Are your ears painted on?

Someone once told us that when their father was training working dogs, quite often, and in exasperation, he would yell out “Are your ears painted on?”.

We like this saying (and have taken to using it ourselves) as from our experience it very deftly captures a particular stage in a young Kelpie’s training. Everything is going well – the dog is calm and controlled, moving the sheep to where he is asked without too much fuss and all of a sudden he steps over an invisible line and his ears stop working. The job at hand and the accompanying human utterly forgotten, they take the sheep on a merry spin around the paddock; and being a Kelpie this is usually at a hundred miles per hour.

Yelling at this point isn’t much use. They can’t, or choose not to, hear and it just ruins their ears. By that we mean that if you start yelling commands at a dog it is then hard to go backwards and get them to respond to a normal voice or even a whisper.

This is the stage that Jaco is at. The way we’re dealing with it is to let him work right at the edge of the range in which he listens, and keep talking to him as he crosses over. Over time his range will extend until he’ll still look for instructions from on top of a hill half a kilometre away. This is when all the work put in to teaching hand signals becomes worth it.

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