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"Herding" in the popular imagination

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A comment I get a lot from people when I tell them my puppy is a border collie is, "oh, has she started herding the cats/dogs/kids in your house yet?" And then what they go on to describe other dogs doing is just...rude dog behaviour. Pushing others around. Nipping. That's not herding, is it? I've even seen this printed in breed descriptions on the net. Doesn't that kind of suck?

 

I've seen a few things in her that I suppose would be useful in a herding context: the stare. The stalk. (We are actively discouraging this regarding the cats). And obviously, the energy. But just being pushy isn't something they're bred for, is it? It's just not being trained.

 

I mean, leave it to genius border collies to come up with this swell PR campaign whereby their rude behaviour is excused as "they can't help it." But...really?

 

In other news, I'm so glad it's the last puppy class. Carmen's come out of her shell, and now she is so athletic she literally can't play with other puppies which are mostly smaller "city" breeds (she's just too fast and too tall for them). It's so sad, because the little guys do want to play with her at off-leash "free" time, and she with them, and she's totally not aggressive, and she even gamely rolls over to show them she's not a threat sometimes...but then in her natural state, she's just this superdog romping monster compared to them. (Not complaining! I do love her so. Her abilities are just so cool.) One time, she did have a great class when an adorable Old English Sheepdog puppy was there, so really they just need to be appropriately sized for off-leash.

 

What else? She's mastered the "down" on walks when strangers want to come and pet. She may pee while she's down there out of excitement if the strangers are squealing girls, but she's down. So that's good.

 

And one form of "work" she's been able to do: we've had a problem with a little maple tree in our backyard. In the spring, the squirrels had been fond of eating the young leaves, and it damages the tree. This spring, however, the tree has been kept safe. B) It's lovelier than ever.

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All that you report on your puppy sounds good, and it is great to hear that she is making good progress. And yes, having a border collie does wonders to discourage the presence of squirrels and other small critters. also may discourage birds, which is less lovely, but depends on whether or not your dog barks at or chases birds.

 

I, too, am very often irritated to no end by people calling heel nipping and other rude and bad behavior "herding", and excusing it or allowing it to continue.

 

Of course it is a breed tendency, but that doesn't mean it is OK, or can be realistically called "herding".

Other traits that are common in border collies, such as running back and forth to keep track of a group of hikers, are also not "herding", although the behavior in all of these instances probably originates in the traits that have been bred into herding dogs for thousands of years. But to call them "herding" is like saying that a husky who pulls on the leash is being a sled dog.

 

I find that my attempts to explain the difference to people, and why they should not permit or excuse this kind of bad behavior in border collies, almost invariably fall on deaf ears. I wish I had a better way to approach the topic with people so I could be more effective.

 

If anyone here has found a good way to explain this to people who do not know better, please let me know.

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Once when I was teaching a "Puppy Manners" class for our local club, I asked the dozen participants if any of their puppies had a tendency to nip at ankles/heels. Six people raised their hand. Yup, the aussie and the two shelties were ankle biters. Also? The weim, the beagle-mix, and (surprise!) the jack russel. I then asked how many people thought their dog was showing "herding" behavior. The owners of the shelties and the aussie were sure that ankle biting was herding, and the owners of the other three puppies were convinced the exact same behavior in the bird dog, the hound dog, and the terrier was "dominance". Sigh.

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If ankle biters are “herding” then my Chihuahua is a failed sheepdog.

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But to call them "herding" is like saying that a husky who pulls on the leash is being a sled dog.

 

giphy.gif

 

And Hooper2, that was a great experiment to ask owners what they actually thought. I suspected as much.

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The standard thing I have started telling people is that unless the dog is cooperating with a person to manage stock, it's prey-drive and that it's no more acceptable for their herding breed to be doing it than it would a terrier, and just as likely to stress out or injure whatever it is directed at.

 

That USUALLY helps, at least largely.

 

That said, some of the stuff I've seen being called 'herding behavior' breaks my mind. I don't even mean stuff like running back and forth at hikers, or eye/stalking the cat or kids or other dogs. I mean things like frustration barking. REALLY?

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Its refreshing to hear a new Border Collie owner recognizing that obnoxious over stimulated behavior isnt a given with the breed.

 

My dogs crouch and stalk each other a bit. Tess is worse that Kolt. But Ill tell her to stop if shes getting obnoxious and she will. They dont herd kids or bite ankles - mostly because it was never an option and I redirected anything that looked like it was leading to that. They also easily call off of watching the chickens as sheep at my folks.

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When everyone's putting this behavior down to herding, the point they're glaringly missing is that "herding" behavior's really a variation of hunting behaviors. Even retrieving's one sequence of hunting behavior.

 

So, yeah, that's why dogs of all types and selectively bred purposes will display some of it. How it's expressed through selective breeding will vary, and it's been bred away from almost entirely in some breeds, especially companion breeds. But any breed at all has the potential to display some form of it.

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Good point, Gentle Lake, and that is one which can be spoken to someone who has an inaccurate idea about it. I also love the puppy class experiment.

 

It is a whole lot easier just to make up an excuse, however irrational, for a dog's behavior than to take the time and effort to train the dog not to do it.

 

I, like all of you, have heard an amazing variety of excuses people have chosen for the purpose of excusing their lack of attention to their dog's training. I have never understood this attitude and never will.

 

I always want to say, if you don't want to train the animal, get a cat.

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I gave up on trying to explain this a long time ago. When people say that Bandit is "herding" me when he forges on his heeling or runs like mad to stay ahead of me on an Agility course, or some such, I smile, skip over it, and just keep training my boy.

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I have a friend who takes her doberman to "herding class".

I have not been able to ask her what they are "herding", as part of me doesn't want to know who they are traumatizing to do this. When she says "herding class" I always have to grit my teeth.

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I have a very dear friend, who always referred to our going to lessons on livestock as "going herding". It made me grit my teeth terribly but also keep my mouth shut as she was such a good friend and meant well by it.

 

I allow myself to be overly affected by the use of certain words and phrases, I know...

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I can't really get agitated by the term "herding" in itself.

I've said it before in these kind of discussions, if the term is good enough for the late Vergill S. Holland, it is good enough for me ( but, in discussions here I take care to use "stockwork" instead, apart from the sensitivities it at least gives the impression you are in the know....:D).

 

People also got all huffy about referring to bordercollies as "borders" (germans do this routinely btw). I found that especially ironic, as americans in my experience are the absolute kings of acronyms...

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Recently in a Facebook BC group here in Australia, a lady asked for advice about her BC trying to "herd" her neighbour's dogs. She was fence running, and while fence running she would be impossible to distract or call away. This person was asking if this was something she would be worried about, mainly because the dog was wearing away the lawn next to the fence.

 

I immediately said she needed to stop it as it was obsessive behaviour not "herding", as did a number of other people, however, more frightening was the number of people who said "you will never stop a BC from herding, it is in their DNA".

Mindlessly and obsessively running along a fence is NOT HERDING!

 

Rant over.

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I grit my teeth every time my friend mentions taking her doberman to "herding class".

I don't even want to know what they are "herding", because there's nothing I can do about it.

But it bothers me a lot.

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Yeah, she isn't working any livestock, or even thinking of ever doing such a thing.

Just doing what she sees as a fun activity for her and her dog, like agility or barn hunt or whatever.

 

Several of the training facilities here offer "herding classes" and any breed is welcome to come. Chihuahuas. Basset hounds. Anything.

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I can't really get agitated by the term "herding" in itself.

I've said it before in these kind of discussions, if the term is good enough for the late Vergill S. Holland, it is good enough for me ( but, in discussions here I take care to use "stockwork" instead, apart from the sensitivities it at least gives the impression you are in the know.... :D).

 

People also got all huffy about referring to bordercollies as "borders" (germans do this routinely btw). I found that especially ironic, as americans in my experience are the absolute kings of acronyms...

I absolutely agree with you.

 

In the Slavic language group we even have a diminutive of the truncated 'border' to e.g. 'borderek' for males and 'borderka' to females. Oh horror! :lol:

 

____

 

When there are discussions about what "herding", "working stock" is, my main arguments are these two:

 

1. Working stock can only occur in the presence of volitional behavior (hence, "herding" a ball is not herding), because working stock, in its core, is interaction. On the dog's side, it is reading, anticipating, continuing, or altering of volitional behavior of another animal that has plans, desires, decisions, volitional reactions, etc.

 

2. For stock work to occur, the core of the interaction (thought not its entirety) has to be between predatory behavior and prey flocking behavior. That's why dog's don't "herd" dogs or cats or anything else, except prey animals that flock. The response of the flock or herd is critical for stock work to occur.

 

Other behavior may have some elements of herding but it is not herding itself, just as running is part of the repertoire of hunting behavior but it is not hunting. I also usually tell that dogs can recognize the species of flocking prey type instantly. So e.g commands taught on sheep are instantly transferred to chickens, ducks, geese, cows. Even odd looking animals like alpacas. On the other hand, stock-work commands are not transferred to non prey-flocking animals. E.g. my dog loved to stalk the cat but she never executed a flank, but rather looked at me like totally lost it.

 

I know that you all know this, but I am just sharing what I sort of put together for the purpose of explaining to people what stock-work is.

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Maja, thanks for that post. You put it very well, and I can use what you said if someone asks me the difference, or actually wants to know. I especially appreciate your pointing out that it requires the relationship between predator animal and flocking prey animal.

 

Another way ( not as well said as yours) that I put it once to someone was thus: You can put a pink tutu on a toddler and let that child bounce around the living room and have fun, and that's great. And if you want to call it "Ballet", you can; it harms no one. But it is not Ballet.

Similarly, the labrador following the cats around is not herding stock.

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You touched on a sore spot with the toddlers in a tutu :lol: (I went to a professional ballet school for five years :lol: )

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I can use what you said if someone asks me the difference, or actually wants to know. I especially appreciate your pointing out that it requires the relationship between predator animal and flocking prey animal.

Yes, for people who actually want to know, you can see the light bulb come on in their brain. Others stomp their foot and disagree :lol:

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That goes for anyone who disagrees with me, on any subject matter....:D

 

Edit, except for my wife of course, my wife is ALWAYS right. I am not stupid...

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