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Training your huntaway – Part I

Training your huntaway – Part I

Photo 1

Photo 1

In an earlier column, Starting your young huntaway, I mentioned aspects relevant to the first stage of training a young huntaway.

The main objective is to build up a good level of confidence before training commences. Work on making your dog comfortable in front of you (ie: the pressure zone), promote good shepherding skills and don’t let bad habits develop.

Compliance to the “wayleggo” command and good recognition and response to the “growly voice” are also essential because these are the only controls you have at this early stage of training.

When my young huntaway demonstrates he has a good level of confidence in working sheep and is ready to learn, I start to introduce the first step of my training programme.

This involves teaching him to walk and stop on command. I always teach the approach and stop in tandem because once a dog has been stopped the next move is to approach the stock.

Photo 2

Photo 2

This is a crucial aspect of training because it’s the step that gives you control – if you can control your dog, obviously it becomes far easier to control your stock.

As mentioned in a previous column on training a heading dog, the success of future commands ultimately depends on how effective the “stop” is.

If you achieve good compliance with your stop you can then enforce every other command. If not, the success of subsequent commands will be compromised.

To teach these commands I begin by driving my dog on a pole off sheep – see Photo 1.

First, walk alongside the dog giving the “walk” command as well as at times the “stop” command, moving behind him in the process.

Photo 3

Photo 3

As the dog gets more familiar with instructions and walks on command I stay behind him, continuing to walk and stop from that position.

Along with teaching these commands I also work on a good “face-up” – see Photo 2 – which allows me to turn the dog away on instruction from any given position.

In conjunction with this training I continue to give the dog the opportunity to work sheep as before for his relaxation as well as to keep him keen and focused.

Photo 4

Photo 4

Once the dog has a good level of compliance and conforms to the three commands being taught – walk, stop and face-up – I remove the pole and transfer him to a harness and rope – Photo 3 – to cover the same ground with a little more freedom and distance between myself and the dog.

When I believe the dog is completely familiar with these commands and demonstrates a good level of confidence while working, I start to introduce him to sheep – Photo 4.

As with any newly-taught commands I keep the action close at hand where I can monitor and enforce my teaching, making sure the dog conforms.

I can then reward him for doing so, all the time building confidence in the process. Once compliance is achieved I start to increase the distance and degree of difficulty involved.

Photo 5

Photo 5

While these commands apply anywhere around the sheep, if the dog demonstrates a reluctance to operate in the pressure zone I don’t insist on him being there at this stage.

This is because forcing the situation can create a “hang-up” in the dog that becomes difficult to deal with later. Some dogs can struggle to handle the pressure that exists while operating in this area.

To solve this problem you need to build confidence in your dog to make him comfortable enough to handle the strain – Photo 5.

This stage of training a huntaway is the most difficult to get right so it’s important to monitor your dog’s attitude and level of confidence and have the patience required to negotiate this successfully.

It’s an area of training I spend a lot of time negotiating because a good level of compliance here sets you up for the rest of training and provides the framework to teach every other command required including sides – Photo 6.

Photo 6

Photo 6

KEY POINTS

When training your huntaway:

  • make sure the necessary groundwork has been done at the puppy-young dog stage
  • teach him to “walk” and “stop” – compliance to this will guarantee control of your dog
  • use the “face-up” command – a very important part of training, and
  • monitor and maintain your dog’s confidence – this stage of training is the most difficult to negotiate successfully so persevere and be patient.

– Lloyd Smith