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Starting with Ducks (or Geese) and Transitioning to Sheep

Beginner Training Ducks Geese

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#1 derekkirk

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Posted 13 November 2014 - 09:15 AM

Hi, I’m a first-time poster. I have two young border collies. One's a year old, and the other's a couple months behind. They've been introduced to sheep and both seem eager to work. Indy, my female, is incredibly focused and constantly looks back for commands. My male, Aussie, practically goes into a sheep-chasing trance, though he has a strong desire to please. He learns more slowly but outperforms Indy in basic obedience once he has sussed out the meaning of the command. 

 

Attached File  Introduction to Sheep.png   516.41K   19 downloads

 

 

Here's the complicated bit. I live in Thailand and currently don't have any sheep (did for a few years, but feral dogs taught me the hard way that fences are about more than keeping the sheep in). I've worked out an arrangement with a Thai military compound that has about 50 head of sheep (I know, it's weird). I'm free to work my dogs on the sheep whenever I like. The problem is that the pasture is far too large for me to drill the basics with them (due to my own lack of experience, no doubt). There really aren't even any fences. Just retired soldier keeping watch with a gun in the shed that he can use if stray dogs become a problem. Needless to say, dogs aren't a problem. 

 

What I'd like to do is introduce my dogs to basic herding commands, and then take them back to the sheep pasture for refinement. I can't keep sheep where I currently live, but I do have a decent-sized property and could get away with keeping a few ducks or geese. I've kept a few ducks elsewhere in the past and know they stink and make a mess (as this thread drives home). It would be a temporary arrangement that would end when the dogs are good enough on basic herding commands to proceed with sheep in the open pasture twice per week or so. If the mess and smell became too much… well, there’s always Christmas dinner.

 

Attached File  Indy Looking Back.png   479.34K   17 downloads

 

I've read through the forums and see warnings about dogs learning bad habits from training on ducks. My main concern is building a basic foundation that can be transferred to a flock of sheep. So, I guess that’s my question. Can a flock of domesticated ducks or geese be used to effectively train basic herding commands that can be transferred to sheep?

 

I’m an amateur and have no delusions of grandeur. This is a hobby, and I've got more to learn about herding than my dogs do. I have general experience with sheep; and I know dogs. I just have next-to-no experience working them together. Sheep farming is taking off in Thailand, and as far as I can tell, no one is using herding dogs to manage their flocks. If I can train my dogs reasonably well, I’d become the de facto herding-dog expert in the region where I live. If it doesn't work out – we’ll have fun anyway.

 

Are ducks or geese practical for my situation? I’m just unable to manage early training with the sheep at the military compound, and there are no experts for me to consult out here. I feel like I need to start in closer quarters and with my own purpose-built enclosures. Unfortunately, the soldiers aren't keen on me building a pen on their property. Will trying to learn the basics with ducks or geese ultimately work against my goal of training competent sheep-herding dogs?

 

Any input is much appreciate. Apologies if I'm re-hashing a topic that has been done before. 



#2 juliepoudrier

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Posted 13 November 2014 - 03:00 PM

Hmmmm...that's a tough one. You can certainly use geese or ducks to start a dog. At least one regular here keeps geese for training, in addition to her flock of sheep. If you check the videos section, you will find some of her dogs working geese.

 

The problem I see is that you'd be asking young, green dogs to go from something that is relatively small and slow to working something that's fast, uncontained, and I'm guessing, not dog broke? That could be a disaster in the making. You are going to be limited by your own lack of knowledge about what's required to train working stockdogs, although understanding stock and their behavior can go a long way toward helping YOU to picture what you and the dog(s) need to do to be able to control/manage stock.

 

If the military installation will allow you to work their sheep, will they also allow you to fence in an area that you can use to keep things under better control, at least at the start? It sounds as if using ducks or geese to get the basics down is your best bet, but I worry that what your dogs learn in a more controlled environment and on stock that behave differently than sheep might not adequately prepare any of you to step out into a big field with non-dog-broke sheep.

 

There are some strategies you could use to get the sheep used to you that could then be turned to your advantage when it comes time to try to train your dogs on them, but I still worry that so many things can go wrong, especially with your dog who is prone to chase.

 

Ideally, you would want to take a trained dog or dogs and break the sheep to being worked by dogs first so that they aren't as inclined to panic and take flight, but it sounds as if that's not possible in your situation.

 

Maybe someone else will have some good ideas for you.

 

Regarding your other dog, if you start her on ducks or geese, the first thing you will want to do is encourage her to work without constantly looking to you for directions. Every time she looks away from stock and to you she is breaking contact with the stock and they will see it as a potential to escape. That might not be a big problem with poultry, but when working sheep it could easily set her up to lose her sheep repeatedly. To me, focus in a working dog is focus on the stock, not on the handler.

 

ETA: I went back and reread and see where you say both have been introduced to sheep. Can you describe this introduction more thoroughly?

 

J.


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

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Julie Poudrier
New Kent, VA

Beloved, and living in memory:
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 (4/2000-6/2015, I miss you, my sweet, funny little clown), Twist (11/2001-11/2016, you were my once-in-a-lifetime dog and forever my BEST girl), and Phoebe (7/2006-8/2017, gone too soon).

The current pack:
Lark, Pipit (Pip), Birdie, Kiskadee (Kiss), Rue, Corbie, Kite, Cooper, and little Lonesome Dove!

Willow's Rest, Tunis, Tunis mules, Leicester Longwool, Teeswater, Border Leicester, Karakul, and Gulf Coast Native sheep


Visit me on Facebook at Poudrier and Crowder, Set Out Specialists (P&C, SOS)

#3 derekkirk

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Posted 13 November 2014 - 04:08 PM

Thanks very much for responding, Julie. You're right about the sheep; they're not dog broke. I haven't asked for permission to build a smaller enclosure on their property, but I don't think I should, either. It took me weeks of visiting and calling one after another higher-ranking person just to get this far. At this point, they're humoring a novel foreigner. I don't think I can push much further. 

 

I do wish there was an expert or at least a trained dog to fall back on for help. I have just enough experience with sheep to know how they move, and I can see what looks like some of the right instincts playing out in my dogs. But I'm totally green and don't know if this will work. In any event, the stakes are low. If the whole thing flops and turns out to be wishful thinking, the dogs and I will have had fun anyway.  

 

Here's what happened when I introduced them to the sheep:

 

Indy, my female, was very keen to approach, but she waited for me to say something. When I told her to go, she ran and circled several times, then stopped and turned to look. She circled a few more times, and when the sheep huddled up she seemed at a loss. When they stopped moving, she sat down and watched them. Looked at me, watched them -- back and forth.

 

Aussie, my male, couldn't contain himself. He did his best to split the odd sheep off the flock, chased it until it circled back to the flock, and then repeated the whole thing. He was very attentive to me until he really started running, and then nothing I said got through. He lost himself in it for several minutes.  

 

They're very different dogs. Both are quick to learn commands, though Aussie only learns when it's teaching time (regardless of whether treats are involved). Indy seems to pick things up off the clock, so to speak. She listens to what people say when they're not talking directly to her, and as a result has learned all the other dogs' names and some people's names. 



#4 juliepoudrier

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Posted 13 November 2014 - 06:47 PM

Can you describe what you were doing while your dogs were doing as described above?

 

My biggest concern is that if it's a flop, as you say, some real damage could happen to the sheep in the interim. In other words, it's not just about the dogs having had some fun if it doesn't work out, it's also about the very real risk to the sheep if they panic, if your dogs chase, if something unforeseen happens. I'm not trying to be a wet blanket, but just trying to point out that there are some very important issues involved with a green handler taking green dogs on unbroke sheep without any professional (and by professional, I simply mean someone who is experienced working sheep with dogs--enough to be able to help you in your endeavor with minimal risk to the stock) help right there to make sure that the risk to the stock is minimized. Also consider that if you've had to spend a great deal of time laying the groundwork for even being allowed to work sheep on the military installation what it would take for them to rescind the offer. Bad work, chasing dogs, injured sheep could all cause the welcome mat to be rolled right back up.

 

The first thing you need to do is get your dogs settled to work. If, for example, Aussie is busting up the stock then circling, splitting one off (chasing or trying to head it to turn it back), and losing himself for several minutes, that's not good for the stock. Several minutes of that kind of behavior could stress a duck to the point of no return. Indy sounds like she had a more sensible approach, but once she got behind the sheep, you should have been moving, encouraging her to flank, balance the sheep to you, wear/fetch the sheep to you, and so on. If the sheep don't move for her once they have come together as a flock, then you need to help her move them so that she understands the *can* move them. 

 

Books and videos are not the ideal substitute for a good mentor, but in your situation, I think it would be helpful to consult some books like Vergil Holland's Herding Dogs, Progressive Training, Julie Hill's The Natural Way (this one has been discussed recently in the books/videos section of this forum), and Derek Scrimgeour's books on starting a sheepdog. There are also good videos--check out some of the ones under this section of the forum, under the heading "training videos." Several well-known shepherds/handlers have videos available either online or via DVD. As I said, none of these is a substitute for a good mentor, but if you can spend some time educating yourself first, before you do anything with your dogs on stock, I think it's worth taking that time on the front end.

 

It sounds as if your ultimate goal would be to help farmers learn to use dogs to manage their stock. Consider that if you try that and it goes badly, you will likely turn off those farmers from ever using dogs at the least, so you will need to carefully approach that whole project.

 

This is just my opinion, based on the information you have given here.

 

J.


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

~Vincent van Gogh

mydogs_small2.jpg
Julie Poudrier
New Kent, VA

Beloved, and living in memory:
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 (4/2000-6/2015, I miss you, my sweet, funny little clown), Twist (11/2001-11/2016, you were my once-in-a-lifetime dog and forever my BEST girl), and Phoebe (7/2006-8/2017, gone too soon).

The current pack:
Lark, Pipit (Pip), Birdie, Kiskadee (Kiss), Rue, Corbie, Kite, Cooper, and little Lonesome Dove!

Willow's Rest, Tunis, Tunis mules, Leicester Longwool, Teeswater, Border Leicester, Karakul, and Gulf Coast Native sheep


Visit me on Facebook at Poudrier and Crowder, Set Out Specialists (P&C, SOS)

#5 DeltaBluez Tess

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Posted 13 November 2014 - 09:44 PM

Julie,

 

Great advice....

 

keep working on them to see if they will build a pen and say it is need to contain the sheep if they need vet work/hoof trimming/worming done on them

 

Diane


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#6 Pam Wolf

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Posted 17 November 2014 - 06:59 AM

to answer your basic question, yes ducks (or geese) can be used to teach a dog.  Some things to watch for is ducks become dog broke quite easily.  Heavy body ducks require a dog to actually push (albeit just a little) whereas Call ducks or runners flock much better and require little push (none when broke well)

While not common any more, it is possible to put the ducks in a pen in the beginning od a session and gain some control of the dog going around the outside to help protect the ducks.  But soon as you have some control on the dog, take the ducks outside the pen and work them in a bigger area.  It can be difficult to get ducks off a fence and avoid corners until your dog (and you) learn how to move stock properly off a fence. 

 

Additionally it is very important that you take your dog to bigger stock, sheep or goats often to ensure the duck training doesn't create a lack of push.  As for developing "eye" I like ducks for that reason, but make sure the dog does not 'lock up' on the ducks.  working a bigger flock can help with this as can keeping two groups that don't flock well.

 

good luck


Along the way it seems I have become a shepherd rather than a sheepdogger


#7 olivillocriollo

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Posted 24 March 2017 - 11:33 AM

to answer your basic question, yes ducks (or geese) can be used to teach a dog.  Some things to watch for is ducks become dog broke quite easily.  Heavy body ducks require a dog to actually push (albeit just a little) whereas Call ducks or runners flock much better and require little push (none when broke well)

While not common any more, it is possible to put the ducks in a pen in the beginning od a session and gain some control of the dog going around the outside to help protect the ducks.  But soon as you have some control on the dog, take the ducks outside the pen and work them in a bigger area.  It can be difficult to get ducks off a fence and avoid corners until your dog (and you) learn how to move stock properly off a fence. 

 

Additionally it is very important that you take your dog to bigger stock, sheep or goats often to ensure the duck training doesn't create a lack of push.  As for developing "eye" I like ducks for that reason, but make sure the dog does not 'lock up' on the ducks.  working a bigger flock can help with this as can keeping two groups that don't flock well.

 

good luck

Hi Pam

Very interesting reply and thanks for your advice.

I am starting three bitch pups, they are stopping and know their sides. Starting to drive. I also dont have daily access to sheep but was thinking of buying three indian runners for doing complementary work the days I cant train on sheep. I only have a small yard, 20 by 20 meters. 

Do you think it would bake a difference?

The sheep I train are from a friend, very light and fast, broke but good for young dogs

Thanks for your advice

Paul Walker



#8 Hooper2

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Posted 28 March 2017 - 03:03 PM

Hello Paul,

 

I am one of the few people who actually enjoys working dogs on poultry.  Like you, I don't  have daily access to sheep (more like once a week) and I do think that working ducks in between sheep days has been helpful for me.  But I'm not sure it would be helpful in your situation.  In order for duck (or goose or turkey) herding to be useful for training I think you have to adopt a "go big or go home" philosophy.  An experienced dog can successfully move three ducks around, but for training purposes, basically the bigger the flock the better.  Three ducks will be constantly splitting from each other, and unlike most sheep, once a duck splits from its buddies, it's not really all that inclined to bother to get back with the rest of the flock.  Ducks are more like cattle than sheep in that regard.   I would say five is an absolute minimum, and ten would be much better.  Then you have to think about housing your ducks.  It won't work to keep them in the same 20 M X 20 M yard where you plan to work them.  Ducks are incredibly messy and will turn an area that size into a smelly mud pit.   If you have some place outside your "working yard" where you can house them that will help, but if their housing is adjacent to your working yard, the ducks will cling to the fence nearest their home when you try to work them, and pealing them off that fence can be a great training challenge for an experienced dog, but intensely frustrating for an inexperienced dog and handler.

On the other hand, if you can find a bigger place to work the ducks (for a while, before I acquired some acreage of my own, I was using a nearby school yard in the wee hours of the morning), ducks are easy to transport, especially if you can get some nice small calls, or Australian spotted ducks (which are not actually spotted), or some domestic mallards.  You can fit a dozen calls into a border collie sized crate with room to spare, and since they only weigh a Kg or so each, they aren't hard to carry around.  Once the ducks and the dog get a little training you really don't even need a fenced area, and in fact you can do a lot more useful training if you aren't constantly fighting keeping ducks from running along the fence. 

If you think there's any way you could manage more than three ducks, and find some place bigger than your yard to work them, I'm happy to post more about actual training.  But honestly IMHO, three ducks in a small yard would be nothing but frustration and mess for you.



#9 olivillocriollo

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Posted 01 April 2017 - 01:41 AM

Thanks for your answer. I  put off the idea and I´m back on sheep. Days are getting longer and some days I try to put two short sessions.

All the best

Paul





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