Okay, so now you have your started title, that glorious HS! So now what? If you and your beardie are going to continue to grow, you have to teach your dog to drive. Up to this point, all the work you’ve been doing with your beardie has, for the most part, been oriented toward fetching. To distinguish these two modes, I keep it simple: fetching is the act of bringing sheep to the handler. Driving is the opposite: taking stock away from the handler. Since beardies are, for the most part, natural fetching dogs, this makes teaching a dog to drive somewhat difficult. You are trying to train your dog to do something that at first will seem to them against their natural instincts.
One mistake a lot of people make is to start training a dog to drive too early, or work to hard on it. Make sure that your flanks and stops are solid, and you have a good outrun. Especially the outrun. One thing that will just about always happen is that you will lose the outrun. Since the outrun is an integral part of fetching, once you begin teaching your dog to take stock away from you, they learn that once they have control on its own, they don’t want to give it back!
One of the ways I start working on driving is simple: I do walkabouts with my dog, where we are together, moving the sheep. Doesn’t matter where we are moving them, as long as they are moving. Generally, rather than in the fetch position, the dog and I are on the same side of the stock (the rear). However, since we are together, the dog will still think of this as a fetch. Now and again, I’ll stop, and let the dog move the stock to a point where the dog and stock are in front of me. I’ll let them keep going, until the dog gets uncomfortable with that, and starts to turn them. This is where the stop is so important – you must stop your dog at the moment they start to turn them! If you don’t they won’t get the picture you are trying to plant in their minds: that they and the stock can be out in front of you, and its okay. The minute that your dog stops, set it up again. First, of course, big praise for what they’ve done, even if they have only gone a few feet. Now start another walkabout, and create the same scenario. You must remember that the area your dog will be in front of you will start out small: probably only a few feet before they will want to turn the stock. Remember, when training this, its in stages. The dog will turn the stock when they reach the point of discomfort in being away from and out in front of you. Keep doing this, and increasing the distance in front, as your dog gets more comfortable with that picture. He or she will let you know, by how far they will go before starting to turn the stock.
Now, remember I mentioned that when doing this, your dog tends to lose the outrun? While you are working on this, don’t work exclusively on driving! Throw in some outruns every session, and work on keeping your dog as wide off the stock as you can during those. It is okay to shorten your outruns during this time, while working on getting your dog driving. One exercise that is good is doing an outrun, lift and fetch, and once the stock and dog get to you, rather than having your dog turn the stock, let them keep going past you – they probably won’t take the stock more than a few feet past, but that creates a drive. Once they have that down, have them turn the stock, and move the stock away from you, similar to before, stopping them once they try to turn it into a fetch. Then walk back to your hay setout, and set it up again. Its important to keep the outruns going, for consistency, and so that you won’t have to go back to square one with your beardie, once they have learned how to drive.
Good luck, and have fun herding!
This article originally appeared in “Bagpipes”, the Bearded Collie Club of America’s monthly newsletter. Reprinted with permission of the author.