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Dear Doggers,

Rather than refer you to my earlier description of Fly’s character, I’m repeating it. Skip the next 3 paras if you wish.

 

 

 

She was a farm dog in Britain and worked a hill lambing. A pup from her first litter ran in the Irish National. Her crate/car/camper/motel room is her safe place - on walks when we start for home, she runs ahead to the safe place and hits her crate like she’s going through the back of it. When her Scottish handler dragged her out of her crate she bit him. His reaction was harsh and Fly quit working sheep. When he sent her off for training, Fly worked fine for the trainer but never worked for the Scot again. When Beverly Lambert bought her, Fly stunk so bad Beverly stopped at the village groomer who considered reporting Bev to the RSPCA. After Bev explained, the groomer beamed, “Oh, you’ve rescued her.”

Fly bit Bev’s husband, Doug - either because he reached down to pet her too soon after Fly deplaned or, perhaps because he corrected her for messing the umpteenth time in the house. She bit Doug every chance she got. She wouldn’t let him up the stairs.

Bev had had trouble with Fly’s outrun too.

 

 

I brought Fly home in early October. She wouldn’t work for me, was hysterical, ratty, just off pups (she’s had 3 litters), clung to me, wanted to bite/nip Anne and anyone else who moved or made alarming sounds. She wouldn’t work for me and while I gave her opportunities to work sheep, I didn’t INSIST. After two months I worried Fly might have decided to quit working period (some sheepdogs do) so I drove to Connecticut where Bev worked her (whew) and as she was flanking to Bev’s “Away to me”, I chimed in “Away to me” and Fly worked for me, twice, half second each time before she realized I wasn’t Bev and quit. At home, two days later, I walked her toward the sheep and when she went into her crouch I said “walk up” and soon as she’d taken two steps, called her off, “That’ll do”. Good girl.” We went on from there.

Beverly Lambert is a brilliant handler, much better than I am.She needs a dog who can take a lot of pressure and Bev’s high expectations. Fly developed an uncertain outrun and when she lifted her sheep, she was letting them escape. Our ewes hide in the wooded fringe half a mile from the feeders, so I sent Fly, put out feed and waited. I only went to help when I was convinced the sheep were stuck on the wrong side of a fence. After a while, as soon I opened the feed barrels, Fly took off w/o command.

By now, she was working to voice commands to about three hundred yards so I decided to put her on whistles. I couldn’t replicate Bev’s recorded whistles to Fly’s satisfaction so I changed them to mine. Oddly, the only new whistle she had trouble learningwas the “walk up” which was - to my ears - identical to Bev’s “walk up.”

Mine would be the third or fourth set of whistles Fly has learned and, at a distance, sheepdogs work entirely on whistles.

 

In the UK, most sheepdogs are, like Fly, kennel dogs. Sheepdogs are livestock and some handlers insist the dog whose entire life experience is working or trialing will be more attentive and eager to please. In this country most trial dogs and many farm and ranch dogs are house dogs.

Like my dogs. Although I don’t think household confusions and ruckuses do sheepdogs any good, pack leaders don’t need to be perfect only leaders, and as pack animals most dogs would rather be with us than not.

Consequently, mine must learn acceptable pack manners. No quarreling, counter surfing, unwarranted barking, pooping or peeing indoors. They must leave furniture when asked and if I put down a dinner plate, each gets a lick in order of rank, and departs so the next dog can get his/her lick.

I expect them to walk quietly off lead, in a group and be recalled from any distraction (including fresh kill or bitch in heat). If on lead, I expect them to walk quietly. My dogs don’t heel or front and finish or sit but they do “Walk behind”, “Down” and “Stay”.

When she arrived, Fly’s post-partum hormones were firing and ours was her 5th or 6th home. There are trainer/handlers who can win trials with dogs they’ve owned for three weeks. Since I’m not that good, I am necessarily patient. While I’d trial her, I’d retire as soon as things went bad. It would take a year before Fly was my sheepdog.

 

I made her feeding, crating and going out orderly, but didn’t complain when she messed in the house. I kept the counters clear. I petted her more than all the other dogs (who might get a morning or after-work pat) combined. I let her lie in my lap at night watching TV (no other dog has had that privilege), and let her race home when I turned back from walks.

My dogs can get on the bed whenever - so long as they get off when I tell them. The one rule I made for Fly was NO BED. I thought she needed one arbitrary rule to balance all the permissiveness.

In time I taught her to “walk behind” with the other dogs and am presently putting her flight to the house/car/refuge on command “Crate!”

 

Some handlers’ dogs never know the house is hollow. Some of these handlers usually defeat me at trials, as do some whose dogs are house dogs like mine. How one keeps sheepdogs is less a strategy for winning trials than how one orders one’s household.

I believe that a dog’s life experience can enrich or impoverish its work, its understanding and the pleasure it provides us. I take my dogs with me whenever I can and since I am self employed, I don’t spend more than a week a year without a dog sleeping beside my bed.

They have seen more of the world than most dogs. At ten years old, June has swum in the Pacific, Gulf and both sides of the Atlantic. June wore a security badge on the 10th floor of the National Geographic Hq and last year, in Georgia, in a kindergarden class, rolled over on her back so each child could pat her belly. June would never roll over for me and no, it wasn’t fun for her. June knew what was expected and did her duty.

She and Fly accompanied me to New Hampshire over the 4th. It’s a pretty field with a waterfall at the end of the dog walk. Even sheep. Our motel was seedy but every morning at the trial dozens of Border Collies dashed in and out of the fog.

This is June’s last trialing season and when she DECIDES where the sheep are, there’s no use arguing. She crossed her course twice (19 pt deduction) and I called her off. She had a third nice run but isn’t a great shedder and the sheep were difficult. Fly came 6th the second day (89) and might have won if I hadn’t miscommanded her. She was in the running for the 3 day cumulative until we didn’t pen/shed.

 

Nice trial but Fly was too careful and I handled her around the course. At home I’ll rev her up and give her a little more fun.

 

We drove through 5am Boston traffic to the Martha’s Vineyard ferry and friends I hadn’t seen for too long. Lovely 7? acre farmette. I left the dogs in their guesthouse/converted barn while she delivered a book talk at the Edgertown yacht club. When we got back, their little boy had let my dogs out so they were waiting by my car.

 

When it cooled down we took June and Fly to the beach. June rolled in the brack and Fly was surprised by a wave. She didn’t know what she thought.

 

Up at four for the early ferry. When I roll early, I stop and let them out a second time after three or four hours. Some nasty traffic in Connecticut and the A/c was on max. I was to meet my agent in Central Park and couldn’t decide whether to bring Fly (all those people, smells, sounds, 94 degrees) or leave her in her crate in the car in the parking garage.

 

Hotter in the garage than out and, I suspected, even hotter where the cars were stored, so I clipped the dogs to a double leash and ventured onto the pavement, and noonday sun. I kept June on the left, closest to slow and fast walkers, baby carriages, bicycles, hawkers, handout men and tiny dogs straining at their leashes to say hello. At intersections I crossed on the open side of the crowd.

Fly didn’t notice. The scottish hill dog glued her nose to the sidewalk and its thousand layers of intertwined exotic scent. Like a kid parachuted into Willy Wonkas chocolate factory - didn’t know what to examine next.

 

Nippable knees passed by her snout unnipped. Uniformed schoolgirls dithered past unnipped.

 

My agent brought sandwiches and we found a shady bench and talked business with the dogs tied up behind.

 

On the way back to the garage, a hawker gave the dogs a handful of ice. GPS lost signal amongst tall buildings but I got to the Lincoln tunnel: 10 lanes squeezing into two. With courtesy/boldness we got in.

 

There’s a pleasant rest stop at the PA border where I let the dogs off lead and they drank a half gallon of water.

 

My ‘89 wagon’s cruise control was acting up, so I drove to my mechanic north of Harrisburg and he delivered me and the dogs to our motel. THe mechanic works at night and would return for us at five am.

 

It’s a good doggy motel with a big grassy area out back. About 8, I fed them and considered walking to the nearby MacDonalds but the hell with it. I took a cold shower and to bed. Both dogs were stretched out flat, sleeping like the dead.

 

Experience.

 

Donald McCaig

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If I had to guess I'd say that the bites weren't the bites of a dog with a poor temperament, but rather those of a dog stressed to the limit and with seemingly (to her) no other outlet. I've met Fly a couple of times and, not even knowing she had a bite history, never saw anything to make me wary of her....

FWIW.

 

J.

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I won't even pretend to know one whit about breeding, but I would think that if her nipping was due to enviroment, experiences if you will, then breeding her would not be a prob. I would think the "sensitivity" of her would be more of a prob. Unless she was bred to a "sturdy" dog, and they hoped that would even out in the pups. Or,,,,,,,,,,,,oh, heck, like I said, I don't know diddly about breeding! :P

 

 

ETA: Oops, looks like I posted right as Julie did!

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I believe that a dog’s life experience can enrich or impoverish its work, its understanding and the pleasure it provides us.

 

I concur. That's a big part of why I enjoy taking my dogs about with me, as well. Mine aren't as well traveled as yours, but they have been to the beach, and they have run in the forest, and hiked up and down hills, and swam in the Sound, and swirled in circles amid a sea of other Border Collies, etc. etc. etc. In addition to enjoying their companionship, I believe those experiences have enriched their everyday lives.

 

I've noticed that but never tried to put it into words. I think you summed it up nicely.

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Thank you for the story, Old Sheepdogging man.

 

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Old Pop told me this.

 

 

 

"Sister, a horse or a dog needs to know that his job is important to the survival of the family and He must be Family."

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Thank you, Donald, for sharing your adventures with us! I always enjoy them (that must be why we own all your books!) I am so glad Fly finally landed in the right place. I firmly believe that while our dogs need to respect us as their leaders, we also need to respect each one for who and what it is. Fly has that with you......best wishes to you both as you give Fly even more positive experiences!

 

Kathy Robbins

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I would prefer pups from a dog which protected herself after being manhandled,through her key socializing period, but still learned to adapt smoothly to wildly different environments.

 

The other option would be a dog who went into a state of learned helplessness, and later freaked out when exposed to a walk down a busy urban street for the first time.

 

Border Collies that are properly bred usually are very forgiving. Females can get protective of their bodies though. Worst bites I've taken have been from female Border Collies recovering from mishandling.

 

By take a bite I mean, I will not knock the crap out of a frightened dog to prevent it. Unfortunately, I'm well trained to take a lot of pain so I can take a glancing blow and put her head on the ground crocodile hunter style. Then we can discuss it calmly.

 

It's neither blameable nor a temperament flaw in my experience. It's a perfectly natural and healthy response. Dogs with messed up anxiety levels don't do that. They just shut down.

 

A point Mr. McCaig made that I would like to repeat, is that he has been working on his relationship with Fly a very long time. He described very small increments of progress, or implicated them, anyway.

 

And there were many regressions and basics re-introduced, patiently. I assume patiently. I don't count a few choice words!

 

I am still amazed, over a year or so, at how a dog can turn completely opposite from its mishandled self.

 

The last couple of years I've felt so strongly about this, that i've started looking at "bad" traits in dogs in yin and yang sort of terms. I don't want to extinguish anything, just bring out the useful part.

 

Like saying how nice it is that you like going in your crate. Here's how you can tell crate time from not crate time. Pretty awesome. And waiting until the time is right to work on it.

 

Looking forward to seeing you soon at the post, sir. Got a moose of a dog who pretty much knows the front from the back end of a sheep. We'll see!

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Dear DOggers,

Ms. Rebecca writes: "I'm personally in admiration of her strength of will. The type of handling Mr McCaig describes often produces learned helplessness.'

 

I admire it too. More than a few rural dogs would have freaked out on those New York lunchtime pavements. Fly's strong sense of self (and her rights) is unusual. I think she must have been - except for her puppies - lonely. She was six months with us before she smiled and recently, for the first time, licked my hand. I think she'll be a brilliant sheepdog and good friend.

 

Donald McCaig

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She was six months with us before she smiled and recently, for the first time, licked my hand. I think she'll be a brilliant sheepdog and good friend.

 

Donald McCaig

This is leaving me with a smile on my face...

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Dear DOggers,

Ms. Rebecca writes: "I'm personally in admiration of her strength of will. The type of handling Mr McCaig describes often produces learned helplessness.'

 

I admire it too. I think she'll be a brilliant sheepdog and goodfriend.

 

Donald McCaig

 

Oops. Drat this phone. I didn't realize I hit send and then edit.

 

The above post is revised but the above statement quoted is still reflective of my sentiment. I just edited it for space/redundancy.

 

Funny how one ends up chopping out the most passionate bits in the editing process. ;)

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Dear DOggers,

Ms. Rebecca writes: "I'm personally in admiration of her strength of will. The type of handling Mr McCaig describes often produces learned helplessness.'

 

I admire it too. More than a few rural dogs would have freaked out on those New York lunchtime pavements. Fly's strong sense of self (and her rights) is unusual. I think she must have been - except for her puppies - lonely. She was six months with us before she smiled and recently, for the first time, licked my hand. I think she'll be a brilliant sheepdog and good friend. Donald McCaig

 

When you say that Fly came to you in October, do you mean just this past October? If that's true, then June has years of experience traveling with you but Fly does not. It is an incredible turn-around. I'm sure Fly's sense of self has something to do with it, but perhaps even more so is your very patient training and handling of her. There seems to be some trust there now. Perhaps having June there to take cues from helped also?

 

I think it's very difficult to establish that sort of bond and trust without working with your dog. I had a foster dog who did not have a lot of confidence go to a family, and then start having all kinds of behavior that he didn't have with me. I recommended a book, asked them to read it and start doing some training with him. His confidence is building and he is no longer showing fearful behaviors.

 

Food for thought...thanks for sharing, and good girl Fly!

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Dear Doggers,

 

Thanks, but . . .

I wish I could take credit for Fly's NYC success but truth is, if if hadn't been 94 degrees and if the parking garage hadn't gone up (concentrating that heat) instead of (cooler) underground, I would have left her in her crate in the car. I was lucky. I got away with it. I train/socialize with pressure and release - ask a dog to do something slightly beyond and when he succeeds, ease up. The trick, of course, is never overfacing the dog/never asking it for what it cannot do. What if Fly had got hysterical, trying to escape the leash, biting at everyone who came near? I was lucky. Having June on the same lead and Fly between June and me certainly helped but DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.

 

Donald McCaig

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I agree that in general, "Don't try this at home" applies.

 

With respect, I do believe Fly's success is not all that serendipitous. First, I don't get the impression that she is a shy, reactive dog who has trouble adapting to new situations.

 

Second: obviously I know little about Fly,but I have the sense that she's just the kind of clever, gutsy dog who needs most of all to be needed.

 

If that's true, she just needed a predictable leader who included her in the daily routine.

 

A dog like this, her world is filtered through the brain of a guy who has about four and a half feet higher perspective than her, and through a good bit of bushy white hair. ;)

 

So if something new to her is okay with him, it's probably okay with her.

 

But with

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