Dogs being dogs – do not disturb

Close up portrait of a tricolour border collie sheepdog - Pru

How keeping quiet can make every command count

Big black Border collie dog up to his knees in water
"Is this how a paddy field works?" Ezra is up to his knees in it

When I first started to keep Border collies (entirely by accident) I did what everyone does - I read everything I could find about dog training, and training collies in particular.

Twenty-plus years ago there probably wasn't quite so much material available as there is now, but there was enough to keep me busy.

I didn't agree with everything I read. Sometimes I agreed with something until I read the opposite view; sometimes I agreed immediately and then found it didn't work the way I expected, but most books had something to offer that I've kept with me.

Tricolour and black and white Border collie sheepdogs
Carew just paddles. Perhaps she's worried about the tide?

An early and influential read was by the Monks of New Skete, who taught me two important things: one, that choke collars will never work for me, and two, let your dog be a dog.

In the latter respect, the author was talking about exercising sessions, but he made another important (for me) suggestion that can be summed up as, "If you don't have something important or useful to say, don't say anything at all". So that's what I did.

Young prick eared Border collie with small puppy
Trusting older dogs to socialise with puppies is vital for the puppies' development (and great fun for indulgent adults)

Rather than always correcting, and calling the dogs (because I was nervous that they might get into mischief) I tried to relax and quietly enjoy watching them mooching around and exploring and interacting without my continual nagging as the backdrop to their day.

The dogs became more responsive, I became more relaxed, and the dogs became more relaxed.

I found it was far better to keep quiet until I really needed the dogs to stop, or to come back - then they'd stop and listen, and didn't get into the habit of "deafing me out": THAT'S when dogs get into mischief!

Young sheepdogs being introduced to sheep work
One of those occasions when we're speaking, if not cheering! Dash (left) and Madge (right) show great promise

So yes, we play with our dogs, and we talk to them more or less constantly while we're training them; and we love to spend time with them, but some of that time we're just looking and learning - and keeping quiet.

It's good for the soul too, which may have been the point the New Skete monk was really trying to make!


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