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Ludi

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Hello BC Boards,

 

It's been a full year since Lady has worked sheep. It was tough to "admit defeat", but I couldn't justify shelling out 50 € for a lesson of trying to coax her along, only to see her demonstrate her lack of power or to get stuck. So we stopped. We did other dog sports in the mean time, and she turned two back in July of this year.

 

Then, in the start of September, I went to the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands with her. I attended the World Sheepdog Trials in Tain with her and my corgi Ace in tow. It was an amazing experience. Every day was filled with long walks winding through exquisite countryside. And something occurred to me...

 

As people who have been to the Lakes and the Highlands know, there's sheep everywhere. On public footpaths, in the road, in your back garden, everywhere. I have a soft spot for Blackies and Herdwicks so I was in sheep heaven. But so was Lady, it seemed. Our walks had my two dogs always on a lead, out of respect for the owners of the free roaming flocks. But I couldn't deny that Lady was tremendously preoccupied with the sheep, no matter where we went.

 

Prior to our yearlong break, Lady would sometimes drop her gaze from the sheep when they raised their heads from grazing. She'd sniff the ground, nibble some droppings, things like that. But this time there was none of that. Now, she was on a lead and had me by her side... so perhaps this gave her a greater feeling of safety, so she felt no need to deflect. But what if it's also due to her maturing? I couldn't shake the feeling.

 

Upon returning to our home in France, I decided it would be a disservice to not give Lady one last go on sheep, in a proper setting. I lucked out and on the 19th, I have a lesson with my favourite trainer from this area. He is an avid student of Derek Scrimgeour's methods and I believe his style is well suited to gentle Lady.

 

So, if you could dispense any piece of advice for this "reunion", of sorts, what would it be? Lady is tremendously devoted to working for me. She lives for it! Her defaults are a lack of power, of presence, and a tendency to stick. What would you recommend we do in this reintroductory session? I believe we'll be working with around twenty head of Blackfaces. They are quite lively, not terribly confrontational from memory.

 

I know that the likelihood that Lady's done a 180 and has suddenly "found" power is low, probably nil. But I can't deny that there's something there, she is drawn to the sheep, she loves to work, and I want to help her even if it's for one last time before we retire for good.

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It is a sweet tribute. You love your dog. I find sometimes it is best not to train but to do chores. If she has feel, go out and have her do chores with you, with your trainer friend maybe supervising.

 

Have a fun relaxing time. Let expectations go.

Enjoy the day, the sheep, your friend.

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and your dog

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Put your faith In the trainer's good judgment and trust your dog to let you know if she's interested.

 

Very best wishes!

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Good luck. It was a lovely post that I enjoyed reading tremendously. Thank you.

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I agree with the others, trust your dog and your trainer.

 

Try to relax and enjoy your session otherwise Lady will pick up on your anxiety.

 

Good luck

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Thank you all. :) I think this lesson will be different from the others in that I have no real expectations going in to it. I have no idea what Lady's work will look like. So I hope to be pleasantly surprised, but I'm not hinged on her blowing me away.

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I'm generally not an overly positive person, but I do believe we have some control over the outcomes of things simply by embracing a particular attitude. If you go into this whole endeavor thinking that Lady is weak, disinterested, sticky, etc,, you are starting out by setting up expectations that will likely be met. I hope I'm making sense, but what I'm trying to say is that you need to approach the reintroduction with NO preconceived notions about what Lady may or may not be or may or may not do. Consider both of you to be a clean slate. You both will have a much more positive experience if you don't step in to the situation automatically expecting the worst of her and feeling defeated.

 

J.

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yep Judy is right.

 

One thing that I have learned is this-

 

When I am out on the trails I have one or two dogs. I cannot go back and get another. So if I have a problem I have learned simply work through it. My Cap is a soft dog, however he is very wise, he has been allowed to figure things out in order to get the job done. And is a very good work dog. Tho old now and retired. He was a rescue.

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Thank you Julie that's very wise words there. :) I will be honest, it did hurt quite a lot to hear, a year ago, that my beloved dog had these very negative qualities. It was a huge part of why we took a year off. As a complete novice to this, I knew I would be hearing criticism but it is hard to shake off since I'm so new to all of this. I know I will not do Lady any favours if I let it get to me, especially with this opportunity to go back in with a clean slate. Your words will be at the front of my mind for our lesson. I owe it to my girl to let things evolve as naturally as they can. :)

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As others have suggested, I wonder whether much of Lady's previous problems has primarily been one of immarturity, lack of confidence and uncertainty of what to do with her instinct.

 

When I read your description of Lady, you describe that she has a lot of eye ('sticks a lot'). If she is also sensitive to pressure as well, then if you previously tried to 'force' her through her stickyness to make her move then this would just increase her uncertainty and insecurity.

 

All this would make a young dog appear weak and could also make any novice handler feel quite negative about their dog's potential.

 

Again as others said, a dog can change a lot in a year.

 

There are also ways you can help her through her insecurity. Things like lots of natural work (as Tea suggests), lots of positive encouragement from you and/or working her with another more experienced dog alongside. Basically she needs you, your trainer or the experienced dog to show her the ropes, encourage her to use her instinct and give her confidence that she can use her eye to move sheep.

 

Hopefully your new trainer will have lots of good ideas of how to help both of you, but as Julie says its important that you do not go to your session with any negative feelings about what has happened before.

 

Reading your posts, I think Lady is lucky to have you as an owner.

 

Good luck.

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I can't offer anything in the way of advice, as I am also a very novice handler with a very novice dog... BUT

 

I do want to wish you and Lady the very best of luck at your lesson. I hope everything goes well!!!

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If the trainer is taking in her in to sheep and she focuses on sheep and not you then I would stand back and not draw her attention at all, no talking ect. If she is focus more on you and you have to go in with her then focus your attention on the sheep and not her. I would try ssshhing and making encouraging sounds as you are close or touching the sheep to draw her attention there. If she is focused on the sheep then I would allow her to just work with very little concern to her being Right at this point. You need her Keen befor you can train so you might have to accept a little naughtyness to help her gain confidence. Watch you body language and tone of voice. Facing her squarely is more pressure and may make her hesitate. So back to her and watching her over your shoulder or turning a shoulder to her is less pressure. All those little things can make a huge difference. Also allow her to work with another dog helps sometimes. Not having anything in your hand sometimes makes a difference to dogs as well.

Sometimes it takes quite a few times with sheep before the light goes on and all of a sudden they figure out they are a border collie one day. Just enjoy her.

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Hello all. Thank you so much for your replies, concerns, and encouragements. I bore them all in mind and carried them with me when I stepped on to the field today with Lady. And wow, what a day. What a change! My little shrimpy girl who shied from confrontation, got stuck regularly, and was always on the edge of trying to remove herself from the situation altogether... she's gone, and in place is a confident young dog who simply lacks experience, but has her head together.

 

Lady was attentive, an incredibly obedient listener, and never backed down even when the dozen or so mostly East Frisian ewes were starting to get in a strop. I shushed her along the moment I sensed her "stick", quietly but firmly, and she stuck only once - on a ewe that had turned and stamped. And she didn't back down! She deftly dodged the headbutt attempts and when I asked her to lie down, the ewe turned her head and rejoined the flock. I gave almost no commands, aside from the usual directionals once she'd already started the movement. I just wanted her to have that second chance of a fresh experience on sheep again. And I think it really paid off. She's matured a lot. Physically, and mentally. She listens well but she's not obeying out of fear of disobeying, which was the case before (that's simply how she was as a puppy, I never use anything but positive reinforcement for home training!). She listens because she wants to, it feels like, and that she trusts me to make the good calls.

 

I am thrilled. It means that we will be able to go back to lessons, now that I have a dog whom I know loves to work and do what she was bred to do. The farm is just 40 minutes away, my husband finally has a car, the sheep are not too dogged and definitely are the right level of challenge for Lady, and it's all very affordable. We won't be competing any time soon, or maybe ever, but all I wanted was a dog with whom I could also grow and learn. This day couldn't have gone better!

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Brilliant. I am so pleased with you.

 

IMHO There are few things more satisfying than training a young dog with lots of natural talent... And it sounds as if Lady has matured into just that...I bet both of you are grinning from ear to ear.

 

Good luck with the rest of your training.

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Thank you all! I will be honest, before all this, for a long time I thought, "what's the point". I didn't want to put sheep through having to deal with a novice (human or dog!) without a good reason. But Lady has always been so respectful of livestock and other animals in general. I don't think this dog has ever gripped or lunged at a sheep, despite her previous lack of confidence and tendency to get frazzled. I always want to be mindful of the sheep's welfare and happiness before we work.

 

The weather here in France was very agreeable (18C [64F]) yesterday, so the ewes did get a bit stroppy and warm after our luxurious 1 hour lunch break (yes, we do enjoy our food and wine!). Lady's energy was flagging a bit, I suspect from both weather/exercise as well as the mental exhaustion. I remembered reading on here as well as on other sites that a young or inexperienced dog can start to make "mistakes" when they're tired, or when the ewes have had enough.

 

So to avoid ruining the confidence we have won back, I let Lady go for a dip in the water trough the next field over, then take a nap. She woke up about 45 minutes later and was back to being very alert and bright-eyed. I told my trainer I would like to do just a couple of minutes, maybe even only 60 seconds tops, just to end the day on a very good note. If Lady didn't show immediate energy and desire to work, I wouldn't even cross the field. No sense in pushing her. He agreed and was glad I was not being overzealous our first time back after a year off.

 

Lady was very, very willing to work and performed her best all day on that final few minutes. She took her flanks with a good speed, did not cut them in too badly, and thanks to one particularly moody ewe we even did a tiny bit of driving together. As soon as Lady took a step towards the head of the sheep, I gently called her to my side to stay on track. This exercise seemed to further increase her confidence, as I was by her side and she didn't have ewes challenging her. I'd say the final go lasted maybe three minutes tops, and then we bid farewell, dismantled the makeshift fencing, watched the more advanced dogs and handlers move the sheep into a larger grazing field, and then headed home.

 

I hope others who are on this forum who have gentle, young dogs can see a bit of their experience in this. I am totally new to sheepdog training, I expected a *lot*, and I was really worried if I had broken my dog. At my first trial - attending as a spectator ofc - I was told indeed, I'll probably break Lady. It was horrifying. All the work her breeder did in bringing two lines together, raising the puppies to be beautiful working companions, and I potentially ruined it all? I was kicking myself.

 

The time off did us both a lot of good. I grew up a little bit, too. And now I know I am back in the swing of things, so Lady and I can continue learning together. :)

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From your description, I think you are taking a very mature, sensible and measured approach to training Lady. She is in good hands.

 

Enjoy your journey into sherpdog training

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I was so happy to read your update about the lesson!! I'm just thrilled for you and Lady. Congrats to both of you and best of luck going forward!!! Please keep us posted, I'd love to hear how you two come along.

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