Say the Secret Word … by Ann Witte

A truely talented working Beardie on the farm is a stockman’s greatest asset. The dog will learn the chores and routines quickly and will do his job with a minimum of direction from the farmer. One of our dogs, an untrained four year old, was recently sent to manage 300 head of sheep daily; within three weeks, he was doing nearly everything needed, without any real training.

To be competitive at the higher levels of trials, a Beardie must become absolutely obedient to, and skillfully handled by his trainer. Many natural instincts and behaviors have to be suppressed when the goal is a good trial score. The more natural talent your dog has, the more you may need a “Secret Word”.

The Secret Word can be an actual command word or a sound which, between you and your dog, means in effect “Dog, you are totally wrong.” It may resemble, but should not actually be, the same as a regular command. For example, “QUIT” as the secret word, when “SIT!” is the stop command. The secret word must be used sparingly and only if the dog is “Blowing Up”.

To teach the Secret Word, you do NOT need to be abusive. At some point in training, the dog will choose to completely ignore your commands. At that instant, use the Secret Word as you throw “Papers”, a plastic bottle of stones, your crook, or a stick – not to hit your dog, but to land in front of him. A firm “Scruff Shake”” (A natural inhibitor) as the secret word is repeated will reinforce the meaning of that word. Once your dog understands the meaning of the Secret Word, you may not need it often, but it will be in you “pocket” if the situation warrants.

© 1998 by Ann Witte.

This article originally appeared in “Bagpipes”, the Bearded Collie Club of America’s monthly newsletter. Reprinted with permission of the author.