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Nina at 5 months learning how to circle the sheep

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Hi Chris!

 

You've gotten very good advice - and videos - from several people, which I'm glad to see. So, all I'm going to do is watch your video with Vergil's book in my lap.

 

Right away I see a couple things. One, according to Vergil, your job is to block the dog from coming straight in towards the sheep. However, your pup is not doing that, she's circling nicely. Yet in Video one, you are pretty constantly blocking her from the sheep, and your body positioning is very much at her shoulder or even ahead of her shoulder.

 

This brings us to the very next section titled: Position and Use of the Crook While Circling. There Vergil speaks of going clockwise (or whichever) around the sheep, which your pup does. But what he says, and what you need to be careful about, is this:

"You should be slightly to the rear of the dog ... in a sense following the dog."

 

Look at the diagram he draws. You, the spoke of the dog-handler-sheep wheel, should actually be focusing your presence at the dog's hip, not her head or shoulder. But in Video one, you are very definitely square between her and the sheep, at times almost appearing to lead her around with that line. Your full chest and body are facing and blocking her at every step.

 

You want to follow her hip, not her head. Imagine you are just shushing her around the circle from slightly behind, not trying to keep pace with or run parallel to her.

 

In video 2, it's much the same, though this time your pup seems a little stressed. Her tail flips up more and she looks at you in what could be confusion. Your body language is far too active, in my very humble opinion, and almost aggressive-seeming in the way you lean towards her and flap your arms, warding her off.

 

I'm not saying these things to pick on you! :) I'm just passing along things that I've been taught, having committed the same mistakes.

 

I don't believe Vergil intends for you to block the dog all around the entire circle. Block her if she bears straight in, dives in for a grip, but otherwise, you don't need to so strongly defend your sheep. Just let her circle. She's a nice little dog and I saw no indication at all that she wanted to dive in or be bad.

 

The thing to remember is, the more you ward your dog off her sheep and dis-allow contact, the more she's going to get frustrated and come in tighter. Don't chase your dog. Follow your dog. Let the sheep be her reward for good work.

 

Shoofly's videos show the sort of thing that I, personally, would do with a pup that young. Five months is very much a baby. The way she's looking at you and flagging her tail in video 2 shows stress, and she should not be subjected to that for another 4 or 5 months.

 

So, I'll join the chorus in saying that I recommend you just let her go grow up. I've only raised 5 working pups, but when my pups are little, I'll take them to sheep about once a month, just to see where their minds are. Then I put them away until the next month. I don't even look at them seriously for training until they are about 10 months old. More, if it seems they're not ready to be "serious."

 

Also, remember that their little bodies are growing and not ready to take the sort of fast moves and punishment their working instincts will compel them to do. You don't want to let a pup over-extend themselves and create tendon or joint problems for later on.

 

Yours looks like a really nice pup! Now just put her up and let her grow, and by spring, you'll be happily surprised to see how much her instincts have blossomed. :)

 

Best of luck with Nina!

Respectfully submitted,

 

Gloria

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Hi Chris!

 

You've gotten very good advice - and videos - from several people, which I'm glad to see. So, all I'm going to do is watch your video with Vergil's book in my lap.

 

 

 

Thanks Gloria,

After reviewing the videos I see what you mean. I tried this circling exercise one time prior to this without a lead, and Nina just would dive right past me and break the sheep apart. Perhaps this is why I was too aggressive at keeping her off them. If I tried to do what was done in those videos of bill (and I did initially) Nina would get too close to the sheep And break them apart without any regard to my position.

 

My hope was that with a few sessions of this circling she would get the idea that she has to keep some distance from them, so when I move to the other side (as is recommended next in the book) she'll have a better idea of what to do. My body language was saying "get back" which is something we work on away from the sheep as well. I can see now that it is way too active, as you say. I guess the intensity came from previous experiences where she seems to want to be super tight on the sheep and Virgil's insistence that she be kept at a distance at first.

 

But perhaps she's too young for any of this (or perhaps I'm too green for it.) That seems to be the developing consensus. I'll for sure ease off her a lot after reading all the comments.

 

I appreciate your time and thoughtfulness.

 

Chris

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One thing to consider is that many dogs widen with age/maturity. If you spend a lot of time keeping a youngster back you could find yourself with a dog that's too wide and out of contact, which is nearly as bad as a dog that's too tight.

 

Many novices make the mistake of trying to control too much instead of just letting the youngster work and figure out some things for itself. You'll notice in Robin's videos that Bill made mistakes. Robin didn't spend a lot of time keeping him out of the sheep when he was young; instead she just regrouped and continued on. This allows the dog to learn to feel stock and understand its own effects on stock. Of course young dogs can learn bad habits, but most often they just need a chance to work it out. No dog can learn to work sheep properly if it's prevented from really interacting with the sheep.

 

In the one video where Robin was trying to call Bill off the sheep she was doing what you were doing in your videos--staying between Bill and the sheep to try to STOP him from working. This is what I meant about you presenting a picture of trying to prevent the dog from working.

 

I have a 5-year-old dog who, when first started, routinely went straight up the middle. I used to jokingly call him a "bowling ball with alligator teeth." What I did to help him was get some well dog broke sheep ("puppy" sheep) that would come to me even if he did dive in and bust them up at the start. Because his mother runs wide, I NEVER pushed him off his sheep. I wasn't about to set up a situation where I caused wideness.

 

Anyway, with appropriate sheep, the bowling ball behavior stopped. His outruns were a bit tight, but I never bothered them. When he turned 3, suddenly he started trying to run really wide. I was prepared for that and immediately began working on calling him in. I can't imagine what problems I might have caused if I had spent his early training pushing him off sheep.

 

You might also note in the videos that Robin takes advantage of opportunities Bill presents while she's working him. She turns his mistakes into learning opportunities. Of course Robin is an experienced trainer. The point is that when you're using a book to try to train a young dog, you need to be cognizant of the fact that training doesn't really take place in discrete steps; rather it's a constant flow with training taking place in the moment based on what the pup presents to you. In other words, Step A doesn't just lead to or affect Step B, but also Steps C, D, and E, and so while you're working on Step A you must keep in mind how it relates to all those other steps, and of course those other steps relate not only to Step A, but also to each other to create an entire web, where everything you do is related to all those other things that are part of training.

 

I'm not sure if I'm saying that very clearly, but try to think of training as flow; every piece that you want the pup to learn is interconnected to the other pieces the pup needs to learn and it's much easier to work on them as a whole rather than in discrete packets (today we're going to learn to circle; tomorrow we learn to fetch, on Wednesday, we'll introduce balance). Your pup's genetics tell her to get behind the sheep and bring them to you. Your job is that make that easy for her to do. You will work off her natural sense of balance to teach her flanks, to let ber wear the sheep to you, and to do little outruns. For example, when Robin walks through the sheep toward Bill, she's taking all pressure off him and opening up the area behind the sheep where she *was* standing so that Bill feels free to go there. The end result is a tiny little outrun as he moves away from the place she's walking toward. This is a very basic use of body pressure: the dog wants to be on balance with the human--if the human walks to one side of the sheep, the dog should go to balance on the other side. The dog will feel able to do that if it's not being chased/pressured by the human, but instead the human is moving away from the dog and removing pressure.

 

I hope all that makes sense!

 

Julie

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Thanks Gloria,

After reviewing the videos I see what you mean. I tried this circling exercise one time prior to this without a lead, and Nina just would dive right past me and break the sheep apart. Perhaps this is why I was too aggressive at keeping her off them. If I tried to do what was done in those videos of bill (and I did initially) Nina would get too close to the sheep And break them apart without any regard to my position.

When she does that, you correct her at that moment (could be voice, could be body pressure) and move on. By putting constant pressure on her, you're telling her she's wrong, wrong, wrong, which is why she will build frustration and tension.

 

In some of Robin's videos you can hear her using her voice as a correction when Bill gets too close in, and you can also see her using her arms (and later a PVC pole) as a visual block to him. She's able to do all of that while on the opposite side of the sheep from Bill. Training is about pressure and release rather than constant pressure.

 

If Nina doesn't understand verbal corrections, now might be the time to work on those at home off stock. If she learns that a sharp "Hey" or "Ah, ah!" means don't do that, then you can use that to your advantage when she makes mistakes on stock.

 

J.

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One thing to consider is that many dogs widen with age/maturity. If you spend a lot of time keeping a youngster back you could find yourself with a dog that's too wide and out of contact, which is nearly as bad as a dog that's too tight.

 

Julie

 

Thanks so much Julie,

I read through your reply twice and I think I do understand what you are saying. I actually feel a little foolish putting these videos out there to people who know what they are doing, because I obviously look quite silly out there awkwardly dancing around in a circle. Regardless, I put them out there because I wanted some honest opinions and advice, and that is exactly what I've gotten. I am slightly anxious to get her out there with the sheep because she has picked up on everything else so fast and wants something to do. (She learned to track across our 18 acre field in about 20 minutes--something I've never been able to teach other dogs to do). If I've learned anything here its to take this training a lot more slowly and carefully. I appreciate the concepts of flow and interconnectedness,and that books with their paragraphs, sections, and chapters are not able to convey this well.

 

Again, thanks to you and everyone else for taking the time to look at these and comment in very gentile and helpful ways.

 

Chris

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If Nina doesn't understand verbal corrections, now might be the time to work on those at home off stock. If she learns that a sharp "Hey" or "Ah, ah!" means don't do that, then you can use that to your advantage when she makes mistakes on stock.

 

 

What Nina should learn is that a correction means "don't do that, try something else." When someone told me that about corrections and stock work, a lightbulb went off. A correction isn't simply stopping your dog, it's redirecting. My old dog (14, and retired) was never taught to take a correction. He would shut down and quit, a huge part of why he was retired early (at 8) to a pet home. Corrections are another form of pressure, like body pressure, that, in simplest form, says, "where you are is wrong, when you are right, the pressure goes away."

 

You'll also be amazed at how much a dog reacts to pressure. I can raise my crook at my dog when he's 300 yrds out and he'll kick out on his outrun. Another lesson I learned early on- pressure isn't always direct, right-there pressure.

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Chris,

Don't be embarrassed about putting your videos. You'd be surprised at how many people will learn from what has been posted here, thanks to your willingness to put yourself out there. And we all look silly starting out, and even at times when we're much more experienced!

 

Ben,

You're right; I was speaking in shorthand. But the point (for Chris) is that if the dog understands you're not happy with what it's doing, then it will stop that thing and try something else, which also may be right or wrong. What you're doing in this process is teaching your dog to think for itself and to learn from its mistakes. Eventually your timing will improve to the point that you can correct your youngster for even *thinking* about doing the wrong thing, but for now, you're likely going to be correcting things as they happen. It's a learning curve for both of you.

 

J.

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you are lucky, the Wisconsin Working Stock Dog Association is one of the best state clubs in the country. They are active and hold training clinics and trials throughout the year. Google wwsda and their webpage will come up. Also, Laura Wentz is a contributor to these boards and she could probably steer you in the right direction of helping get your pup started. I would encourage you to join their club. It is a good one with all ranges of folks experiences. Pearse Ward is also a board contributor and I believe is the current president of the WWSDA.

 

mn

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Ben, Robin, and Julie: love the points you're making about corrections! I'd never thought of them in quite the way of asking a dog to think for itself and come up with a different strategy. (Robin, now I'm going to have to go back and read all of the training articles on your blog).

 

Chris, I thank you for starting this thread; I have a lot to learn as well, and every millimeter forward is progress. And, if you're looking for Laura Wenz on the BC Boards, you'll find her as Laura L. She posts fairly regularly (I know she has some recent photos in the "People's Border Collie Gallery").

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you are lucky, the Wisconsin Working Stock Dog Association is one of the best state clubs in the country.

mn

 

Cool, thanks. I've checked into them before but will spend a little more time doing so now. I;m looking forward to the summer when they'll be active again.

 

Regards,

 

Chris

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I came late to this topic but just want to say, "Welcome!"

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I came late to this topic but just want to say, "Welcome!"

 

Hey thanks Sue!

I definitely feel welcome with all the helpful responses I've gotten. I took Nina out again today (I couldn't resisst--I don't think I'll be able to wait until spring) but I took it really easy. I took out one of the ewes that was kind of aggressive to her and a ram that just didn't care. She did great switching directions whenever I did, steadily brought them to me. Of course we both made mistakes, but it was a lot of fun and she seemed really happy to be doing it. No video because its pouring rain here (December rain is about the only weather I have no tolerance for), but it felt like things were going a lot more smoothly.

 

Again, thanks for all the great input. Whenever I post something on forums, I feel fortunate to get a few mediocre replies. This has been much more than I hoped for.

 

Chris

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Hi Chris ~

 

I'm so glad to see Julie and others weighing in. They've been at this way longer than I have and they are giving you excellent advice.

 

But please don't feel bad about posting your videos! We all started somewhere and we've all been corrected for our mistakes. If it makes you feel any better, at one point my trainer took my stock stick away from me. I was waving it so much, it looked like I was landing aircraft! :lol:

 

And on Sunday, I'm going over for my semi-monthly lessons with Suzy Applegate. There I will hear about all the things I've been doing wrong for the past 6 weeks. :P In sheepdog training, the learning curve only goes up. But what a wonderful journey it is!

 

If you'll forgive me, I do have a thought regarding the tough ewe and the ram. Be careful with that. You do not want to "over-face" her, as a Brit friend of mine puts it, by putting her on sheep that might be too much for her. Bold and keen as young dogs are, a bad/frightening experience can really set them back and damage their courage for months to come.

 

Please don't be in too much of a hurry, with her. Let her grow up. She's keen as heck, but her young mind and body aren't ready to cope with all that her instinct wants her to do. Remember, you might be only messing around with her, now, but every minute she's out there on sheep ... she's learning something! So, be patient and wait until she is ready to learn the right things.

 

/end nagging.

 

By the way, you could post photos of Nina. Just sayin'. :)

 

~ Gloria

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If you'll forgive me, I do have a thought regarding the tough ewe and the ram. Be careful with that. You do not want to "over-face" her, as a Brit friend of mine puts it, by putting her on sheep that might be too much for her. Bold and keen as young dogs are, a bad/frightening experience can really set them back and damage their courage for months to come.

I think he meant he removed those two from the group, not that he worked her on those two. I think, and I hope that!

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you are lucky, the Wisconsin Working Stock Dog Association is one of the best state clubs in the country. They are active and hold training clinics and trials throughout the year. Google wwsda and their webpage will come up. Also, Laura Wentz is a contributor to these boards and she could probably steer you in the right direction of helping get your pup started. I would encourage you to join their club. It is a good one with all ranges of folks experiences. Pearse Ward is also a board contributor and I believe is the current president of the WWSDA.

 

mn

 

^^ Mike is correct on all of the above.

 

I am in WI and novice handler. The WWSDA is a great club with a calendar of events that cover just about the entire year - I think the only month where there isn't "something" going on is usually December. :)

 

www.wwsda.org

 

Please feel free to PM me if you have any questions.

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Thanks Mike & Vicki. I just saw this this morning and was going to put the WWSDA website in a reply. Chris if you're interested in a sample newsletter, send me a pm. There's worksites listed in there and the calendar of events has a few things coming up including a Jack Knox clinic that's held in an indoor arena in February. Even if you don't enter a dog, it's a good time to come & meet some people who have the same interests as you!

Laura

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I'll do my best to make it to that Jack Knox clinic. Its about 4 hours from me, but it sounds well worth the trip.

 

To clear up the confusion from my last post, I removed the aggressive ewe and the ram from the group and took her out with two docile ewes. Its funny: I bought Nina to help me with the sheep, and now I have the desire to buy more sheep to help me with Nina.

 

Everyone seems to be in agreement to hold back and wait until she's older, so that is what I'll do. I'd welcome anyone's thoughts as to what I should be working on away from the sheep. So far she knows how to sit, lie down, come when called, go to her kennel, back away, fetch, track, drop, leave it, and that a verbal correction like "ah ah" means to stop whatever she is doing. I also taught her "get back"--meaning to back away. She's not perfect at these things yet, so we'll keep reinforcing all of them, but she's doing very well in my opinion.

 

I'm trying to figure out how to get pictures from my computer onto my posts, and when I do I'll post a few for those who are interested.

 

Edit: Here's a link to some photos of hertaken a few months ago.

 

Thanks,

 

 

Chris

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My understanding is that opinions differ on what it's good to teach a puppy before training them on stock. (But I'm not even a novice handler). Some will say a "lie down" off stock has little use. My dog's trainer (and a lot of other people I know) does recommend basic obedience. Yeah, it might not translate immediately, but ultimately it'll catch on.

 

One thing that I did that she thought was useful involved a lot of impulse control exercises. Holding the stay while a ball was being thrown; NOT dashing down to the stream, but waiting until released, and so forth.

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My understanding is that opinions differ on what it's good to teach a puppy before training them on stock. (But I'm not even a novice handler). Some will say a "lie down" off stock has little use. My dog's trainer (and a lot of other people I know) does recommend basic obedience. Yeah, it might not translate immediately, but ultimately it'll catch on.

 

One thing that I did that she thought was useful involved a lot of impulse control exercises. Holding the stay while a ball was being thrown; NOT dashing down to the stream, but waiting until released, and so forth.

 

I did a lot of obedience work with Kayzie in high distraction environments before putting her on stock. We also worked A LOT on self control, more so than I have ever done with a dog. IME, which is limited to Kayzie and Kellie, Kayzie listens better and seems to be progressing quicker with the amount of training I did before putting her stock than Kellie did. Kellie's obedience skills prior to being put on stock were very limited.

 

Kayzie's first try, she was very excited and had some trouble stopping at first, but she caught on quickly and is much more controllable. I've also noticed that gradually our lessons have been getting longer and longer as we get better and better. Granted, we're nowhere near ready for trail or ranch work, but I'm happy with her progress.

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As far as what I teach the dog before going to stock, just depends on the dog, but what I do teach I try to refine. For example, Nina knows sit and lie down, test those commands out with you at different distances and using little to no body language as assistance. I like to see if they will respond to the command at a distance from me when I speak the command in a normal conversational voice. Basically play around with teaching the dog to work to hear me. I don't want to shout commands, I want to just say them, so I want to make sure I am teaching them in the same tone and influx as I want to use them. It's kinda funny, it's actually harder then it sounds.

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Oh: it's also useful to teach them that "good dog!" is NOT a release. (Nor, while working stock, is it permission to change from first to fifth gear). You probably won't use a lot of praise while training, but you don't want the praise you do use to be misinterpreted.

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I teach my pups basic manners, some basic obedience, and otherwise just let it be a pup. Mine is 4 months old. She has a recall, knows sit, sit up, and lie down, and recently learned to walk on a leash. She understands a verbal correction (though she's not easily dissuaded by one!). Not to chase chickens. And that's it. I think she needs this time to grow and have fun and just be and recognize me as the keeper of good things in life (that is, that it's good to partner with me). I have NO expectations that the basic obedience she has learned will translate on stock, and that's okay, because anything she needs to learn while working is best learned *while* interacting with the stock. I've never spent a bunch of time teaching things other than the above for any pup I've started on stock. To me the crucial thing is for the youngster to learn to want to work with you. JMO.

 

J.

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