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Donald McCaig

What is the dog thinking?

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Dear Fellow Sheepdog Trainers,

 

I heard it again and again. From Jack Knox, Herbert Holmes, Alasdair MacCrae: "What is the dog thinking?"

"He's thinking he can around you and get to those sheep.", "He's afraid of that spotty-faced ewe, so he's trying to work the others", "He knows he can get them moving if he buzzes them."

 

Old age makes you forget the basics I guess.

 

Some years ago I met Ian MacMillan at a Scottish Nursery Finals. MacMillan, who makes a living as a sheep farmer trains up one dog a year for the nurseries and sells it on. Ian works and trains from a wheelchair.

 

I have COPD and have trouble breathing. If the shed is difficult I turn blue.

 

So I bethought myself of a dog that can shed to a man ion a wheelchair and went to Scotland to buy one.

 

Jake is a pretty good open dog without a good shed.

 

It dawned on me: I'm not a guy in a wheelchair.

 

What is the dog thinking?

 

Slow to learn, quick to forget I am, yours,

 

Donald McCaig

 

 

 

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I don't know what my dog was thinking but I do know he was a totally different dog when Jack Knox was handling him in a clinic. He knew that Jack knew what he (Jack) was doing, what my dog was thinking, what the sheep were thinking, and he just let Jack guide his instinct for him to work in a way that brought tears to my eyes.

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I was actually going to post what Carol said - the dog is used to getting direction from a seated human. He just needs to learn that humans give direction when standing, too. Take the chair out, if it works, let us know. I'm interested in this experiment.

 

Ruth and Gibbs

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I hope we will hear more on how the dog is adjusting, and I hope it all works out. I am sure, Mr. McCaig you will figure out how to make even difficult sheds less strenuous for yourself.

 

I have a problem that by the time I get the flock out and get to the pasture where I can train I am too tired to train. So we bought an ATV. My major concern was whether Darinka would be able to work sheep while I was riding the ATV on the way to the pasture, since she had a life-long vendetta against our small tractor. But the first time we went to work sheep with me on the ATV, she worked as though she had been doing it all her life. So now there is one problem less for us.

 

So here is me on ATV and no problem for Darine, and you have a dog that has a less than desirable shed because he was trained by man in a wheelchair. What each of them were thinking? Sitting - good, standing less good, maybe? May be the dog seeing a standing man takes it as towering over him?

 

One of Czech handlers hurt his leg so while his leg was in a cast, he would take an old swivel chair with him out and train sitting down. He never said anything about the dog having to adjust to this change. So may be there is a pattern here.

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I try to always watch the dogs close enough to be aware of what they are thinking, or at least question what they are thinking - both on stock and off. I believe if you are observant they will teach you more unspoken lessons than you will ever learn from words. This education they provide is true for stock but has a much wider application. They have taught me about myself and life lessons that might only come by watching and working with them.

 

I have been very fortunate to watch good shepherds work beside some awesome and not so awesome dogs. At times it is those dogs that extra effort from us that teach us the most.

 

When I step back and am quiet allowing the dog to do the job the way they see best often results in me realizing that I should have stepped back lots sooner. Sometimes I have the mistaken idea they should work the way I see fit. They remind me that they know more about stock than I ever will.

 

I was having a few issues with a young dog several years ago. He was great at a large group of sheep but not so good with a small group or single. He had great flanks and pace and very natural driving. I was using him for chores all the time. I really liked him but shedding was frustrating and at time he would buzz and grip on one flank. It was Jack that pointed out "He is uncomfortable close to sheep." I thought What the Heck, what does that mean I use him all the time... Jack is a man of few words, despite questioning him I did not get other clues to what he was seeing that I missed. I spent the next 6 to 8 months working and watching the dog wondering what Jack saw that I still didn't. I began working the dog in places where he was uncomfortable on occasion to try to work through some issues instead of chalking it up to a young male thing. Finally saw the problem - of course Jack was right - I could see in small spaces next to sheep he was worried. Now that I could see it I could begin to help the dog relax by using my tone and position. Understanding led me to help rather than correct which only added to the dogs tension. We are lots better now but it due mostly to Me changing rather than the dog changing. I simply stopped making it worse allowing him to relax and think then helped when he needed it. Periodically we work in small places, invent work if I need to, just to remind him and myself that we can do it.

Now as part of my training when dogs are young and just starting I work in a packed pen of nice sheep to expose the dog to working up close and walking through sheep calmly. We get that lesson under our belts then easily come back later on to work on bringing sheep out of corners, shedding and look backs. It has a difference. I think we are often concerned about the dog being off sheep that we don't allow them to learn how to be nose to nose and relax.

 

The more varied circumstances we place ourselves and our dogs in the more we are able to learn when we ask WHY, What caused that, What did I do to make the dog do that... instead of simply thinking they should do blah blah because we say.

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Dear Fellow Sheepdoggers,

 

A chair/no chair. I've never had a dog who couldn't adjust to a handler on/off an ATV, Inside/outside a pickup - I have often trained them to hold the sheep to our farm Subaru (me inside).

 

My problem was thinking that I - accustomed to movement and erect, handling mostly with voice and whistle - would be mistaken by the dog as a Scottish farmer with splendid small body language (and voice and whistle) - in a wheelchair.

 

I needed to learn to move less while shedding - and as with every trained dog I've bought - train Jake to me. I thought I'd found a shortcut. Nope.

 

I took Jake to Robin French for advice. Thanks Robin. Jake really,really prefers whistle to voice and I'm teaching him to come in on a whistle.

 

It was a mental problem.: a failure to see that to the dog I was NOT Ian Macmillan.

 

Identifying the problem is more than halfway to solving it.

 

Donald McCaig

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Jake really,really prefers whistle to voice and I'm teaching him to come in on a whistle. It was a mental problem.: a failure to see that to the dog I was NOT Ian Macmillan. Identifying the problem is more than halfway to solving it.

 

Very interesting story there.

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Donald wrote, "Identifying the problem is more than halfway to solving it."

I think finding the answer To WHY they do or do not do things is always pivotal in coming up with a solution. Having someone else give you a different view can be super helpful. One of the reasons I have clinics here is so I can work dogs with clinicians watching since they see small things that I often miss with my own dogs. More times than not the problem is something I need to change. One step, different tone, relaxing myself and remembering to breath - it all makes a difference to the dogs. Jack often says "The smallest change is the biggest answer"

 

It is amazing to me how much better the dog works when I am relaxed.

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The chair was not so that you would appear to be Ian Macmillan. No dog's that dumb. The chair was so that you would relax, do less, watch the dog to see what he needed from you. For me, quiet observation is most likely to offer up the answer I am seeking. Glad you found the help you needed. At our age, the chair's still not a bad idea!

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A chair/no chair. I've never had a dog who couldn't adjust to a handler on/off an ATV, Inside/outside a pickup - I have often trained them to hold the sheep to our farm Subaru (me inside).

 

My point was that dogs normally have to adjust from a standing to a sitting human, not from sitting to standing, and that form the point of view of the dog it may make a difference in the beginning.

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I've no, zip, nada, experience with sheep herding. With dogs in general, and maybe even border collies in particular, I consider myself a useful amateur. Donald, maybe the dogs who got used to in different stances/positions/locations, were already used to you as a handler. They knew YOU - so it didn't matter to them if you were standing or sitting in a car.

 

With a dog who has flown over the ocean and is in a brand new world, position of the human might be more important. It might just be one new thing too many for the dog to accept.

 

Glad you found the help you needed and that things are proceeding well for both of you!

 

Ruth and Gibbs

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