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Confidence Issue or Something Else?


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This might be a little long, but I want to give you as many facts as possible. I have a female BC who just turned a 1 yr. old that was doing extremely well on stock, but is now having some issues. I'd like to get some additional opinions on what may be going on with her.


We started very slowly with her and introduced her to stock at 6 mos. and just let her work once for a very short time every other week making sure we kept it fun. We gradually increased to once every week, then to working two times at each weekly lesson. She has a natural down on balance, was able to pick sheep up off the fence or corner, and changed direction with the slightest cue from my trainer. We've never given this dog a correction as it was never needed and we always kept things fun and not too long. My trainer works her as I don't want to screw her up with my novice handling skills. I've only worked her three times.


She was doing really well until January when we had a really rainy evening which made it necessary to work in the enclosed arena in the barn. (I will mention that she had gotten frightened by fireworks that were set off on July 1st (about 3 mos old). I wasn't expecting fireworks on the 1st and left the dogs outside until dark. She was scared of the dark for a couple of months after that, but seemed to have gotten over it.) She had never been in the barn before and got a little freaked out. I'm assuming this was from the sound of the rain on the roof. She kept running to the gate wanting out and just wasn't interested in working so we put her up. She didn't seem anxious until she went into the arena. Anyway, I didn't take her back until I could do it when it was sunny and still light. I brought lots of treats so that the barn seemed like a good place - none of the other dogs were nervous or scared so I don't think she was picking up anything from them. She ran to the gate once or twice, but then started paying attention to my trainer. However, instead of working like she normally did she started diving at the sheep and running back to my trainer. She can't seem to get the sheep out of a corner or off the fence and she will grip occasionally when she dives. She still has a natural down on balance and she will circle once she is able to get the sheep off the fence or corner (no round pen, but 100'x100' pen with rounded corners). She has been working like that ever since the rainy night in the barn. We no longer work her in the barn or after dark and have tried her in the larger 200'x100' area to see if she was more comfortable with more room. Same thing.


My trainer had me try working her to see if she would do better with me, but if I say anything (i.e. praise) when she starts circling, she comes running back to me, loses her sheep and dives at them again. We've never given her a correction when she's doing this. The only commands we have used are an occasional "out", "there", and "that'll do". I can't use a wand with her as she acts like I'm going to beat her. Which is weird because she's NEVER had anyone be mean to her. I try not to raise my voice around her as I know she's a soft dog and she gets upset if I get after one of the other dogs. However, my trainer can take a wand in with her and she doesn't even notice. My trainer also noticed that my girl will do the diving/running back thing more if she gives her direct eye contact. She is still very eager to get in with the sheep and gets worked up waiting for her turn. She definitely wants to work the sheep and she doesn't act frightened of them at all, but its like she's a different dog on stock than she was a few months ago. My trainer is puzzled by the change in the way she is working, especially since we aren't working her in the dark or in the barn. We are pretty sure its a confidence issue and possibly her age - I know she's still very young. Honestly, we have take care not to rush her and have kept things fun for her. We decided to take her off stock for a while and work on building her confidence. Diane Pagel has been really great and has given me some good ideas to try when we do take her back on stock again such as grab the sheep by the leg and let her know I need help, run back to the sheep every time she runs to me, etc.


If anyone has any additional thoughts as to what might be going through her little doggy brain or similar experiences with their dogs, I'd really appreciate hearing them and what helped. I'm also looking for ideas on what I can do with her to help build her confidence where she doesn't have to look to me for approval. I was thinking tug-o-war (which she loves) and letting her win, fetch and maybe working on some agility training. I'm also wondering if trying to desensitize her to loud noises would be a good idea. I'm concerned as this girl seems to have a lot of potential and she should be a lot of fun to work if she can get over this little bump in the road.


One other note, this girl hasn't connected with me the way my other dogs have and I don't know why. She will let my teenage sons cuddle with her, but she isn't comfortable (not relaxed) cuddling with me. She used to let me cuddle her all the time when she was little. It could be due to the fact she is always putting her paws and head in my lap (to the point of annoyance at times) and when she does this I ask her calmly to sit, then I'll pet her (she hasn't seemed to get the idea though :rolleyes:. I know her granddam could act very needy also. I think she is a submissive girl, but my older girls aren't mean to her and they play with her all the time. They let her steal toys and entice them into playing with her. She also has no problems walking up to strangers or new dogs with me and making friends as long as they are friendly towards her. If they aren't friendly, then she just gets behind me. I'm working on giving her more one on one attention without the other dogs around and it seems to be helping a little.


Thanks ~

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Put her in the round pen with a seasoned dog and let the seasoned dog work and she will get the idea. I had to use Tess when I was working with a super soft Aussie this last weekend. Tess came in and worked the sheep and kept them going fast and furious to me and then the Aussie joined in. I let them go fast and no corrections after the lesson tied the Aussie next to the round pen so he could see lots more action (I worked my 10 month old Tess/ Pleats pups- aka the barracudas)


Keep us posted on her.



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The above suggestions are good, but I might take a little different tack. The dog sounds a bit manipulative to me. You might want to try to incorporate some corrections into her everyday life, so she can learn to survive the hurt feelings. Learning to take corrections as a pup is a very important phase of stockdog training. Treats, toys, and praise do little to improve stock work, as you have found out. The training stick is a useful tool for me, therefore I would continue using it (though quietly) even though she eyes it suspiciously. Too bad, she will get over it. In the arena, I might allow a buzzing or two of sheep initially, but would also act to correct that nonsense as well.


Time will be your friend, this might just be a phase due to age, but I would be diligent NOT to play into her submissive manipulations, both on stock and off.


Good luck to you,


Wendy V

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Send her to a TOTALLY new environment-to see if she just got her wires crossed(and give her a chance to get past it) or see if she has real problems issues.


New stock, new place, new people

Good point. This seems to be helping June a bunch.


What we were seeing out of her was either dashing and grabbing, busting up the sheep, or piling them onto the fence. She would push and push them onto the fence, and then not be able to get them back off - and then she would quit. I took her to a new place, with new sheep (particularly VERY dog broke sheep) and an instructor. Our trainer is pretty relaxed and quiet, and she was like a different dog there. It seemed to be EXACTLY what she needed at that time (still is).


I have begun to take her to new places, different sheep, with different people watching, and she has been working nicely - making progress.


When we took her back (to the first sheep) for the Jack Knox clinic, her first reaction was the same as before - dash and grab, bust up the sheep (no piling them on the fence though, but slightly reluctant to cover). With a little encouragement from Jack (and a demotion to the round pen for a day) she was fired up again and more confident. I took her back again a couple of weeks ago, and again she worked these more challenging sheep nicely and I can see her gaining confidence on these particular sheep. I was pleasantly surprised, because I partially expected a regression, but she showed up to work.


She's probably not ever going to be a world beater, but as she gains confidence she's becoming more reliable, more steady, and on her way to becoming useful.


Her confidence issues and softness on sheep seem to be at most only loosely connected with her attitudes off sheep. She's sound sensitive and thunder phobic. These days she's taking corrections nicely, without turning off.


Take this as you like, as I'm a VERY green handler, just beginning to learn. When she came to me she had turned off of sheep. I can tell you that my relationship with her matters. I think you would do well to work on that. June is sneaky. She would climb in behind me in my chair and root me out if I let her. I can't let her push me around. I take the tactic of being kind, fair, even handed, and firm with her. Although she seems to be submissive, she's actually kind of sneaky dominant. Gotta stay on top of her, without beating down her spirit. Your dog sounds to me to be similar in many ways to mine.


That all being said, its possible that she's made an association with fear and these particular sheep.


Just some thoughts from someone with a soft dog, and only beginning experience.

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That is what seems hard for an inexperienced person to know, when the dog is manipulating you, and when the dog is just soft/lack of confidence etc. My dog Luke is, apparently, harder than I thought he was. I would correct him and he "looks so hurt" but he would just do repeat his mistake and not correct himself. My trainer has told me he is harder and I need a stronger correction. I have tried that and it worked for us. I do think it is hard to see as an inexperienced person.


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I should have been clearer--- glad it worked for you Laura- but I think the owner needs to get out of the picture too for the new experience to stand a chance of really getting thru- if theres anything there to be got thru--- then she can go back to getting her confidence up herself taking the dog to other stock and places like you did.


Give the dog a few months off-- just in case growing up some helps-- Then Find a trainer you trust-- and hire them to train her for at least two weeks-- best money you can spend for the dogs sake and yours. Lot better to get over the hump fast than set in a bad habbit and pick at it forever. If its not just a hump then you know right away what you are dealing with-- and whos got to change what.

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OK, from what I'm gathering is that most feel that it may not be so much a confidence issue, but that she is may be manipulative and developing a bad habit? Is that correct?


I agree that I am definitely a green handler when it comes to herding and definitely have a much to learn in regards to herding. I currently have two dogs that I handle at my herding lessons and my instructor works Kerri and her brother Kael. However, I wouldn't classify myself as inexperienced with dogs in general. I have had BC's for nearly 10 yrs and currently live with five of them. I grew up with Labs (hunting/field trial dogs - not show Labs) and had them for over 35 yrs. Definitely a different kettle of fish than BC's though :rolleyes:


Wendi V - Can you please explain what is it that Kerri is doing that makes you suspect she may be being manipulative? What is she gaining by being manipulative? The reason I don't feel this dog is manipulative because I have a couple BC's who are most definitely manipulative and she is nothing like them. She absolutely never tries to get on the furniture uninvited and even then you have to really coax her - unlike my other dogs who will try to sneak on if they think they can get away with it. She doesn't try to weasel treats, playtime, etc. The reason I think she is a soft and submissive dog is that if I get after one of the other dogs, she hides behind the couch. She also rolls over and shows her belly if she thinks I might be upset with her and she also does it when we are done herding and say "that'll do". She also has done some submissive urination at times. When she does the paws and head in the lap its more like she is looking for reassurance. I don't let her keep doing it. I either get up and leave or will ask her to sit and then I will pet her for a minute.


I'm not saying she couldn't be a very subtly manipulative dog though and I'm missing the clues. Its something I will definitely discuss with my herding instructor. She may well be harder than she seems.


I agree that pups need to be able to take corrections and I didn't mean to imply that I never correct this dog. I don't baby her as I feel that would make her worse and I defintely correct her when she is doing doing something I don't want her to do. I just keep a calm, firm voice when doing it and don't yell. I also always use NILIF with all of my dogs except my old girl. I have a soft spot for old dogs :D Anyway, we just haven't had the need to correct her when herding other than an occasional "there" to change direction prior to her starting to do this diving/running back to the handler thing.


Wendi - Oh, the wand - she isn't just suspicious of it - she rolls over, shows her belly, and tucks her tail acting like I'm going to beat her. She's OK if I just use my arms, but I do prefer to use a wand.


Killer H - I have only worked this dog three times. My herding intstructor always works her because she knows what she is doing and I try to stay out of sight while she's working her. While my herding instructor doesn't compete in Open trials, she is a well respected AHBA, ASCA and AKC herding trial judge who trains all herding breeds. Her own dogs are GSD's, Aussies and a couple of BC's. I do trust her and I watch her work lots of dogs other than my own. She also thinks Kerri is a soft dog, but is puzzled with what is going on with Kerri. I will also look into taking her to some other herding instructors in the area to see if she behaves any differently in a different setting. I can see where sending her to another trainer might be beneficial, but I'm hesitant to send her away for any length of time as I'm concerned that I would have a bitch fight on my hands when she comes back. My oldest girl is fine with pups she "raises" because they know their place, but may have issues with them if they go away and then come back to challenge her. I could drop her off for the day (maybe a couple of days)though and see how she behaves when I'm not anywhere around.


Laura - I agree that Kerri seems like she may be similar to your dog and do think that working on my relationship with her would be helpful.


Diane - I think we will try her with the seasoned dog in the pen and see how that goes after she's had a few months off.


I will definitely discuss all your thoughts regarding her possibly being manipulative and not soft, as well as working her in other surroundings with my herding instructor this evening.


Thanks - appreciate your thoughts and I'll keep you guys posted on how she progresses. Keep your fingers crossed!

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Hi all,


First off- I'm not an expert.


I wouldn't make a judgement without seeing the dog- but I just wanted to say I do know what Wendy means by manipulative. Its more of a "maybe if I do this, I will get to do it my way" attitude- and I've found softer dogs tend to do that WAY more than the harder ones- probably because the keener, harder dogs simply want sheep more and will put up with the stresses related to herding. I do agree with all of the suggestions- especially considering the dog is very young. If she were older, I would question whether she really wants to work as much as she should want to. I'd rather see her put up and see if maturity will solve the problem than to allow her more opportunity to get out of pressure. I also want to say that the soft dogs I've worked with tend to do better with a firm leader as opposed to working around their fears (not a hard leader, just a leader). One very soft Aussie I work is like this- she goes into "la la" land if you let her- and she can be quite a useful little dog if you are calm and firm with her without any light/rewarding voice. She gladly gives over her "worries" when you tell her thats how its going to be.

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We started very slowly with her and introduced her to stock at 6 mos. and just let her work once for a very short time every other week making sure we kept it fun. We gradually increased to once every week, then to working two times at each weekly lesson. She has a natural down on balance, was able to pick sheep up off the fence or corner, and changed direction with the slightest cue from my trainer. We've never given this dog a correction as it was never needed and we always kept things fun and not too long.
I have a pup right now that what you've described sounds exactly like what I did with her. She turned on at an early age but was not nearly mature enough to handle any pressure, so we played and I helped her to be right so I didn't have to pressure her.


What I'm questioning now is that I have helped turn her into a girl who if she can't do it her way, then maybe she'd rather not do it at all. I sent her to a friend who is a great trainer and within a month she was totally turned off to anything that was asked of her. I brought her home and at least she's back to where we were a few months ago.

When you talked about your pup as being a dog that didn't quite bond right to you, that rang a bell with me. She is friendly to my young son, strangers (after the initial meeting) and just about all dogs, but she's also a back snarker of other dogs, an alpha wanna be so to speak. Or just making up for her insecurities maybe? I thought this might have been due to being raised with all adult dogs that will only go so far and she's never quite learned how far that is. So she is always getting "told" that's enough by the older dogs, some are easier on her than others but they all eventually get mad at her. She loves me, but on her terms and always has that "deer in the head light" look when I want her.


I am wondering if she's just not as honest as I'd like her to be. Her recall can be 100% for days then, one day out of the blue she'll look at me after a recall and looks like she?s making a deliberate decision as to disobey and runs the other way. Not running away so to speak but disregarding or testing what I have said. Put a long line on her and she becomes an angel, never allowing even a slight mistake so that I can correct her. The line only bogs her down more on sheep.


I'm leaning towards Wendy's thoughts on this one. My little one seems to smart for her own good and doesn't think she needs to be accountable. I have put her up, corrected her, and tried changing things up, it works for a while then all of a sudden it doesn't. When she wants to go to sheep she will glue her self to my calf as if I've taught her how to heel (I haven't) she couldn't act better, will even start working sheep like she knows what she'd doing, then back to this silliness.


I have also tried using another dog to help hold sheep while we did a bit of out work. That was way to much pressure. She started OK but then started working the other dog or just chasing the other dog instead of seeing sheep.

Disappointing to say the least. :rolleyes:

I have put her up till further notice. I'm also moving in a month so decided she will wait till we move to work sheep again. She?s not worked for a week or so and I?ve noticed she?s getting much better at listening. We'll see....

Good luck and I look forward to anyone else's ideas.


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I would look to myself first and see what I was doing. The dog is having a confidence problem and you say she was good before, so she is associating some sort of pressure from you and the stock. When things go wrong when training a dog always look in the mirror first.

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We went through all of this with Jen, Laura's June's daughter. We gave her lots of time to mature, sent her to other trainers, the whole nine yards. She'd work OK for other people then start turning on the stupid stuff again. It WAS manipulation. She learned she could "work" the handler's concern over her turning off - it's hard to explain but Wendy did a pretty good job actually. I couldn't work her at all because I was too scared to give her the giddy-up, for fear I'd have to correct her for coming in too hard, and then she'd leave.


Jack Knox worked her a couple times and both times he worked with getting her to bust in, take a correction, then come back for more instead of leaving. This showed her that it wouldn't kill her to stay open to suggestions from the handler.


Eventually, the second time he worked with her, he got her to yield to him and work the way HE wanted her to. My husband is now able to work her pretty nicely and she's turning out a useful little thing. This is her first lambing, finally, yay! And off sheep she's a much happier, more relaxed dog (unless you get out the hose or ball!).

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H-m-m-m.... This gives me lots to think about. I discussed the ideas you gave with my herding instructor last week. She really gave the manipulation aspect some serious thought, but still feels that Kerri is just a very soft dog rather than manipulative. However, she agrees that taking her to some other places/trainers would be beneficial to try. Also, Kerri just came into her first heat so maybe that's part of the reason why she has been acting like a twit.


I'm trying to be firmer with her at home and see how she takes it. So far she seems OK, although I really haven't had the need to get after her about anything, other than the paws and head in the lap thing.


Thad - I agree about looking in the mirror first. My dad, who is an old cowboy, always said never get mad at your horse because if things are going wrong it is ALWAYS 90% the rider's fault and only 10% the horse's. I think that holds pretty true for handling dogs and other animals as well. However, in this case I don't handle this dog in herding precisely because I am a green handler and didn't want to screw up a young dog. I wanted my herding instructor, who knows what she is doing, to handle her and put the initial training on her. It was immediately after the session in the indoor arena during a heavy rainstorm that this dog started diving and running back to the handler and this dog is definitely noise sensitive. It wasn't a gradual change in her working behaviour. The week prior she worked beautifully and the next week during the session in the barn she started the diving thing and she was acting very nervous. Last time I took her, she was worked outside and she was better but still diving. It used to be that herding was her thing and if anything she was most confident when working - she knew she did well.


My only concern in getting on her about the diving thing when herding, is what happens if she is truly a soft dog and she isn't being manipulative? How will I know which is the case? Is it likely that if she's soft she'll just quit on me, and if she's being manipulative and finds she's not going to get her way, then she'll probably get her act together?


Kerri's dam, Laura, is definitely manipulative. She doesn't like to be wrong and likes everything to be "Happy, Happy". If I give her a correction, such as "Get Out", she may get out all the way to the other side of the arena and pout. Depends on the mood she's in that day. She'll sit down and look at me like "Fine!, Go work the #$%& sheep yourself then!", then I have to cheerlead her to get her back to work. I have gotten on her about pouting and she'll come back to work, but you can tell she's still pouting - little brat. :rolleyes:


Kerri isn't much like her dam personality wise though. Laura is a busybody who wants to be involved in everything and is always right next to me (that pretty much describes all the dogs except Kerri). Kerri would rather hide behind the couch most of the time, although she will come out and play with the other dogs at times.


I have the opportunity to attend a Bobby Dalziel clinic the first week in April, but I don't know yet if I can attend with a dog or just audit. I don't know anything about him other that what I read on the other thread that mentioned him. Do you think that would be a beneficial clinic to take Kerri to if I am able to take a dog? Also Bill Berhow lives in Zamora which isn't too far from me. I had one lesson with him with another dog. Think I should see if he could evaluate her?


Thanks again for all your thoughts on this.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Penny ~


I'm giving Kerri time off for a couple of months to see if she mentally matures a bit more, then I am going to take her to another trainer in a totally new environment and see what they think.


I really want to go to the Bobby Dalziel clinic, but have had to take a lot of time off of work this month due to being sick with the flu and asthma. I was coughing so hard from the asthma that I pulled a tendon in my shoulder and my 88 yr old dad has not been well :rolleyes: . Kind of been a bad month. Anyway, I'm not going to be able to take time off work to go to the clinic like I had hoped.


Any other clinics coming up in Northern CA that would be good to go to?

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I go to Bill. In the short amount of time I have been working with him he has my red dog, Solo, working for ME and looking like a real dog. This is something that has never happened in the five years that I have been messing around with Solo on sheep. Solo is very hard-headed and anxious at the same time and has a very hard time dealing with any handler pressure, which includes cues and commands. (Give him a task he has to figure out and execute alone that doesn't involve possibly losing sheep, like keeping them off feeders, and he's happy as a clam.)


I'd take some time off like everyone said, and then call Bill up.

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Hi Melanie ~


I was definitely thinking of Bill Berhow. Her brother, Kael, is working very well and I'd like to see what Bill thinks of him also.


One of my biggest concerns is that I can't connect with Kerri for some reason. This isn't a problem I've had with any of my dogs before. If I can't fix that part either, I'm afraid we aren't ever going to work as team. Part of me feels like she would be much happier in a home where she was the only dog.


All my dogs are Barbie Collies.

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If it makes you feel any better, no one could be more connected to a dog than I am to Solo, and we have big problems working together on stock.


I deleted the portion of my post asking about breeding because in this context it probably doesn't matter. Then again, it is possible that you are now asking her to do things that it just isn't in her capabilities to do. Solo has his limitations in this sense, and he is not a Barbie Collie. However, he also keeps surprising me, so you never know.

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Thanks Melanie. Solo is very lucky to have found you. He sounds like an amazing dog and I'd like to meet both of you one of these days.


I have a friend who videoed Kerri working stock before this happened and I want to get a video of her working now, then if I can figure out how to post it see what everyone thinks. I'm not all that great at technical stuff (I don't know what I'm going to do when my teenagers leave home - I don't know how to program the VCR :rolleyes: ). Anyway, sometimes its easier to see it than explain it and thought that might help provide some clues.

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Hye, I second going to Bill. He will work with what ability that your dogs has and not look down on your dogs. He is a great person and I have gone to him over the years.


Buy an hour of his time and have him work all of your dogs if you an swing it. You will walk away and go "AHHHHHHHH" and be on cloud nine


Diane Pagel

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Well, going to Bill sounds like the appropriate plan of action for me and the dogs.


I've had a lesson with Bill about a year and a half ago with a group of 4 other people. He is definitely a very nice man and his dogs are amazing.


It might be several weeks from now, but I'll let you guys know how things go.

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