|“Kai, lie down.”|
Kai sleeps at my feet as I write. He takes a morning nap each day after our long walk in the woods. Kai will be 12 weeks old in just a few days. At this point in a border collie’s life, lots of play time is important, but basic obedience training takes a priority. We start with easy commands like “sit”, “come”, and “lie down”. All of these commands must be mastered before we can begin training Kai on sheep, as these commands allow the handler, me, to control the puppy while in with the sheep. Kai has mastered the “sit” command, as he must sit before going out or entering through the front door. Border collies need to learn respect for their master, so that when in the field with sheep, the dog will take commands willingly. Training the puppy to sit and wait for you to enter first, begins that process. Kai also needs to learn to come on command, even when distracted by something more interesting. My last border collie, Tess, would come on command even when in fast pursuit of a deer in the woods. The “lie down” command allows me to stop the dog when in with sheep. This too takes much discipline on the part of the dog. They must stop what they are doing, and lie down, regardless of what is happening around them.
|“Kai, with me.”|
We have begun to move to the next level of commands with Kai, “stay”, “off”, “that’ll do”, and “with me”. These commands take a little more maturity for the puppy who thinks that the world revolves around him. With a solid “stay”, I can trust that the puppy will remain where I put him, even with my back turned. There are numerous times in my day, when I need him to stay on his side of the fence, or by the edge of the road, or at the bottom of the stairs. Puppies love to play and chew, and constantly test to see where the limit is. By teaching the word “off”, Kai will know that those lines of boundary do exist. Border collies have amazing energy and exuberance. A well trained border collie will be able to turn off that excitement and settle down when asked. Before giving the “that’ll do” command, I ask Kai to “sit”. This puts him in a focused position to which I can then tell him “that’ll do”. I have been amazed at how well he has done with this command. His father had a firm off switch and so I am hoping that Kai inherited that. When he has trouble flipping his off switch, I put him in his crate for a few minutes, telling him to “settle down”.
Each time I take Kai for a walk, I spend a few minutes working with him on the command “with me”. I need him to be able to walk next to me upon request so that when we enter the field to work with the sheep, he knows that he must stay by my side until further commands are given. I use a short leash and a pocket of treats to help him understand that walking with me is rewarding, fun, and easy. Once he has spent several minutes walking with me, I let him off the leash to run ahead and play as we finish our walk.
|Lots of time to just be a puppy.|
So training begins with Kai. It has been seven years since having a puppy in the house. I realize now that through the years with Tess, I had taken for granted how smart and obedient she was. Her list of vocabulary was astounding and her ability to follow commands impressive. Kai comes from an excellent line of border collies, so he has genetics on his side and natural instincts to guide him through basic training of sit, stay, and lie down.
Photography by Anna Goodling.