A few months ago, I was judging a trial where approximately half of the trial runs were blown during the first few moments – that time when the dog first meets the sheep, after leaving the handler. This is known as the OUTRUN. It is an exercise that must be trained, you can’t expect the dog to understand this one instantly.
The outrun starts when the dog leaves your side, and goes up that side, wide, toward the sheep. Ideal is a pear shape once you have enough distance to create that. So, start with small gathers. Position yourself between your dog and the stock, and use your stick to kick the dog out wide, around the stock, going to the same side the dog starts from. Don’t allow the dog to cross over. That is why the handler needs to be close to the sheep, to enforce this. A cross over is when the dog goes around the sheep on the opposite side they starrted from and can happen anywhere from close to the sheep to just after leaving the handler. It is one of the biggest deductions in all of herding trials and will typically NQ your entire run, just when you are getting started. So while you are starting your outrun training, don’t let your dog lift the sheep if they’ve crossed over in the process of getting there.
Once your dog is doing a nice job at a short distance, with you between them and the stock, set it up so that the dog is now at your side, at the same distance. If your dog cuts in on this short outrun, or gather, either use a throw toy, or if you have a solid stop on your dog, stop your dog. If you can flank your dog out wide from that point, do so. Otherwise, call your dog back to you and set it up again and shorten the distance. If this keeps happening, your dog is telling you that they are not ready for you to be at their side.
Once everything is comfortable at the short distance, start increasing distance. Each time you increase the distance, go back to being between sheep and dog. Put your dog in a stay and move into position, then go through the process I discussed above. Keep increasing your distance once your dog is doing a good job at the previous distance. And above all, don’t push too fast on the distances. Outruns are best trained in open fields, if you have that available to you so that the dog is not confined by small arenas with fences.
The biggest problems I see as a judge are cross overs and running too tight, and coming in tight at the top. I have almost never seen a dog that has one of these three problems during the outrun lift the sheep nice and straight to the handler.
Good luck to all of you!
© 1998, by Joel Levinson
This article originally appeared in “Bagpipes”. Reprinted with permission of the author.