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Too Sticky?

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Guest Teampenner

Hi,

 

Have you ever come across a dog that is so strong eyed/sticky that he was never able to overcome it?

 

I have a 3 1/2 year old male that I've been working with since he was 9 months old. I can't get him off the heads in spite of 3 years of working with various trainers (all open handlers themselves). He is so intent on holding stock against the pressure that he just zones everything else out and will clap and stick at gates or anything that resembles a draw to the sheep. We've tried everything that you all will suggest including an entire year of packed pen work, moving in an out of gates, fence work, working in forest paths, open fields, small pens, ect. The only thing that seems to free him up a bit is working very light lambs in a large area where there is no draw for the sheep. The minute the sheep feel a draw toward ANYTHING (gate, barn, trailer) the dog will get to the heads and stick there. The amount of pressure it takes to "unstick" him is sometimes enough to make him quit. His eye is so intense that he can't even hear me when he gets into that "zone" even though he is a very obedient dog off stock.

 

If the sheep are stuck to the exhaust gate and I send him from across the field, he'll do a beautiful OR and fetch (against the pressure) but he is really just preventing escape rather than gathering. If I asked him to gather sheep towards the pressure he couldn't do it and his eye will draw him in and assuming he can even get to his feet, will just bust in. He would rather hold sheep than gather them. He is more concerned with preventing escape than he is bringing sheep to the handler. This hasn't changed in 3 years. He lacks self-confidence but I have seen that start to improve in the last year.

 

I guess I'm not really looking for training suggestions as I believe we've tried everything I've ever heard of for this type of problem. I would really just like to hear from people who have encountered this type of dog and how much work it would take to work this out, if ever. I don't mind continuing the work but if it is hopeless, I don't want to keep banging my head against the wall.

 

Thanks,

Teampenner

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Guest aurdank

I have encountered this issue, as all of my main dogs are reasonably strong eyed, and my nursery dog especially so, though she's getting a little looser. First, your dog's problem is not the strong eye per se but as you indicate a lack of self-confidence, which the strong eye reinforces; in other words, it helps to hold him back if he's feeling tentative. A strong eyed dog with confidence will use the eye as an effective instrument of its power; indeed in this kind of dog, the eye becomes the very expression of its power.

 

Why does your dog lack confidence? I would guess, from what you describe, that your main training pasture contains many zones of high pressure. And that this is where you started him. A young dog feeling all of this pressure, particularly if s/he is sensitive in temperment, can feel undone by it. It becomes very stressful. Eye, after all, is really a barometer of how sensitively the dog feels its stock. So, when you send your dog on an OR into the pressure, it runs tight and comes up on the heads, probably stopping short as well. You seem to be in despair about this, but actually your dog is correct. These dogs by instinct are headers: they naturally go to the head, and they read their stock by watching the movement of the sheep's heads. So in this situation, on the OR, you ask the dog to walk-up into the pressure of the heads; and if it can do so, the heads will turn toward the handler, and the sheep will be ON BALANCE. Your dog is, other words, indeed gathering to you, even if it just looks like it is only holding the pressure. Don't equate the gather only with the dog's moving to 12 O'clock behind the sheep. Now the problem is that he's reluctant to walk onto the heads of the sheep because of a lack of confidence. One thing that you can do to build confidence is to stand next to him while he's facing sheep in a pressure situation and encourage him by your sweet voice and comforting presence to walk into that pressure (preferably in an open area where the pressure wouldn't be excrutiating); and when he does, give him praise. It might take some time for him to accomplish this, so be patient. But gradually he should become comfortable moving into that pressure; holding the line and turning the sheep against pressure builds confidence. I'd also use sheep that are not too light, nor too intense like barbs or kathadin (because that can bring out the eye of the dog, particularly as they try to flee--fear of losing his sheep is one thing that can make him sticky), nor too heavy, because that too can bring out the dog's eye as s/he trys to exert itself to move the stock. Some kind of wool sheep that is dog broken but not sour would be the best. And you should try to work on at least ten sheep; the fewer sheep the dog works, the more its eye can tighten, and conversely the larger the flock, the more the dog is forced to wear, and so the intensity of the eye can be moderated. Working calves might help too.

 

But in my experience eye is generally a good thing, particularly at the shed and the pen, and on the drive (if handled corrrectly). To some extent you have to adjust your handling to the dog's condition instead of trying to completely transform the dog. (Trying to transform the dog into your image of how s/he should work requires even more pressure which can undermine its self-confidence further). For instance, I generally don't try to force square flanks if too much pressure is required to make the dog do it. As long as the dog does a partial flank, even if sliced, its eye is usually potent enough to turn the sheep. So I watch where the sheep are, and if a partial flank turns them to where I want them to be, that's fine. If a larger flank is required to place the sheep where I want them, I would give one or two more quick short flank commands. I do this with my nursery dog, and so with her I've developed the habit of giving three short flanks, instead of one longish flank command, as I might with another dog. If she sticks in a pressure zone, I might call her name or say "good girl" and this tends to give her confidence to move forward. Or if she needs to widen a little, I'd give her an elongated (widening out) whistle command or say "keep", to which she might respond only marginally in a pressure situation, but just enough to have the desired effect on the sheep (which is what counts). It is the strength of her eye in fact that enanbles her to do this with a minimum of motion.

 

Now excessively going to head can be a problem on the drive, or the fetch, if it impedes the forward motion of the sheep. Here you need to have a good "stand" command, rather than a lie-down, or a good "there" command which will turn a dog in at the desired spot rather than at the head. You need to be able to stop the dog before it gets to head, but you must have good timing. The dog might be happy to take its stand or its "there", but if your timing isn't quite right, s/he'll end up on the heads. Your dog might indeed be taking your commands fine, but your timig might be off (something you need to examine). Also a lie-down with a strong eyed dog, tends to make it clappy and to tighten its eye, particularly if used excessively. Besides a "stand", you need to cultivate pacing, which a dog with eye should be able to do very well (as opposed to looser-eyed dogs) and where the use of the "there" in lieu of a stand can come into play. So with a strong eyed dog, you want to keep it on its feet, particularly when you must stop it, and pacing as much as possible. Incidentally, a dog with good eye can actually make stock move if they're reluctant to do so because they're heavey (where a loose-eyed dog can't), by actually moving directly into the heads. It can poke them in the eye, in a sense, with the power of its eye to get them going if they're reluctant to move. But of course it must also have confidence and power to do this. Eye in other words can stop the sheep if they're moving by the dog going to head, but it can also get them moving if they are too stationarly by doing the same thing.

 

I actually prefer dogs with eye. But the rule in working them has to be: adapt a bit to what the dog is rather than trying radically to transform it, which will require you to adjust your handling in different situations. This kind of dog may be more of a challenge to work, but in my view the rewards are greater than with a loose eyed dog. And besides, "eye" is one of the elements that historically has made the Border Collie the distinctive breed it is.

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Guest Teampenner

Thank you Albion for that response.

 

You write:

<<Why does your dog lack confidence? I would guess, from what you describe, that your main training pasture contains many zones of high pressure. And that this is where you started him.>>

 

Wow...you certainly hit the nail on the head with that one. Yes, you are correct. My pasture is just as you describe. I have a very small (12' x 20') holding pen connected to the barn (where the stalls are for the sheep and goats). My main training field is connected to that small pen by a gate. Also connected by another gate is a smaller training area. The sheep are sorted before training and the ones that I don't want to work with on a given day are allowed to "escape" into the barn while the others are left in the holding pen. I send the dog into the small pen to scoop out the sheep and then close the gate behind them. There is a VERY strong draw to that gate during the entire work session. I could never figure out why I couldn't reproduce our lessons at home until someone pointed out to me that my situation at home was causing a problem with pressure. I'm sure that contributed to this issue. I've "borrowed" new sheep to try to get out of this situation but it only takes a couple of days for them to figure it out and I'm back to square one. Maybe I should just stop training at home until we have this problem in hand? I am studying my layout and trying to come up with a plan to reconfigure it next summer.

 

You mentioned walking with the dog into the heads. We actually started some driving last summer and I was surprised to see that he really seemed to enjoy it. He has no problem walking on even if a sheep tried to face him down. He doesn't seem to lack confidence when I'm beside or behind him. His confidence evaporates though as soon as I'm with or on the opposite side of the sheep.

 

I would like to do as you suggest by giving small flank commands. However, he still won't respond to ANY verbal direction while he is on sheep because he is totally zoned out with that eye. I can call him off with a "that'll do" and he will release right away. As soon as we go back to work, he becomes unresponsive again. I'm at a loss for how to get flanks on this dog when he can't bring himself to let go of that control. I can keep him on his feet with a lot of movement but his response is purely reactive and not directed.

 

Anyway, thanks for the perceptive observations and suggestions. I'm assuming that you don't think this is a lost cause. You've given me some motivation to continue trying.

 

Thanks to Albion and also to Heather who has given us newbies a safe place to ask our questions without fear of ridicule or harrassment.

 

Regards,

Teampenner

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Guest aurdank

I have a bit of a draw to my sheep pen also, but find if I scatter hay along the far side of the pasture in a variety of spots, which I also vary, the sheep get used to looking for feed there and aren't so inclined to run back to the pen area. If he's feeling uncmfortable with you next to the sheep or behind them, but not when you are along side or in back of him, he may be reacting to the pressure of your physical presence. Have you tried small walk-abouts using square turns? This would get him to feel comfortable with the pressure of your presence in front of him, if he actually needs to fetch to you in close proximity; and the square turns that you'd make would also help him flank off the sheep, and you could help him do that better as well.

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Guest aurdank

I should have added to that last reply that when I scatter the hay in the field, I am letting them have there meals there. I wouldn't leave hay in the field during a work session unless I wanted to hold the sheep in a particular spot for some training purpose.

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Guest Kiwi
Originally posted by Teampenner:

I would like to do as you suggest by giving small flank commands. However, he still won't respond to ANY verbal direction while he is on sheep because he is totally zoned out with that eye.

Albion, it was interesting to read your comments about how the inexperienced handler in a small field with lots of pressures can create this problem. That is when I started having problems with my "too much dog", the day I brought home my own sheep! My timing was off and the sense of pressure not correct, so my poor dog was getting corrected for being correct. I get the "zoned out" thing when she is near the sheep. When they start to move, she makes a faster move and then it becomes a wreck.

 

I wrote earlier about my "too much dog" and Albion, thank you for your suggestions, I think in the spring I will work on building her confidence. For now what I am doing is driving the sheep in at night, with the dog on-leash (because if she gets too far from me she can't help herself but cut them off as they head for the pen). I am hoping this allows us to "work" the sheep without the drama and tension and makes her feel she is doing something. She will take a flank or "back" command and I can stop her with a stay or lie down. The sheep are very nervous of her and will bolt, without the leash that is where I would loose her, but on the lease I can keep her back.

 

Do you think this is a fair way to "work" her for both the dog and the sheep, until we can try to get better control? I don't feel right just taking her to the barn and tying her while I feed, but if I let her do this little bit of "work" she seems more satisfied. My hope is that maybe with time everyone will relax (including me)and we might get somewhere.

 

Thanks for all your great suggestions, I wish I lived near enough to show you my dog in person.

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Guest aurdank

Hi Kiwi,

 

First, on teampenner's comment that you quote: Sure, she has to get her dog to move in a pressure situation first. My only point was that once her dog does gain enough confidence to do this, one must not exert too much pressure to say, make square flanks, if the dog's eye is impeding this, because it can undo the confidence building efforts. Rather, go a little with the dog and adjust your handling accordingly. But this means that the handler will have to work a little harder to read the sheep (novice handlers often make the error of watching the dog rather than the sheep, because they're not sure it will do the right thing, and that is also why novices frequently have timing problems; you have to react to what the sheep are doing and therefore focus on the sheep, while keeping your dog in the periphery of your vision).

 

I appreciate your quandry about wanting to give your dog some work experience. But I don't think that it's a good idea to have your dog drive while on leash. Eventually the leash will have to come off, and then what? Rather, since you have a stop, you should have the dog bring the sheep in to the barn parallel driving. In other words, let the dog drive off leash but position yourself parallel to her, preferably at her head. This will give her confidence, because she will be able to see you, and if she begins to flank to head, say, you will be in a better position to correct her by giving her a stop command. And as the dog gains confidence, you can widen the distance between you and dog, while still waking parallel to her. Then gradually you can drop back, and lo, you'll be walking directly in back of her as she drives; and then eventually, you might stand still while she continues to drive. So parallel drive to the barn for the time being (which will also give you practice in making corrections and working on timing); then once in the barn, do indeed tie her up while you feed. And try to enforce a lie down, if she has this. This will give her discipline and will actually relax her in a work situation.

 

I'd love to see your dog. Where in Canada do you live? I intend at some point to trial a little in Canada; so maybe it would be possible to visit.

 

Ever,

 

Albion

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Guest aurdank

P.S. I forgot to add that if you walk the dog on leash as she moves the sheep, this actually increases pressure on her, as she will be straining against it. She will in other words be unrelaxed, and when you release her eventually from the leash, she will be more inclined to burst on to the sheep. Working off-leash is not only normal but more relaxing for the dog.

 

A

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Guest Kiwi
Originally posted by Albion Urdank:

P.S. I forgot to add that if you walk the dog on leash as she moves the sheep, this actually increases pressure on her, as she will be straining against it. She will in other words be unrelaxed, and when you release her eventually from the leash, she will be more inclined to burst on to the sheep. Working off-leash is not only normal but more relaxing for the dog.

 

A

Thanks for your suggestions Albion. First to reply to the previous post, I am in BC, the Okanagan. I'd love to meet you if you are ever coming through this way.

 

The reason I use the leash is that when I said I can stop her, it's because I have the failsafe leash. When the sheep bolt (as they invariably do) she would blast after them if it were not for the leash. I do not let her strain against the leash but endeavour to have her walk up and flank (slowly) on a loose leash, it is just there as a safety for the sake of the lamb's necks ;-)I do not trust her enough to take it off. I can reinforce the stop physically this way. I'd love to think I will get somewhere with this dog, but I am also thinking this might be "as good as it gets" to quote the title of a great movie, and am just trying to find a way to make her life somewhat satisfying for her at my expense, without having any sheep break their necks.

 

When I feed I tie her and try to enforce the lie down, but as I throw the hay to them, she does a neurotic dance on the spot, veins bulging and drooling, spinning on the spot. She doesn't strain on the leash, but she doesn't hold the down either. No amount of correction from me will stop this short of walking up to her (at which point she tries to look around me until I become too big of a block to her view), but the minute I return to finish the hay, she's back at it. As you can appreciate, nothing gets done in the barnyard if I try to actually enforce the lie down and do the chores. As it is I often drop the hay and go after her, but that makes things worse because the sheep mob the hay where it landed. I'm stuck between wanting to accomplish the task, and control the dog. At least when she is tied she does not blast them by running to the fence. I don't know if her fear of sheep is making her want to save me from them, or if it is just the pressure of them wanting the feed that makes her want to control them from getting to it, but she's completely nuts at feeding time. As a pup she used to dart in between horses and steal some hay from them despite my desparate yells and threats. It's a wonder she's still alive. I even got rid of the horse most likely to get her, I have gone to extremes to try and make life good for this dog, but now I'm more into how can we live a happy life together until someday I can start with a new pup and try to do it right this time.

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Guest aurdank

Huh, after reading your last post, I'm thinking that perhaps your dog may not have such a confidence problem afterall, but an excess of keeness, or perhaps some unsual combination of the two. An excess of keeness is a good thing, and if you can harness the dog, get it to listen, you might have a great dog to work. Perhps you should go back and really work on the stop command, this time emphasizing the "stand" rather than the lie down. An exceptionally keen dog will prefer the stand to the lie down, and you will therefore find it easier to enforce. I inherited a dog from a friend (a long story) who wouldn't take his lie-down; if he stopped at all, he'd stand. That wasn't often good enough for my friend because she wanted him to obey the command she'd given. When I took him over, I quickly taught him the "stand", and it proved much easier to enforce. (I described in another post to another correspondent how I go about teaching this; so if you don't have that handy, let me know and I can repeat what I had told her). Once you have the stand, you can do the parallel driving off leash as I described, stopping her when needed with greater confidence. This exercise will also allow you to interpose yourself between her and the sheep before she can grip. At some point the leash has to come off (how else will you know that your corrections with it on have had any effect?), and a certain amount of gripping no doubt will take place. Naturally we all want to preserve the sheep, but in training, some gripping will inevitably occur; the thing is to minimize it, but neverthless reconcile it to the inevitable. The next thing, then is to discourage her from unnecessary gripping but not take the grip out of her altogether, which will require teaching her to grip on command. This usually comes a little later in the training, because the conditions for teaching it involve a bit of pressure. I can describe how to do this, but it would be helpful to know how far along the dog is in its general training. You say that you started some driving in the summer. Does the dog know its flanks? Have you done small gathers? Or is it that the dog, despite having started driving, is really at the very beginning stage of training?

 

Best,

 

Albion

 

PS Glad to know you're on the West Coast. I might try to get up to your area around June.

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Guest Kiwi

Thanks for your persistance with my crazy dog Albion! I do hope you make a trip near my place in June, I'd love to demonstrate this difficult dog to you, it sounds like you have an understanding of our troubles. I am really searching for solutions as I don't want to give up on herding, and I do love this dog. Much of what you have said makes good sense to me. You may be right, she is definitely over-keen, and also a bit afraid, but like a bully in school, she demonstrates fear by acting tough. A worst case scenario for a rookie like me.

 

You asked about the stages of training. I have been working with a trainer for just over a year, weekly or monthly lessons and the odd clinic. For my trainer, my dog will flank and gather, and even drive and pen (with the talents of a trainer who knows dogs and timing, making up for the lack of actual training on my dog). Part of the key here is respect. I just can't seem to earn the respect of my dog on sheep. Because of this and the unpleasant training sessions we were having at home, I decided to temporarily give up on the dog for the sanity of me, the dog, the sheep, and ultimately my poor trainer. I haven't been for a lesson for over 3 months, maybe longer because we had a lamenss problem through Sept and October. (She's sound now touch wood!)I won't be resuming training for a couple months as it is icy all over my place and my trainer's so with the recent lameness worries, I don't dare do much.

 

My dog knows how to flank but needs a hint from body language as to which flank you want. She knows steady and walk up, back, out, and lie down (although as you suggest, she works better with a stand which my trainer gives as "stay"). With me at the post she will do a nice outrun but as she reaches the lift she speeds up and blasts the sheep. We spend the whole lesson trying to stop/steady her at the top, or at 10:00 or 2:00 and gently ease her up to the sheep with back and stay. We hardly ever get to the satisfactin of her bringing me sheep. It is very frustrating and disheartening for me and the dog. When I try basic balance walkabouts, she is pushy with me, slicing in on the sheep, pushing them past me, just looking to have a good time with these toys. My trainer steps in and it looks like a different dog. This frustrates the heck out of me because I know she CAN do it, and just WON'T for me. I have really bent over backwards to earn respect and establish my leadership in all aspect of the daily routine, but she gets this glazed over look around sheep and I am quite sure I don't even feature in the input of sensory information going into that hard little head of hers.

 

Regarding my sheep, they only need to be blasted a few times (being barbs) and they now run to the top of their "look out" dirt pile even if we walk down the road past the field to get the mail. I could get new sheep but she would have them in the same frame of mind. These sheep were at my trainer's to be bred and came back quite sane until I trusted my dog once too many and she blasted them in their pen at the barn, now they all run like silly school girls as soon as they hear the gate or see us coming. I do have 4 woollies that aren't much quieter although in close quarters they may stand up for themselves better. Maybe in the spring I'll put them in the roundpen with her.

 

In short, I have a dog that in experienced hands might be working sheep by now, but she's mine and I really like her. My trainer describes her as difficult and frustrating to work with, so it's not all my fault for being a rookie. This is a very independent dog that has never really showed much pleasure in pleasing me, she likes to please herself more than anything. The control I do have is out of fear of correction more than desire to please.

 

Doesn't sound like a pretty picture does it?

Thanks for all your help,

Kiwi

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