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To balance or not to balance

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Hello Amanda!

Thank you for your time and answers on this forum. I always enjoy reading your posts. :)

I have a question about two theories I've seen/heard from two different clinicians. They seem to contradict each other and maybe that's just because each methodology works for each type of dog that each clinican runs and their dogs are just very different, but I want to know what your experience has been. I hope to give you a succinct explanation of both in regard to starting a young dog, and see what you think. Hopefully I can describe it well enough you can "see" what is meant by both clinicians.

Method 1: 

After initial exposure to stock, the dog is encouraged to go to balance. To this clinician, balance is the point at which the sheep change direction (so the dog goes to balance, and then the sheep "cross over" in front of the handler, and the dog changes again to hit the balance point that is now on the other side). The most emphasis is given to the dog covering the sheep on both sides, hitting balance, and not worrying about the dog's speed, not pushing the dog off the sheep ever. Eventually after the dog will consistently go to balance on both sides, the "steady" command is introduced to straighten the dog up behind the sheep. Very little, if any correction for anything is used unless the dog rushes in to bite the sheep. Otherwise they are left alone to find the point that stops/changes the direction of the sheep. The clinician says that this keeps the dog's enthusiasm for the work, and the more they hit balance the more they want balance.

Method 2:

This clinician says that even if balance isn't at 12 o' clock, pretend that it is anyway. The dog should ALWAYS be at 12 o' clock from the handler, even at the beginning. If the dog tries to flank back and forth, go to the side that they're on and correct them by slapping a rolled up bag on your thigh, until they stay behind the sheep. Once they're behind the sheep, if they speed up, correct them and if they don't listen, run through the sheep and chase them off of them. This changes the dog's mind and makes them careful because any time they try to speed up, they learn that pressure is put on them. There is much more correction, and insisting that the dog be in a certain place, at a certain speed, and it seemed to me much less emphasis on balance.

So you can see the two methods don't have a lot in common. I suppose it could just be that method 2 has worked with dogs that are a lot more intense, with much more drive, and Method 1 would work with dogs that are much more easily "shut down"??

The Method 2 clinician carried these principles through with the open dogs they were working with too, not wanting the dog to go to balance as they said the dog should learn how to control the sheep from behind, instead of needing to flank all the way out and just "turn the heads", if that makes sense. This clinician insisted that balance was not just the point where the dog needs to be to make the sheep change direction, but moving the sheep actually toward you, which makes sense to me, but they did not seem to want the dogs far off to the side no matter where the pressure was in the field, which didn't make sense to me. If there's a heavy draw to the left, for instance, would the dog not need to be all the way over sometimes? This method also used a lot of "pushing the dog off the sheep when they're wrong" ie if they're coming in too hot at the top of the outrun or otherwise not respecting the sheep enough, even if it's just a little rushed. This clinician wants the dog to learn to be careful on its own, immediately, from a young age, and the other clinician seemed to feel that the dog should be given commands instead of corrected, when they're wrong. For example, if a young dog came in tight and fast at the top of the outrun, Method 1 clinician would let the dog go to balance and then blow a stop whistle. Then they would work on the "top" part of the outrun closer, anticipating that the dog was going to come in fast, give the steady command pre-emptively, and then stop it again on balance. Method 2 clinician would let the dog come in tight and fast, but then would run up and blow the dog off the sheep, pushing it back and not let it have the sheep until it was careful, then come back down with the dog and do the outrun again, blowing the dog off of the sheep at the top if it came in tight or fast again or as the clinician said "if there is anything in the dog's attitude I don't like."

Thoughts? I've learned that there is usually something that you can take from each clinic, but sometimes things are just so different it's hard to know.

Thank you, Amanda, for your time. :)

 

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