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Working with a soft dog


SouthOfSouth
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Hi, I was looking for some advice.

I’ve competed successfully in dog obedience since the 1970s (although lightly, as life does have a habit of getting in the way of my dog training passion, darn it!) I now have time and acres to train my 4 year old BC, Bluey, to herd. We’re working with 4 goats; two bottle reared does and two Boer wethers. The does have been difficult, and I sometimes put the alpha doe on a leash so that she won’t intimidate Bluey. I know this is less than ideal, but my husband hates parting with animals once we have them, and we don’t need any additional pensioners at the moment!

 

I’m training on my own at the moment - there are few reliable professional dog trainers of any description, locally (Hunter Valley, Australia) – most are of the “we got our accreditation by paying $X00 for a 6-week course” ilk! I will go to a training group near Sydney when they start up again in autumn (March), but I want to make as much progress as I can before that, because in winter I leave for work and arrive home in the dark.

 

Bluey is very good at taking direction when flanking, has 95% reliable stops and slows down on command. He has a very strong heading instinct, balances nicely and does quite good short casts. His longer casts were very narrow, but I think (hope!) that I’m fixing that by leaving him on a stay and positioning myself between him and the goats, on the opposite side to his cast.

 

QUESTION 1: Bluey is quite slow on the cast and has a tendency to pause at 10pm/ 2am and look carefully at the goats before slipping in behind them. I’m hoping to fix that by leaving him a fair way off from the goats and standing quite close to them before I send him, to give him confidence and to intensify his drive to balance on me. (I’ll probably have to pin the goats in one spot with food.) Do you think this will work? If not, then what?

 

QUESTION 2: I think his other problem is lack of force. He is very good at fetching the goats to me when they move, but he does not like walking in on them when they stop. On the other hand, he just looks at the goats (particularly, the wethers) with what I would describe as a fairly “mild” eye until they move away from him. Should I be worried about this, or am I being impatient?

 

I know internet diagnosis is not an exact science (!!!) but I would be glad of any advice.

 

Kerry

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Welcome, Kerry! South of South is true, and perhaps also West of West (or East of East, depending on perspective).

 

There are others who can give you much better advice than I can but I can say the goats are often more challenging than sheep, and bottle-raised animals (of any sort) are not ideal for training dogs (there's been some mention of that in another recent topic).

 

I don't feel competent to give any sort of training advice but would recommend that if you could video what's happening, that that might give those folks who could give advice, a much better picture of what's going on.

 

Very best wishes with your training and progress - it's a lot to learn and much more difficult trying to do it on your own.

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Dear Ms Kerry,

 

Hunter Valley is lovely. Alas: too few sheep/too many grapes.

 

The most important advice I can give : you cannot do this on your own and ought not try. Too many useful stockdog training strategies are counter-intuitive and strategies that seem perfectly obvious can get you into trouble later.

 

For instance: Standing close to the sheep during the dog's cast (outrun) gives control at the top but later on he will almost certainly develop a C shaped rather than pear-shaped outrun and come up short.

 

Next most important advice: training with your four goats is probably a very bad idea. The dog will pick up any number of undesirable habits. If you cannot exchange these goats, find a neighbor with a smallish fenced in paddock and more sheep or goats (no rams, no bottle babies). I say "probably" because David Henry trained his brilliant first dog Holly on bottle lambs so miracles can happen.

 

I haven't been to Australia in 20 years and, doubtless the stockdog scene has changed. Most of the best work I saw then was being done by Kelpie handlers and while border collie/kelpie crosses ran in the three sheep trial, I didn't see or hear about any ISDS style trials like those in the UK. North America and New Zealand.

 

Do contact the Working Kelpie Council. Although the 3-sheep and yard trials differ importantly from the trials I'm used to running, Kelpie and Border Collie training are substantially identical and there are lots of Working Kelpie breeders in NSW.

 

Good luck with your dog.

 

Donald McCaig

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Thanks Sue,

 

I've learnt a lot from reading the discussion on BC Boards - thanks to you all! I got the wethers in the hope that they'd be easier to work than the bottle-raised does, but I find that they panic if separated from the does. I can usually read when the white doe is likely to be troublesome - did you know that goats can put their hackles up? I do intend to get some sheep later, but I don't want to rush into it... I need (at the minimum) to sheep-fence a larger paddock for them. I am considering putting an ad up in the local stock-feed store, offering to pay for the opportunity to work Bluey on someone else's sheep. But I'm worried that any sheep available for this purpose may not be properly "dog-broke".

 

I hope you can open the attached video. It was taken almost a month ago, and he has improved quite a bit since then, although of course we still have sessions when you'd swear neither of us had seen a goat before! He cut in even earlier than usual on that outrun - would that be because he walked up a little dip in the ground?

 

I had already taught him "come", "away" and "over" as commands in other contexts, so I use "anti" for anti-clockwise and "wise" for clockwise. I have more trouble than he does in remembering which is which - as at the start of the video. Towards the end, there is a good example of his lack of force; instead of walking in on the goats, he stops and looks at the white doe until she walks away from him. Not that I blame him for not pushing her - I've seen her challenge the cows, and win!

 

Kerry

Bluey_Herding_Dec_2010.MPG

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For instance: Standing close to the sheep during the dog's cast (outrun) gives control at the top but later on he will almost certainly develop a C shaped rather than pear-shaped outrun and come up short.

 

Really? (Why am I saying that so much recently??) This is how we started outruns! And my dog does have a more C shaped outrun! And she is often too tight at the top! Ugh! Something else I've screwed up!?!?

 

So as not to hijack Kerry's thread I will start a new on with questions...Welcome to the boards Kerry! Obviously you don't want any advice from me :P

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Thanks Mr McCaig,

 

My video took a very long time to load, so I didn't notice your post before my last post. Thanks for your suggestion regarding the Working Kelpie Council. I hadn't thought to check their website, but I've done so now. They do have a list of trainers in NSW. Judging by their telephone area codes, they are all a fair distance away, so I'd have to plan an overnight trip.

 

As I noted, I have considered getting the use of somebody else's sheep, but I'm worried about working with sheep I don't know - at least I can predict what my goats are likely to do.

 

Kerry

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I just read my last post and realized that it sounds a bit ambiguous. I will go to one of the WKC recommended trainers, as soon as I can organize it! I probably won't advertise for somebody else's sheep to work. I think it would be too risky - just me (a novice), a novice dog, and unfamiliar sheep in an unfamiliar paddock or yards.

 

Kerry

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I have to disagree with Mr. McCaig on most points. Standing near the stock does not necessarily cause a C shaped outrun. I have done this for many years and most of the dogs I train have a pear shaped OR. And I prefer working on goats to start regardless of numbers. i find for the vbery begining bottle kids are near perfect for starting dogs. But then I am a goat breeder <g> Goats do make a dog work harder than sheep as a general rule.

 

However, stock that are challenging can be a problem with a soft dog and working larger numbers will help with balance in most cases.

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Thanks Pam,

 

After I finished writing the original message I went out to put the goats back in their paddock - I had had them out on weed patrol. As we walked back, I told Bluey to lie down and the goats and I walked on. Once we were about 50 yards away from him, I stopped and let the goats drift ahead of me, before sending him on an outrun. He hesitated at about 3 o'clock, but continued on to finish the cast nicely and at a good pace. I'm hoping that repeating this half a dozen times will be enough to break the habit without instilling any new bad habits.

 

By the way, after googling Working Kelpie Council, I thought to find my copy of AD Parsons' book, Training the Working Kelpie. Other BC owners might appreciate this quote - "If the Kelpie had the Border's temperament, it would win trials all over the world." And this comes from a Kelpie breeder who, according to his blurb, "has been breeding and training Kelpies for over forty-five years. He has bred over 100 trial dog winners." !!!

 

Kerry

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I ust that approach for most outruns and find it works well. It may take much more than a half dozen times to fix the problem though.

 

As for Kelpies, I own one and he can be fantastic, but something happened to his head (mentally) before I got him finally and I am not sure he will ever get back to his best work, he just cannot relax. Fun dog though. I would have to agree if the Kelpies I have worked with had the biddability (of a BC) they would give BC's a run for their money.

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I,like Sue, cannot offer much indepth advice..only that I to own a "soft" dog and made a very bad choice of starting her on goats that were just abit to "Friendly". I only did it once and thankfully, once on proper sheep, the dog came around and is progressing nicely.

 

I wouldnt be afraid to search for a person who perhaps would allow you to work on their stock personally.

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