Breaking the Connection (Choreographing the Dance) by Cindy Mendonca

Herding has been described as a dance involving the handler, the dog, and the stock. The handler choreographs the dance through verbal and physical commands to the dog. The dog “leads” the stock by its physical presence or its eye, connected by an invisible but powerful “thread.”

Because it is invisible, it’s very easy for the choreographer, that is, the handler to break the connection. Consider the handler who unthinkingly walks between the dog and the sheep at the pen. The sheep move out of position or even escape and the dog breaks its stay in an attempt to reassert control. The handler broke the connection, the awareness, between dog and stock and changed the balance at a critical time.

On the other paw, a handler can purposely break the connection in a positive way to improve training. Walking between the dog and stock, or even moving back through the stock, changes the dynamics and the dog must move to recover the “lead” position. It learns to read the stocks’ behavior and how to regain balance. Stepping between them can also relieve pressure and help the handler recall the dog. By being aware of when and how to break the connection, the handler, the dog, and the stock will be dancing to the same beautiful music.

© 2000, by Cindy Mendonca

This article originally appeared in “Bagpipes”. Reprinted with permission of the author.