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Odd sheep behaviour, and dog questions


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Why is it that my totally dog-broke sheep run AWAY from Nick, whereas with my old dog, they'd come right to me? The old dog was extremely strong eyed, but VERY weak in every other fashion. He had these fabulous, fast, sweeping outruns, then he'd get so focused on the sheep, he'd "forget" to move. He had basically zero power over the sheep- penning was a nightmare! Nick, on the otherhand, is fast and powerful. I've had him 5 weeks- he's been around my sheep from day 1, working them for 3 weeks or so. He's 2.5 yrs old. I can't figure out why my sheep, who used to come toward me at the sight of a dog, now run away. They dodge and dart sideways trying to get around Nick.


Which leads me to the next question. When the sheep do their sideways thing (which I never saw with my old dog), Nick starts flanking SO far around that he nearly circles the sheep. He steadies down nicely, and I'll give him the opposite flanking command to get him going the other way, but how do I prevent this?


I've been told my sheep need to adjust to the new, very different, dog, but I'm not sure I believe that.


Today was a mess. A group of ewes we were moving got stuck- refused to move (they're grumpy at the snow), and Nick, who usually has no qualms about pushing sheep, simply flanked them at a set distance- no pressure, and wouldn't walk up on command. Then the sheep bolted & he proceeded to hang off the back end of one of them (thank goodness they're sull ewes & not bred!) Another odd thing- Nick grabbed my idiot fleece wether, but the wether had it coming. This ewe did not. I got after Nick, and he proceeded to get worse! I finally gave up & left the field before I got oo frustrated.


My friend had a dog who the harder you got on her, the harder she got on the sheep. I don't really think Nick is like that- it doesn't fit his personality, but who knows. Nick hasn't worked in a few days because of the bad weather & my work schedule, but he hasn't been bored- plenty of mind-play & having the zoomies with the mutt-dog.


Arg. I'm just frustrated today. My trainer-friend is out of town, so I can't bounce ideas off him. Sorry this got so long.

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My sheep act differently with each of my 4 dogs.


My slow easy dog they will challenge at every turn (two of my ewes are fairly agressive) luckily he will move on them and get them going but they test him every time.


My stronger dog they will not challenge at all but tend to be leg huggers when he is in the pen, which drives me nuts! He sounds like he is somewhat like your dog, if he is fresh he acts like he hasn't EVER herded before. But if he has been worked regularly he is a pro. If I get on him at all he gets harder to work with and starts taking it out on the sheep. When he is under pressure he falls apart. To keep this from happening and to keep myself sane, instead of raising my voice when correcting him I get quieter and guieter, this forces him to slow down and listen and takes the pressure off him so he can feel more confident about his work.


With my 9 mo old pups the sheep will take any chance they can to split off, Thank goodness both pups after only a couple of times in the arena are excellent at bringing them back to form. Because they are both bullets the sheep are much more flighty with them than with my other two.


So it is probably just a case of your sheep reacting diffently to this new dog. Until they get to know each other things may tend to get messy.


I have found that gripping like you are describing usually comes from frustration on the dogs part. Maybe he hasn't learned to "read" the sheep yet? Do you have a smaller pen to work in? If we had trouble with our dogs at my trainers she always sent us back to the Bull pen to relearn manners and how to keep the sheep moving but still be able to correct the dog easier because of the tight area.


Don't give up, every time I think about giving up, poof the dog suddenly gets it and we are off and running!

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I'm having a little trouble picturing what's going on when your sheep "run away from Nick." Where is he -- and where are they -- in relation to you when they run away? Is it after he's completed his outrun? Or while he's going out? Or what?


When you speak of the sheep "doing their sideways thing," do you mean that they're zig-zagging from side to side when Nick is fetching them toward you? It sounds as if he is not staying on the balance point during the fetch -- is that it?


As for what happened today when the sheep got stuck, I assume that Nick just felt unequal to the task of pushing them on (because of the snow), and diving in and grabbing as a last resort is not uncommon in a situation like that. If the cause was that he felt powerless to move the sheep, then getting on him about it would naturally make him worse, because he can't see how to be better. They won't move for him AND you're mad at him. :rolleyes: Now THAT'S pressure.


But I may be misreading what you've written, so I hope other folks will contribute their take on it.

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1) I'm no expert. 2) I have never seen you work your dogs on stock. So take these thoughts for what they're worth :rolleyes:




The photo of the stubborn ram and the good dog meeting him head-on is from John Atkinson's website. Atkinson says:

I do not use the word "power" that is used so often. I have seen too many dogs I have been told have this "power", that are either dirty cheap shot grippers or cannot push themselves out of a paper bag
A dog with little presence (or force, as Atkinson calls it) can sometimes move even stubborn, difficult sheep. A dog with lots of presence can sometimes fail to move sheep. It isn't just a matter of how the dog is handled, either, though we all know a skilled handler can make a dog look more talented than it is.


Keenness can compensate for a lack of presence. My Twig is very keen, and if you whush her on, she will use quick moves, shoulder-blocks and even mild grips to get sheep headed where she wants them to go. She has initiative and a willing heart. But she can't walk straight into the face of a bold ewe, and will duck out of range if she feels threatened. Whush her on and she'll bust things up with her tail high: the sheep will move, but neat, it ain't. (In her defense, Twig isn't out of control or wild when she does this --- she uses as much "charge!" as necessary and then settles right down, no command needed. At home with her own sheep, she rarely needs to throw her weight around.)


Twig isn't powerless --- I've seen my ewes "eye" a timid sheepdog clean out of the pasture --- and she's my right hand at the farm, but if we had to finesse range sheep around a big course... forget it. It wouldn't be fair to Twig to ask her.

Today was a mess. A group of ewes we were moving got stuck- refused to move (they're grumpy at the snow), and Nick, who usually has no qualms about pushing sheep, simply flanked them at a set distance- no pressure, and wouldn't walk up on command.
This reminds me of Twig (except for the grip at the end). I wasn't there to see it, of course, and I don't know what you were doing, but this doesn't sound to me like an extremely powerful young dog. The fact that your sheep scoot away from him, and from each other, makes it seem as if they've taken his measure and decided they can test him, no matter how fast and keen he is.


On the other hand, your old dog may have had lots of presence that was negated to some extent by his stickiness. He sounds as if his weak point was an excess of eye rather than a lack of power. Was he clappy? [Clappy = a dog that drops to his belly and stays there, so focused on stock that he cannot/will not move.] If the ewes' flocking instinct kicked in, chances are the old dog had at least some presence.


To sum up, I wonder whether the old dog's strong eye might have been taken for weakness, while Nick's speed and keenness have made him seem much more powerful than he may actually be.


(Not to mention all the other factors that might have been involved on Nick's bad day: the handler, the dog's former handler, the dog's health, the fact that Nick is still new to the scene, the snow, the place the sheep got stuck, etc., etc. It could have been just that: one bad day. You were wise to stop working Nick before things got too het up.)


I'll be interested to find out what your trainer thinks about what happened. Let us know!

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Hooo-kay, I have no idea what was going on last week... I think everyone (me included) was going a bit stir-crazy from wacky weather. Today, Nick brought these same ewes down to a new paddock all ho-hum and easy. Even my cantankerous old somewhat gimpy ewe complied!


As for the old dog... well, he has many, many issues. He's happy being a mostly pet & reminding some very grain-trained sheep about things. Poor dog did not have an emotinally atble upbringing. Could have been amazing, instead he shuts down.


My friend's lambs who are grazing the back field here got loose in the barn & Nick had a blast putting them in stalls until we could get the fence fixed! Only had trouble with 3 lambs who were just being idiots, as lambs will sometimes be...


Anyway, it all seems to have worked out. We need to work on slowing down. Part of that comes from the fact that Nick is from the south- he's used to a SERIOUS drawl. I, on the other hand, do not drawl. I speak fast and loud. So Nick is figuring out my vocal tones, and I'm slowing down my commands.


Nick is such a happy-go-lucky dog, very eager to please, so it's not too much work training him

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