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Soft Dog Giving More Space


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Hello all,


Lady is 13 months now and we attended a class today at a new locale, as the unfortunate and absolutely untimely death of our mentor last month meant we had to search for new direction. I am pleased with our teacher, as he cuts straight to the chase and points out his students' shortcomings. Among ours were that Lady is "too much handler, not enough dog" - my fault and "in the sheep's bubble". I have noticed these two traits in her for quite some time now, and I'm wondering how I can combine working on both of them to gain success.


She's quite soft as far as BCs go, although she's getting much better about taking direction PROVIDED that I haven't already been applying pressure too often on her already. We worked on a dozen or so Ouessants (tiny, extremely flighty little sheep that responded VERY well to a dog's presence and had a penchant for bolting off) and their movement and constant escape antics kept Lady engaged and her nose off the soil. Unfortunately, because she's "too much handler and not enough dog", when a couple particularly tricky ewes would bolt from the pack back to the holding area, Lady did not head them off quickly enough. In fact, most times she would give chase as if to do so, then stop in her tracks and look back at me as if to say, "Is this ok?". I gave her the O.K. every time, but it's my fault she's stopping in the first place. She's terribly gentle with her sheep and even then, I've been putting pressure on her (not always intentionally, it's just been so hard to work with a sensitive dog as a novice). And so, I guess, she is hesitant.


I was advised to give her an encouraging "Go on!" or a directional (I'd say Lady is about 70% of the way on learning her sides) as soon as it looks like she's about to hover in one spot and not continue on her way. Apparently what I was doing, was egging her on excessively, so that her focus was peeled away from chasing them down, and rather on what I was saying. Difficult to remember when all you want to do is push your dog to head these bratty ewes off, but I am going to work on it.


Is this the correct way of letting her "dog" side take over, so that she stops relying on the handler for direction?


We also did some very tight pen work, which I loved, personally. Lady was quite hesitant to get in as the Ouessants were all backed up and staring her down. I got in there with her, forcibly moved them out of the way, and cleared a path for her. She was soon doing both flanks and moving between the ewes and the wooden sides of the pen smoothly. Very happy for that, I'm sure it must have aided in building her confidence up at least a little.


But then things went to crap when we moved to the open paddock, as the holding area was open and in a very obvious pathway from the area. Several ewes ran like bats out of hell towards it, and Lady only succeeded in heading them off once. I was told I wasn't watching my sheep (watch the sheep, not the dog!) and that if I had, I would have been able to direct Lady on to the appropriate flank with the right emphasis in my voice to egg her on. Instead, it seems, I put her on the wrong side, and did not have enough urgency in my tone when I realised (literally in the 1 second my back was turned) that one had f'd off to the holding area.


It's difficult to watch the sheep and not the dog when I have been told to face AWAY from Lady (by previous teachers) as I'm putting undue pressure on her by facing her. But it seems, based on the three or four short minutes I tried with *only* going backwards, that Lady has stopped sniffing around when I do that... provided that the sheep she's working are animated, and not stodgy, over-dogged ewes.


And so this brings me to my second question, how do I ask her to give me more space (she slices her flanks quite tightly, and with these edgy sheep it was NOT good) on both flanking and walking on to the sheep? I was told I shouldn't use "lie down" except only after sending her on a fetch and she gets to the balancing point, just because she has a tendency to smash up against the ewes' bottoms once she arrives at her destination point - note, NO gripping just literally bumbling into them because she's so anxious? excited?


One method I was show was walking quite brusquely towards her at a 90 degree angle as she is flanking, in order to push her out. But I have found in the past that this can be too much pressure for her, and she ends up stopping in place and hesitating once I've done it a certain number of times.


I was thinking of using "Ah-ah" as a way to get her to pause, even if it's just for one fleeting moment, whilst up on her feet and then relieving the pressure by asking for a flank. If I drop back, I notice that it buys me only a couple seconds' worth of breathing space until she's too tight and up into the sheep. She is very gentle, again, it's just that she tends to get into the bubble and while it works with the over-dogged, super zen ewes, it definitely DOESN'T work for flighty young sheep like these Ouessants. Lying her down also didn't work, as she just picked up her previous pace as soon as I asked her to walk on. It's so hard to tread that line of just enough pressure to get her to slow it up, without putting so much that she's hesitant to maintain speed when I need it (i.e. flanking and heading off any would-be escapers).

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flighty sheep for a soft, young, inexperienced dog can be challenging. difficult for pups to get a feel of sheep that are constantly bolting. difficult for the pup to get a hold on them. i might look for heavier sheep as well. sheep that will allow your pup to push on them. sheep that are a bit more forgiving of rash pup behavior... sheep that your pup feels she can control. not necessarily dogged sheep. they don't have to be broke... just heavier.


it is also difficult for your pup when she is constantly losing... when sheep are able to escape. pups will react in different ways... some will become rash and grippy with their frustration, others might quit or be afraid to make a wrong step for fear of losing their stock.


I wouldn't lie her down much either. i would want my pup up and on her feet. working and learning to control, earning to feel... gaining confidence. If your pup is already worried about losing her stock, being stuck on her belly is just growing the anxiety.


and yes. talk to your pup. instill confidence, gently correct, keep in mind a correction isn't punishment it is guidance and instruction.


sorry if i missed the mark for you. difficult without watching what is happening.

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Hi and ty for the replies. :)


As for putting her on heavier sheep, we did just that around two months ago when we went to England for four weeks. We were loaned some very heavy lowland sheep and there, Lady did find that she had to get right up close to keep the sheep moving, lest they slow to a halt almost immediately and start grazing (or just stand there with a gormless look on their faces). She's not a powerful dog at all, in fact I'd say perhaps that is why she feels the need to stay in close even on rather flighty sheep? She just lacks presence, I suppose, and that's what we're often told.


When those two or three Ouessants kept bolting for the holding pen, Lady didn't give up which did give me slight hope, but she has this tendency to run after, then stop as if to ask me if it's alright that she's going. At one point she went around a blind corner to get the sheep back, and I didn't know if she'd stopped or not. My husband was there though, with the other dogs, and gave her a single Go on, Lady! and she promptly took off after the sheep, headed it off and (attempted) to walk it back to me. I was very happy for that. These sheep were wily little turds, yes, but I feel she was not yet "losing". When they'd head the other way, I sent her into the pen to fish them out and she was more than willing. She even took her directionals well and snaked in between the chicken wire fencing and pen gates to coax out the less co-operative ewes. I think Lady does love to get the job done, but she needs encouragement... given at the right moment. If I tell her to do something whilst she's already doing it, she pauses again as if to say, "What was that again?". It's down to me to find the right time to egg her on, I guess.


I think the only time I'll feel it's appropriate to ask for a down is when she is fetching them and gets to the balance point. If I don't, it's almost certainly going to mean the sheep coming at me with breakneck speed, and then it quickly devolves into chaos from there. Otherwise, though, I believe it's more prudent to not down her, yeah.


Lady won't be put on sheep for the forseeable future as I have no automobile and lessons are 70 minute drive from my flat in the city. So she'll have time to grow up more. I guess I get discouraged when I see trained dogs at 12 months doing spectacular things and having loads of power behind them. But then I forget that A: I don't own my own sheep - or even a car - and B: we've been doing this for all of six months now, so I should learn to be patient. It's tough to wait! ;)

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I think it might also help you to reset your expectations. Lady is not other dogs and so you can't expect from her what you see in other dogs. Some dogs are much slower to mature than others. I have a dog who ran in the National Finals at age 3. Her son was still pretty much a blockhead at age 3. If I had set my expectations for him based on what his mom was like, I would have been sorely disappointed very early on. And yet, that more slow maturing dog is now my main work dog.


Maybe she lacks presence; maybe she lacks confidence. Maybe it's a little of both. Confidence you can help, and a dog with a lot of confidence can do a lot of things that a dog lacking in confidence can't. What you do in training will determine how much confidence your dog will develop. In other words, it's up to you to help her gain confidence in her ability to move and cover sheep. Often dogs who stop and look back for direction are simply unsure of what they are allowed to do. You have to be able to read the situation and provide the needed guidance without overdoing the help to the point that she can't work without constant direction/encouragement from you. This is where being a novice handler is at something of a disadvantage.


But as Robin said, there's nothing wrong with putting her up for a while. Maturity can help with the confidence issue too.


But above all, stop comparing her to other dogs. Accept her for what she is, with the realization that some of what she is can be altered through training. Don't let others pigeonhole her as "oh. she's this" or "she's that." She is what she is, but she will change as she matures and learns. If you expect her to "lack presence" because people tell you she does, then you're accepting something that doesn't necessarily have to be.



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That's very motivational, thank you Julie. :) I compare her not because I want to, but it's hard not to when one is a novice and someone has a dog that just... works better from the get go. I am very new to all this and I haven't seen dogs that take time to develop, versus those that don't. All I notice when I go to classes are the dogs of people who've been doing this for 10, 20 years and I subconsciously go, "Oh jeez, I'm so behind compared to him". I REALLY try not to because I know it's terribly unfair on Lady and honestly a bit dumb on my part, seeing as we've been doing this for a half a year, only.


It is a fine line with motivating Lady and not overdoing it so that she needs a stream of reinforcement. I don't know how it is training a more bullheaded dog, but with Lady I feel like being a bumbling novice puts me at a severe disadvantage. She's so sensitive to mere gestures or head turns, or faint hisses from my mouth. It's very difficult to put myself in the right position, mind the dog, watch the sheep (and not fall over backwards), and also motivate her at the precise moment she needs it. I do love it though, which is why I keep returning, but some days are less inspiring than others. We learn regardless, but it's hard!


Thanks again for the reality check, I do need it. :-D

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