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#1 joewrite

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Posted 02 December 2011 - 04:57 AM

All

I'm writing a children's book about a boy who adopts a border collie pup and trains him up to work sheep. For complicated reasons, the dog will have to be ready to work at 14/15 months old. I know this may be an unrealistic time frame, but I'd still like to get the general order of training correct. (The dog's a natural and a fast learner?)

The dog will be raised with plenty of access to sheep but they don't belong to the boy or his family, so he'll want to be very careful about harming any of them. Could someone give me a sort of timeline for a normal training? that is:

What you'd train the dog to do as a puppy? What you'd ho[e to accomplish at that stage?
Then at say 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 months?

As I understand it, usually you'd expose the dog to sheep first in a round pen. If one wasn't available, what could one improvise that might work?

(Finally, are there videos or something that I could watch to better understand these stages? I've watched May's on this site.)


Many thanks,

Joe

PS. I've already had a series of books published, and have watched bc's working with sheep both with a trainer and in the wild, so I have some idea of the process.

#2 Jim Kling

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 05:19 PM

My suggestion would be to find a local trainer and actually do some training with a dog (one of the trainer's, if you don't have one). You might not even have to pay for it if you promise a mention in acknowledgments and a free copy or two.

The best way to learn about this is to experience it first hand. Find a local USBCHA sponsored trial and ask around for a good trainer.
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#3 joewrite

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 05:49 PM

Jim

I did ask a trainer to give me a demonstration, which she did, but probably a lesson would be even more helpful. I'll see if I can find someone around me.

Joe

#4 Jim Kling

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 05:58 PM

Jim

I did ask a trainer to give me a demonstration, which she did, but probably a lesson would be even more helpful. I'll see if I can find someone around me.

Joe


Just be careful. You might catch the bug and end up with a border collie!


Jim
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#5 Cynthia P

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 09:40 AM

Joe, where are you located, we might be able to get you some more experience; Also, see Robin French's series on training her young dog; It is on the post about Nina at 5 months circling the sheep; Some dogs are ready as early as 5 months, but mostly they just go to sheep on their own because we haven't puppy proofed sheep areas and than we have to try to catch them...in a very positive and upbeat manner. so when we do introduce them formally at 7-10 months they don't think we are the bad guys always taking them away from sheep!

Lots of times a dog is quite competent by 14 months to do some farm chores and/or a small trial. That age is usually when their training starts to take off

Cynthia

#6 joewrite

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 11:33 AM

Cynthia

Though American, I live slightly off site -- London, England. So it may be hard to get me a go :)

When you say some dogs go "on to sheep" about 6 months, what does that mean? Because I guess this dog will be on a commons area (with commons sheep) around that age (though there's likely to be snow on the ground y then);

I'll look at the Nina thread tomorrow, on one of my writing days.

Best,

Joe

#7 Cynthia P

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 11:37 AM

They find their way through gates and paddocks to get to the sheep so they can work them....Snow, rain, sleet or ice...lots of them find their way to sheep!

#8 Amy T

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 01:13 PM

I think it would be very beneficial if you could observe a novice or young dog work sheep. The best way to learn something is by watching or doing. A herding fun day or trial would be a great way to see different levels of dogs working. Those that do training lessons would better be able to describe the process than I could. Sounds like a fun book! Thank you for choosing to write a story about a boy that "adopts" a border collie. I come from a rescue background. Both of my BC's are rescues and I'm very active in rescue groups. It's difficult to see such a wonderful and intelligent breed of dogs find themselves in often undesirable circumstances. New Border Collie owners often don't understand the intelligence, drive and energy this very special breed has.

#9 juliepoudrier

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 06:10 PM

Joe,
Some dogs could certainly be ready to work by 15 or 16 months of age. I have a dog who ran in her first trial at 11 months, was running pro-novice at 13 months, was in open at 2 and took me to my first national finals several months before she turned 3. I was a novice handler (i.e., had never run in open) when I started her.

Robin's Bill followed a similar path: Birthdate 07/20/2007; Placements in multiple USBCHA Open trials, 2nd place in the first round, 13th place in the semifinals and 8th place in the Double Lift Finals at the 2010 USBCHA National Finals. So running and placing well in the final round of the national finals after just having turned 3. Bill's half brother Zeke just turned 2 this summer and is running in open.

Many nursery dogs are running full open courses at 2 years old. I believe Bill was. So it's not out of the realm of possibility. Of course many of these young dogs are being trained by very experienced handlers. Having a child train a dog to that level at, say, 15 months might stretch the limits of credibility.

But if the dog is really precocious and the kid is a quick study, I suppose it's possible.

J.

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#10 joewrite

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 07:41 AM

Amy

I will try to get some experience, but as an author, I'm pretty good at faking things I know very little about!

Joe

#11 Amy T

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 01:28 PM

As I understand it, usually you'd expose the dog to sheep first in a round pen. If one wasn't available, what could one improvise that might work?


Many trainers don't start young border collies in a round pens because border collies actually use their "eye" to move the sheep rather than their body, bark, or mouth. Border's may require more space from the sheep otherwise they may grip, which is obviously not desirable in most situations. :)

I will try to get some experience, but as an author, I'm pretty good at faking things I know very little about!


I think your creativity is excellent, and I applaud that. Hopefully your story doesn't portray unrealistic expectations. Those who train dogs personally and professionally know that dog owners often get caught up in other people's stories and then create unrealistic expectations for their dogs. I know for a fact that on our side of the pond you see many dogs in rescue because owners don't understand the time commitment of learning a difficult sport like herding.

#12 joewrite

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Posted 17 December 2011 - 08:13 AM

Amy

I'll try not to make it sound too easy. If I do, I'm rather failing as an author.

While we're at it, what kind of problem might manifest when you're working with the dog on a long lead, with say a single sheep or a small group? And how might you deal with it?

Many thanks,

Joe

#13 Laurae

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Posted 17 December 2011 - 09:35 AM

Hi Joe,
This sounds like a nice story, and I realize it is a children's book, but sheepdog training is amazingly complex and full of nuances not immediately apparent. I see you are trying to research this, but an Internet bulletin board for the general public might not be the best place for you to do that, as people with all levels of experience may give you advice. There is a chance some of the advice you receive may not be entirely accurate. As someone who is not part of the working stockdog community, you will have no way of gauging the veracity of such advice. It might be more beneficial to find a handful of experts who might help you with your facts.

Cheers,
Laura
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#14 juliepoudrier

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Posted 17 December 2011 - 10:09 AM

While we're at it, what kind of problem might manifest when you're working with the dog on a long lead, with say a single sheep or a small group? And how might you deal with it?

Problems that would manifest working a single with the dog on a long line is that the single would take off for parts unknown (or at least back to the flock) unless it was contained by something other than the dog (i.e., in a small pen). Working a single with a dog on a line is something of an oxymoronic situation: the dog needs the freedom to move and counteract the sheep's every move in order to prevent the sheep from getting back to the flock. I doubt even Bobby Dalziel, who uses a line quite effectively, would suggest trying to work a single with a novice handler and a novice dog on a line. There would be similar issues with working a small group that way. Did you see the video posted in the video section about "teaching Nina"? Watch what happens and read the comments some of the people made about keeping her on a line while trying to get her to work the sheep.

There are trainers who use lines for some parts of training (more usually when teaching square flanks on a drive), but I have to tell you that I took a clinic with Bobby back when my now-retired open trial dog Twist was just 8 months old. I had been working dogs for maybe 2 years and was trialing at pro-novice (eastern) level. Bobby made the flanking work on the drive look amazingly simple. I could NOT replicate it myself. I was neither skilled nor experienced enough to do so. I've been at it much longer now, and I think I could manage to do what Bobby was doing, but there's no way a novice is going to have to skills or timing or even understanding of the technique to be able to effectively teach a dog to work while on a long line. The handler would likely end up interfering at the wrong time, be in the wrong place, or just plain frustrate the dog by preventing it from working. There was a long thread here two or three years ago in which a person asked about others' feelings about strarting/training with a long line. I did a quick search and couldn't find it; maybe someone else can. There are a few people who approach training that way, for various reasons, but it is not standard and IMO it's not terribly practical from the standpoint of a story of a young boy who is not a working shepherd himself and isn't from a family of working shepherds to take such an approach to training.

I'm assuming you're thinking of the line as the way the boy makes sure no sheep get hurt since he's using sheep that are not his own, but really it's a recipe for disaster in such a scenario.

He doesn't have to have a round pen, but he could use the corner of a field to help contain the action. It may make even more sense to have an old shepherd befriend and mentor him.

And Laura's right, you have no idea what sort of credentials or experience any of us have. I don't know where you're located, but it might make sense for you, as part of your research, to find your own mentor (perhaps a working shepherd if you're in the UK, or if in the US someone who either has a ranch operation that uses dogs regularly or an open-level handler) who can show you how the protagonist in your story might actually be able to go about training his dog.

J.

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#15 joewrite

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Posted 17 December 2011 - 10:51 AM

Julie

I can see what you're saying. As you guessed, my boy is working with other people's sheep. I was imagining the single ewe involved would be an older one, who was already used to the dog's presence (because the boy had been training him around her but not using her.) I would swear the trainer I spent a couple of hours talking to suggested using a long line in this situation, but I'll go back and check my notes. And maybe get back to her.

Is there a British equivalent of the BC Board?

#16 joewrite

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Posted 17 December 2011 - 11:07 AM

One more thing: I've watched two Nina videos where she's circling the sheep. (Also the videos of May, which are very helpful.) Are there other videos of Nina? Or alternatively, where can I find the Video section?

Many thanks,

Joe

#17 juliepoudrier

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Posted 17 December 2011 - 12:39 PM

Joe,
Sheep are flocking animals. It's rather unrealistic that a single sheep would be easy to work with a novice dog. If the sheep were comfortable being alone, then it would probably be a pet sheep, like a bottle lamb, that wouldn't behave like a regular sheep, which means the training opportunities it would present would be pretty slim (because the dog would be learning to work a sheep that doesn't behave like a typical sheep).

Remember that the dog-stock relationship is a predator-prey relationship at the most basic level. A single sheep would feel *extremely* vulnerable and threatened by the presence of a dog. One of the reasons "taking a single" is left to the highest level of trialing is because it's a very difficult task.

So you have two problems with your scenario:
1. A single sheep that would tolerate being alone and comfortable with a human or dog around is NOT a typical sheep and a dog won't be able to learn what it needs to learn to work real sheep by working such a sheep.

2. A sheep that chooses to be alone usually has a reason for that (i.e., is sick).

The section that Nina's video is in is the training video section, so that's where you'd want to look. The videos of Nina are all that's available. I hope you also read the comments from the people who watched the video so that you understand where the handler was making mistakes.

You may also find videos in the "People's Border Collie Gallery." Search on the terms "on sheep" or similar and it will pull up a lot of photos of dogs working, but might also get you some videos.

If you are in the UK you are in an excellent position to go meet folks who work dogs for a living there. You should be able to find an experienced shepherd who could give you good advice.

J.

I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream.

~Vincent van Gogh



mydogs_small2.jpg

Julie Poudrier
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Willow (6/1997-5/2014, run free, my heart), Boy (3/1995-10/2010, RIP), Jill (8/1996-5/2012, RIP), Farleigh (12/1998-7/2014, RIP), Kat, Twist, Lark, Phoebe, Pipit, and Birdie!
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#18 Gloria Atwater

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Posted 17 December 2011 - 02:46 PM

Julie

I can see what you're saying. As you guessed, my boy is working with other people's sheep. I was imagining the single ewe involved would be an older one, who was already used to the dog's presence (because the boy had been training him around her but not using her.) I would swear the trainer I spent a couple of hours talking to suggested using a long line in this situation, but I'll go back and check my notes. And maybe get back to her.

Is there a British equivalent of the BC Board?



Hi Joe ~

Please do heed Julie's and other's advice. A children's book is meant to entertain but it should also be factual.

Training a pup on a single sheep is not practicable, for the reasons stated. If the sheep is a pet, i.e. bottle-fed and raised as a "bummer" orphan, it will be so tame that all it will do is stand there at the person's feet. It won't be of any use in training a puppy. If it's NOT a pet ... it might turn on the pup and attack and try to fight it, which could shatter a pup's confidence in an instant. Or the single sheep could panic and very likely hurt itself, possibly kill itself, trying to escape the "predator" the puppy represents. A terrified sheep WILL run slam into a fence and break its neck, from sheer fright.

Joe, it's Nursery season now in the UK. You need to find some sheepdog trials and go visit them. Talk to the handlers, explain your novel and see what they tell you about a young dog.

Go to this page: http://www.isds.org....rials_2011.html

Scroll down to the links for the various sections of England and the UK. Click on whichever region is closest to you and see where and when the trials are located. Then put on your wellies and rain gear and go forth! :)

The question you must answer, as a writer, is how keenly you perceive your duty to show the truth, in sheepdogging. Yes, it's "just" a children's book. But as a writer, I believe you want to get things right. Therefore, you may have to adjust some of the premise in your book to accommodate the facts.

This will include the fact that a 14-15 month old pup could be ready to do some basic farm work, and may even be enough of a prodigy to do well in Nursery. But if his sole trainer is a child, either that child needs a skilled mentor to help him (which could be an interesting aspect of your story: perhaps there is an elderly neighbor who is retired from trailing who secretly agrees to help him bring his pup along?) or the pup and the child will be somewhat limited in what they can realistically do.

One thing you might do is look for Derek Scrimgeour's book and videos. He lives up in Cumbria and is one of the best. The ISDS shop sells his stuff here:
http://www.isds.org.uk/news/KBDerekScrimgeour.html

You may find his video, "The Shepherd's Pup," to be particularly useful for your purposes.

His book, "Talking Sheepdogs," deals with all stages of the training process and has picture diagrams.

Sorry if we're a bit nit-picky! But we put our hearts and souls into working with our dogs, so it is important to us that the dogs and their training are correctly represented, even in fiction. :)
Best regards,

Gloria
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#19 Eileen Stein

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Posted 17 December 2011 - 05:17 PM

I agree with those who have said that training on a single sheep will not do, full stop. However, with a very talented, natural dog, and a little literary license, one could start a dog's training in a rectangular paddock that was 150' x 200' or thereabouts, which is not that uncommon an area to find on a sheep farm. To protect the sheep (plural), the dog would be on a long line at first, but would just trail the line (i.e., the trainer would not be holding the other end) until it became clear that the dog was not going to be too rough with the sheep. The dog could learn enough working with calm older sheep in that area to reach a point where he could be worked in the corner of a large field, and then in more open parts of a large field.

I recommend you get a copy of Bruce Fogt's book, Lessons from a Stockdog. It is a training book, but is structured as the step-by-step story of how Bruce, as a boy, trained his first dog Sparky. Here is a review of the book by Donald McCaig which will give you an idea of it, and you can order the book from the same site. (There is a mentor in the book, but as I recall he's not present for the training -- he's sought out for advice when things go wrong. And you will definitely learn from that book the things that can go wrong, as well as a typical training progression.) I think the May videos are excellent, so it's good that you've found them. And the Nina thread, with Robin's videos in it.

I agree that it would be better if you could have continuing access to a good trainer for advice, but recognize that this may not be possible. But it might, and if so, it would be well worth the effort.

Will the story be set in the US or the UK (or somewhere else)?

#20 joewrite

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 12:01 PM

All

Thanks to everyone who replied here. I stand corrected. I'd imagined it would be easier to work with a single sheep but clearly that's not the case. Well if you don't ask, you don't find out...

I'll unwrite the scene with a single sheep and write it again with several. And maybe eliminate the long lead too...

Best

Joe


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