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Yesterday's work day shed a whole new light on my 1.5 y/o BC. She has been working sheep periodically since she was about 9 months old. She's shown quite a bit of talent, a nice easy demeanor with the sheep and the ability to pick up commands. Things were going quite well.

 

Yesterday, however was a mess. She would go from complete disengaged sniffing the ground with her back turned to the sheep to exploding in after the sheep, especially when I would give a "that'll do" command. Often she would do a nice small "fetch" and as soon as I would say "down" she'd lay down, but then turn her attention elsewhere. The whole day seemed to be a about the sheep poop on the ground. She showed some seriously defiant behaviors that the trainer and I could only interpret as her feeling the need to be in charge.

 

So, I am curious if others have encountered this with their dogs and how did you interpret that? How did you change your training? I understand she's still a pretty young dog. I work her 1x per week. Thanks!

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Anyone (or dog) can have an off day. I wouldn't start to panic just yet until you see if it's a trend or a one off.

 

Is there anything different in her environment or routine that could have put her off? Could she be coming into heat?

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A dog eating sheep poop is not acting defiant, she's showing fear or disinterest. It's an avoidance behavior, not defiance. If your trainer doesn't recognize that, you might need a new trainer.

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A dog eating sheep poop is not acting defiant, she's showing fear or disinterest. It's an avoidance behavior, not defiance. If your trainer doesn't recognize that, you might need a new trainer.

This.

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How did I miss the part about defiance?

 

Yes. What they said.

 

I'm also especially uncomfortable about the interpretation put on the behavior. I'd be looking for what had the dog so distracted and feeling the need to display displacement behaviors to deal with what may well have been anxiety.

 

And I agree that I'd be looking for a trainer who had a better understanding of canine behavior and body language and wasn't so quick to label it defiance.

 

Now I have to question whether there might not have been too much pressure being put on the dog.

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I understand that this behavior is avoidance. The trainer and I recognize this in the dog, but we're trying to avoid habituating her blowing off commands, which she was doing yesterday. I'm sure it was an off day and she could have been tired from the day. I just want to know how to move forward with this mixed behavior. Poop sniffing and then suddenly zipping at the sheep looks very much like fear/uncertainty. If this continues, is this a sign that she's being worked to much? Too much pressure? She gets one training session per week (2-3 10 minute runs) in a small fenced yard.

 

Thanks everyone!

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How did I miss the part about defiance?

 

Yes. What they said.

 

I'm also especially uncomfortable about the interpretation put on the behavior. I'd be looking for what had the dog so distracted and feeling the need to display displacement behaviors to deal with what may well have been anxiety.

 

And I agree that I'd be looking for a trainer who had a better understanding of canine behavior and body language and wasn't so quick to label it defiance.

 

Now I have to question whether there might not have been too much pressure being put on the dog.

The trainer didn't call this defiant behavior. I did, after the fact. She was concerned, however with the pup disregarding commands. For example, I will have my pup in a down about 25 yards or so from the sheep and our exercise is to give a "that'll do" and take her off the sheep. Often she will totally ignore that command and blast straight at the sheep. This happens maybe half the time. The other half of the time she comes off the sheep happily, which I reward her with by setting her up to go back to work.

 

My BC is especially sensitive, so we have been working on ways to minimize pressure as much as possible. I'm guilty of glowering over her too much in an effort to time corrections, so I've been working to change my posture and positioning. Anything you could add?

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OK, well I feel a lot better about the trainer, then. ;)

 

It's been a long time since I've trained a working dog, so I'm sure others are going to have some better suggestions than I will, but I'd be looking for small ways help her increase her confidence without putting too much pressure on her to be right or to do more than she's comfortable doing for a while. And be sure to let her know when you're pleased with her.

 

In my admittedly limited experience, I found that doing chores did a lot to help my dogs gain confidence. We had a job to do and weren't always worried about finesse. If something went wrong we just started over and tried again because I needed to get done and get to work or get home to start supper.

 

One of my dogs would seem to go into a meltdown when I tried to teach her new things, but if I didn't put too much pressure on her and let her sleep on it (and finish up the session with some work she already knew) she'd come back the next time and know how to do it. Some dogs do seem to benefit from knowing when work's real vs. when it's theoretical, as in training, and if I had a little more time I'd work some training into the chores, which really made a difference for her.

 

Another dog was often overly excited on sheep and could become a hot mess when he didn't understand what was wanted of him. Oddly he was much calmer with chickens so I'd train new things in the back yard on chickens and when he got to the sheep he knew what was expected and could work with confidence and self-control.

 

So if you can identify the little successes and dovetail them with the things she's less confident about, it just might help.

 

It sounds like you may not have your own livestock be able to use doing chores to your advantage. If this is the case, is there any way you might be able to help the trainer with chores once in a while?

 

I'm glad to hear you recognize what you're doing to increase her anxiety and that you're working to temper it. That's a huge step in the right direction. Is it possible that your expectations are just too much for her right now? Sometimes we have to recognize that we have to do things at the dog's pace and not the one we'd like it to be.

 

And, as I said in my original reply, maybe she was just having a bad day. (Hope that's all it was.) Sometimes that happens and the best thing to do is just acknowledge it, knock off for the day and try again later. That can be hard to swallow if you're paying for time with the trainer and you want to get your money's worth, but it won't be money well spent if things go sour and she decides she doesn't want to work at all. Obviously it's more complicated if she continues to do it, but so far it's just been this once(?), and you don't want to give her any reason to associate whatever's making her uncomfortable with the the whole idea of working.

 

So, just some thoughts off the top of my head. I'm sure others will have more.

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She showed some seriously defiant behaviors that the trainer and I could only interpret as her feeling the need to be in charge.

 

I think this quote is where more than one person got the distinct impression that both you and the trainer were of the same mind that "defiance" was what her behaviors were all about and, since a large part of your post was about the poop eating and other displacement behaviors, it is easy to see where that's what was understood by those reading your original post.

 

I am not very experienced but I would say that if she blows back to the sheep when you call her off half the time, you might want to rethink how you set up your "that'll do" to better help avoid this situation. I'm not sure how you are setting her up for the "that'll do" but maybe be between her and the sheep so you can block her, you be closer to the sheep, use a long line that you stand on so she can't blow back to the sheep, never call her off in a position that it is easy for her to run to the sheep instead, etc. Just some thoughts. This behavior, too, sounds like a manifestation of her discomfort - blowing into the sheep and splitting them up may be a form of her blowing off the tension she is feeling.

 

Best wishes!

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I agree that it sounds like a stress/pressure thing, though without seeing her, it's hard to say more.

If nothing else has changed with/around her, though, no changes in her training or things she's being asked to do, I'd venture to say that perhaps she just needs a little time off. I've no qualms about letting a young dog have two or three weeks away from sheep to just relax and chill, and I've seen it actually help. She might just need a little vacation, is all. Then she might well come back even keener.

Best of luck. :)

~ Gloria

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A few random thoughts....

 

ay. I just want to know how to move forward with this mixed behavior. Poop sniffing and then suddenly zipping at the sheep looks very much like fear/uncertainty. If this continues, is this a sign that she's being worked to much? Too much pressure? She gets one training session per week (2-3 10 minute runs) in a small fenced yard.

 

 

If possible consider working in a larger area. Working in small fenced enclosures can add pressure, especially to a sensitive dog. (Even though you are in a larger field, you still should work relatively close to the sheep.)

 

As Sue says, only call her off when you are in a position to ensure she listens to you. If necessary put her back onto a long line. I also agree that rushing into sheep can be a sign of discomfort, so think about HOW you give your 'that'll do' command.

 

If her behaviour is 'mixed ', then analyse what it is about the situation that is making her anxious..is it your body language, mood, energy levels? Perhaps, it is when she is being asked to flank between the sheep and the fenceline

 

As soon as she starts sniffing the ground, encourage her to flank and continue moving. Try not to show your annoyance.

 

..and as GentleLake says often just 'doing chores' (these can be set up) where the aim is 'to get the job done' can also help build confidence... But I appreciate this is not always possible when you are going somewhere else to train your dog.

 

Good luck

 

ETA.. and yes, Gloria is right,, time off to give a young dog time to mature can also really help

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When I was training my Bonnie, one of the experts (RSMBORDERCOLLIES)in "Ask the Expert" looked at her video of a problem I had, and told me this (and this was not related at all to the problem I had asked about):

 

One thing with a young bitch like this is to always be aware that you are not pushing her past her capabilities as you can sour a young dog if you ask her to do too much too soon. This young bitch appears to be quite biddable and likes to please so be careful with her that you don't ask too much too soon.

 

Maybe this will help.

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Dear Aspiring Sheepdoggers,

 

Problem's almost certainly stress and you'll make it worse insisting on commands. Ease up. Retreat to where she succeeds. Try some silent work. Let her have a little fun.

 

Donald McCaig

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Dear Aspiring Sheepdoggers,

 

Problem's almost certainly stress and you'll make it worse insisting on commands. Ease up. Retreat to where she succeeds. Try some silent work. Let her have a little fun.

 

Donald McCaig

Donald, Thank you for this. I am suddenly remembering the last time she made a small break-through was when I did away with the flag and commands and simply worked off body language. I am going to go back to this. I could feel my own agitation as well as her growing discontent with our sessions Tuesday. I could tell she wasn't having fun. I should have cut it short but I was so adamant about trying to end on a good note.

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Dear Aspiring Sheepdoggers,

 

Problem's almost certainly stress and you'll make it worse insisting on commands. Ease up. Retreat to where she succeeds. Try some silent work. Let her have a little fun.

 

Donald McCaig

 

 

Best advice ever. :)

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