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Raising and Rearing Puppies
Chris Hayward


When 10 over eager children sign up for violin lessons – there is no guarantee that all of them will master Beethoven`s 5th at performance level.

Maturity, upbringing, environment, God given talents and interest levels all vary from person to person and so too from pup to pup.  Each individual will have a different response to training and stimulation.  Some just never “get it”, others mature later, still others “play instinctively by ear” – these are dream pupils/pups.

When we were kids life was fun, friendly, safe and carefree.  That’s how it should be for the puppies too.  It is in these early times that character is laid down, confidence and trust need to be built up slowly and securely.

Playing in the sandpit of pre -school we learnt to share our toys and paint pots (just not our lunches) accept authority and be kind to others. There are boundaries, limits and behaviour codes.  Some things were just plain wrong.  Pups too learn by playing.

Keep your pup away from livestock as far as possible until approximately 5/6 months of age.  Seek advice on how to handle the first critical exposures and stimulation with sheep. This is the phase that sets the discipline and boundaries for the young dog that will last a life time.  GET THIS PART RIGHT.

Once the pup is approximately 9 – 13 months old it should show enough interest and be strong and mature enough to convert these early lessons and encounters into formal training, akin to the human's primary school phase.

This is the foundation, in this time we are exposed to a plethora of new ideas and almost an information overload.  For dogs it is difficult and confusing.  This stage, however, is vital to set the dog up for a lifetime of work.

The pup learns to sit still (on the mat) and move on command only.  Sheep work becomes fun and exciting, yet only occurs on the signal and instruction of the handler.  Much as the grade 1 teacher has to sum up a child’s character, the trainer has to know and understand the subtleties of the “canine mind” intimately and intuitively with sheep.

This “Primary school” phase is vital and perhaps best done by an experienced handler.  Consider paying a professional trainer to set your dog up properly for 10 – 12 years of hard work. (Incorrect early exposure could prolong proper training, confuse the pup or let bad habits start- which will stick for many years and make later training very difficult.)

After 6 – 8 weeks in this basic training period the pup becomes much like a teenager; thinks it knows it all, but has lots to learn. (The human counter parts can read, write, colour in and relate to others.  Confidently tell daily news to the class.  They will be able to sort of sit still on the mat for a few minutes.)

With these basic building blocks of discipline, sheep sense, co operation and a touch of understanding.  The pup is now ready for gaining more experience with livestock in various situations.

There is a subtle and fine balance between insisting on blind discipline and allowing the pup`s natural instincts and character to shine through.  Never stunt enthusiasm and initiative.  Good sheep work definitely relies on some right brain (artistic) application.  Our dogs are our friends and companions that work hard with us – do not see them as canine remote robots.

As with all successful relationships- mutual respect will remain key throughout.

Love your dogs! I do.

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