Harsh handling or not


Experienced Member
Looking for opinions of new training technique used on my young border collie.

Last night I decided to train Talin on his sit-stays for agility, he is terrible, as he is over-stimulated by the obstacles and impossible to control. A fellow dog club member offered to help me. I respect her knowledge and the results she has had with her young cattle dog.

I put him in a sit-stay and started to walk past the first obstacle, as soon as I get a few feet away, he starts to lift his butt, and then its only a second or two and he's off !
My friend says to go straight back to him, grab him by his fur around his neck with both hands , raise his face up to mine and yell " AHHHH " with my eyes fixed on his eyes, for several seconds. I did this a few times with average results.

She wanted to teach him, and did this many times, after a little while he started to look very scared, and was looking over his shoulder to me many times. He lost all drive to do any agility obstacles, and eventually ran back to me and hid behind me, after she asked for a fifth recall. By the end of the night he was definatley doing solid sit-stays, but looked more out of fear than anything else.

On the drive home, he kept starring at me. I reassured him with a pat every now and then till we got home. At home my wife asked him to come to her, ( he has always come straight away ) he wouldn't go to her, and dipped his head looking scared. Has he started to disslike women ??

I'm told by many at the club, that I am far too soft with my dogs. I don't raise my voice or physicaly handle my other agility dog, because she simply does everything I ask her to do, she is also sensitive and will almost cry at a " naughty girl " spoken.
Talin is very different, confident, self-assured and very high-drive.

My question is....is this methode harsh handling and would I have more problems with him being psychologically damaged if I continue. The results are there , but is it worth it ?


Honored Member
Staff member
YES it is harsh handling and yes you could easily have psychological problems with this! Especially for a BC. So what if you don't raise your voice to your dogs. If you don't have to then you've done a far better job and have better knowledge of positive techniques than the members in your club! That's not "too soft," that's knowing how to use these techniques.

In my opinion, raising your voice(slightly, not a verbal banshee attack) is not a bad thing. For a BC, the degree of volume or "fierceness" needed is dependent on the dog. It may be scarcely over a whisper or just a mock-angry sounding tone.

It sounds to me like you're simply asking too much from Talin. I know you know what you're doing with your pups, and you know Talin knows what's expected from him. Because of this you're expecting him to do what he's told--but, he's in an extremely high drive mode, and to not take baby steps with him isn't quite fair to him. He loves agility, and he will need extra tiny steps to improve his sit-stays before the agility run. It's easy to ask too much from dogs that you've done such extensive training with. I'm constantly having to remind myself with Mud of things that she may not be ready for or may need a reminder on. Yes, I've done a loooooot of work with her, but perhaps not as much in one area. If she's consistently not doing something she thoroughly knows, then I need to back up a little. That's her telling me she's not completely ready for it. And that's okay. We can work on it in a matter of minutes and immediately see excellent improvement.
Granted you've done tons of work with Talin and the others, but he's letting you know that you haven't done enough in that kind of drive and environment. It's kind of like driving a new used car and never trying the emergency brake, then expecting it to work one day when you really need it...only to find out it doesn't work. Oops! Lol. Make sense?

My advice to you is to start much slower. Ask for a sit stay at your normal distance from the first obstacle. Take a step away, turn around and praise, praise, praise. What fun! Maybe take a run through a few obstacles since this is so great for him, then back to the beginning. Do some tricks at his starting point so that he's caught off guard by not going through the course here. Rather than immediately asking for a sit stay and walking to the first obstacle, just stay right there and do some tricks. With Zeke, I have a "Ready?" command. If he breaks, then..."Oops, dern. Can't do the course unless you're ready." And no agility stuff until he's done some tricks for me and tuned back in. Then we try again. Until he's ready for it, then no "LETS GO!" to release and really have the fun.

When he'll stay consistently with you a few steps away, then slowly progress until you can get to the first obstacle. Ask less of him now so that he isn't given the opportunity to break his stay. If he can't even handle you a step or two away right now, then just stand there and reward him for staying even with you right there. You have to assume that at that moment, sit-stays are the last thing on his mind and he's never even learned them. At that moment, the one thing in his head is agility. Nothing else. He's got a blockade on his other training and doesn't have a clue what any of that is about. So you have to assume that he's a fresh pup that needs "retrained." Going back to basics will help him build up his self-control so that he can hold himself back before the agility.

Essentially what she's doing is killing his drive. To reprimand a Border Collie for having a lot of drive before an agility course is taking major steps backwards in his agility training. He doesn't need to be punished, he needs to be asked less of until he can control his urges better. ^^ Even a mathematician will occasionally make a mistake and have to go back to the book.


Experienced Member
Was wondering how far do you go or want to go for a lead out. I had this problem with my coolie Xena. I had done the wrong thing by allowing her to break in a trial and this is what she does but I have finally most times she stays. I have another friend who has a fast border collie and he did the same thing and has lots of problems. My little Gabby she stays at the start line we will see when she starts trialling and my border collie Inka she stays at the start line as well.

One thing I remembered cant remember who had said it though that when we train we reward alot around the first jump but when we lead out further we dont reward so that the jumps are the reward. so I have done lots of stays with a clicker so I can mark that she stays when I have walked away and go back and feed her. and just do small increments so if you can get away for a couple of steps click and go back and reward and do that a few times before releasing her. Some people have taught there dog that there owners move a couple or more steps and they are off borders are smart and they just take of earlier and earlier if they are allowed too cause the jumps are so selfrewarding. Another thing I have done is have a lead on the dog so someone can hold the dog so it has to stay and can't go off to self reward you can also have the lead or piece of string looped so when dog is allowed it can slip through (if you understand what I mean). Another punishment you can use that if the dog breaks you get the pup and move away and let someone else have a run. The dog soon realizes that dog doesnt stay dog doesnt get to play.

All of that shaking and grabbing and yelling will only make the dog shut down as the dog doesnt realize why its getting told off only that if you go towards those jumps someone comes ranting and raving and shaking you. It's not worth it. Just take small steps and lots of rewards.

I hope I do make sense and good luck with it and let us know how you got
Danni and the girls


Experienced Member
My question is....is this methode harsh handling and would I have more problems with him being psychologically damaged if I continue. The results are there , but is it worth it ?
I get the impression from reading your initial post that, in your heart, you already know the answers to the questions posed above.

Of course, strictly speaking, harsh handling is a relative affair. It's relative to the handler, to the dog, and the context in which it's being applied. For example, a security dog has to be shouted at, stared at, and even threatened as that is what it will likely face in its 'career'. However, your dog is not a security dog, and, in my view, the context is entirely wrong to use such a robust training method as has been used on your dog in this particular instance.

You then need to add the natural sensitivity of the Border Collie breed. Here in the UK, the kennels are alarmingly littered with unwanted Border Collies. Many because people see them performing in shows and believe that they must be easy to train, only to then find out the amount of work they need is too much for them. Many others are there because the nerves have been wrecked in some way. It's so so easy to to with a Border Collie, as I'm sure you are already aware of.

I think you are absolutely correct in your evaulation - the dog stayed because it was too afraid not too. That's not really training in my view, that's an extreme form of dictatorship. Some may and do argue that a dictatorship is exactly how the human/dog relationship should be, but that is something that I just can't agree with. I'm sure there are some cases where it might be helpful (I know of two semi-aggressive GSDs that have to be ruled with an 'iron-fist / velvet glove' philosophy by their handler when out walking to keep them from trouble), but yours does not sound like that sort of case in the least.

In my experience, an unreliable sit-stay is usually a handler fault, not a dog fault. But, as Silvia Trkman always says, that is a good thing as it means that you have the power to fix it which is much easier than trying to teach the dog to fix it. I don't do agility with Ellie in any form so my knowledge in the area is limited at best. (My partner does it with Ellie but really just for fun. We have no interest in competing.) I also don't know your own class, so I don't know how practical it would be to keep going back and rewarding, etc. I can certainly advise on different sit-stay methods and I'm proud to say that my own dog's sit-stay is faultless in all situations that we have tested her in, but again, how relevant that is to an agility situation I just don't know.

Is the agility something that you compete in seriously or intend to compete in seriously? Obviously, if not, then I'd have to ask the question, does it really matter, in the grand scheme of things, if he doesn't sit-stay in that particular situation?

But yes, I think that it's harsh handling and yes, I genuinely think that it has the potential to permanently ruin your dog's temperament, and, more importantly, your relationship with the dog.


Honored Member
Staff member
Good points on the security dogs, CM.
Dave, you mentioned that you immediately saw a negative difference in Talin right from the get go, eventually escalating to his shut down--no drive for agility, fear in his own home for no apparent reason, etc. It's very easy to overlook some steps in the basics when we get wrapped up in the advanced tricks. :) Teaching Talin to play chess is so much more fun for the both of you than advancing the stay. I've recently semi-abandoned the search for more trick ideas to really advance all of our commands. Stay is one that I reeeaaallly stress, be it from a stand, sit, or down, short distance, long distance, around people, dogs, lions, whatever. I want it solid no matter what the circumstances. Although we haven't been learning very many new tricks lately, our older ones are really getting great, and that's important to me.

When questions like these are asked, the owner is usually clearly uncomfortable. The rule I use is that if I am the least bit uncomfortable or wary with a training method, then I'm not going to use it. If my dog doesn't show positive advancement with a positive attitude, then I'm doing something wrong and my method isn't right for them. In my opinion, you should use methods that both you and your dog are 150% comfortable with. When the training becomes stressful, something needs to change, or your dog(especially BCs) will inevitably take leaps and bounds BACKWARDS. And of course, that's not what we trainers want. :)

Jean Cote

Staff member
Oooo ... so many thoughtful responses that it's hard to say if I will be adding anything to the discussion.

But I can try! :) I've always believed that a trainer has to adapt his training methods according to the dog. Each dog responds differently to different methods, and not all methods will work with all dogs. Some dogs will respond positively to one, negatively to another.

For example, my border collie is a very shy and timid dog. She is fine as long as my tone of voice is neutral or cheerful. But if I ever get angry or talk in a 'deep' tone of voice, she completely shuts down. This is to the extent that if I get angry on the phone, she will even go hide in the closet. (literally)

But then again, my husky is the complete opposite. There are times that I have to be harsh with her otherwise her mind is on everything else but the training. She definitely would not have been scared from the technique used by your friend.

If you ask me, you have three choices to choose from.

1. You can continue training your dog this way. But I wouldn't personally. Sure you are getting a sit/stay but at what cost?

2. You can alter the technique to be less intimidating. No need to scream or rip the dog's fur out. This may work well if you find a just middle where it enhances the sit/stays while keeping your dog happy.

3. Train using other techniques. There are other techniques out there, like strictly using clicker training. :)

In the end ... I think it's all about what you want and feel is appropriate to use with your dog.

Hope you find the answer! :)


New Member
Okay, so I do have to jump in here. Partly, because I just asked a very similar question on another thread regarding this same sort of method I was shown to do with my BC. The others had very good points and I'll just add a few. Like you I felt very uncomfortable with the method. Our dogs sound very similar in that mine can be very bossy and is high drive. She is very quick to react to any movement so agility has been a challange for us. She knows all the equipment beautifully, but we cannot compete yet or take group classes because seeing the other dogs running around and barking puts her over the top. She will lunge and want to go play chase and not focus. She can be a tough little girlie, at the same time she can be very soft, for instance I get much more from her without raising my voice and just speaking calmly. However, I will correct her and be fair about it but there are many levels of correction that can be done, for instance removing your dog from the ring whene breaks his start line (doesn't get to run agility). My guess is you are doing agility because you like it and you think it would be something your dog would like. But then the training as well as the competing should be fun. Many more hours are put into training than competing so why not make it something you both enjoy. Many top competitors insist on a start line stay. Others don't, Silvia Trkman is one. Perhaps the ones that insist on a start line stay do so because they don't have much distance control and so when they get behind their dog on the course they feel they have lost him. For you maybe you don't use a start line stay and you focus on distance handling instead. Face it, with most any dog, and a BC in particular, you are only going to be ahead of that dog for the one or two obstacles you lead out to. After that you will be next to him or directing from a distance.
The other thing that is important to remember is that it is okay to do something different the way others at your agility club do. There isn't only one way - and no rule that I know of that says you must have a lead out on your dog. Do what works for you and go from there. I know it is hard to do things your own way when everyone else is doing it different. We are always clicker in hand at one training school when the rest of our class is in prong collars.
I recently found a blog about a trainer that is training her doberman for Schultzhund with a clicker. This dog is crazy high drive and she has worked on all the bitework with a clicker. If that can be done anything can. Good luck on your decision.


Experienced Member
LOL Nope my reason for a lead out is so I have an advantage of sort of being there but than the dog flys by me and I drive from behind using body and vocals. I have taught my girls to left and right, go on, tight and wrap, shoulders etc etc I can be about 4 jumps behind my girls and still controlling them LOL so I just use the lead out so I'm not that far behind like if I have to do running start. My usual lead out would be up to the second jump or the middle of 2nd and third jump as I find when you do very long lead outs the dogs arent that fast unless you are near. Thats my observation
Danni and the girls


Experienced Member
Thanks for the advice everyone, I really appreciate it :dogsmile:
A little more background information.... he has been training in agility for 2 years !!! In obedience classes, he has advanced to the next level at every assesment ( solid stays included). At frisbee comps he is in control, at the park he has solid sit-stays for several minutes, it's just agility that sends him crazy. He's not a food driven dog, but loves tuggies and toys. At home, my wife and I can't say "A-frame" or "tunnel" or he goes sprinting through the house, barking and going crazy.

Several people have offered to train him saying " Can I have a go, I think I can fix him..." , I say " Please take him...", after a short time they all hand him back saying, he's too dificult.
Advice and ideas I've been given over the years...
Time-out , crate train , be firmer with him, be softer with him, more food rewards, don't fight it-just run with him, do more obedience, play waiting game, constantly reward for small step progress, withhold food as punishment, act more calmer around obstacles, use a choke chain ( I refuse to ), do focus work around obstacles, create an on/off switch with him, yell at him, and many more.
I've tried all of these with no success. After researching through video's, internet, top agility trainers and everyone else, I've found his problem is "Over-the-edge " personality. It only comes out in extreme, with agility. His adrenalin goes through the roof, and becomes over-stimulated at the thought of doing the obstacles.

Thanks to everyone here, I've decided not to continue with the method. It is harsh , just needed a few to confirm my thoughts.
I'm leaning to getting an on/off switch ( calm and listen when I ask, and go run when I say ) with him, and a marker for incorrect behaviour ( like a clicker for correct behaviour, a horn or alarm type thing for when he does the wrong thing, basically something that will startle him a little, and something I can use from a distance.)
welshherder - thanks for your input. Yes Talin sounds very similiar to your dog, he is very high-drive but isn't bossy. I don't have to do a lead-out, but would be a huge advantage if I could, as he is extremley fast. I'd like to hear more about how you train your dog, as she is so similiar to my boy.
Collieman- thanks for your knowledge. You mentioned the sensitivity of the breed; this is my biggest concern. On the surface he appears very confident, but that night I could see his spirit was broken. Handler error- this is a distinct possibility, after training the other dog in 6 months, with many wins and successes with her, I used the the same methodes with a totally diferent personality type dog. Obviously didn't work, and I'm totally out of my league with this type of dog personality.
Tx cowgirl - I always enjoy reading your posts, your insight and thoughts are top notch, to the point ,and easy to understand and follow. I'll defiently be taking your advice on board.

For those interested, here is a video of Talin, 9 months ago doing a fun tunnel competition.
The woman handling him, is a highly recognised instructor who also tried "fixing" him at one stage. You can see how bad he is at taking directions .As you see at the beginning of the video, she knows he won'r sit-stay and this is her method of him not breaking....



Experienced Member
Just a thought but have you thought of dropping an email to Silvia Trkman? I can't think of anyone more qualified to offer possible solutions to an agility related issue?

Her email is shown on the left side of her website.

I've emailed her before for advice and to her credit she's always been kind enough to respond with her own thoughts and feelings. Though obviously, as she's out giving seminars etc much of the time, it can take a while for a reply.

Has to be worth a shot. :)


New Member
I've never been to agility so I am speaking from an ignorant perspective, but is it required that they stay at the start line or is it merely tradition? I ask because I am sure that I've seen Silvia Trkman say on her website that she has a world champion agility dog that doesn't stay at the start because it has to much drive and simply refuses. If it isn't required perhaps you could use it to your advantage.

Edit: I should have watched the video first -- obviously you've already had a go at this.


Honored Member
Staff member
Dave you're always so kind about my replies. ^^ Thank you.

Just some more ideas for you:

Another thing you might consider, if you can, is to work with less obstacles. Just like you add distractions slowly, perhaps you need to add obstacles slowly. If at all possible, it might be a good idea to work on sit-stays with one jump out. Or one tunnel or whatever. No other obstacles at all. If you don't have your own equipment, just some cheapies would be fine for this kind of work. Ebay has some cheapy small sets for around $30 that would really work just fine for this. With a full course in front of him, he's raring to go and knows what's coming. With just a jump or two, it might be less exciting--still exciting, but perhaps less so. The good thing about the cheapies is also that they are easily portable. If you could find a field or park or something, set up a jump and start working. If he can't handle it the normal distance you put him in a sit-stay, then move away. If he can't cool his jets for a good sit stay, then you simply move further away from it. (The idea being that--good sit stays=close to the obstacle=YAY FUN AGILITY, bad sit stays=leaving the obstacle=no fun agility.) You could also try some heeling around the obstacle. Just because it's there doesn't mean we're jumping it.

I'm not sure how you could incorporate this, but just something to mull over--
Zeke absolutely could not master the wait for gates, doors, etc. I used several different methods, to no avail. Like Talin, he's insanely high-drive--but with him, it's for everything(mainly agility) unless it's a scary new place with lots of scary new people and shopping carts. (Z's extremely timid.) What I finally ended up doing to fix the door rushing was leash him and walk in and out and in and out and in and out of the open door. He learned that just because we were going out didn't mean we were "going out," and became so bored with it that he didn't care about rushing out to greet whatever was outside anymore. Of course, I did have to repeat this as needed until he really got it, but it worked great for him. My "Ready?" command was essentially taught the same way. I use it for sheep, agility, fetching, whatever. "Ready?" means to sit and stay, focus on me, and wait for my release. At first I would stand beside him, ask for the ready with a jump ahead of me, release with an enthusiastic "LET'S GO!" and run with him. From there, I did the same but would do something comparable to a "false start" in football. Lean forward or take a step, but not give the release. If he broke, then I'd just say, "Ahh, you weren't ready!" and back to the beginning. No fun jumps, no petting or scolding or anything really, just back to the beginning and try again. Eventually I started moving further away from him so I could stand at the first jump or wherever and then release him. His "Ready"s are perfect now, and I haven't had trouble with him since. He was fairly young when we started that though. Zeke is also not food motivated at all--at nearly 4 years old now, I've yet to find a treat that he's even mildly interested in. Until he met Mud who taught him the fun of tennis balls, his only reward was praise because that's the only thing he was happy with. So that's another thing about this method--no treats or clicker needed, since you mentioned food wasn't Talin's motivation.

Lol, I've seen some of your other vids and Talin is definitely not as his best in that one. He seems to be quite the character. ^^
Ditto to CollieMan's advice to talk to Silvia. She is very sweet and I've emailed her with questions a few times as well. She got back to me within a week or two and was very helpful. :) Good luck Dave!


Staff member
You could also try the crazy game as my brother calls it. Literally go crazy with the dog. Do anything to get him excited then say a command such as sit.Then stop. Just like that as if you turned off the kitchen sink. Stay still don't say a word, don't move to correct just wait. As soon as the dog completes the command you turn back on. The crazies are back. After I did this with my girls they listened no matter how hyper and off the wall they were it just took time. Maybe this would be a good game for you to play.