Correct training of sheepdogs is vital if one hopes to get the best out of them. Research into the subject discloses an extremely wide divergence of opinion on the part of experts on what constitutes the correct method of training puppies for this all-important work.
The fundamentals of a good sheepdog
The vast majority of working sheepdogs never see a trial arena, and suggestions given here are for the guidance of those who want good flock dogs.
The fundamentals of a good sheepdog are a natural aptitude and desire to control, good health soundness, and OBEDIENCE.
The last mentioned is most important, but unless combined with the others, a dog is practically useless and unworthy of perseverance. Inherent characteristics of well-bred puppies become obvious at a very tender age.
Puppies, bred from generations of high-class working dogs, will begin “working” other small creatures, fowls and the like, well before they are three months old.
Such youngsters, with proper care and training, develop into top-class workers. Many puppies do not develop or show these instincts until later, but the usual guarantee that unless the dog is working by the time he is twelve months old, money for his purchase will be refunded, is a fair indication that he should show some aptitude by the time he is six or seven months old for the work he is required to do.
Many exceptions can be quoted, but these exceptions usually require so much time to train that the ordinary countryman would find it uneconomic to carry on with them.
Good health is essential
The necessity of good health is obvious. The sickly dog, requiring lots of special care, is a nuisance on a property, and generally manages to be off-color when his services are required urgently.
Dogs are naturally healthy, so that poor health is usually created by a lack of proper care in their puppy days. Slop feeding, lack of solid meat and exercise, exposure to dampness and draft, and failure to free them from worms and other parasites are the principal causes of poor health in later life.
The vast majority of working sheepdogs are naturally sound, but the hand of man is responsible for creating unsoundness in a large number of dogs.
Chaining young puppies is the greatest contributing cause of unsoundness. Shoulders are pulled out of correct alignment, elbows turn out, hindquarters fail to develop the necessary turn, and the matured dog lacks the speed and staying power necessary in a good sheepdog.
Again, the feet of working dogs are irrevocably spoiled and cause tremendous loss if the dog is continually chained as a young puppy. Thin, flat feet, soft nails and pads, which “crack-up” when heavy work is required, are a natural result of early chaining.
Restriction of a puppy’s activities can be managed easily by building runs similar to fowl pens at a trifling cost. Puppies will thus learn that they are under restraint but still have ample opportunity to develop physically without injury to their future value.
Professor Hutchison, the world’s authority on working dogs, stated that sound legs and feet were vital in any working dog if his owner were to get maximum value from him. Many good workers today would be far more valuable had they spent less time on the chain in the early days of their life.
Obedience is the first essential. Obedience training may begin practically from weaning time onwards. The earlier it begins the better, and it can be said truthfully that obedience is the keystone of successful training of any dog.
Where possible the puppy should be fed and petted only by the person who is to train it. By all means allow the puppy to be handled, by others in a kindly fashion, so that he will not become nervous in the presence of strangers, but that little extra care should be given by the trainer only.
Puppies, like children, vary in temperament, and commonsense must be applied in this respect. Confidence in the goodwill of man must be established at all costs, and physical punishment or scold in a harsh manner must be avoided.
Kindly but firm handling of the puppy is essential from the beginning. He must, first of all, know his name. The easiest lesson of all is to teach him to COME. Both of these can be accomplished at feeding times.
The next lesson is DOWN. This is an easy one and requires very little practice. The puppy is forced gently into a crouching position with both hands as the trainer says DOWN.
Each command should be given in the fewest possible words and lessons should not last longer than five minutes for a beginning.
In breeding high-class sheepdogs, serious consideration must be given to temperament, working ability, conformation and health of the breeding stock. These factors must all receive attention from the prospective breeder in studying the pedigree of the animal he intends to mate. Each quality mentioned is of real importance and both sire and dam have an equal influence on the progeny.
Temperament is vital and eagerness for work, unless accompanied by real obedience to the command, does not commend itself as a desirable quality if one wishes to breed successful dogs.
Most sheepdogs have a natural aptitude for their job, but steadiness, alertness, obedience and kindness are essential features in the mental make-up of a champion.
Good conformation is the other point of real importance; the successful sheepdog must be built correctly and be sound in wind and limb if he is to do his job properly.
These dogs are required to do an enormous amount of galloping in a week’s work, and could not do their job properly unless built on the right lines.
Correct shoulder placement, sound hindquarters, plenty of heart and breathing room, with the soundest possible legs and feet, are all desirable.
The really valuable sheepdog must be sound constitutionally, so that he can perform his work week in and week out, under all conditions and, therefore, good health and a strong constitution are most necessary features also. Weak and sickly stock, no matter how good they are with sheep, do not commend themselves as a sound breeding proposition.
There are occasional exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking, the successful breeder over the years is one who gives a close study to these matters and produces a stock of consistent merit all the time.