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Gloria Atwater

Softness in a Young Dog

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Greetings all ~

 

I've a scenario and a question for my esteemed sheepdogging colleagues. :)

 

My 15 month old, Gael, is a high-drive little dog who started off kind of anxious and prone to cutting her flanks and gripping. She's come a long way and is getting a nice shape on her flanks, her outruns getting cleaner and she has an excellent sense of rate on her fetch. While I realized her slicing-in and gripping was due to youthful uncertainty, I never really thought of her as a soft dog. Gael always seemed perfectly willing to power in on any sheep, as if it never dawned on her they wouldn't move.

 

However, the other day I had her hold some sheep while a friend of mine tested her 6 month old puppy. All Gael did was keep the sheep in the vicinity for a few moments, nothing scary or bad happened, (that I perceived) and then we put the pup up. After that, I let Gael work the sheep a bit ... but the sheep (some 2 year old wethers) abruptly decided they'd had enough, and bolted for the pasture gate. I sent Gael to fetch them back, but the sheep refused to budge off the gate and even stomped at her.

 

Her reaction was immediate: "Oh, hell no, I'm not going in there." Even when I got the sheep moving off, she simply refused to go between them and the fence. She'd just bounce off the pressure and try to flank back the other way, which is something she's never done before. I immediately put those sheep up, got another set, and she performed everything I asked without hesitation, no more fence worries or concern about moving the sheep.

 

But I saw her do the bouncing-off-pressure thing again a couple days later, (trying to go around sheep to get them out of a roomy pen) and while I helped her through it, it worried me. I don't want to risk making her become soft or fearful of pressure.

 

Now, that same friend has some young Scottish Blackface ewes who have turned out to be quite nice. They're not really dog broke, so they'll stop and look at a dog like, "Yes? And what do you want?" But they'll move right off, in an orderly fashion, if the dog moves in with confidence. I've subsequently tried Gael on these and she's done quite nicely. They offer just enough resistance to make her think about it, but they also give when she asserts pressure on them.

 

So, I think I'm going to mix her other training exercises with occasional sessions on these Scotties, as it does seem to encourage her that yes, she can face pressure and see the sheep give way for her. This appears to be a new thing Gael has thought up as she's learning, and I want to help her through it.

 

Thus, I'm curious to hear what other folks have done, if/when a young dog has shown unexpected issues with pressure from stubborn sheep, and fearfulness of facing that pressure. What have you done/do you do, to help a young dog grow in confidence in such situations?

 

Looking forward to hearing some replies!

Cheers ~

 

Gloria

 

EDIT:

Just a note to add that I've decided to give Gael a month or so off from training. I did this with Nick at about the same age, and it made a difference. Gael had a really good work today, some packed pen work and general jazzing things up, getting her excited and assertive about controlling her sheep. She ended on such a good note that, at my trainer's suggestion, I think this is a good time to let her take a rest and see how she does when she comes back. Thanks everyone for all your advice and help!

 

.

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I'd do that packed pen stuff like in the video on FB, and i'd work her on those scotties, a lot. She's very young, so i'd consider avoiding the situation until she's older and more confident. Age will probably help you a lot. I have a hard time following that advice myself, wanting to "work through it", but sometimes with youngsters it's best to give them some time and make it easier until they get a little confidence, age and experience. At 15 months old you don't want her to even come close to thinking she can't handle it.

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I'd do that packed pen stuff like in the video on FB, and i'd work her on those scotties, a lot. She's very young, so i'd consider avoiding the situation until she's older and more confident. Age will probably help you a lot. I have a hard time following that advice myself, wanting to "work through it", but sometimes with youngsters it's best to give them some time and make it easier until they get a little confidence, age and experience. At 15 months old you don't want her to even come close to thinking she can't handle it.

 

Robin, thanks for that advice. It's pretty much what I was thinking, but I'm still kind of feeling my way along, not really sure I know what I know! So it's good to hear from a more experienced trainer. :)

 

You've voiced almost exactly what I was thinking: I don't want her to even start thinking she can't do this. That's why, the first time it happened, I directly got her a fresh set of sheep and let her have success. I've been trying to really take my time with her, let her come along at her own pace, so I'll be wary of trying too hard to "work through" things she might better just wait to out-grow.

 

Pen work and Scotties, here we come. :)

 

Who else has some thoughts/ideas?

Cheers ~

 

Gloria

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I'm working a young dog with a phenomenal sense of balance. She did NOT want to push into the bubble when she started. Instead, she would flank back and forth along the edge. A trainer I am working with suggested jazzing her up and doing lessons on how to bust into the stock. The method sounds like it could really mess up a dog, but it worked wonders. It gave her a lot of confidence and push very fast.

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Hi Gloria-

 

I wouldn't be holding sheep with a 15 mos while someone worked a puppy. That's sending alot of mixed messages, both in the actually holding chore and being in close proximity to someone else trying to manage a pup.

 

Give your pup some time to grow up, and be willing to let her be a little bad when she's worried about something, don't be too quick to correct any youthful exhuberance. Just let her learn that you're going to let her do what she thinks she has to do right now to get the job done and I bet you'll see her confidence come up.

 

good luck!

 

Lori Cunningham

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Thanks, Liz, for your input. :) It does sound counter-intuitive to jazz up Gael, given her taste for flossing with sheep! But I've used the tactic with other dogs in the past, so I'll keep it in mind for when she needs a little extra "juice."

 

Lori, thanks to you, as well. I'm trying to be patient with her, but I guess you know how it's sometimes hard to reeeeally take time with a pup who shows a lot of talent. But I want to get it right with her, and definitely no more using her to help test pups! I only did it because the pup in question was friends with her and a bit uncertain when it first met the sheep, but ... ain't gonna do that again. Probably you're right, and she felt pressure I didn't even see.

 

Thanks, guys! It's good to come here and get a reality check. :)

Cheers ~

 

Gloria

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I agree with Lori, I wouldn't use her to hold sheep for another dog. My Blu is an experienced open dog but he will take correction I am giving another dog very personally. He does like even being outside the fence when I am working another dog.

 

I have used packed pen work to boost a dog confidence as well as an older dog helping to move things behind the young one. Jazz things up works also for some. I also like pushing sheep up into a corner having the young dog hold them into the corner while I try to get things to break so the dog covers as well as bringing sheep off fences and out of corners. It was also suggested to me to have a young dog push sheep through a partially closed gate so when the sheep push against it the gate will open. This would help the dog cover as well as push.

 

Denice

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Thank you, Denice. :) I appreciate the advice. I'm grateful to have so much good food for thought, for working with Gael. I'm pleased to say that she's had no more recurrences of hesitation on her sheep, and just today I had her in a (mostly) packed pen, and she went around those sheep like her tail was on fire. I also had her put sheep in a pen into which they didn't want to go, and she had a great time catching them as they tried to break back. Sort of like your corner advice, only inverted, so I'm going to try your method, as well.

 

Thanks again! And I'll be more careful what I get Gael into. :)

Cheers ~

 

Gloria

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You say she was working wethers, how old are they. If they are coming up to a year old this could be your problem for the young dog. Even though castrated males, they still either send out smells similar to rams and can be as muscular and send out the same signals as rams and dogs know this. So it may be she thinks you are sending her into a tight corner with aggresive rams. Anyway go slowly don't put her into a situation with too much pressure for a while and build her confidence slowly.

John

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You say she was working wethers, how old are they. If they are coming up to a year old this could be your problem for the young dog. Even though castrated males, they still either send out smells similar to rams and can be as muscular and send out the same signals as rams and dogs know this. So it may be she thinks you are sending her into a tight corner with aggresive rams. Anyway go slowly don't put her into a situation with too much pressure for a while and build her confidence slowly.

John

 

 

They are coming up on a year old, John, or even slightly over. I did not know of that. Thank you, I'll be much more careful. I've been trying to bring her along at her own pace, but it's evident she's working through something right now, so I'll be extra careful to avoid situations that might shake her confidence, but rather will ensure she sees success. Thank you for that tip!

Cheers ~

 

gloria

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I am confused. So are you saying use your dog in the packed pen situation or don't? If so at what age or experiences with sheep? The reason I want to know is we are working with a young Aussie pup. He is very keen at 7 months old but we don't want to rush him. Also my own young 1 1/2 year old isn't real confident yet. At what age/work experience should we use the packed pen with her?

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Hi Narita!

 

My own thought (and experts may differ) is that 7 months is too young for much but the occasional spin around the sheep to gauge/develope interest. That's all I'll do with my Aussie, Ash, 6 months, for some time to come. (She's so driven and stubborn, I may not even formally start her training until she' a year, but every dog differs.)

 

But at 1 -1/2 years, I'd definitely say try the packed pen. My Gael, the subject of my original query, is 15 months.

 

Now to see if wiser heads than mine have better advice. :)

Cheers ~

 

Gloria

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