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Some Starter Questions

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I'm going to apologize ahead of time; I'm sure some of these might sound like a broken record. I'm just curious if starting my dog on sheep is a good idea in the first place.

 

Background - Maple; unspayed female (hasn't had first heat yet either); 10 months; not "working bred" but I'm almost positive her grandparents were in fact stockdogs (might be able to clarify once I find her papers); she's a barker and takes quite a while to warm up to strangers; takes a while to warm up to strange dogs; as she matures her "warm up" time to strangers seems to have decreased somewhat; I've seen her "eye" many times, and can post a video if wanted; I think the instinct is definitely there, but not sure of the quality

 

I'm not even considering lessons until she's over a year and we're at least a week into summer. I'm planning on getting her spayed after her birthday/first heat, but I've heard this doesn't affect potential unless done too early.

 

Maple has a tendency to be fearful/aggressive around strangers and strange dogs, should I be concerned that this will affect any lessons? Will this limit who will mentor us? She's normally fine with humans who don't pet her but not small children and she takes a long time to warm up to other dogs.

 

For a dog who has never seen a sheep in her life, should she recognize what she's supposed "to do" right off the bat? I use "to do" loosely. Obviously she won't be anywhere close to amazing her first time, but I have a hard time believing she won't be anything but fearful towards a new, loud, smelly animal.

 

What is she supposed "to do"? For a dog's first time on sheep, should I be on the look-out for any key behaviors? Correct me if I'm wrong, but she should have the inclination to gather them and bring them towards me?

 

Should I expect her car chasing/related to worsen or get better? I've heard mixed results. Some say that having "a job" actually makes for a tamer, more relaxed dog. Other things I've read make it sound as if starting my dog on sheep will turn her into a wild animal whose drive to chase anything that moves will become next to impossible to deal with.

 

What should I expect from the mentor at the first lesson/eval?

 

Any recommended trainers close to Wilmington DE area? Culleymont Farm (I think that's the name) is over an hour away. Anything above 45 minutes is pushing it, but compromise may be possible?

 

Do you think that starting Maple on sheep would be wise? Please be honest. I have grown really fond of the idea, but if it's going to make my dog/life impossible to manage I'd rather not risk it.

 

Any tips?

 

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I would really love to get into the world of herding but I'm not sure how or if I should try with this particular dog.

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Lots of questions. Here goes!

 

Fearful and aggressive - if the sheep interest her, this may just fly out the window. Many dogs simply forget "other things" when they see and focus on the sheep. For instance, a thunder- or gunshot-phobic dog often will not notice those sounds when working. I think you will have to find out on this one.

 

Will she recognize "what to do" - hopefully, she will be interested when she sees the sheep. She will be most interested in their movement and have a desire to control the movement. A good sign would be that instinct kicks in and she naturally wants to gather (go out around the sheep, balance them to you, and bring them to you) but that might be a lot to expect the first time (or first few times) even if it's there. Oftentimes, the first exposure to sheep is a bit overwhelming for a dog (and her handler). "New, loud, smelly animal" is your take on a sheep. "New, fascinating, intriguing" could be her take.

 

What is she supposed to do - again, what I said in the previous paragraph. Be very interested, wanting to gather them, wanting to control movement. But, it can take way more than one lesson/exposure to see this so be prepared. On the other hand, she could be a natural as my one dog was. You won't know until you try. One thing that you would like to see is that when the light bulb switches on (she recognizes the stock), her head and her tail both drop. That is a sign of a thinking, focusing dog. The old saying is that the tail needs to be down or the brains fly out the butt! Of course, you may find that both come up and the brains and thought do fly away when she initially gets her chance to act on her impulses and interact with the stock. That's pretty normal for a beginner animal but it should pass with a little bit of time, maybe moments, maybe longer as she settles in to listen to instinct.

 

Car-chasing - this really doesn't have anything to do with working stock. I think that a large part of car chasing *is* the desire to control movement but it is very wrongly focused and needs to be dealt with as a problem in its own right. However, if your bond and communication, along with her willingness to listen to you improves with lessons on stock, that may help you to deal with this. But don't look at stock work as a way to alleviate this, deal with it on its own and now. I gather it's already a problematic habit which makes it all the more difficult to train her out of it. There are many topics on these boards dealing with methods and approaches to eliminating car-chasing.

 

What should you expect from a mentor - a mentor should be willing to talk to you, work with both you and your dog, employ methods that both of you are comfortable with (some may be different from what you are used to but should not be abusive to you, the dog, or the sheep), should not give you unrealistic expectations (if you or your dog are not reasonably cut out for this, the mentor needs to be honest about that and not just keep pocketing your money), and should keep the welfare of the livestock paramount (not just treat them as "dog toys"), among other things.

 

Recommended trainers within a hopefully reasonable drive - maybe Linda Tesdahl is close enough (Alchemist here has her contact info and works with her, plus I think she may have clinicians in occasionally, primarily Patrick Shannahan, who is also top-rate); maybe Nancy Obernier (closer to Philly, I think); Carla King possibly. These are all good resources.

 

Would it be wise - that depends on what your goals are. In my opinion, if you are truly interested in the partnership of handler and dog working livestock, and not just looking for a new "game" or "pursuit", that's a plus. If you want to solve other problems by taking up lessons on stock, I'd suggest getting help with your everyday training and leave the livestock out of the picture, but that's my opinion.

 

There are trainers who will work with anyone, any dog, for any reason, as long as you pay the fee. There are trainers that want to work with those who truly are interested in the whole package, learning, training, etc., but not the casual "hobby herder". And there are those in between. I'd simply say to avoid anyone who focuses on AKC in any way (none of the above mentioned do); in general, anyone who does "all-breed" (which will usually be AKC "herding"); and anyone who doesn't treat their livestock with respect.

 

Whether or not this is for you, only you can answer. Trying it will help you know if it's something you want to pursue seriously. If you have doubts, you can always wait and see if something in your future prompts a greater desire or interest. Best wishes making a choice that suits you, and I'm sure others better qualified to answer will chime in with good advice.

 

PS - If you give it a try with Maple, and that does not work out in terms of her, there's always the possibility of getting a retired or trained dog to learn and progress with if you find yourself really wanting to do this. It's a slippery slope - first the pet, then the first lesson, and eventually the farm, the barn, the fences, the stock, the truck, the trailer, the whole package...

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Beautifully said, wonderful advice as usual, Sue. I haven't got a thing to add, except best wishes in your journey with Maple, Sophia.

 

Amy

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Sue covered everything so well, just wanted to add two of my personal experiences.

 

'Eyeing other things' like you mentioned has shown no connection to instinct or working ability for me. Renoir has great 'eye' when playing with other dogs, looking at certain people, when he's intense about agility or other training. However, he thinks sheep are stupid and the only good thing about them is what they leave behind.

 

Timber is rather dog intolerant. However, when he's working he could care less. He has picked sheep up off of other dogs with no issues (well besides trying to balance them to the set out person, baby dog stuff). Had exhaust dogs come and take his sheep. He's worked in clinic setting near tents with dogs all over the place and hasn't been affected at all. If he's not working, but in the general vicinity he is much more tolerable then usual of other dogs. I can tether him along a fence line with other dogs and as long as no one gets in his face, he content to hang out. However, if a random dog comes and sniffs too intently he will tell it off.

 

Otherwise, go have fun and good luck. But it is a slippery slope :) so be prepared for the life changes that herding could cause.

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Slippery slope, yes (we have that farm under contract right now, in fact).

 

Linda's in Mt. Airy, MD - that's an hour and 50 minutes from you.

Carla King is in Davidsonville - another hour and 45 minutes

Nancy O is, I think, in Oxford PA - more like 42 minutes from you (but I don't have her contact info).

There are also people in NJ potentially worth contacting - I've heard good things about Gene Sheninger but he also looks pretty far away from you (as in two hours).

 

Don't know how up to date this is, and I wouldn't go with just anyone on that list; some are better than others. You could also try the NEBCA directory of trainers (I'd give you the link, but for some reason it isn't letting me log in - usually you can visit it even if you aren't a NEBCA member).

 

There will be a Patrick Shannahan clinic in Ellicott City, MD the weekend of April 11-12. I'm sure it's full already (it fills within the first couple of days, with a waiting list). But - I'm also sure you'd be more than welcome to audit (auditing fee is only $30 for the weekend - one or both days). You'll find the people are friendly and you'll get a sense of what happens in the course of training a dog. This is his "all levels" clinic, so you'll find barely started dogs as well as dogs who have been in training for a few years (and everything in between).

 

ETA: NEBCA website is having some problems at the moment (according to their FB group), so don't bother trying them now - in the future, though, they do maintain a directory of people you could consider as potential trainers. Going to the clinic (or to a trial) and asking for recommendations is a good route as well for finding someone.

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Lots of questions. Here goes!

 

Thank you so much Sue! Your tips and answers were very helpful, and I'll be sure to keep them close as I set out and look for a trainer. As a person who hates to jump into things blindly, I feel a lot calmer now :lol: .

 

As someone who has been absolutely captivated by livestock and farming long before meeting a border collie, I'll probably have a field day. It just depends if Maple's heart/head is in the right spot, I guess. If things don't work out I can always wait a few years until I'm in a spot for another, more inclined dog.

 

 

I haven't got a thing to add, except best wishes in your journey with Maple, Sophia.

Thank you much!

 

 

'Eyeing other things' like you mentioned has shown no connection to instinct or working ability for me. Renoir has great 'eye' when playing with other dogs, looking at certain people, when he's intense about agility or other training. However, he thinks sheep are stupid and the only good thing about them is what they leave behind.

 

He's worked in clinic setting near tents with dogs all over the place and hasn't been affected at all. If he's not working, but in the general vicinity he is much more tolerable then usual of other dogs. I can tether him along a fence line with other dogs and as long as no one gets in his face, he content to hang out.

Thank you for the advice. I just thought I might as well add that she does have a very intense, focused eye.

 

I'd be worried about Maple making a big display towards other dogs. She's a barker, but the minute the other party lifts a lip, she's quick to correct herself. I could easily believe Maple would completely ignore a strange new dog if she was doing what she considers a "job" (I've seen her do it).

 

I look forward to the changes herding can cause :D .

 

 

Nancy O is, I think, in Oxford PA - more like 42 minutes from you (but I don't have her contact info).

 

ETA: NEBCA website is having some problems at the moment (according to their FB group), so don't bother trying them now - in the future, though, they do maintain a directory of people you could consider as potential trainers. Going to the clinic (or to a trial) and asking for recommendations is a good route as well for finding someone.

Thank you for the recommendations and information. Of all of them, Nancy O seems like the most reasonable candidate. Since she doesn't have a website from what I could see, so her training openings and general practices are somewhat of a mystery, but I was able to (after much digging around on stockdog websites) find what I think is her email and address. Turns out she lives in Coatesville, which is a bit closer than Oxford. I hope her email is current.

 

I will check the NEBCA website when/if it is up again. I will also look into attending the clinic and maybe find a recommendation or two there.

 

Thank you for the informative response!

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Ah, the NEBCA website is back up - but I didn't see any ads for trainers in their "Classified" section. I must have been delusional when I thought they maintained a directory of handlers/trainers - it just seems to be one of breeders.

 

Michelle (Bluezinnias on the BC Boards) works closely with Nancy O - I bet she could give you her contact info.

 

Let me know if you need contact info for auditing the clinic. With any luck the weather will be better than it was last spring (when it rained nonstop until it started SNOWING HARD on all of us). But then of course this winter doesn't seem as if it ever wants to die...

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Nancy O doesn't live where her sheep are kept, which may be the discrepancy you're seeing in addresses. AFAIK they're still in Oxford. I can get her email if you'd like.

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Nancy O doesn't live where her sheep are kept, which may be the discrepancy you're seeing in addresses. AFAIK they're still in Oxford. I can get her email if you'd like.

Ah, perhaps that's it.

 

If you could give me her email, that would be lovely.

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I just wanted to pop in and say that while the clinic GentleLake suggested to me was full, Nancy O just contacted me back.

 

She's open to lessons, and after the snow melts I think I may mosey on down to her farm so I can talk to her and see her working her dogs. Hopefully by late spring to early summer I'll be able to get Maple into lessons!

 

Thank you for the efforts in helping me find a trainer :) .

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Dear Ms. Q,

 

Don't rule out the Shannahan clinic because you can't work your dog. I suspect most novices would learn more at their first clinic w/o a dog to worry about/distract them. Patrick's a good explainer.

 

Donald McCaig

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Dear Ms. Q,

 

Don't rule out the Shannahan clinic because you can't work your dog. I suspect most novices would learn more at their first clinic w/o a dog to worry about/distract them. Patrick's a good explainer.

 

Donald McCaig

Certainly. Maple has a tendency to feel quickly overwhelmed in large social situations, so I was looking for a chance to go dog-free and get a feel for things.

 

I think I may audit Carol Campion's in PA. Looking forward to the experience!

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Nancy O is a good and successful handler/trainer, and well-respected. I hope you enjoy working with her!

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Just an update...

 

I met in person with Nancy O today and it was a very good experience. We watched her finish up with a couple of twin lambs born today, so we were off to a cute start. She then showed me her dogs on sheep, which was my first time seeing such a thing in person. She showed me different styles of herding with two different dogs she brought out.

 

I forget the bitch's name, but she reminded me a lot of Maple just in the way that she moves and her stature. The bitch was a super good listener and she seemed like she could hear Nancy whisper a command from across the field! She also talked about how learning to move the sheep AWAY from the shepherd was to be learned later in practice because it went more against the natural instinct and was therefore harder to learn. It certainly did seem to take a lot more whistles to get the dog to move the sheep away from our general direction.

 

Next up was Spot, who was a really big guy. He was also really intense, and Nancy had to be a lot more firm in her commands with him. His outrun was incredibly wide! He basically followed the fence before coming up behind the sheep. However, to make up for this, he seemed to be able to control them from much longer distances. Whereas the smaller female was pretty close to the flock, the male got them moving the moment he got behind them on the other side of the field.

 

Since becoming interested in herding, I've watched many videos of dogs working sheep. I must say, it's a ton more stunning in person.

 

After watching her dogs work, I introduced Nancy to Maple. I had warned her ahead of time about Maple's anxieties, so she actually gave my dog a chance to sniff her and warm up first before trying to interact with her. We exchanged some training advice, too, which I hope to test out soon enough. Maple was surprisingly calm, but I'm guessing that's because she didn't feel pressured to interact if she didn't want to. In fact, she sniffed around quite a bit until it was time to go. Nancy explained how first lessons are usually carried out, and that she'll try and be honest when she thinks there's just no hope for a dog. She also made many interesting points about encouraging Maple to make "a choice" in training because when she's working sheep she'll have to be experienced in thinking more for herself.

 

We spent a little over an hour there and I'm happy to say I learned a ton that cannot be explained very well through reading, which I find rarely happens. Looking forward to starting lessons late May to early June, and until then Maple and I are going to work mainly on socialization and her car chasing habits, which are really the only issues right now.

 

Again, thanks to Sue for answering my questions and to everyone else for being patient with me. Also to everyone who helped me towards finding a good mentor. I hope I'll be able to post a video of Maple starting on sheep later this spring.

 

Sophie

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Exciting times for you and Maple.

 

Just an FYI: Sometimes sniffing around is just checking things out, but it can also be an avoidance behavior brought on by stress or anxiousness. It helps to know your dog to know the difference, and also look for other stress behaviors like lip licking and such.

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Welcome to the wonderful world of herding/shepherding..

 

there is nothing like the real thing IMO video/ TV and books (however helpful and informative ) can't really do justice to it

 

...yep, it's a steep learning curve but It's also very addictive..

 

Sounds as if you have found yourself a great mentor.

 

Hope both you and Maple enjoy the journey

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Dear Doggers,

 

Ms Q writes, in part: "After watching her dogs work, I introduced Nancy to Maple. I had warned her ahead of time about Maple's anxieties, so she actually gave my dog a chance to sniff her and warm up first before trying to interact with her. We exchanged some training advice, too, which I hope to test out soon enough. Maple was surprisingly calm, but I'm guessing that's because she didn't feel pressured to interact if she didn't want to."

 

What you saw here, I'd venture, is Maple reacting to a human whose body language made dog sense. At big trials pet dogs that are better mannered than at home are not uncommon. Of course Maple will need to learn how to be around non-dog savvy people but she can build that being around dog savvy people.

 

My friend Heather Houlahan (http://cynography.blogspot.com/) brought her scatterbrained teenage English Shepherd to the Gettysburg finals and sat in the handlers tent with the handlers and dogs (some non-Border Collies). By the end of the day Heather's dog had a much firmer grip on the world.

 

Ms. Q is absolutely on the right track and I trust she and Maple will have a wonderful life together.

 

Donald McCaig

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