One step forward, another backwards?
Posted 23 October 2011 - 11:37 AM
We saw another step forward at his last lesson, when even the first work was great. His outruns were poetry: perfect upside-down pear shape, going deep behind the sheep to lift. He was wearing nicely in first gear, with little or no windshield washer, and driving smoothly. He appeared perfectly relaxed throughout. Here's the rub: for the very first time in his life, he was eating sheep poop. And I don't mean tasting it once or twice - he was gobbling it as if someone had scattered dog treats all over the field and he hadn't eaten in a week!
His trainer and I were both befuddled. All she could suggest was that he had finally decided he wanted to be a team player, but still wasn't 100% certain of how to do it, so was eating sheep poop to relieve his stress. (I did change his food from Innova to Taste of the Wild last July... don't know whether that could be a factor, but it is a good food...).
Before "lie down" gets permanently converted to "lie down LEAVE IT I SAID", does anyone have any advice? Anyone have a dog that suddenly took up eating sheep poop while working? Was it a temporary phase, were you able to break them of it, and if so how? He does have a good "leave it" (off stock, sigh...), and I'm thinking of maybe trying to apply Derek Scrimgeour's "dangerous ground" trick by whacking any sheep poop he tries to eat with a whip, telling the poop that it's BAD POOP, but if anyone else has any suggestions, I'm all ears. I'm a total newbie at all of this, so any and all advice would be gratefully received.
Here he is from a few weeks ago, in orbit...
Posted 23 October 2011 - 12:18 PM
Posted 23 October 2011 - 12:33 PM
Sheepdogs prefer sheep poop from sheep on grain. Gourmet sheepdogs rave about post-lambing poop.
Posted 23 October 2011 - 12:35 PM
Posted 23 October 2011 - 02:56 PM
Or I could be totally off base here and it could be something else entirely,
Posted 23 October 2011 - 03:49 PM
I think that stockdogranch's input and advice is right on target for this problem. Also, I have found that if you correct a dog for eating sheep poop, the problem usually gets worse, because you are adding to the stress/pressure that the dog is already feeling. So, hopefully the sheep poop eating is a temporary phase, and as Duncan becomes more comfortable about his work, the problem will diminish. That's my shovelfull, anyway.
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Posted 23 October 2011 - 04:31 PM
Wearing behind sheep and working too closely are signs of a dog that has not been taught feel of stock, not one that can't find balance. He can find it, you've just never showed him what to do when he does. An appropriate correction that matches his intensity at the exact moment of the first wayward step will help.
Same for a dog that works too close, but it's all about timing and an appropriate correction for each dog. A correction should have the desired effect with applied consistency, and should cause a dog to willingly try something different. If you're getting another result, like eating pellets, your corrections are poorly timed, contradictory, too harsh, inappropriate or all of the above.
It's unreasonable to expect a young, green dog to work as well in the fist session as he does in the rest. Consider the expression that "you can't teach a dog that's too fresh or too tired." Expect that he needs to burn off some steam until he's older and completely trained, especially since he's only working once or twice a week. When I train young dogs, I give them a bit of kindergarten every day. I start with easy stuff, close at hand, that I know they know, before venturing into new lessons during that optimum period between too fresh and too tired.
Never look to the dog as the root of your problem. Always look to yourself, because that is the only way you will get better. 99% of the time, you'll be right. Put the whip away and lighten up on this dog. Temper your expectations to something much lower and start again from the beginning with patience.
Begin teaching a flank, and keep them short. Call him in if he gets too wide. Make sure you are MOVING your feet so the sheep and the dog have somewhere to go. It will prevent the orbiting. If you start over and find yourself standing still, you are wrong. Work on the down off stock and make it a happy experience for the dog. Put him on a line, call him to you, tell him "down" in your happy voice, then gently enforce with your hands if necessary. Once you can whisper to him and he hits his belly while you are backing up, then go back to stock. Expect you'll lose the precision once you get there.
It doesn't matter how the dog's bred, because eating pellets isn't genetic, it's environmental. Improve his environment, and best of luck with him.
Posted 23 October 2011 - 09:07 PM
I think Anna exactly captured what seems to be going on in his mind. He has definitely been uncomfortable with being in the pressure spot until recently. (That's how we know he CAN read his sheep). Sounds like I should stop worrying, we should make sure we keep it light and easy, and keep encouraging him to make the right choices.
For what it's worth, the whip is only used as an extension of my arm - to point to the direction to take for a flank. His trainer had told me about how Derek Scrimgeour used it to define "dangerous ground", and how it worked for things like counter surfing (not that Duncan has ever even tried that - he's too much of a gentleman), so this was my idea - not his trainer's - to think of using it next time on poop. But you've all convinced me that this would be counterproductive.
Here's hoping it's a short-lived phase. I won't be soliciting any doggy kisses until it's over!
(ETA: oh, and the poop eating started at the last lesson the moment he stepped onto the field - he hadn't even been sent, let alone corrected, and he was gobbling it right and left. Not saying it isn't a response to stress - that's how I described it earlier - but he started doing it long before he got corrected for anything, and he'd never done it before the last lesson).
Posted 24 October 2011 - 09:03 AM
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Posted 24 October 2011 - 11:42 AM
Next time, I'm ignoring the poop eating. Hoot has no lack of power, presence, or ability. When pressure is a chance to keep working, I know he'll take it.
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Posted 24 October 2011 - 02:15 PM
At Duncan's first work today (with the trainer, whose corrections are anything but "poorly timed, contradictory, too harsh, inappropriate or all of the above"), he only sniffed poop once. (It started off only so-so as a work, but got much better as it went along). At his second work (with me; I've been told by two separate trainers that if anything, my corrections are too mild, that I need to find a firm enough tone of voice so that he at least flicks an ear to acknowledge that he's heard me), he ignored poop (but blew off my stops, so we cut this work short; trainer said no, it wasn't my timing or anything else I was doing, he had just turned off his brain). At his third work, back with his trainer, he started to eat poop part way through - but it was a good work. I think I was seeing the poop eating the most when she'd stopped him to help him maintain his distance (something he's struggled with). All in all, though, a lot less consumption of poop than last time.
Wouldn't it be fun to get inside their minds?
She's convinced it's just a sign of a transition in how he perceives his role as he starts to become more of a team player and gains confidence in working while under the pressure of the sheep, that it will resolve by itself. She says he has a lot of presence, he just hasn't fully realized he has it yet and how best to use it. I'll stop fretting. And everyone's points about refraining from telling him off for eating poop while doing everything else he should be doing are very well taken.
Posted 24 October 2011 - 02:52 PM
Will look forward to hearing how Duncan is doing as gets more comfortable incorporating his growing understanding of where he needs be to best influence his stock while working more closely with you.
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Posted 25 October 2011 - 09:41 AM
Certainly it would be more fun than getting inside their stomachs
Wouldn't it be fun to get inside their minds?
Sounds like things are progressing in the right direction. I just wanted to add that my dog, as she matured, began to need less and less pressure from me to feel pressured. I don't know how it is with other dogs, but what was sufficient pressure two months earlier might have been too much later. So for a while it was very hard for me to give the right amount, because of this fluctuation.
Posted 25 October 2011 - 10:05 AM
But our dirty little secret....
My sheep are getting grain, my pastures have been over horsed grazed and I just moved here so its supplemental. My dogs LOVE grabbing a bite or 2 when we are leaving the barn. Just a quick nibble, and its the taste not pressure.
Jazz...my little looney 15 yr old girl, lives for her nightly jaunt after dark to partake in an after dinner snack at the gate of the barn. She's old, sheep aren't wormy, what the heck, have a nibble old girl, you've earned it!.
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Posted 13 December 2011 - 05:19 PM
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