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Well that was a bit disappointing...


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Well, today a friend of mine , who is a pretty good handler, came visiting the farm. The idea was to introduce seven of my yearlings to dogs. This is to be this year training group. I didn´t want to do this with Táta as she is pretty inexperienced (and so am I), I decided to put her up a while last summer because I found her a bit too immature and excited around sheep.


Well the part of learning the sheep some dog manners went very well; he used two of his dogs on them and even the most rebellious one in the group was pretty docile after these two short sessions. They started to flock well, and stopped trying to make a run for it.


So we decided to give the sheep some rest, and after that we were going to see how Táta would react to a reintroduction with the sheep.

I was prepared for chaos, and excitement, now that turned out to be very unnecessary...


She did show some interest at first, coming in to close and grabbing some wool,my friend slammed a crook-thing on the ground, to make her keep more distance (this was nowhere near the dog) after that all her interest disappeared completely!


She just kept near me, didn´t go after the sheep not reacting on encouraging commands, nada. I drove the sheep, put her in a down, called her in , nothing.


This is a dog that was very difficult to get away from sheep last year, with a fine interest in sheep as far as I can tell, so what on earth is going on?

Did that one crook slam put her off, a 1.5 year old dog that has been introduced to sheep?

I did teach her to leave my horses alone, but not in a harsh way, normal voice commands were enough for that (and she is still keen enough on them that I have

to keep an eye on her when there are horses near). I also worked on her general obedience, but without any drilling, or harsh methods. Nothing fancy, just the normal obedience commands for a stockdog. She took that well, and made fine progress.


I did always considered her to be a pretty sensitive dog, and have been careful not to come down on her to heavy, last year harsh vocal commands could impress her too much, but that seemed to be okay now, she takes correction very well nowadays.


I will go with her to those sheep again tomorrow, we will by no means give up. But I have to say I was disappointed with the whole thing, and any suggestions, experiences as how to reignite her interest in sheep are welcome.

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I am no expert, as you know, but my dog has gone awful soft on me too. Except we didn't have a break in training and I saw it coming. But I did have a couple of moments when I wanted to shoot myself, though she never refused to work as such. She once "froze" on a flank because I pushed and yelled at the sheep with which I was exasperated (they didn't want to move) and she thought I was mad at her. So for two days there was no 'away' flank. No way. Zip. Zilch.


Earlier Bonnie was so keen on the sheep that no force could have pulled her away from them, and then she matured or something and started changing. Since then, it has been my main task and life mission with her to keep my quick temper in check, so that she did not get discouraged. On the plus side, I think she is ready to die for me, she wants to make me happy so much, so for a great majority of time she is a terrific joy to work with.


So I think it will work out ok and Tata will get over it quickly, but maybe somebody more experienced on the forum will say something else. With Bonnie, if I overdo something, then when I go back I do easy things and I am so super, super sweet and quiet and calm. Also if the sheep would follow you it might be good to move away from Tata together with the sheep and encourage her to follow.



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Don't get excited yet. Give her a couple days then take her out without your friend. A strangers correction (even if not that harsh in your mind) can be way more intimidating than one from you. Since you didn't do it she should come around with you.

I wouldn't be using any commands when she goes out there. Excite the sheep, even getting her to chase a bit (nothing crazy) to get her turned back on. Once you get her turned on again, go really easy, no downs, no pressure from you. Just help by your position to the sheep so she feels compelled to gather or get to the heads. If she turns on, I'd give her a few moments having fun then catch her up and take her off. Don't yell at her about coming to you. Get in a position to "catch" her, give her a pat, hook the leash on and walk away happy!

Then in a couple days, try again.


These guys are strange little fellows, Just when you think you got them figured out they do a turn about.


Like I said. Don't get excited about this. You'll carry it back to her if you're still worried about it.



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Yeah, I kinda kick myself over the whole thing. He is used to pretty gritty dogs, the bc people here seem to prefer those kind of lines. I think the slamming crook might have been enough for Táta to draw the conclusion "Whoa, better leave those sheep alone, this guy means business". His comment was basically "she should be able to take this kind of correction, or she will be useless anyway".

I tried to hit the ground with this thing just now (Táta wasn´t present ;)) and it does make an impressive sound...

Ah well, what´s done is done, I at least have a training ground with a group of duly impressed young sheep, so I will go and see if I can coach Táta into action again, beginning tomorrow. Yes, the crook will stay at home....



I typed the above before reading your post Kirsten, I´ll take your advice to wait a couple of days in consideration, it sounds like a good idea, thanks for the advice and thoughts (you too Maja)

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Has she gone through a heat cycle yet? When is her next cycle due?


Was she super keen (fast and furious type) last year?


Well now you mention it, she just cycled, and is possibly still somewhat in heat. This is her second cycle, and you never notice much with her, couple of blood drops here and there, that´s it.

You think that might have played a role?

I mentioned it to the guy who visited, before he came, he said it wouldn´t have any influence.

I´d say she was pretty fast and keen last year, wouldn´t call her "furious". But I also recall an occasion that she after some time, ten maybe fifteen minutes of intense interest seemed to turn off (I blamed my clumsy handling skills).

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A beginning or ending heat cycle might make my dog a bit scatter brained but then again, it gives me something to blame "issues" on.

I think it was the "stranger Danger" thing.

Remember...no pressure from you next time or 2.

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I've found that some bitches in heat can relapse a bit on stock, IOW, "forget" some of their training for a few weeks. Some can get more sensitive, others more sharp. Not all bitches react the same way, and not all to the same degree. I've owned the full spectrum, from a bitch who acted like she had never heard a flank command in her life to one who showed no obvious changes. I don't stop training or working just because a bitch is in heat, but I am not surprised when they are not quite their usual selves.

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Okay, this morning before breakfast (for the both of us) I took Táta to the training field (sorry Kristen, couldn´t help myself ;) ).

Left the crook at home and she was off leash. Went in with an open mind, "let´s see what she does".


When we got to the field she saw the sheep in the far corner and trotted towards them, with some slightly worried looks over her shoulder, I just smiled at her and let her figure it out.


Well, it was far from stellar, but here interest is clearly still there, she headed the sheep the moment I got them going.

Because I wanted to go really lightly on commands, and certainly on corrections,

I allowed her to be too close to the sheep resulting in a mouthful of wool here and there, and too much excitement from Táta.

But she´s no "ripping and tearing dog" and the sheep were in no danger.


We worked them along the long side of the field to the other corner, not too pretty, or by the book, because I didn´t want to "try too hard" to get the sheep from the fence (I remembered "no pressure").

When the sheep landed in the other corner I thought it would be good to call it a day.


During the whole action (that I think took no more than about ten minutes) I just softly praised her for approaching the sheep, bit my tongue during the grips (as said they weren´t serious), I didn´t dare to push her off the sheep.


Afterwards I praised her abundantly. She walked with me away from the sheep without "having to pry her off" like last year.

Well overall a better session than I had dared hope for, we are getting back in the saddle....


Tempting to try again this evening, but I think it is smarter to let everybody, Táta, the sheep and myself sleep a night on it....

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Yeah! Táta is back in the game!


Went this afternoon to the field for a second session after the "dissapointing" one.


With my wife assisting, Táta showed a great sustained interest in working the sheep, now without barking, tail down, all business.


Took my normal crook with me, didn´t impress her. Because she worked too close, I used the last year introduced command "frá" (= get out), and she kicked out fine without shutting down at all (obeyed this command better than I ever saw her do).


We circled the stock a couple of times changing direction, and having great trouble staying away from the fence, flighty yearlings... ;) .


We kept the session really short, and I resisted the strong temptation to try out more (my wife does a good job as the voice of reason...).


Actually compared to where we left off last year she looks more mature during work (I actually put her up then because of immaturity).


Also where it was very difficult to get her away from stock last summer, this was now no problem at all, she was very obedient getting called off the stock, and walked off leash with me back home.


I had a rather big grin on my face. We´ll get there.

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  • 3 months later...

just a little to add. Please dont allow her to work improporly, IE to tight, not staying out of the sheeps bubble, pushing them to fast. I understand ur reasons, trying to rebuild her interest and confidence, how ever, if u allow her work to start out sloppy and erratic, that sets the precidence for her, and forms bad habits very quickly. There are ways, using body language and pressure to correct a dog without ever having to say a word. And instead of so much praise, just giving her back the sheep in most cases is enough. Its in their mind, their reward. Praise sometimes takes the dogs focus off the sheep and then their looking at you, which is not really what u want. I guess inna nutshell what im trying to say, is if u allow improper work for any reason, in the long run, ur just setting your dog up for more, and possibly harder corrections in the future, and this doesnt sound like a dog that would be able to handle or benifit from that. I hope that helps.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Dear Wouldbe sheepdoggers,


Ms 1sheepdoggal writes:" Please dont allow her to work improporly, IE to tight, not staying out of the sheeps bubble, pushing them to fast. I understand ur reasons, trying to rebuild her interest and confidence, how ever, if u allow her work to start out sloppy and erratic, that sets the precidence for her, and forms bad habits very quickly."


If you can't read your sheepdog and cannot tell the difference between an excited nip and a dog going in for the kill, please ignore what I write here.


Without seeing Mr Smalunder's dog I'm inclined to disagree. Unlike Behaviorists, sheepdoggers don't build behaviors in a controlled environment from simpler behaviors done correctly ; we step into a chaos/circus of three fast species' genetic and learned behaviors and train everything at once. As dance master, I encourage certain behaviors, allow others and forbid relatively few. If my dog is not keen to work (for whatever reason) but finally runs in and gets a mouthful of wool I won't forbid it. I'll egg it on again while silently blocking it from hurting the sheep. If, on the other hand, my dog has one idea in his walnut sized brain: KILL SHEEP, I will forbid.


I was a commercial sheepman before I bought my first Border Collie. My sheep paid our bills.. I don't tolerate sheep abuse.



That said, I allow lots of sloppy behavior (ignoring me/my commands, getting wool, sulking, trying to beat me . . . during the dog's first one or two sessions. At that point I am NOT training a dog to correctly work sheep. I AM informing the dog that there is something very interesting he might do with sheep, something which appeals to urgings he didn't even know he had; urgings more powerful than the evolutionary drive to breed. Until he feels that urge and lets it own him, I can't proceed. Sometimes, not uncommonly, the timid soft dog (a"Tenderheart") will be so intimidated by me (Big, Authoritative Male) its genetic urges are overwhelmed by fear. ("I don't what this gorilla wants so I'll cling to Mama until he goes away.")


I am not the one to start every single sheepdog in the world. Others are better, some of them are wee women.


If the dog will work for Mama, that can be the best way to get him going. If he's her "fur baby" and their relationship is screwy, it won't. I let some of my air (gas?) out, deflate and get smaller. If I can't convince the dog ("He's not a gorilla, he's a capuchin monkey!"), I'll recommend a good woman trainer.


Until the dog is doing SOMETHING with sheep we can't move on to more interesting (and sheep kindlier) behaviors. I seek more desirable behaviors as our bond builds and as the dog understands what he and I do together is more fun than what he does alone.


Usually by the third session, that dog will come into the ring and after a few excited zoomies, he'll settle. He's learning how to learn and he really, really likes it.



I remember (and some of you are presently experiencing) how small that small ring was and how fast every creature was moving and where do I stand or do I get out of the way? Don't worry. Your dog isn't glass - he'll forgive your well meaning mistakes so long as you're as willing to learn as he is. You're partners in an ancient dance.


The sheep will be so pleased when you've learned the steps.


Donald McCaig

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Between Donald´s advice and 1sheepdoggal´s (and by the way I really appreciate you both taking the time to help this newbie), I am strongly leaning towards Donald´s.


This is also what I am implementing at the time. I am trying to keep commands and especially corrections at a minimum.

As I found out shutting her down is very easy.

Also she is not the sheep killing type, she may take cheap shots but that involves at the most grabbing a mouthfull of wool on the fly. Such a quick mouthful is not corrected, hanging on is.

She will not single out a sheep and try to take her down.


So sloppiness will be tolerated untill Táta knows that getting those sheep going preferable in a direction of my choice is what it is all about.

I did stop using her to drive trespassing sheep out of the hey land (we still haven´t made hey this year, curse the unpredictable Icelandic weather), I had a feeling this did not have a positive effect on her training.


The sheep are still not easy (this is quite an understatement).

So I recently constructed a small (tiny?) round pen. It is just about 6 meter in diameter (that would be about 18 feet wouldn´t it). I put some sheep in and have the dog going around it. It evolved into exercises where I also had some sheep walking around this pen.

As it is positioned very close to the fence I can tie my other dog between it and the fence, this makes it serve as a fine "launch pad" to break the sheep´s stickiness to the fence, and get them easier into the open.


So right now I am relieved she found her interest in sheep back, and I am working on carefully nursing that confidence.

Some good, well dogged sheep sure would make life easier, but that is not in the cards at this time.

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I can fully sympathize with your problems! I also had difficult sheep and also no easy access to a teacher. It's great you observe her carefully and draw conclusions. I hope she will make lots of progress.


A piece of suggestion from a newbie: early on, I found with Bonnie, that even though she was very sensitive to pressure from me, she was not sensitive to all pressure from me in the same way. E.g. yelling at her usually created lots of pressure but it resulted with her working worse - more running around. A similar thing was with using the stick, using body language even worse. If I just let her be...no, it didn't make things better, not at all, she felt abandoned, she needed us to work together. Then I found that slapping my leather glove or my hat on my thigh created just the right noise that would startle her into a lie down without making her brainless, after which I was able to give her lots of "nice voice" commands ann/or encouragement. I am not saying that you should use it, because it probably would not work right on Tata. I just thought you might consider what and how it may work with her without putting her off. People laughed at me because I would take my odd leather glove special for training, while other people carried their "dignified" sticks. But it worked.


Best wishes,


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