Intro to Force-Free Herding: Foundation “Flatwork” (no stock required)
Registration is now open
Class begins January 15, 2018
To register, please email me (Hélène) at:
Thanks to requests by people who have been interested in our workshops but too far away to attend them, I have been inspired to create an on-line course that expands upon our foundation workshop!
Intro to Force-Free Herding: Foundation “Flatwork” offers a unique blend of positive reinforcement based training methods and games from the dog sport world applied to the more traditional work of herding livestock.
What is Force-Free Herding (FFH)?
I define FFH as…
the application of the science of learning theory to stock dog training, using the stock as positive reinforcement so as to minimize (and ideally eliminate) the need for the use of aversives or punishment in training.
Herding breeds, especially dogs from strong working lines, are born with a desire and ability to herd livestock in ways that can make our lives a joy.
If you have livestock, nothing can replace a well-trained working dog for making farm work easier, and even downright fun.
If you pursue herding as a hobby, you’ll be amazed by the shift in your dog, almost like a switch has been flipped somewhere deep down. They become more confident, calmer, more satisfied.
Either way, placing your dog’s intuitive behaviours on cue and building their motivation to work with us around what their DNA compels them to do, is nothing short of amazing.
This same instinct, however, can be the source of nightmares. Of chasing and barking and gripping. Of herding cats and cars. Of injuring livestock. Herding is, after all, modified hunting instinct. And in some dogs, there is not a whole lot of modification going on.
When our dogs fly out of control like this, the traditional way to bring them back to earth is to use fear. To make our dogs afraid of us enough to listen, and to obey our commands.
The traditional approach to stock dog training most definitely works… for some dogs. But not for all.
While many herding handlers use force and aversives when training, the most effective ones do so strategically, surgically, skillfully, and… minimally. They recognize the risk involved…
- the potential for worsening behaviours caused by anxiety
- the possibility of harming their relationship with their dog
- the danger of damaging their dog’s love of the work
…and do their best to avoid it.
What if we could avoid harsh techniques altogether? Is it possible to train a dog to work stock using purely positive reinforcement-based methods?
I believe the answer is YES! Yes, we can.
The primary purpose of using fear-techniques is to keep the dog’s focus on us while in a state of intense arousal. To keep them under threshold so that they can still respond to our pressure and commands.
“Violence begins where knowledge ends”
— Abraham Lincoln
What if we can keep their attention another way? Motivate our dogs to listen through positive reinforcement methods instead?
In recent years, the science of dog training has taken many a long leap forward. Gone are the days of alpha-rolls and we’re finally waving a long overdue farewell to (the now debunked) dominance theory.
“Do the best you can until you know better.
Then, when you know better, do better.”
– Maya Angelou
Today we have new tools now, and kinder, gentler techniques. We understand so much more about how dogs learn, how to communicate with them, and how to motivate them to work with us.
It’s high time to apply this knowledge to herding training.
What is “Herding Flatwork”?
I have been working for several years now to develop a positive reinforcement-based approach to herding. And it all starts with foundation flatwork skills.
Flatwork is the set of skills your dog needs prior to going to stock (or, if your dog is already started, that you can develop in parallel with working stock). These skills range from fundamentals like a lie-down at a distance under arousal, to complex behaviours like dynamic impulse control.
Flatwork also involves handler education: understanding the principles of herding, learning to evaluate our dogs, and gaining insight into the behaviours of livestock.
The stronger the flatwork foundation you and your dog develop, the less need you will have for aversive techniques. You may be able to eliminate them altogether.
Starting the week of January 15, 2018…
This course will give you the tools and understanding you need to prepare your dog for herding, using force-free games and exercises.
My goal is to help you develop foundation behaviours in your dog – and in your understanding – that you can bring with you to any instructor. Having strong flatwork skills in your dog will help minimize the need for aversive methods once your dog is on stock.
The tools and techniques taught in this course also offer positive reinforcement-based solutions to challenges experienced by dogs already started on stock.
The course is broken into 6 modules, each one two weeks long, with a catch-up “reading week” scheduled after module 3. All discussion, feedback, and live coaching calls will take place on a private Facebook page.
Choose between two course levels
1) Working participant ($347CAD):
You will have access to all lecture and video material, be able to post unlimited videos (max 2 minutes each) of your dog working, and receive feedback on all your videos, homework, and questions.
2) Discussion participant ($247CAD):
You will have access to all lecture and video material and be able to ask unlimited questions and participate in all discussions. You may post written questions about your homework, as well as the course material, working student’s videos, and all things herding.
Registration is now open for the January 2018 class
To register, please email Hélène at:
Frequently asked questions
Who is this course for? Anyone who is interested in getting started in herding, with a commitment to using positive reinforcement training methods! This course is aimed at the novice herding handler, or experienced hands looking for new ways to train foundation work.
Do I have to have a Border Collie? Nope! All breeds welcome. While I work with Border Collies and Kelpies, both strong-eyed breeds, the techniques, theories, and exercises presented in this course are applicable to all breeds. There will also be enough theory in this course that if you don’t have a dog to train right now, you may still enjoy the learning.
Do I need access to sheep or other livestock? Again, nope! This course is all about “flatwork”, or the herding equivalent thereof. No stock is required, although we will cover how you can apply these exercises on stock should you have access or are already working.
How much training does my dog need? Technically, your dog doesn’t need any training to start this course. We will be going over the foundations skills you need. If your dog already has a strong foundation, terrific! We will build on that. It will be helpful if your dog enjoys treats and playing tug or fetch.
Who is the course NOT for? While I strongly believe that even the most experienced trainer should re-visit foundation work often, those with advanced herding skills may find the course too fundamental for their level. That said, even though I am at a competitive level, I still play the same games I teach in this class with each new dog. In fact, I am working through this program with my dogs who were trained using traditional methods, and seeing great improvement in both their responsiveness during work, and in our relationship off stock! Feel free to email me to determine if this course is for you.
Will you be offering the course again? Yes, most likely I will! But I’m not sure when.
To register or ask questions, email me at: