command. “Stand” can be used before a change of directions for flanking. “Stand” tells the dog to get ready for the new direction command. “Stand, away to me.”
The tone, length and speed can make one command relay a variety of necessary information to your team partner. “A-w-a-y t-o m-e” drawn out can tell the dog it will be going at least half a circle. While a soft, slow “away” means to move only a few feet or inches. Say “away to me” fast means to get there fast, slow it for less speed.
“Steady”, “slow” and “easy” all mean to move slowly. If you expect slow, say the command softly, draw it out; s-t-e-a-d-y, s-l-o-w, e-a-s-y. Don’t expect a dog to move along in a nice slow pace when you are rushing or shouting the command. You may want slow but the excitement and speed of your voice is telling him to go fast. You are giving him mixed messages.
The outrun will be a long command, “a-w-a-y t-o m-e.”
If during the fetch the stock’s heads begin to turn “off line”, a soft short, “away”, tells the dog to move only a few steps. Conversely, if an “a-w-a-y t-o m-e” is used, the dog opens up for a half circle flank, which would turn stock rather than correct the line.
When approaching the Y chute, from the handlers post, a big open flank is necessary. While at the Z chute only a soft short flank maybe required to insure the stock go into the opening and not around the obstacle. Flanking the dog too much will stop or turn the stock back.
Herding is a team sport. Be a good team player and use your voice to its full advantage.