Ranch Dog Manners Homework Week One

For those of us with herding dogs and access to stock that temptation is to herd-herd-herd but through teaching group classes in herding for the last 10 years I have learned that the little things like going politely through a gate and walking calmly behind the handler are also important and can make a strong first impression. At a trial when Rey was just 1yo one of my mentors was walking around the hotel with her three dogs off leash in perfect heel position. When she stopped they stopped with no tension. Each of those dogs placed quite high on their herding runs with clean flanks and precise stops. With my own young dog it was more of a struggle with her trying to lead the way both at the hotel and in the trial ring.  I backed off on her herding training at that time and went straight back to lessons from Ranch Dog Manners. Here are the homework assignments for the first week of class.

Homework for Week One

More details on the Concepts for Week One

1. Mark > Reward I’m not too fussy about which marker you use to for your dog. My current favorite is clucking (your tongue against the roof of your mouth). A club member sent me an article from 1882 and a hunter addressed clucking and rewarding with dried meat from his pocket when his hunting dogs checked in. Early clicker training? Maybe….. Using a clicker or saying “yes” are all the same, but you must be precise and quick. The most common mistake I see with beginner and advanced handlers is not rewarding enough. Bring your dog super hungry to class and all will go well. Just remember that every time you mark a behavior you must reward it. That is the power of positive training! With our herding dogs in this class that have done any herding think about how badly the dog wants their stock. They are getting a reward everytime they move the stock without being stopped or blocked. The reward rate in herding when things are going well is very very high!

2. Where are my 4 feet? Find a box that is at least as long as your dog’s back. Through positive reinforcement with food or toys ask your dog to stand in the box. It is important at this stage to reward the smallest thing. So once your dog offers to do anything with the box ( head over, one foot, two feet, etc) cluck and reward, use your dogs next meal and make yourself give as many treats one at a time as you can for as many behaviors as you can. This makes you not too stingy and your dog gets lots of reinforcement. Once your dog can go into a large box start to find smaller and smaller boxes so that the dog is forced to think about their hind feet in a more precise way. Once this behavior is really strong we can start to play with our own body position and do a lot of rewarding with the dog in “heel” position.

3. 10 comes a day for something. What are your dog’s favorite things? They will likely vary from day to day, but find a way to reward your dog with something special at least 10 times a day. It might be a ball, a stick, or a special treat. You need to get creative and make coming to you super special. The hardest thing in herding with dogs with strong instinct is to pull them away from stock. I turn my shoulders and feet away from the stock and invite them to me.  For this class don’t reward the dog straight in front of you, but bring them to your side in heel position.

4. Don’t stare at the reward! Dogs that work for food or toys can get quite obsessed. It is very easy to fall into allowing your dog to stare at the reward and follow it with their nose. If they get really fixated then it is hard to teach dogs to go through things or away from you. If you don’t work on not staring at the reward everytime you train then training progress goes very slow if at all.

If at anytime in your training you find your dog staring obsessively at the food/toy, then stop and wait for your dog to look somewhere else. Cluck and reward. This is part of the first homework for all my classes, but we go back to it for the rest of the dog’s life. With our herding breeds breaking their eye can be very important when we need to call them off stock.

For my herding students I have found that dogs that have been trained with positive rewards (food, toys, games) are more confident and relaxed. Herding is trained through pressure and release and dogs that have a lot of positive training in their past find it easier to take negative corrections when they come.

Nancy Creel
(406) 580-0122


Herding Puppy Class Week 4

This week we will be loose with the sheep again. We will be seeking the magic balance point where the pup is holding the sheep to us. This is the foundation of all further training. Instead chasing your puppy we will be working the sheep so your pup learns to respond to the sheep’s movements instead of yours. I learned this watching a seminar by Joni Teitjen in Wyoming. She is the master of this and can do it calmly and with great accuracy.

  1. Ten comes a day for something is really important and I talked about it in a previous homework. Our in class station today will be a recall straight to you for a bit of praise and a friendly pat on the head. I will give a demo with Rey today showing how recalls are using in herding.
  2. Since the 4th of July is coming up and fireworks have already started we are going to try out Tapping massage and relaxation for dogs. Finn is a more fearful dog than I have had before, so I have had to review some techniques that have gotten me through tough spots with animals in the past.  My first herding dog Nero (2010 – 2017) developed a fear of thunder, shooting and fireworks after his cancer started. I used this technique on him and he would come come up to me to ask for help when something disturbed him. This is how I knew it worked. (Click on  Tapping points on the dog and a more details on this method will open up on an EFT webpage.) Before starting gently run your hand from your dog’s head to the base of it’s tail three times. Think to yourself “Even though you are afraid of XXX I still love and accept you”.  Tap the dog lightly as though you are handling a new born chick. Tap each spot starting under the nose about 6 times (jin-gle bells, jin-gle bells). It also helps to hum a little song that you like, mine is Chariots of Fire, while you are working on your dog. My favorite tapping spot where I have the most effect with dogs is the points of the shoulders.When you are done again run your hand gently the length of your dog. During a stressful period when you cannot directly tap or massage your dog you can trigger a calm response by humming your song.

Week Two Herding Intro

Tonight the pups will be circling the round pen with wild sheep inside. We are hoping to find balance, but if we do your pups will be very hard to catch unless they have an amazing recall. As you go forward in life with your puppies it is very important to reinforce their recall. My favorite homework for new students is “10 comes a day for something”. While we don’t use treats at class I highly recommend them for home training your recall to get a quick enthusiastic come right to your hand. Rey and Finn are not super food motivated so I also use toys, sticks in the woods and other creative rewards to reinforce the recall.

The first 30 seconds of this video is Nero working on come as a small puppy.

Ranch Dog Manners Herding Intro Class

We will be meeting on Mondays June 8-15-22 and 29 at 7pm off of Fowler Lane in Bozeman.

In week one we will be talking about the importance of loose leash walking around stock and farms. Your pup should never be off leash unless explicit permission is given by the instructor.

Come with a comfortable harness if your dog is young or a regular collar if your dog has some training.

In week one we will be testing whether your dog is responsive to a pool noodle for correction. I like to use these because they make a light sound on the ground and never hurt if you accidentally bump your dog. It also teaches them to respect your space and the space in front of you and prepares them for the same when you are working sheep.

The important homework this week will be working on lie down in may different contexts so you know that your dog can do it. My greatest accomplishment with this was training my first BC to lie down when ever he saw mountain bikes. He even knew to get off the trail.

Week 4–Adding High Five and Backing Up

How is everyone doing at home. I’d sure like to hear if you have tried anything from this site. My dogs are enjoying the extra training time and I have had to up their food as my husband is more available to take them for runs. Let me know if your dog is learning 4 feet in a box and two feet on a plate.

Four feet and a box and two feet on a plate were over the last couple of weeks and now we need to get some Mark>REWARD for back feet. The video below shows a nice way to start where you can build a little alley in your house for the dog to go back and forth. A lot of times we start the dog backing up by walking into them and Marking when they shift back. This alley lets you start naming the “back” when the dog does it naturally. Also your dog will think it is really fun.

Once this is going really well then the next step is to back away from body pressure. This video shows all the steps you will need to take.

Another nice trick to add now is “high five” and “beg” with the two feet on a plate behavior. You simply start to lift the plate higher and higher and reward for hitting it with one or two feet.

Finally here is a nice story about Jay Sisler who bought 300 acres from the proceeds of his dog trick rodeo act.




Lesson 3: Two feet on a plate

Now that everyone has Mark>REWARD and Four Feet in a Box going it is time to introduce  a new trick.


Four Feet in a Box teaches your dog that all 4 feet matter. As I progress to smaller and smaller boxes I like to Mark when the back feet go in the box. Keep working on this so you can creatively mix up your dog’s training. You can even build a little duration into 4 feet in a box by rewarding for duration for staying in the box.

Something New:

Two Feet on a Plate

You will need 2-3 dinner plate sized objects. Old phone books, or magazines work great for this step. I even take my feed buckets and flip them upside down for this step.


Put out 2-3 plates about 3 feet apart. Start to Mark>REWARD for your dog interacting with the plate. They may try to put all 4 feet on it so make sure you Mark just the front feet. REWARD by tossing the treat away from you and the plate. Have this be really fun with your dog moving from plate to plate. I had a Jack Russell student years ago that would pounce on the plate and slide it across the floor. This is a faster activity than the box because in later lessons we will be rewarding the dogs for moving their hind feet around the plate. Use different “plates”. Some can move like a pot lid and also make sounds.

Here is an old video of my sweet pup Prim working on 2 Feet on a Plate.

This is former herding student Emma, a corgi mix, reviewing 4 feet and two feet on a plate.



Week One Homework


Welcome to Ranch Dog Manners. I started this site in 2016 to give a basic agility or obedience foundation to my incoming herding students. It is based on 15 years of homework assignments for Gallatin County 4H Agility which I started in 1998. All of these homework can be done inside or a small backyard. After 5 weeks of assignments expect a simple virtual test where a parent can be the “tester”.

Mark—>Reward    Two easy words, but what does it mean?

Before starting a new training adventure it is important to know what your dog loves. My dogs, Rey and Finn, love sheep first, and then if there are no sheep, toys and cheap hotdogs. They do not like their dog food or loud noises.

For indoor training I like to use the cheap hotdogs.

Before starting I cut them into about 50 pieces. They will be used as the REWARD.

I like to MARK with a “CLUCK” sound I make with my tongue. I also use the word “YES” or if I can find it a “CLICKER”.

So what do I MARK?

Once my REWARDS are ready I call the dog over. Cluck and give them one REWARD.  Maybe the dog looks at me…. Cluck REWARD

Oh oh now the dog is staring at the food! No Cluck no REWARD.

Aaah now the dog looks at me… Cluck REWARD

Now remember you have  50 pieces of food for your dog and being generous rather than stingy will get you results the fastest. Once the food runs out do a little playing with your dogs favorite toy and end the session.

Work on getting good at Marking and Rewarding behavior for one week and then we will add some specific tricks to build a great agility, obedience or herding foundation.

The video features Rey (on the coach) and Finn (happily working).

Lesson 2–4 feet in a box–standing

Good Morning!

We’ve been isolating for a week now and it is time to introduce a specific new behavior using our 50 treats.

If your dog is really motivated by food they might be staring at the food. Do not mark and reward this behavior. Instead mark behaviors where they look away from the food. Also many of my 4H kids over the years were scared of getting nipped when giving their dogs treats. Do not release the food if your dog is being rude. You should only feel lips or tongue.

Where are my 4 feet?

Find a box that is at least as long as your dog’s back. Using Mark–>REWARD ask your dog to stand in the box. It is important at this stage to Mark–>REWARD the smallest thing. So once your dog offers to do anything with the box ( head over, one foot, two feet, etc) Mark–>REWARD, use your fifty treats and don’t be stingy.

After your session engage in a little fun play.  Experiment with different positions as well. Most dogs will love standing and looking at you, but see if you can reward in heel position as well.

The first video is Finn getting into a scary wire basket.

Finn’s first boxes/buckets

Here is my niece’s rescue cocker reviewing two assignments from her online class she took last winter. Lady is a rescue and a year ago she had to learn Mark–>REWARD which took a while and then she was very slow and careful. In her quick review one year later she is so much different.

Rey Introduction to 4 in a box and 2 in a plate.

Young Nero 4 feet in a box

I love seeing dog tricks that make it to the big screen. Here is an amazing one from Great Britian: