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Alfreda

Intro to Sheep Case Study

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Hello herdsters,

I've been lapping up what I can on these boards for a few years, but this is my first post. I really value the discussions and experience of this crowd! I've been reading books in which experienced trainers write about how they start pups. I've watched the wonderful Denise Wall training videos, as well as Andy Nickless's CD "First Steps.." There are quite a few differences (!) out there, but it does seem that all emphasize that the first exposures to sheep should be positive for the pup.

 

So here's my "case study"question: (sorry for the length)

A 10-mo old pup first time on sheep is very keen. He circles 4 dog-broke sheep in a round pen rapidly, tightly, and dives in to grip at flanks. He changes direction some, but does not respond to "lie down" or "stand" or "stay" –(commands he obeys reliably off stock). It appears the pup is not “sensitive” to body pressure. When you try using a stick with a flag, he bites at it as if it's a toy. Neither the flag nor its sound has the effect of shooshing him out farther. In fact they just seem to increase his speed and confusion. What would you do and why?

  1. try a larger group of sheep
  2. hit the dog with the stick, and/or escalate to a small whip, hitting the dog’s shoulder and feet/legs so it stings a little and he moves out
  3. put the pup up for a month or two until he gets older
  4. put the sheep in an inside pen and have the pup run around the outside (as in Andy Nickless CD)
  5. Do some foundational being-close-to-sheep exercises such as walking around a large group (or holding them to a fence perhaps?) on-leash and praising for calm. Walking with pup in a “packed pen,” so he gets used to being really, really close and staying calm… other?
  6. Something else? ----Thanks!

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Welcome to the boards,...

 

Yes ... training a pup in 'real life' is very different from watching videos & reading books.

 

Although these can help give you ideas and help you analyse what to do, they are no substitute for having an experienced sheepdog trainer on-hand to advice you..

 

So my question to you, is do you have a trainer who can help you?

 

If not, I would strongly recommend that you find one to help you through the early introductory stages (and beyond if necessary).

 

 

A 10-mo old pup first time on sheep is very keen. He circles 4 dog-broke sheep in a round pen rapidly, tightly, and dives in to grip at flanks. He changes direction some, but does not respond to "lie down" or "stand" or "stay" –(commands he obeys reliably off stock). It appears the pup is not “sensitive” to body pressure. When you try using a stick with a flag, he bites at it as if it's a toy. Neither the flag nor its sound has the effect of shooshing him out farther. In fact they just seem to increase his speed and confusion. What would you do and why?

 

Congratuations on having a BC pup who is keen on his sheep. It is much easier to train a dog who wants to work than with one who is completely disinterested (once you manage to start communicating properly with him!).

 

firstly, I'm not suprised he does not respond to any verbal commands.. Heck, he probably doesn't even remember his name in all the excitement of being allowed near sheep!.

So personally, I wouldn't use any distinct commands. Instead I would use words like 'Hey, Oy" .. (and later on "good' etc). This is because I don't want a pup to think that when he is around sheep that he can ignore the verbal commands he has learnt when he is off them.

 

Secondlly, You also say he is 'Not sensitive" to pressure.

My instant response to this comment is that you are probably not applying pressure correctly.

 

Pressure often has little to do with the implement you use (personally, I often don't use any training aid other than a long line). It is the intent behind your actions that is important. You have to really mean it.

 

This does not mean flapping your arms or stick around -Your pup will probably see this as being part of the game and your actions will just excite him further.

 

Instead you have to find an inner power that people in authority often display. These individuals are often quieter and calmer than others. However, you know from the way this kind of person looks at you, that they really mean what they say.

 

You need to develop the same kind of inner strength when dealing with your pup. Dogs communicate mainly through gestures, body stance and they way they look at each other. So you need to develop a stance and direct stare that silently tells your dog that you mean business.

 

I recommend that you work on developing this attitude away from sheep.

IMO, you need to learn to adapt your demeanour. It has to be sufficiently strong that when you take a quiet, purposeful authorative step towards your pup, he has to respond by softening his eyes, turning his head slightly away from you, lowering his tail, and perhaps moves back a couple of paces. With time, you should be able to refine this further so that just an 'authorative look' perhaps accompanied with a low warning growl, will make him think about what he is doing.

 

You certainly do not need to behave like this all the time with your pup, but he has to learn that when you take up that attitude, you mean business and he has to listen to you. It may be complete acting on your part, but if you can achieve this without saying a word when working off sheep, then you have a chance of being able to use pressure effectively when he is excited by being near sheep.

 

Note added in edit. Importantly, when he has responded to your silent pressure by looking or moving away, you should release the pressure by lowering your gaze and relaxing your body. This will tell your dog that he has done the right thing and act as a reward for him. In addition, if you turn and walk away, he should willingly follow you with a calm attitude.

 

With regard to your particular questions.

 

When I introduce an excitable pup to sheep then sheep welfare is high on my list of priorities so I tend to put 3-4 sheep inside the round pen and have the pup outside (i will either be inside or outside the pen depending on the pup). This protects the sheep from the pup.

I want the pup to move away from me and balance the sheep on the other side. I will use my own authorative body movements to block him from circling completely round the pen and use strong verbal 'Hey" and growls to change his attitude from being excitable.

It may take several minutes, but by showing calm authority, he will also calm down & will eventually lie down at the balance point. Then I move around the edge of the pen, first one way and then the other. I expect him to start to use his instinct to mirror my position so that he moves and remains in the correct balance point opposite me.

 

I also will spend time (as separate training exercises) with the pup on a long line and work with developing a calm attitude so he can stand in the field or move beside a fence on the other side of the sheep with the line loose.. (and when I walk towards the round pen, I also want him to be calm and so again this is something else I work on).

 

 

At an early stage, my lessons with the dog only last a 5-10 minutes and I also don't train every day as this gives the pup a chance to think about what he is learning.

 

I only take the pup into the round pen (on a long line) once I am certain that he is calm outside it. And even then I still expect that he will get excited once inside. However by doing the early groundwork I've described, I find that I can quite quickly get the pup's attitude adjusted to an appropriate one and I can then proceed further.

 

I don't rush these early stages. It takes as long as it takes and if the pup is too mentally or physically immature, it certainly can help to wait a few months until he grows up a bit more.

 

Other points to consider.

it can also help if the pup has been exercised before he sees sheep. A tired enthusiastic pup will still get excited when he sees sheep, but he may calm sooner than one who is full of energy.

 

Oh.. and I don't hit my dogs with either a stick or a whip (and if later in training I do throw a plastic pipe towards one to remind him to move out, I don't actually aim or expect it to touch him!).

 

Different people have different ideas about starting a pup off on sheep. These are mine but they may not suit you.

Don't worry about this. It is a matter of finding a method that works for both you and your pup.

 

Good luck.

Edited by Maxi

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I pretty much agree with what Maxi said, except that I don't put a pup on the outside of a round pen. I want to emphasize that hitting a pup with anything is only going to be counterproductive. The more excitable or excited you get, the more the pup will respond in kind. Stay calm and matter of fact.

 

Both of you really would benefit from the help of an experienced trainer.

 

J.

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Get to a good trainer or mentor. Applying pressure does little good without correct timing. Correct timing cannot be learned ( unfortunately) with videos or books. At least not reliably enough to be used in real world situations with a keen young dog and a novice trainer where chaos is reigning. It's hard enough for someone who has started several young dogs to get it right with a hard charging youngster. I personally would not put a youngster outside the round pen either though I have read about it being done.

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Maxi, Julie and I are assuming this is a real situation, not simply a hypothetical one. To answer your question simply, I would choose response #6, "Something else".

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Thank you Maxi, Julie and Toney for your thoughtful replies and encouragement!

 

I would like to know more about why as trainers you would *not* use the dog-outside-pen method?

 

I need to apologize for the "case study" scenario being confusing or misleading. I wanted to keep this impersonal while promoting discussion of early methods. The scenario is real. The owner took the pup to a professional trainer who is a successful USBCHA trialer. The trainer used the stick, whip and a long-line in choke mode. The trainer used words to describe the dog such as "not sensitive," "hard," "strong-willed."

 

The owner is a novice who's had lessons with a previous dog, audited clinics, and been to trials. The owner thought the pup was naive, excited, confused by the strange person's behavior. The owner believes that whatever the sport, or work, a pup should be set-up to succeed, and that escalating "corrections" is likely to be counter-productive. But, like I said, the owner is the novice in this situation.

 

Some experienced handlers have suggested that the trainers in videos or books who use "softer" methods, those who don't demand, or physically correct for absolute obediance, can be used only on "softer" lines of dogs. Looking at (just for example) Bruce Fogt's book's problem section most of those recommendations go something like this: correct, correct more, correct harder.

 

Anyway, I appreciate all the responses and I am so sorry for any confusion. I guess it's not always easy to find a trainer/mentor who shares a similar philosphy of training, and, as one dedicated clicker trainer who herds recently told me, all herding is "correction" based. Also, I think in our discussions sometimes, the words "pressure," and "correction" are confused...? I wonder what you would recommend as far as creating a positive productive second time on sheep. I appreciate Maxi's ideas about working with body pressure at home.

 

I guess I think if you're coming from one view, you will correct and over correct first, whereas if you're coming from another place, you will adjust the environment, or the early work to teach in a way so that corrections are needed less if at all. Right?

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I suppose I wouldn't use the sheep in the round pen method for two reasons. 1) if the round pen is big enough to really train in (say 60 feet in diameter) then having the pup circle it would mean the pup isn't in contact with the sheep most likely. So he is not feeling the bubble of pressure around the sheep. The youngster you are describing isn't feeling the bubble yet anyway but I'm not sure how having him off contact would help the overall issue. I will defer to Maxi about that since I have never seen it done. The second reason is a practical one. I don't have a round pen. I start pups in a corner of my pasture with one of my setout dogs acting as back up. I do put a line on the pup but only use it to catch them. I protect the sheep by being close to them but if a pup is hard charging and slicing without gripping and holding on I don't get too excited. He's just trying to figure out a method to move the sheep. If he's diving in and gripping then I will protect the sheep because that's not fair. My sheep are good enough to put up with puppies and shouldn't be bullied. But I start my own dogs not other people's so take it for what it's worth.

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Maxi did a nice job of describing intent of pressure and timing. As a fellow novice these are both really hard things to achieve. Working with someone whom both you and your dog respond to will be invaluable. Just because a handler/trainer has been successful doesn't mean they are the right fit for you.

 

I have to really think about finding my inner hard ass, it just doesn't come naturally, and my dog knows as soon as we are heading out which handler he has. So I have to take a moment to get mentally prepared, it works and it's getting easier. Who knew sheepdogs would bring out such inner soul searching :)

 

I also like to think about a saying the Knox's use a lot. Something along the lines of make the right choice easy and the wrong one difficult. I found this especially helpful when we were just starting out.

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I used the "dog outside of the pen" method. But mind you that was a tiny (about 6 meter in diameter) pen I set up especially with this in mind.

 

It was when I started my first real stock dog, and it worked well.

 

It was only used for a couple of times during first exposure and the main reason for using it was because I did not own or have access to dog broke sheep back then.

 

I don´t use this method anymore because now I do have dog broke sheep and a trained dog to assist.

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This is SO important (quote below). If a trainer is using a method that makes you uncomfortable or that you (you being any novice whose dog needs to be trained) don't think you can easily replicate (because it goes against your nature), then that isn't the trainer for you.

 

Yes, stockdog training is correction based to a certain extent. But correction and punishment aren't the same thing, and if you're hitting the dog with any object, I would consider that punishment. As a trainer I want the youngster to learn to feel the sheep and figure out how to use its own power to move them. I am not going to whip a dog off the stock to "teach it to go wider." All the dog is getting out of that is that if it gets close to the sheep, something is going to hurt. That might work for the immediate need, but down the road, when you need a dog who is willing to come in close and engage the stock, do you think that dog will do so?

 

The "make the right easy and the wrong difficult" mantra is well known because it makes sense, to both the human and the dog.

 

That's the main thing newbies (and geezers alike) need to remember: the immediate result one wants to achieve might not be the result that will carry through in the long term (big picture). And what they learn early can be hard to "unlearn" later. Something to think about.

 

J.

 

Working with someone whom both you and your dog respond to will be invaluable. Just because a handler/trainer has been successful doesn't mean they are the right fit for you.

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I guess I think if you're coming from one view, you will correct and over correct first, whereas if you're coming from another place, you will adjust the environment, or the early work to teach in a way so that corrections are needed less if at all. Right?

Yes, right. Some handlers use aspects of old-fashioned punishment. I have heard that often those dogs do well for a while, but later are subject to burn-out from stress. [ETA: As Maxi says below, dogs trained using harsh techniques may be obedient, but rarely show the kind of initiative/resourcefulness needed for difficult farm work or when up against top competition in challenging trials.] I'm sure there are success stories as well. In any case, use of harsh correction is not the relationship I want with my dog.

 

Many successful sheepdog trainers use forms of pressure/release. In this type of training it becomes important for the handler to develop a connection/bond with the dog, so that things such as handler's posture, position and tone of voice have meaning. Properly used, handler pressure mimics how dogs relate to one another. I would not become overly hung-up on terminology by itself. For me "pressure" is a type of mild (yet effective) correction, and "release" is an expression that handler is pleased. I take meaning of sheepdog terminology chiefly from the way it is used in practice. It's possible that a dog who has never had a stern verbal correction or seen assertive body posture prior to going to sheep will require time to learn the handler's intent. On the flip side of the coin, this dog would not understand release of pressure. To me it is possible that descriptions such as "hard" and "insensitive" could be describing such a dog. OTOH the dog may just be over-excited its first times on sheep, as is so often the case. As set-forth in this thread, there are methods to help a dog become more focused/relaxed. I would avoid the "hard" label early-on, as that shapes much of the dog's training, and it could well be incorrect.

 

In pressure/release training, you set the dog up to succeed from the beginning. The scenarios involving sheep, dog, handler, terrain are all simple, and designed so that dog can scarcely fail. The dog is merely asked to do what its instincts tell it. Only later in the process does a trainer ask his/her dog to take cues that go against natural instinct, and those are molded-in to training so that dog hardly notices. When dog makes a clear mistake in a straightforward situation, the trainer may ask again with the degree of pressure dictated by the dog's personality among other things, followed by release, or go back in training to an earlier exercise in order to reinforce the weak link.

 

I would suggest that you invite your friend to join this forum, to pose his/her own training questions. Communication regarding training over the internet is IMO extremely difficult and subject to misinterpretation on all sides, and having a direct connection to owner overcomes many obstacles to understanding, and ultimately produces success for the dog/handler.

 

Alfreda, welcome. -- Kind regards, TEC

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Julie and Jumpin Boots speaks a lot of sense.

 

As Mr McCaig has said in another thread, "There are many possible corrections.... General rules are the same for any correction. Corrections should be the gentlest effective correction."

 

The advantage of using an increasing intensity pressure scale is that it is possible to identify that gentlest effective point for any type of dog - whether sensitive or stubborn.

 

It is certainly true that dogs that who have not been brought up to give to pressure or those who have been given mixed messages from their owners may become more resistent to pressure and so may require higher levels of pressure to respond, especially when they are excited by sheep.

 

Despite this, I think your friend may find that if he/she uses pressure /release methods with his/her dog away from sheep in the manner I suggested previously then he/she can quite quickly 'resensitise' the dog to body language. It will also teach your friend how to use his/her body language effectively. Both of these will make it easier to work with the dog when he is re-introduced to sheep.

 

If you are willing to state the area where your friend lives then perhap sheepdog folk here could send you a PM suggesting trainers who you could approach. You could perhaps watch their training method prior to signing on for any lessons.

 

In addition, I personally don't believe this statement.

 

Some experienced handlers have suggested that the trainers in videos or books who use "softer" methods, those who don't demand, or physically correct for absolute obediance, can be used only on "softer" lines of dogs.

 

Many handlers actively want their dog to be able to use their initiative (for example to turn a fleeing sheep at a pen or when gathering sheep when out of sight of the shepherd).

 

If "absolute obedience" has been insisted on during his training, then a dog will feel he can't make a decision for himself and he will loose the ability to use his initiative.

 

So its possible that 'absolute obedience' may allow a dog to run a good open trial on a flat field where the handler can control his every move, but he probably wont be able to win the top trials (where the dog needs to work even further away from the handler across trickier terrain). In addition, a dog trained this way would also be of little use to someone like me who works with light native breed sheep on terrain which often hides my dog and sheep from me. My dog has to be able to think for himself.. and this 'give and take' with my dog is part of the partnership I enjoy.

 

Also remember that many of the authors of these books on pressure - release are effective and highly respected trainers. They would not be able to do this if they could only work with 'soft' dogs. In addition, these handlers are experienced shepherds and/or have won some of the top trials around the world i.e. they expect very high standards from their dog. The partnership they have with their dogs is built on mutual respect and trust. IMO You don't get this from whipping your dog to stay off his sheep.

 

Note added in Edit. TEC & I must have been posting at the same time. I also agree with his comments

Edited by Maxi

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Hello herdsters,

I've been lapping up what I can on these boards for a few years, but this is my first post. I really value the discussions and experience of this crowd! I've been reading books in which experienced trainers write about how they start pups. I've watched the wonderful Denise Wall training videos, as well as Andy Nickless's CD "First Steps.." There are quite a few differences (!) out there, but it does seem that all emphasize that the first exposures to sheep should be positive for the pup.

 

So here's my "case study"question: (sorry for the length)

A 10-mo old pup first time on sheep is very keen. He circles 4 dog-broke sheep in a round pen rapidly, tightly, and dives in to grip at flanks. He changes direction some, but does not respond to "lie down" or "stand" or "stay" –(commands he obeys reliably off stock). It appears the pup is not “sensitive” to body pressure. When you try using a stick with a flag, he bites at it as if it's a toy. Neither the flag nor its sound has the effect of shooshing him out farther. In fact they just seem to increase his speed and confusion. What would you do and why?

  1. try a larger group of sheep
  2. hit the dog with the stick, and/or escalate to a small whip, hitting the dog’s shoulder and feet/legs so it stings a little and he moves out
  3. put the pup up for a month or two until he gets older
  4. put the sheep in an inside pen and have the pup run around the outside (as in Andy Nickless CD)
  5. Do some foundational being-close-to-sheep exercises such as walking around a large group (or holding them to a fence perhaps?) on-leash and praising for calm. Walking with pup in a “packed pen,” so he gets used to being really, really close and staying calm… other?
  6. Something else? ----Thanks!

 

 

You've gotten some good, detailed responses so far, so I'll just add my thoughts.

 

First, I'd say the dog's owner should try option #6. Try something else. Further, I'd say try someONE else. Just because a person is a dog trainer does not mean they're the right trainer for that dog or its owner. My rule of thumb is, if it feels wrong to the dog's owner, it IS wrong.

 

Option #3 may also be a possibility. At 10 months, a pup may or may not be receptive to the pressure of training. If more, harder, stronger corrections seem to be the only thing that works, I'd say the pup needs more time to grow up. It's entirely possible for a pup to be absolutely keen to work - but be totally unready for training. Sometimes the ability to absorb learning takes longer to develop than the desire to work.

 

Anybody ever tries option #2 on any dog of mine will find that whip or stick inserted someplace they won't enjoy. :ph34r:

 

If a pup is not receptive to training, put him up. Let his mind mature. Or find a trainer whose methods are better suited to work with a strong, keen pup without resorting to punitive corrections.

 

My thoughts, anyhow. :)

 

~ Gloria

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One thing to consider too is if different sheep might help. My last dog, starting at a clinic, went in on really dog broke sheep that ran right to my knees. She was tight and fast and very excited and I could see a possible confrontation developing to "push the dog out". The clinician requested less broke sheep. Totally different dog with different sheep. The previous sheep left the dog frustrated with nothing to do except run in tight circles. With the less broke sheep she had room to head them and get a response, and the sheep being farther from me also resulted in the dog being farther from the sheep. The original frantic mess calmed right down and the dog did some pretty nice work without having to be pushed on.

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