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Herding Ducks??? and Agility

Joe Anne

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I am looking to purchase a couple of videos and would like an opinion on the best ones for beginners (both me and Phoenix).

Which is the best beginner agility video?

And more importantly herding:

I have seen posts about herding ducks and would like to know if that is an acceptable alternative to sheep (for now).

I have no clue as to that answer and how to go about getting the ducks. What age should they be, should I raise them from ducklings, how many, any particular breed of duck, how to house them (especially in the very cold winter months), and proper feeding?????

How do I go about introducing my 1 yr old BC boy, Phoenix, to the ducks and or vice versa? Should Phoenix go through herding training first with a trainer or can I learn what I need to from a video? We are starting with fun herding for now and maybe do more serious training later on.

I don't know where to start with herding, I have never worked at that, so any and all opinions, advice etc is greatly appreciated.

The agility is not as big a question, since I do obedience training and agility classes are easier to find than herding, for sure.

PS... I posted this same question on general BC discussion, "Best Videos for Herding and Agility", with a little more detail as to why ducks and not sheep for now, and why I am interested in possibly doing herding training with my Phoenix.

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Hi Joe Anne. Since no one has ventured forth with a reply, I'll take a shot at it.


As for agility videos and such, I don't have a good idea. Maybe someone else can give you some pointers. I don't do agility anymore and was never into following the differant trainers and methods. I might suggest you check out the Clean Run website. I bet they have some good info there.


As for the herding question, well I've had both ducks and sheep. I would not start a border collie on ducks. They can be of some use a little bit later, when you know they will survive (it doesn't take much for a dog to kill or seriously injure a duck) and you have a better idea of what good work is and what needs to be done.


My recommendation for most beginners is to read good books, watch good videos go to open level trials and before you place your dog with livestock, find a good trainer. The overview you'll get from the books/video/trial will help you get a sense of what the trainer is doing or having you do. The first time out, you will be overwhelmed. Between watching your dog, the sheep, the trainer, and perhaps yourself, while everthing is moving at warp speed, can be a little difficult to keep track of.


After a lesson or two, you may be able to look for some ducks to do some training at home on. Lots depend on your dog. Now I have ducks, and they are better than nothing, but they have a few downsides and if you want to get the best from your dog, I would still take him to sheep as often as possible.


As to the care of ducks themselves, the is an excellent web page www.poultryconnection.com that has lots of info and a great waterfowl forum. The breed most people get for dogs is the Indian runner. They tend (not always) to stay in a group and move freely. They cannot fly. They are pretty hardy. You're not likely to find ducklings this time of year, but may find older birds. Many folks get an all male group as the hens can be loud and some fear injuries to egg laying hens. I'm not sure it matters, really. However, if you have more males (drakes) then females, come spring the drakes will beat up the hens something nasty. The drakes will fight each other to some degree too.


I don't want to sound discouraging. I do hope you try out your dog. Find a good trainer (lots of bad ones out there) and take it from there.


Oh, I almost forgot. The best place for books/videos is www.bordercollies.com . Some books I like are Bruce Fogt's Lessons From a Stock Dog, Way of Life by H. Glyn Jones, Derek Scrimgeour book and videos and Julie Simpson's book. There is a book/video review section on the web page that may be of help, too.


Good luck to you!

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JoeAnne - Rural Route Videos has one called "Starting Your Border Collie on Cattle, Sheep, or Ducks" that several people on this board have complimented. I would be careful using ducks because, if you intend to progress to sheep or cattle, your dog can develop some habits with ducks that will not benefit further work with larger stock. I think (definitely my opinion only) that ducks might be better for lower-drive dogs or dogs that have had some good training already, to better avoid harm to the ducks.


Many folks have been very favorable about Derek Scrimgeour's videos, "A Hill Shepherd Trains His Border Collies" and "The Shepherd's Pup". I like them both but I think the second title might be helpful to you as it is oriented towards starting the pup or young dog. These both deal with working sheep.


I think that the best way to start Phoenix would be to find a good instructor, and put a proper foundation on him for working stock. That said, it can be costly and you can't always find such a resource within a reasonable distance. My friend and I travel three hours each way to train, so we can only go once a month in general.


A desire to control the movements of your other dogs is Phoenix's nature showing itself with the only "stock" he has available to work. Perhaps you need to give the dogs separate outside time so that he doesn't continue to develop this bad habit (and irritate the older dogs).


Can you teach him a "leave it" command? That may be helpful at reducing his herding of the other dogs but only if you can substitute something else of interest for him to do.


Will we get to meet you at the Mt. Pleasant SDT or Keepstone Thanksgiving SDT?


By the way, I think Sam Furman is having a Scott Glen clinic right after her trial (which is the weekend before Thanksgiving). She is south of Charlottesville VA. If there are openings, that might be another possibility for you.


Sometimes, if you can't take regular lessons, a clinic may be a good alternative. You can also audit some clinics where you just watch and don't work your dog, but hands-on work is best. As Jennifer said, prior preparation for yourself with books/videos can be helpful so you don't feel *quite* so overwhelmed in your first lessons/clinics, but "real-life" training with a good instructor is the best approach.


Good luck!

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I'd advise two things:


First, do wait until you can get your feet on the ground as far as working your dog yourself. It's possible for a novice familiar with livestock, who has chores to do, to start a dog themselves, but it's usually not pretty and it's almost always hard on the dog. You don't know what's right and wrong and you'll nearly always encourage something wrong and correct the dog for doing something right, or right but in the wrong context. This is the voice of bitter experience here!


Second, don't get livestock unless you have a plan for it. Even something as simple as ducks - have a plan or it will turn into doggy playtime with no rhyme or reason. Fortunately, ducks are very useful and need a bit of managing. They can't be left out at night unless you have natural shelter for them or something to guard them. They need to be rotated across your property or they will overgraze, overpoop, and dabble up the ground anywhere it's moist. And they need to be put where they are useful - around bodies of water to eliminate mosquitoes, around kennels to eliminate flies and eat dog waste (yes, they do, ick but useful), in gardens to eat immature weeds (they leave mature plants alone unless they are very succulent or you leave them too long).


You can raise conservatory breeds for sale as breeding specimens. That's not as pricey or dicey a proposition as it is in sheep - conservatory breeds (like the Orpington or Blue Swede) are pretty readily available and just as easy to raise (or even easier) than commoner breeds.


You can raise ducks for sale as day-olds or adults: both are pretty popular around here if you have them available at the right time and you raise the right kind. Mallards, calls, and Pekins all sell well this time of year, either for meat or "pets" (I know hunters use some as lures and target practice but whatever).


You can raise them for freezer birds for yourself. Imdian Runners are NOT good for this, being too skinny - this is why people start with six and end up with thirty pretty fast.


The eggs are delicious and plentiful even if you don't do the classic egg-laying breeds (runners and Khaki Campbells). In fact, if you are only interested in eggs for household use, I'd suggest one of the medium weight all-purpose breeds as with the egg layers you will be getting around four eggs per week per female - and MORE the first year - up to an egg almost every day.


The flock really needs to be balanced. All-male flocks fight and rape each other. Flocks with too many males do the same, only they fight more. Flocks of all females are disappointing to work, if you want them every day, as they will get egg-related injuries (Mallards and calls are less prone to these, by the way). Better to keep a two-to-one ratio of young breeding or egg laying females and to a number of males you need for working year round.


As to working them. I actually like working my medium weight breeds best. They are calm, don't leave home, and they flock nicely enough. If you allow them to free range for their food they stay conditioned enough to work.


Ducks learn fast, faster than the dog, so working them in teeny spaces with a novice dog is not the best of plans. They learn very quickly to squash themselves on fencelines and such.


Ducks are a funny mix of being responsive to eye and having to work the flow rather than locking on to the heads. A larger group especially you'll see the dog needs to deal with individuals to prevent problems (similiar to cattle), but he needs to maintain contact with his eye - flanking drives ducks wild and any pressure on the tails will turn them completely around (for most dogs, a truly square flank on a duck often looks like total off contact if the dog is feeling them right).


Duck have odd instincts. Usually a single will draw a whole group rather than the other way around. So once you split one you've got another draw. They deal with pressure (until they are broken of it) by giving up a "sacrificial duck" - a duck that will drop out and act hurt to distract the predator and let the rest of the flock get away. Once that happens, your only recourse is to bring the flock back to the sacrificial duck.


Your dog has to focus right on their tail feathers to keep straight lines. Good to bring down heads in looser eyed dogs (though it's a learning curve for them) - it can lock up a strong eyed dog. Better not to work them in straight lines, just concentrating on keeping them moving together and heading to "real" obstacles - the duck house, the duck yard, the new graze, water, driving away from any of these.


Fetching is the worst thing until your ducks are thoroughly broken to people or unless you feed them and make pets of them. It will be easier for your dog to learn to drive them away than to hold them to you, at first.


You can really, really see bad things happen, when they happen on ducks. Ducks OVER react, but unlike jumpy sheep, they react fairly slowly and they don't go far (unless you haven't cut flight feathers on flying breeds!). So it's easier to reset back to the place where someone made the boo-boo. Like, if your dog comes in too tight on the flank, the ducks will all spin and flap and squawk but it will be over fast, they'll settle down as soon as the dog is right again, and they'll only go three feet in the process. Then you can easily set your dog up again within the three second time frame ideal for making connections.


Have fun!

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Thank you everyone, I really have a lot to think about, the videos, books and all the variety of ducks, I had no clue there was so much to learn about ducks!! , but no pun intended, I'm game!

I guess in my mind (and heart), I knew that I should probably find a good trainer and see where to go from there. My boy Phoenix is sooo awesome as is his litter mate and sister Amica. Every couple of weeks my daughter and I get the 2 pups together and it is truly amazing watching them play and "work" that soccer ball..LOL! They criss-cross over each other and approach the ball from different sides and when they get to it, they lie down and stare at it with intenseness that has to be seen to believe. They are poetry in motion!

Sue, I am glad to hear that you only work your dog only once a month or so, because that was one of my concerns. I had heard in the past that if you intoduce your dog to sheep and don't work them regularly that it can creat a real problem with the dog. I know of a trainer, but also about 3-4 hours away, and I too would probably only do 1 or 2 times a month.

I am planning on going to the Trial at Keepstone Farms on Nov 27, that will give me some time to do some reading, I hope. Is it generally best to leave dogs at home unless you are part of the trials?

I am sooo excited to get Phoenix involved in herding. I feel like a little kid at Christmas, so I have to be careful and pace myself and do this right.

PS....Sue, how do I get info about the Scott Glenn Clinic, I would love to do that? and where do you go for your herding trainer? I live in Southern Maryland... anyone who knows of trainers within travel distance, like 3-4 hrs. or so, please let me know.


Thanks again soooo much to EVERYONE who took the time to share some really interesting and good info. and thanks for being there for this novice!!

I really want to do this right for my Phoenix.

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I'm with Rebecca. Ducks are not a good place to start if you want to be serious about this. Ducks are ok if you have no aspirations above arena trials. Everything she said about them is true. They are wierd and if your dog does want to work them (some dogs want to kill them, some dogs ignore them)and that is their first exposure to stock they may not be as good with sheep. Other people could say better maybe, Has anyone out there started their dogs on Ducks and then taken that same dog all the way to open with success? I have a great duck dog. He wasn't started on ducks but he'll work anything, chickens, cattle, sheep. He changes his style depending on what he's working. I think that just goes to show that ducks are not the same as sheep. As for the clinic, I'll send you a private email to give you the info for contacting Sam.

Jenny Glen

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JoeAnne - I am sorry if I mislead you. Although my friend and I go for a lesson on sheep about once a month, my husband and I have a small beef cow herd here on the farm.


During some parts of the year, I am able to work with/train the dogs daily and sometimes not. What I have to work with here really varies! Right now, I have three young training heifers to work with for the winter. I can also take the dogs out and move the cows around until we get snow or slippery conditions, and then I won't work them if it's unsafe.


In the spring, when the cows are calving on pasture, I can go out and do some gentle training. As the cows will tend to spread out a bit with their babies, we will go around and I will use the dogs to gently move each cow/calf pair back to the main group. It gives me a chance each day to check on the cows, new babies, etc. It is a great opportunity to work with the dogs on their learning to keep a proper distance and work quietly, using eye and pressure in a subtle manner.


In the summer, when the weather's hot and the cows are not willing to move any more than they have to, we can't do much training. My two dogs don't have the power or confidence to really shift the cows if the cows are not at all willing. If I get them out in early morning or later evening, when it's a bit cooler and the cows are moving about to graze, then we can do a little work.


I take the dogs for walks, we play fetch, and do some general obedience/fun stuff in between. My friend has not had access to stock between lessons, and it does make the progress slow and the dog especially eager when it's time to work stock. She will be coming over this winter to work with the young heifers when she can, so that will be helpful.


You can only do what you can do! I hope you get things worked out to begin training Phoenix.

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I was told my a well-known open handler that if I didn't have the space to keep sheep I could keep ducks and work my dogs on them and still do well working/trialing sheep. I think it's all a matter of being aware of the differences in the way different kinds of stock behave and being prepared to work through those differences.



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Hi All,


Another point that I forgot to add. My ducks are free range. If they are in the pasture when I am working Tess (or any other of my dogs) and I send Tess to get the sheep. She will plow through the ducks to get to the sheep. It's like "get outta my way, you da** ducks!! I have sheep to get"


This summer I had two hens hatch out about 20 ducklings. The possums or rats were killing one or so each night. So I had to get the ducks into the horse stall for safety. Tess slowly and carefully worked them into the stall. She would gently nudge the hens to get her going the right direction and then freeze until they started going. I just stood and held open the stall door and she brought them all to me without a command. It was a slow process and very quiet and the ducks and babies were all relaxed. I was amazed at her patience in doing this and she was amazed that I kept my mouth shut.



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I don't know much about ducks, except how to cook them, but I THINK one of the Nursery cattledog champions a couple of years ago (maybe Roy Taber's Biscuit?)was trained on cattle once a week or so and trained on ducks at home, but that's definitely not a common, usual, or recommended training technique. BUT I understand he had an excellent trainer that worked with him throughout and helped him start his dog, which could make all the difference in the world.

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  • 8 years later...

This is a very old thread I am resurrecting, but I was reading a lot and wondered, for those of you who work ducks, what would be the minimum space you would find acceptable to work ducks in?


We work sheep weekly, with an occasional extra practice time or lesson and my dog will be introduced to ducks next week. My instructor thinks he will do well with them...which got me thinking that having a small flock at home might be great fun so we could work them in between and I could also have them to eat slugs and bugs and be pets.


I have a very large open fenced yard and plenty of small nooks where I could build a duck house and have them in a safe, enclosed area between work time and free time loose in the yard without the dogs.


But I'm not sure if my space would be big enough.

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We tried having ducks a few years ago, we've got almost an acre fenced yard and then built them a small pen for when we weren't around to keep them safe. They were a lot if fun, great personalities and we love duck eggs. But the only way I'd have them again is if their containment area and turnout was away from the house. I would never share my yard with ducks again, unless it was a quick pass through on slug patrol. They are messy, smelly and their poop is too big to just dissolve into the grass in a day or two. We've had free range chickens for years in our yard and thought ducks would be similar. Our mistake.

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Ducks are rough in the mess factor - also they need water to properly eat and digest their food and sling it everywhere. For usefulness of herding space I have no clear idea, but you do want to be careful with them near your house. The watery poop will be around forever and pile up fast. Add in the mud they will make with eating and slinging food and it could be a pretty major problem.

Basically just confirming the above.

I love ducks. They're adorable and silly but man they are messier than any creature on this planet.

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We tried having ducks a few years ago, we've got almost an acre fenced yard and then built them a small pen for when we weren't around to keep them safe. They were a lot if fun, great personalities and we love duck eggs. But the only way I'd have them again is if their containment area and turnout was away from the house. I would never share my yard with ducks again, unless it was a quick pass through on slug patrol. They are messy, smelly and their poop is too big to just dissolve into the grass in a day or two. We've had free range chickens for years in our yard and thought ducks would be similar. Our mistake.


Oh. I is sad now.


But I would hate that.

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Seconding or thirding about duck mess. I don't have any ducks, but I've had friends who do. Or did.


They really are fabulously messy with their food, their poop and their water, and given that they require water to splash in and drink, they create some hideously stinky mud. Not to mention what they do to a tub of water ... especially in summer! :wacko:

If they had a large enough grassy area and fresh, running water, it would be a better, but you'd also have to guard them against skunks or raccoons. They're cute rascals, but I wouldn't want them anywhere within nose-shot of the house. :rolleyes:

~ Gloria

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Put me in line with the ick factor.


Many years ago I thought it would be great to get some ducks for the dogs for some quick training. Our sheep pasture was about 7 miles from the house and it seemed like a good way to be able to get some mini training sessions in.


They only lasted about 3 weeks. Couldn't stand the mess, and they were only babies. :o


So I satisfied myself with working the chickens. It worked great for the one dog who was too hard on sheep for me to work but surprisingly gentle with the chickens (go figure). The other dog just looked at me like I was crazy for asking her to work them, though, and pretty much refuse. Great with her sheep, though. :rolleyes:

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