Ranch Dog Manners Homework Week One

Hank and Annie–This video is your homework. We want to build some fluency going around something. 


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 5 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 recent trial 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. Since then I have gone back to basics with a lot more on-leash walks than usual. I’ve also been reviewing a lot of the homework assignments from her own Ranch Dog Manners class last year to keep things positive and fun. 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. My own puppy Finn is really loving this game on walks. For this class bring the dog to heel position for the reward.

4. Where are my front two feet? Find a smaller box, or phone book and teach your dog to put their front two feet on it. Reward your dog by tossing their reward away from them so that don’t get stuck in position staring at you. It helps to have two boxes because then you can get them to move quickly from one box to the other.

5. 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

Week Four Ranch Dog Manners

We have covered a lot in class already. Last week we worked on default behaviors at the gate and also asked the dogs to look back and acknowledge us once we went through the gate. Like 10 comes a day for something and don’t stare at the food this is something that should become part of your daily routine.

  1. The 300 peck “heeling” method. Years ago I took a clinic and private lesson with famous positive training instructor from Canada named Sue Ailsby. She taught obedience and I really didn’t do obedience competitively but her method helped me with all kinds of things that I use to this day.

A Review of the 300 Peck Method

FEBRUARY 16, 2017

Last week we introduced the agility tunnel. This is a really cool exercise to build speed and distance to an obstacle–in this case, the tunnel. I like to set up the exercise with 3-4 hoops in front of the tunnel. I am going to list the steps that I would like everyone to use in training for distance to an obstacle. Remember that the TUNNEL is always the LAST obstacle.

  1. Start your dog very close to the tunnel  with your hand holding their collar and say ONE TIME: Go Tunnel. The dog should pull out of your hand to the tunnel. As soon as the dog BLASTS through the tunnel meet them about 15′ past the tunnel and reward.
  2. If the dog enthusiastically did the tunnel with no begging, luring or pleading then start the dog again about 5 feet from the tunnel. Repeat holding the collar and saying “Go Tunnel”.  If the dog BLASTS to the tunnel pulling from your hand you graduate and add a few more feet. If you have to beg, lure or plead then go back to close to the tunnel and start again.
  3. A perfect tunnel is one where the dog looks straight ahead and is running at their squirrel chasing speed.
  4. Start to take note of the distance where you dog will be 100% successful. This is your spot you go back to after every failure (not fast, looked around, lured, pleaded, begged). After you go back slowly add back the distance one go at a time until you reach a failure again. At that point of failure go back to the 100% successful mark.
  5. Repeat this exercise at home with your chairs, stools, or garbage cans. Push, push for distance and then go back to 100%.
  6. These two links can be looked at for more understanding: Part one of 300 peck methodPart two of 300 peck method

Here is a summary of a training session on going out and around a stool based on the article:

A typical home session might look like this:
Around Stool – 1 step away, mark and treat
Around Stool – 1, 2 steps away, mark and treat
Around Stool – 1, 2, 3 steps away, mark and treat
Around Stool – 1, 2, 3 , 4 steps away, mark and treat
Around Stool – 1, 2, 3 , 4, 5 steps away, FAIL
Around Stool – 1  step away, mark and treat
Around Stool – 1, 2 steps away, mark and treat
Around Stool – 1, 2, 3 steps away, mark and treat
Around Stool – 1, 2, 3 , 4 steps away, mark and treat
Around Stool – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 steps away, mark and treat
Around Stool – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 steps away, mark and treat
Around Stool – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 steps away FAIL
Around Stool – 1 step away, mark and treat
Around Stool – 1, 2 steps away, mark and treat

The dog will fail randomly and so the reward is not predictable which is the power of positive training.

Now take this same idea and apply it to walking on a loose lead, or staying while you walk away. The method is powerful because it makes the reward random.

Ranch Dog Manners Week 3

  1. Teaching a “Default behavior” A default behavior is some thing the dog automatically does when you see a strange dog, come to a gate, or wait for dinner. Typical default behaviors are sit, down or eye contact. I taught my first border collie a default sit so that she didn’t bolt when she saw large dogs. I also taught it to her to sit whenever I stopped when she was on a leash walk to prevent her from jumping on people. A lot of ranchers I have met teach their dogs to sit,  look up, and lean into them to them before working with stock. To teach a default behavior reward the behavior when ever the dog offers the behavior even when you haven’t asked for it. At class we will be working on waiting for a default behavior at a gate.
  2. Gate work: 1) ask your dog for a default behavior (sit/down) at the gate and ask it for the default behavior 1 time. Without hovering, guarding or using pressure start to open the gate. If the dog breaks close the gate and start again. Expect this to take time. You are giving the dog responsibility for it’s behavior. It took me 15 minutes to get out the front door with Rey today. I patiently rewarded her for the sit, the door opening, and one step out the door. I just started over each time she zipped out the door. It tried my patience but eventually I succeeded. Then there is the next step…..
  3. After you go through the gate release your dog and wait for it to look at you. Again be patient. You are trying to develop responsibility in the dog. Looking at you is the ticket to moving on. For example if you are on a farm you do not want to open the front door and have your dog dash off to the barn without your permission.
  4. Tapping massage and relaxation: 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 dog Nero 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 new window with an image of a dog with some star points will open. 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. During a stressful period when you cannot directly tap or massage your dog you can trigger a calm response by humming your song.
  5. “Give me a break game” Load yourself with ten treats and quickly work on 4 in a box and 2 on a plate games. Cluck and reward for behaviors very quickly and then sit down and allow your dog to sniff  or explore for up to one minute and then start again. If they come to you and ask to start again quickly play the 4/2 game again. This could also be done with heeling or a stay in place mat.

Ranch Dog Manners Week 2

This week we are going to work on pressure and release both in class and at home. The video below is mostly Rey. I cut Finn off because it was too much and he was eating snow from stress. At class last night we did this same exercise in alley’s, the stall, and a square pen. I use “get back” to send my dogs away. Then walk up to come in quietly, and stand to stop them. My body pressure should be strong, square and firm to send them away, and soft and relaxed to draw them in. As soon as the dog responds the pressure needs to be released. That is the reward for the dog. If you are using a crook, or noodle then the crook should be held vertical and tight to your body when the dog is correct.

Pressure and release is a very tricky concept in some ways and difficult to get right on the line where the dog is responsive and happy, but not shut down. This next video is of some of the Masters in Sheep Herding penning at some of our top events. You will see a triangle of pressure and release between human, dog and sheep. The third person is Derek Fisher and you can hear him using the traditional “keep” which is derived from “keep out”. His dog is coming in too tight on it’s flanks and when he says “keep” you can see the distance increase between the dog and it’s sheep. Watch for slight leans towards the sheep or dog by the handler, and slight leans away. Notice all the dog’s tail positions: Soft and down.

Week 4 Homework

    Experiment with different favorite games: Now that we are getting into more and more technical training it is time to confirm that you have some fun in the equation. For most herding dogs their favorite thing to do is to herd. In my dogs case they typically prefer to herd sheep, but will accept ducks as a happy substitute. Even shepherds with access to sheep all the time cannot herd all day so it is nice to know what a dog’s favorite game is in the absence of livestock. Rey loves to chase and pounce toys and then bring them back for a game of tug. In agility she will race the course and then fly back into me for game of tug. Right now Finn is in a chewing phase  and he likes to gnash and gnaw on things. Because his teeth are still baby teeth tugging hurts. Right now I would say Finn’s favorite game is chasing soft treats across the floor.
    Back up onto a different surface. Gradually make it higher and higher. “Mark” when their back feet hit the new surface.


    Take your largest box and ask the dog to walk up and over it. “Mark” when their front feet hit the ground and reward in that position. This is the foundation behavior to teach a stopped “contact” in agility or two on/two off.
    Here is another video with Tight/Wrap and and 2on/2off.

Finally for the last thing to work on is “stay” using the 300 peck method. Positive training yields great rewards if we make the reward as random as possible. The 300 peck method does this without much fuss as you push your dog until it fails and then you return back to your 100% spot. This can be done from any position. I like to use the dog’s default position to start. Finn’s default is sit. A typical session might look like this:
sit – 1, click and treat
sit – 1,2, click and treat
sit – 1,2,3, click and treat
sit – 1,2,3,4, click and treat
sit – 1,2,3,4,5 – fail
sit – 1, click and treat
sit – 1,2, click and treat
sit – 1,2,3, click and treat
sit – 1,2,3,4, click and treat
sit – 1,2,3,4,5, click and treat
sit – 1,2,3,4,5,6, click and treat
sit – 1,2,3,4 – fail
sit – 1, click and treat
sit – 1,2, click and treat

Ranch Dog Manners Week#3 Dec. 2017

As always look back and review homework from the previous two weeks. Those assignments are the foundation behaviors for almost all dog sports.

  1. Once your dog is happily going around something and can do it multiple times then add a second obstacle and go around both items as a figure 8. For agility we build this up so that the obstacles are up to forty feet apart and really let the dog rip.
  2. Two feet on plate is one of the foundation behaviors to teach a dog to “high five” or to sit up and beg. To teach the dog to “beg” start to very slowly raise the plate while asking the dog to maintain a sit. The begging position is often used in canine therapy.
  3. Back up–I like to teach the dog to back up using a narrow aisle that the dog cannot turn around in. At home I just slide my couch out from the wall block one end and toss a toy or treat down it so that the dog has to back to get out. I start using the word “back” as they back out again and then repeat it a few times.
  4. Two feet on a plate–rotate the hind end. This trick teaches the dog that their back feet are important. With the front two feet on the “plate” reward the dog for any shift of their hind feet. Try to give the dog their reward so that they take yet another step. Herding breeds tend to get stuck staring at the person or food so remember to reward when they look in a new direction. Eventually this behavior can teach the dog a beautiful “heel position” that is used in competitive obedience.
  5. It is the end of December and New Year’s Eve is near. If anyone has a dog that reacts to fireworks then here is a technique that works quite well. It is also good for any other fears a dog might have. My dog Nero developed a fear of thunder, shooting and fireworks after his cancer started. I used this technique on him and he would 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 new window with an image of a dog with some star points will open. 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).

Ranch Dog Manners Week #2

Time for more homework for the next week. Last week we had 5 basic assignments to get started on a positive training relationship. This week we are going to build on those ideas to build towards better and better understanding of body position for all dog sports like agility and herding.

  1. Don’t forget to be working on 10 comes a day for something. Many of the students in this class have horses. If your dog is approaching the horses without control then use a longline. As soon as the dog as the dog looks at the horses then call them back and reward with treats and/or toy play. With livestock and herding dogs it is always about your management. If something happens out of control in the pasture it is your fault for not managing the situation. With Rey I had a lot of trouble with her greeting people out of control so have had to start using the loneline again on walks to keep her safe. With puppy Finn I always have him drag a line on walks. He can enjoy some freedom but I can prevent unwanted interactions with strange dogs.
  2. Don’t stare at the food/toy. If you learn to break your dog’s stare on food/toys then later with herding when dogs need to be called off the stock they can do this. Once I start training tricks I like to do it with an open container of food on the ground beside me. So for the following exercises have your treats in an open container that is where the dog could reach it. This is really good for teaching self control.
  3. 4 Feet in a Box: over the course of the next week work with smaller and smaller boxes so that you dog has to really think about their feet as they step in. I like to “mark” as the hindfeet go in the box.
  4. 2 Feet on a plate. Again the theme is smaller and getting more precise with the front feet. Continue to reward after a very short period of time so the dog doesn’t develop the habit of staring from the plate. At home I toss the treats away from me to encourage movement from the dog. Add in a pot lid that moves and makes noise when the dog puts their feet on it. You might start this on a rug or towel and then slowly remove the noise muffler.
  5. This week we are going add going through something.  I use two stools and reward once she has looked between the stools with a tossed treat. If your dog is having trouble with staring at the food/toy do not lure them through with the object of their affection. Rather wait it out and when they look between the ‘stools’ mark and reward.
  6. Around something. At class we are using the pylons for this, but at home you will find many things your dog can go around. I use “tight” for counter clockwise and “wrap” for clockwise. Many people use one word for both directions and cue with their body. Once your dog becomes fluent then start to have them go around multiple times.

Bonus Trick! Some dogs naturally lie down with their back legs behind them. I call this “frog”. With my good dog Nero it took a long time to train this trick because I didn’t think he could do it. One day when he jumped up on me I realized that he was indeed flexible enough to get into this position. After that it still tooks a few weeks to train the “frog” but it became very handy in the spring for cleaning his belly on the snow. Rey loves this trick and does it on our bed every morning when she wakes up.

Enjoy training!