Herding Clinic by David Rogers

This is one of the best and most thought provoking herding clinics I have ever attended. (and I have attended a lot of herding clinics.)


reviewed by Pam Green, © 1996

The David Rogers clinic , held in the summer of 1996, hosted by Dan & Susan Hoag at their ranch in Salinas, CA, was one of the most thought provoking that I have ever attended, inspiring me to re-think what I am doing with some of my dogs , giving new insight into their assets and liabilities and into my methods of trying to work wit each dog. What more could you possibly ask of a teacher ?!! The clinic included detailed explanations of training philosophy and methods and detailed critique of the issues raised by each dog's work -- and we could hear it all thanks to his superb P A system !

Mr Rogers began by declaring that "the purpose of a clinic is not to train your dog or work your dog, but rather to help you to become a better trainer (for this dog and all your future dogs). Everything that you see someone else's dog do today, you will meet again someday (perhaps in a dog of your own). Store up a "warehouse of knowledge" in your mind for later use. My methods are somewhat different from some other trainers. Of what you see presented, take (to use) the parts that work for you. Something that someone else said to you 5 years ago, I may say differently and it will suddenly "click" for you." (Pam's note : possibly it will click because of experiences gained in the meanwhile.) " The choices you make in training each have consequences, ie may be advantageous in some ways but disadvantageous in others. Always think about how you want the dog to work 4 years from now."

Your goal in training should not be to control or coerce the dog, but rather to make him learn to control himself. The handler should not KEEP pressure on the dog, but rather put pressure ON to correct the dog and then immediately take pressure OFF again as the dog responds. (Pam's note : one of the most common beginner's mistakes is to keep pressure on the dog , never giving him a chance to choose to do it right or do it wrong. Usually the dog learns either to ignore that pressure or else to wait for the moment the handler and pressure are out of position and then the dog dives into the stock.)

One of the essentials of Mr Roger's methodology is what is called "sheep running away." It is absolutely crucial to have sheep that want to run (or at least move) away from the handler, NOT towards the handler. If you are using sheep that start TOWARDS the handler as they see the dog coming on the early part of the gather or flank, this will PULL the dog in tight and short. If most of your work is on such stock, your dog will get into habit of being tight and short at the top of his outrun and flanks. This was demonstrated and pointed out with several dogs.

If you are using sheep running away from the handler , the dog with good enough natural talent will soon find out that he has to kick out wider and deeper in order to head off the escape of the sheep. (Pam : and for the many dogs who are not gifted enough to find this out for themselves, you are going to have to help them to discover it. Mary Alice Theriot has described at length on the Internet the progressive steps Rogers uses to do this . During the clinic , we saw a lot of this. It all starts with dog, stock , and handler all fairly close together so the handler can kick the dog out a bit. You don't start with sheep bolting hell for leather 100 yards down the field then send the dog and pray that he will kick out naturally rather than fall in behind and chase them in ever-accellerating frenzy. )

There are various methods to create pressure to cause sheep to desire to move or flee in direction away from the handler. One way is to take just a few sheep out of a larger flock, leaving the bulk of the flock in view so the set you are working want to return to the flock. Another method is to work lambs that want to return to their dams, ie locating the dams in direction away from the handler. Another is to get someone else to drive the sheep away from you.

Because of this need to have sheep that want to move away from the handler, it is essential to have enough sheep at your disposal that you don't use the same ones too often , ie don't use them enough that they learn to head your way when the dog starts a gather or flank. You either have to have enough sheep or else you have to keep trading them off for fresher ones.

Anything you do or teach can have some bad consequences as well as good ones. Ie a work strategy that you have chosen because of its advantages in some types of situation, may have disadvantages in some other situations that you may not have anticipated. So you have to think about a variety of situations in which you may be using your dog and choose the strategies that will fit your own needs most of the time. (ie "you pays your money and you takes your choice.")

Mr Rogers does not like for a dog to work off contact. While in some ways it is easier to train a dog be "clean" by teaching him to outrun and flank off contact, the great advantage of having the dog remain right on contact is that the dog can react so much better and faster to the stock. In critical work on difficult sheep, you the handler cannot react to the stock and command and have the dog obey nearly as fast as the dog can react to the stock on his own.

Therefore Rogers does NOT place himself in front of the dog to try to widen the dog out : (1) because this takes the dog's attention off the stock and onto you, and (2) because starting out too wide at the bottom usually causes the dog to be wrong at the top. At the start of the outrun the dog should be looking for the stock and at the stock from the very first moment he sets off, so he can react to the stock as they react to him.

Sometimes it is not easy to tell if the dog is slightly off contact. Test : does the dog react if you spook the sheep ? If dog does not react , then he really is off contact.

The dog's attitude is far more important than his distance off the stock on flanks and outruns. ( Pam's note : the dog's attitude creates his demeanor , which creates emotional impact on the stock. ) A dog with a milder attitude can work closer to the stock than a dog with a more threatening attitude (demeanor).

Corrections must be (1) soon enough, ie ideally as the dog thinks about doing something (rather than as he is doing that something or worse yet after he has done it), (2) strong enough to convince the dog (that what he is thinking of doing is a bad idea) , and (3) quickly over. Always keep asking yourself "what does it mean to the dog?" Your influence or correction may have a different meaning and effect on the dog from that which you intended. (So you have to keep noticing how the dog reacts and be willing to try something else.)

Pups raised to understand that a correction means "stop doing that" are a lot easier to teach.

You can use tone of voice , changing it quickly as needed, to correct the dog ( for coming in) or to speed the dog up or to bring the dog back into contact.

When starting a never-before-worked dog, the first thing that Rogers wants to see is whether the dog wants to control the stock. If starting in a round pen (or other control pen),walk the dog around the edge of the fence until the sheep start to move out ahead of the dog and yourself -- ie the sheep are "running away" from you and the dog. Then let the dog flank our to head the stock and move them back towards the handler. Repeat. As the dog starts wearing stock, start getting dog to steady a little in reaction to your body language. At the end call the dog to you and pet him, then let him go again, ie go back onto the stock again. Do this several times before taking the dog away from the stock. (Note: this is how smart horsemen teach their horses to be willing to be caught in a field : catch him, give a treat, and let him go again.)

Rogers progressively phases out crook movements and body language early in training, so as not to distract dog from attention on stock. (Pam's comment : it is a common beginner's mistake to continue to make broad crook and body cues long after they should be reduced or eliminated. Remember that the real purpose of a crook is to influence the sheep or to catch a sheep, not to control the dog.)

Wait until the dog bends out on his flanks before beginning to work on outruns. Ie the dog should be bending out or bowing out of his own accord as h flanks to head the sheep as they are moving away.


If dog is "flashing through" on the fence when taking sheep off the fence, you need to teach the dog to be more relaxed. Stop the dog as the sheep start to come off the fence so dog is between sheep and fence.

When dog is being too pushy, you need him to respond to "Steady" , not "Down". Making the dog down takes the dog out of control of the stock, letting them drift or bolt. (Pam : and causing the dog to lose control of stock is very adversive to good dog, ie dog resents it or gets frantic, and result is that dog is less willing to obey the "down" next time.)

On cattle, especially momma-cows with calves, the dog needs to work without getting into the fight zone. Rogers likes to teach the dog to get into the right spot (ie relative to where you want the cattle to NOT go, ie so dog is blocking the direction you want the cattle to NOT go) and simply stand his ground so the cow turns or moves away from the dog. This requires the dog to use power, not bite. This way of working takes a lot more strength of character in the dog (ie not every dog has enough), but it teaches the cattle to yield calmly and without fighting. (Rogers raises cattle for his living, so values every pound of weight he can bring to market and does no want to waste any of it in unnecessary fights with the dog.) One or two of the dogs who worked cattle in the clinic were dogs who were able to work in this way , so we could see that it was very effective. (Pam's note : this is also the way I was taught to try to work cattle by Lin Daugherty and Lauren Schuman. I really like this way and it really suits my preferred breed of dog.)

A dog with really strong eye causes the stock to fight, so that dog needs extra power to compensate.



I would very strongly encourage all of you to take advantage of any Rogers clinic that you have opportunity to attend. Take careful notes and pay strict attention to everything to add to your "warehouse of knowledge." You'll learn a lot if you hang out in Mr Roger's Neighborhood. !!!


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 3/06/04 revised 3/06/04
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