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Building Confidence in a Youngster


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Hello all,


Lady is my 8.5 month old BC bitch from working lines. We've seen sheep four times in total now, and every time the feedback has been the same - sensitive, smart dog who needs her confidence built up. She sniffs the ground at regular intervals on some goes, and others she is better about keeping her head up and her gaze on the sheep. But then there's times when she's a bit frazzled (usually on her first go of the training day) and she will sniff more than work.


While I appreciate that they are telling me to build confidence in her, I am wondering how is best. I am currently just quietly praising her with "Good girl"s as she works correctly, and make kissy noises to keep her attention and head up when she starts sniffing. Currently I am facing the sheep and walking backwards; is this putting too much stress on her? Should I walk facing away from her, so that she has a little pressure eased off?


I really want to help Lady get over this barrier of not being entirely sure and confident in herself. Outside of it, she is really lovely to work with. Very responsive, a great dog for a first-timer like me (so I've been told!) and of course she's simply the most marvellous pet at home. :-)


Here are a few videos of her second time on sheep to give you an idea of what we're working with. Our latest go out on a farm here in northeast France saw a bit more sniffing and "stress" behaviours from her than on these videos. Please note that I'm really quite crap, still, at being a handler as I'm learning the same time Lady is! But I have learned how to position myself better and to guide Lady with body language and raised arms since these videos were taken. :-)


Thank you in advance for your thoughts on this matter. :-)


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Hi there!

My thought is definitely stop facing her. She's a gentle dog and she's not going to bust up the sheep, that I can see. Facing her and always watching her is a lot of pressure. If she were mine, and I had those gentle sheep, I would just do lots of brisk, fast walking and let her bring the sheep along with you. Walk briskly for several yards, then simply turn at right angles and walk in another direction. Shush her along if she pauses to wonder what you're doing, and give her the responsibility of bringing the sheep when you turn.

She seems to have a lovely sense of balance, as well, and all that circling may befuddle her a bit. I would walk fast away from her, and every time you make a turn and she just stands there, simply shush her on and walk faster. When she stops and sniffs or eats poop, turn at right angles and walk away - pretend you're trying to out-walk your sheep. Shush her up to flank around them and make sure they come with you.

If she does stop and seem uncertain and either eat poop or just look at the sheep, do not continue walking the same direction. Begging her to catch up to you and the sheep may feel like pressure to her. Instead, again, turn at right angles and walk - walk fast so that she wants to go around them and bring them with you.

That's my two cents, anyhow. :) In summary - stop facing her, walk faster, and walk longer in straight lines - but turn sharply, every time she seems to waver and stop, so that she has to move to get to balance and bring the sheep. But don't give her lots of commands, yet. Let her learn to feel her sheep and get confidence.

Best of luck!


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Wow, thank you for that reply! I have noticed when we were on a long stretch of straight walking, she'd pause and let a lot of distance grow between us. That seemed to make her wilt even more, and here I thought that coaxing her would be enough (eventually) to get her moving again.


I will keep in mind all that you've said. It really does seem like facing away helped the previous two times I tried it out, so that is comforting to know. I look forward to being able to apply all of this when we see sheep again in May. :-)

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Excellent video quality. I can't quite decide whether Lady is over-stressed or a little disinterested at times. Is this new activity too exciting or not exciting enough?


Good suggestions, above. Abrupt changes of direction, should help her stay on task, while allowing her to practice maintaining balance.


When you stumbled and fell (at about 0:30 of second video) one of the sheep popped out, and Lady did a wonderful job of covering to tuck them back together. Nice instinct. You might ask your instructor whether Lady should try sheep that are a little less docile. I thought that was some of her best work, when the sheep were unruly for a moment.


For her first or second go on sheep, it's OK. She is young, and you will no doubt see progress, and likely already have.


As Gloria said, commands will come later. For Lady, perhaps 2-3 short sessions (3-4 minutes each, separated by rest periods), rather than a long one, might help keep things less stressful and/or more interesting. Have fun, and stay light and upbeat. -- Best wishes, TEC

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Dear Ms. Ludi,


Grass/poop eating is usually a stress signal and that's what I see in the videos. She's young - very young - and if she were mine I'd put her up and let her mature for a month or two. Also - and this is important - it is difficult to arrange, pay for and travel to a training session and work a very short time but most novices train too long at one session. In a space like this with a worried 8.5 month old dog 5 minutes is plenty. I don't mean 5 minutes and rest her for an hour and bring her back out I mean 5 minutes THAT DAY. Yes, very skilled trainers can modulate pressure to go longer but I'm not seeing that here.


You don't teach a young dog to handle stress by over stressing it. You teach it that work is fun and that you don't expect too much of your dog. Whoop and carry on. Put the ewes in a corner and encourage a grip. Loosen her up before you ask for progress and then keep it fun.


Finally - don't praise her. Your voice just gives her something else to think about when she's already at her maximum capacity.


There's nothing wrong with this dog but relax and don't push her.


Donald McCaig

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Thank you both so much. :-) I believe the activity was quite exciting, as at one point Lady decided to book it with a sheep all the way to the end of the field, and her recall (which is usually flawless) fell on deaf ears a fair few times when it was time for a break in the day. Perhaps it was too exciting, like you say?


On our fourth go, we did have very short sessions of roughly 5 minutes each. Our third time out on that day was around 8-10 minutes, as it was our final one before we had to pack up and drive back home, and turning away from her did seem to help. But I'm not entirely sure, as I don't have eyes in the back of my head. :-D


I don't plan on teaching her any commands until my instructors tell me that she's good and ready for having that asked of her! Right now it's been solely about keeping her interest in the sheep, and upping her confidence.


I didn't think about the praising bit, actually, so that is a good point you brought up. It's true that it is more "input" and it might be flooding her thoughts which are already quite busy with the livestock in front of her.


Again, thank you all!

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I saw a very different dog when you fell. Tells me that she is very young still and not mature enough to take a lot of pressure. You got good advice already, so I won't repeat that but I would add try dropping the stick. She's kind to her sheep so waving a stick at her is just going to add more pressure.

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Yeah, in later lessons I no longer employed it as we saw no hint over the course of our time that she would ever go at the sheep with too much gusto. Plus it was just another thing for me to remember, and I was already busy trying to not trip myself up. :-D


Thank you for the reply! It is interesting how when the sheep scattered a bit, Lady is showing different colours. I'll mention her better reactivity to slightly less docile sheep.

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