Training dogs all about the three Ps

Lloyd Smith out in the hills with his team of dogs. Photo by Darren Simmonds.
Lloyd Smith out in the hills with his team of dogs. Photo by Darren Simmonds.
When it comes to training sheep dogs, Lloyd Smith reckons it's all about the three Ps - purpose, precision and positive.

The Palmerston dog triallist and trainer has been passing on his knowledge and training methods at training days throughout the country.

In 2005, Mr Smith published a book, Pup Pen to Paddock, described as a no-nonsense guide to rearing and training better sheep dogs.

Now he and Rural TV have produced a DVD which describes and demonstrates the system he uses for training both heading dogs and huntaways.

The book was produced because of popular demand, people wanting to know his training method, and to coincide with his training days.

About 5500 copies have been printed, and it had sold much better than he expected.

He had pages of notes when he addressed a training day, which people kept asking for, and John Gordon, former presenter of popular television series A Dog's Show, offered to put those notes into book form.

Feedback on the book had been very positive and the DVD was a natural progression, after some gentle persuasion from his wife Linda.

Mr Smith particularly wanted to help young people with their dogs and, when he took training days, he could put himself in the boots of those attending.

His father, he admitted, was not particularly good with dogs, and, as a young man, he himself probably ruined some potentially good dogs.

So when he met young people keen to learn at his training days, he knew what they were going through and how they were hungry for information.

He averaged between about 30 and 40 training days a year. In the summer months, he tended to focus more on doing casual farm work with his dogs.

Mr Smith's association with working dogs dated back to 1969, when he left South Otago High School and went to work on a property in the Clinton Gorge.

He learnt a lot from watching others train dogs and from talking to people.

It was important for potential dog trainers to develop a training system and the system he now used - a step-by-step progression taking a pup through to a trained dog - was "pretty foolproof".

While the methods and techniques he used had been "around for years", it was how he brought them together that worked for him, he said.

As for the three Ps, he believed a dog had to work with purpose and show "real commitment" to the job, while precision came back to its training, so it could be put in the right position and, once there, it should be able to make a positive move and get maximum results.

The three days of filming at his Palmerston property were a "bit daunting", but he was pleased with the result and he hoped people would find it informative and educational.

There had already been inquiries from the United States and Australia.

The DVD included an interview with the inspirational Grant Calder from Lauder Station in Central Otago, who broke his neck in a quad bike accident on his property in 2004, yet went on to win the South Island zig-zag hunt championship last year, directing his young dog Cramp from his wheelchair.

Training a dog was very rewarding and Mr Smith likened it to coaching a sports team - "picking up a team of kids and taking them to win a competition" - or, in the case of a pup, taking the raw material and turning it into "something that's very useful".

Many people did not have the patience to train a dog successfully.

It was a long-term project and there was no rule saying it had to be trained at 12 months.

Rather, it was better to take two or three years and get it right, he said.

The importance of having well-trained dogs was something that had not changed over the years in farming systems.

Farmers might have "all the modern technology in the world at their disposal" yet they still had to "go out and get the sheep out of the paddock and put them in the yards".

Mr Smith's focus was on training a dog to do stock work first and foremost. If the dog showed it had the necessary ability, then dog trialling could be the next step if desired.

He started attending New Zealand and North and South Island sheep dog trial championships in 1982.

He has won five New Zealand titles with dogs he has trained - the zig-zag hunt in 1983 and the straight hunt in 1986, both with Oak; the straight hunt with Birch in 1988; the zig-zag hunt with Cruz in 2002; and the short head and yard with Ace in 2010 - as well as five island championships and nearly 50 placings.

He has also represented New Zealand in the transtasman challenge and judged two New Zealand championships.

That first victory with Oak, where he won not only the New Zealand title and the North Island championship in the zig-zag hunt but was also second in the straight hunt, started his trialling career "with a hiss and a roar".

While it was a big thrill, Mr Smith said he probably did not appreciate at the time what it took to get there and he had since appreciated his wins and placings much more.

Of all the dogs he had owned over the years, Oak was particularly special.

Mr Smith did not have a preference for huntaways or heading dogs, saying he enjoyed working with both.

While huntaways were usually the preference of young people, he believed they were harder to train because of the noise factor.

In the past couple of years, there had been more huntaway entries at the New Zealand championships than heading dogs, which delighted him.

There were concerns for a few years that there were not many young people getting involved in the sport, but that had turned around.

It was pleasing to see the number of young people attending his training days. At a recent day in Gisborne, there were about 100 people there and he estimated about 60% were young people.

There were many young shepherds who were taking a genuine interest in training their dogs and they were doing a very good job of it.

His desire to win island or New Zealand championships had not dimmed over the years - "there's nothing better" - and he was always striving to win another.

But it was a tough sport and a great leveller. "As long as you've got a dog, you stand to be made a fool of," he said.

Mr Smith has about 10 dogs, along with a couple of pups. With the training days, he needed to have dogs at relevant ages and stages.

He was grateful for the support of his family who, over the years, had helped rearing and handling countless pups and young dogs. That had played a major part in the success many of the dogs had achieved.

• The Pup Pen to Paddock DVD can be bought by contacting Lloyd or Linda Smith, phone (03) 465-1311 or email landl@hotmail.co.nz