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Obsessive dog who grips, and head butting sheep!


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So I have a couple of issues with my little one that I have been putting off lately. Now, it is time to address them and start researching what I can and should do about it.

We purchased 3 icelandic ewes, after much research into breeds. We were interested in raising sheep, and I also thought that working my BC's with them would be an added benefit. Now Bandit is his own issue, that's for another day, it's Nell I'm focusing on. She has only had experience with cattle in the past, and is quite used to gripping. I had some success in getting that behavior to slowly go away until the ewes started head butting her! Now she grips frequently, most of it unnecessarily. She only grips heels, and doesn't seem to bite too aggressively. I just worry that she will hurt my stock, and I definitely don't want her gripping constantly.

The ewes are not completely resistive, they do move cooperatively, and then will randomly turn and head-butt. They also do it very frequently when Nell must face them head on. She has a very strong eye as well. My other issue with her is that she is quite obsessive in nature. She gets obsessive with the cat, which is also a work in progress, obsessive with toys, and wants to obsess over the sheep when we are not working with them. Any suggestions? I don't want to discourage her from these things all together.

Any advice would be very appreciated!

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Dear MsorMr Groomerhasit,


If the Internet is correct, Iceland Sheep are horned. You mention that they try to headbutt your dog. Not enough sheep. Wrong kind of sheep. Novice trainer. Please do take your dog to an experienced trainer/handler. I cannot imagine a happy outcome in your present circumstances.



Donald McCaig

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The most likely reason that the sheep are turning and butting your dog is because your dog is crowding them from behind. As prey animals, sheep have two options, flight or fight. When the dog pushes too hard on them from behind, and if she's grabbing heels unnecessarily then she's working much too close, the sheep will start to feel that escape is not an option and so the only choice left to them is fight. In other words, your dog is harassing the sheep to the point where they feel they only option they have is to turn and fight. Try backing her off the sheep--I'm sure she was allowed to get in the habit of working closer to move cattle (though the folks who regularly work cattle will probably say that the dog shouldn't have to work close on cattle either, most of the time), and needs to learn to feel the sheep's "bubble" and work at its edge to calmly move sheep forward without making them feel like they need to turn and defend themselves.


Three sheep don't really behave quite the same as a flock (or even four or five sheep), and you're risking souring them to being worked by dogs at all if you continue to let her harass them.


Another point: Icelandics are a more primitive breed of sheep, and as far as I know, they don't flock as well as other breeds, a trait that will also make them more difficult to work with an inexperienced dog or a dog that needs some retraining.


As Donald says, if you can get someone to help you with your dog(s), things will go a lot easier for both you and your sheep, and I would add that if you are serious about wanting to train your dogs to work sheep, you need more than three sheep.



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I'm no expert, but I would second what Donald and Julie have said. You need more than 3 sheep to train a dog. If you use those 3 sheep all the time, they will very quickly sour.


Also, Icelandics are not like other sheep. Someone in my area got a few, and as Julie said, they are primitive in nature, don't always flock well and having horns, they are willing to use them. If your sheep seem to turn on the dog for "no reason," I'd also guess that your dog is crowding them too closely and they feel threatened. This can become a catch-22: the sheep confront the dog because they feel threatened, and the dog threatens the sheep because they get confrontational, and so on and so on it builds.


I second and third the recommendation to find a trainer to help you with this, before your dog gets hurt or the sheep become sour and unmanageable. Another guess I'd hazard is that her gripping and obsessive behaviors are a form of anxiety, which may in part be due to youth. How old is she?

Cheers ~



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