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Being Honest with Oneself


Ludi
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Today has been a very rough day for myself. I have received a lot of feedback on my BC bitch (my first "sheepdog") from handlers and trainers from both the continent and the U.K (as well as some from the fine people on this board, albeit only off video). It's been pretty unanimous - she lacks power, greatly. She's also developed a "new" issue, or perhaps exacerbated an underlying one, with her lack of power - she's sticky and can fall into an unmoving trance thanks to too much eye. I don't know if it's X that caused Y, or vice versa, but the fact is that she has both these issues.

 

She is only 14 months, that is true. But when pretty much everyone whose opinion you respect (and sees Lady in person) is telling you that she's capable of little more than where she's at now, it really hurts and gives you a "reality check" sooner than expected. I asked (almost begged) if she'd be capable of developing power with increased exposure to sheep. They all said, maybe, maybe not. But she's sticky, she's got too much eye, that might actually get worse the more you push her.

 

I work for an incredibly modest paycheck, so does my husband. We were ready to pool our money to send her off to see a trainer in Wales for a few weeks. But after linking various videos throughout Lady's development, I got told it probably wouldn't be worth the cost as the trainer's sheep are very heavy, and what she saw, the utter lack of power, would mean it would be very difficult to get things moving along. Does it mean she might do better on sheep like barely-dogged Blackfaces or Ouessants? You'd think so, right, except when we take her to a trainer with those light sheep, Lady has the exact same problems.

 

We keep her moving, or at least try to. We shush, we clap our hands, we grumble, we stomp, we rush at her, we call her name to keep her going. She balances when we practise flanking (and cor, her flanks are gruellingly slow), but then she stops. On the shortest of fetches, she slows down to a grinding halt near 2/10 o'clock. She can't cover, if the sheep dart off she's too busy staring at one with whom she's locked eyes. I try my damnedest to snap her out of it, and sometimes I need to literally run up to her and push her head away to get her to wake up. There's no workflow when we are training. And I pay 50 euros for what amounts to 15 minutes, split up thrice, of shushing Lady along.

 

So because I don't have my own sheep to do endless exercises upon, and I cannot afford such a steep cost for so little actual time with the sheep, I think I'm going to have to accept that herding becomes something we no longer actively pursue. Who knows, maybe at 2 or 3 years of age, she'll be a different bitch. But for the foreseeable future, I think being a sheepdog isn't her destiny. Maybe agility? She's highly toy-motivated, she's obedient to a fault, she always minds my position and body language (except, of course, when she's in her sticky trance on sheep). I want her to have a job, I'm just devastated that it probably won't be with sheep.

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If agility suits her and you enjoy it, it can be a great deal of fun, good exercise, and a great way to partner with your dog. You seem smart enough and willing to face reality and to want to do something that also suits your dog. Go for it!

 

Maybe someday in the reasonably near future you can have a dog that provides the chance to learn stockwork together. I hope so!

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Aaaahhh darn. There are lots of great activities for border collies. Many of them incorporate a strong social component for dog and handler. You have a good attitude...have fun with your dog and keep her active.

 

Your trainers, who have worked in-person with her, likely have it right. May be time to start readying yourself for the possibility. It's far easier to take a little off a dog's edge, than to increase its drive/keenness.

 

If you have already made the decision, disregard the following. I don't want to hold-out false hope. I recognize some of what you describe in your bitch, when my dog was maybe three. She wasn't sticky with excessive eye (she has moderate eye), but at times seemed to perhaps fear certain sheep, or to not have learned the skills to walk-on to a packet of balky sheep to get them moving. It depended on the sheep and other circumstances, but she definitely had a hesitancy that was holding us back. We worked through it, and I like to think that she has become more powerful, through training. I haven't found anything in my training environment that she can't move/handle, except perhaps holding a ewe in a shedding scenario that is dead-set on joining her buddies in the other bunch. But I am working-on improving that, as well ;)

 

Fourteen months is so young to throw up your hands . If you have a moment, look at my post from couple years ago about Julie Simpson's book, now Julie Simpson-Hill, "The Natural Way" (2003).

Link: http://www.bordercollie.org/boards/index.php?showtopic=32801

 

Yes, it was out of print then, but perhaps they have reprinted it or you can find an old-timer who has a copy. It's a jewel in my opinion. She devotes numerous pages to troubleshooting. She uses an exercise to keep dog's loose and flowing. She advocates bringing-out the dog's natural abilities through progressive training, and uses very little after-the-fact correction. If a dog should hit a training wall, then she backs-up, and goes at it differently. Her methods very much include the trainer's judgment and knowledge. You would probably have to find an instructor who would come on-board.

 

Simpson-Hill lets her dogs have the sheep from time to time (no excessive gripping, but I don't imagine she would be too upset if a young dog unintentionally got a little overly exuberant once in a while). She uses it as a break/recess in disciplined training, so that a dog does not lose fundamental instincts for reading sheep and covering. Dog just flows around, as you walk-about the field giving few commands, more-or-less trying to break free of the sheep and dog, the dog holding them to you. That's just one exercise, but her entire program emphasizes bringing natural instinct to the surface.

 

I remember going to a small clinic years ago with a friend. Instructor (not Simpson) sized Josie up for a few minutes. I did not know her methods, and was a little surprised when she told me to down Josie 20 yards from sheep; had me walk near them; and call her to me, while at the same time running around a little like a crazy person touching/grabbing the sheep (all acting, no sheep were harmed) and verbally shushing-up Josie. Lots of dust and commotion. Then we got a good down on her, and within an hour had Josie nicely driving sheep through panels. As I look back on it, she wanted Josie to learn she had good power/influence over the stock, but she was the type that didn't explain much. Just, "Okay, watch 'chiss", and my dog is doing things she had never done before. I don't recommend that exercise for just any dog without a knowledgeable trainer, but give it as an example of finding creative exercises designed for the dog's personality.

 

Ludi, you may have attempted forms of the above, or may already be researching agility clubs. But if you think a different approach is worth a try, you might look into it. Perhaps give your dog a break, and go at it again next spring when she's more mature. I don't think a border collie cares much what activity it is doing, as long as he/she is doing something with its owner/handler. -- Best wishes, TEC

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I feel your pain. Mine is going to not be an agility dog (which is what my plan was when I got him). Hes too spooky, to easy to over-arouse and he breaks with alarming frequency (3 soft tissue injuries in 2 years despite a professionally guided conditioning program). His temperament is too fearful to handle large agility trials, and if he gets at all stressed he slams into things and damages himself. Obedience is out, maybe some rally but rally doesn't interest me very much. I have actually cried that he will never be the sports dog I wanted. But I still love him, and he tries hard, and hes been a good dog. I might have even considered re-homing him as a pet dog, except his temperament is a problem.

 

So we are tracking and dabbling in low level herding (which is interesting for us both even though he will never be a stellar sheepdog, and it may help me in the future with a different dog). He teaches me a lot about dogs in general, and aggression, and how to read dog well. We snuggle at night. We take quiet walks. He loves my husband, and loves my small dogs and is wonderfully gentle with them.

 

This will have to do.

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As I was reading your post, I was pretty much thinking what TEC said below. I can understand money being tight, opportunities being slim, and putting your training dollars where they can do the most good. BUT, she's young and I hesitate to look at any baby dog and say the dog doesn't have enough power. She's young. She could grow into it.

 

Remember that many top trainers will assess dogs fairly quickly and weed out the ones they don't think will make top dogs. But are you looking for a top dog? Or are you looking for a dog you can learn with. Maybe she's not a powerhouse; maybe she's sticky/clappy. These are things that can be worked on. If you decide to try again sometime in the future, after giving her time to mature, then I'd say find a trainer you like and give one approach a try for a while.

 

At the risk of sounding like a broken record: She's young. You may have overfaced her at too early an age. Novice handler and novice dog, especially one that lacks confidence, can be a recipe for, if not disaster, then at least a handler who thinks the dog can't work and a dog who is confused and lacking in confidence,

 

If I were in your situation, I would probably pursue something else for a while (by doing so you take all pressure/expectations associated with stockwork off the table) and then revisit working stock when she's older, maybe as long as a year from now. Writing off a 14-month-old who may not have had the best opportunities and certainly hasn't been started by an experienced handler (<--No insult intended with that; just pointing out that you probably don't have enough experience to have started her with the knowldege/tools to work through some of the issues as they became apparent).

 

Once she's a happy, confident dog doing something else, then perhaps reconsider (re)starting her on stock. You may have all of the same issues, or you may be pleasantly surprised. If, in the meantime, you have the means to get instruction for yourself, perhaps with a trained/seasoned dog (a trial or work retiree maybe?), that would be one way to better position yourself to be able to give her a better chance if/when you decide to try again.

 

I have seen enough dogs who were written off by top handlers who simply didn't have the time/inclination to "coddle" one along do exceptionally well with handlers who had a vested interest in making it work (that is, novices who decided they were going to go as far as they could with the dog they had because they weren't giving the dog up anyway) to advise that you simply give up because multiple people have said she doesn't have power or isn't worth the time to train. (Ask 10 different trainers whether 10 different dogs have power or presence and you'll get 100 different answers.) I suspect it's really a combination of a dog who was started too early and who lacks confidence, and a trainer who doesn't yet know how to make up (that is, train in a way that can make up) for that.

 

 

Just my opinion of course.

 

J.

Fourteen months is so young to throw up your hands .

<snip>

 

Ludi, you may have tried forms of the above, or may already be researching agility clubs. But if you think a different approach is worth a try, you might look into it. Perhaps give your dog a break, and go at it again next spring when she's more mature. I don't think a border collier cares much what activity it is doing, as long as he/she is doing something with its owner/handler. -- Best wishes, TEC

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Thank you all for your input. I do plan on going back to sheep once we've had a very long vacation from them. I think what crushed me most was being told that my dog has pretty much "peaked". I appreciate what you said, Julie, about top handlers/trainers writing off dogs pretty quickly in order to isolate the top notch performers. I definitely never expected to have a top sheepdog when I got my BC. My sole goal, when we began herding training in earnest, was to one day compete in a suuuuper novice, low-expectations trial. That's it. I knew that being totally new to this, having seen sheep for literally the first time in my life back in March of this year, would actively work against me. I also heard from many handlers that one tends to make a lot of mistakes with one's first dog. It's natural to stumble as we learn. I understand that, totally! It just really took the wind out of my sails to hear that I "couldn't" progress further with Lady.

 

Ultimately, what I hoped to do with her, was to become competent enough as a novice so that with my next dog, I make fewer mistakes. So on and so forth. I think that's why I kept trucking along to lessons despite hearing whispers of Lady lacking power, or being clappy/entranced. I want to keep learning, and I can't do that without a dog to accompany me. No one has let me "use" their experienced dog, although I would LOVE to have that opportunity. At least then, I can make mistakes and learn while not hindering Lady's own confidence and growth. But yeah, no one's obliged me despite many questions posed. :-P

 

I will do some very basic, baby agility for now with Lady and see where that takes us. My corgi has a great affinity for it and Lady goes mental when she sees him doing the jumps and tunnels, so I have a feeling she'll at least be a bit more alive and with a spark than how she is on sheep! We definitely will come back to sheep. My wallet could use the rest for now, though. And so does Lady.

 

Don't get me wrong, I don't think she's going to blossom into a superstar when she turns 2 or 3. All I ask is that this past weekend wasn't our last time out to sheep, ever. She does love it, deep down, but I guess her way of showing it conflicts directly with seeing them more often.

 

Thank you for the moral support, understanding, kindness and suggestions. I really do appreciate it. I'm not gonna lie, I cried like a baby when I got home from our latest sheepdog day. I kept a stiff upper lip and held it together in front of everyone else, of course, but I just couldn't any longer when I got home. I really do want to work sheep with this dog. She's so gentle, a great listener, and of course, my best friend. I think we could have made a great team!

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Not a sheepdogger, but what the heck... What about working a different species? Ducks, say. They are very different from sheep. Smaller. Less likely to challenge a dog? If she did well with them, then let her do it awhile and re-introduce her to sheep?

 

Sheepdoggers, what say you?

 

What is that idiotic game they play with a great big ball, and the dog shoves the ball around?

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My first border collie wasn't world class on sheep.....she had a a little bit of interest and a little bit of talent (but not a lot). A complete beginner with no knowledge it was very hard to see that she was not very good, be told by HUGE names in sheepdog handling/training that she was not very good but I want so much to achieve some level of competence....I wasn't going to give her up for a better dog. Eventually, I found a trainer that set some realistic goals based on her ability and we did attained a basic working competency. So, what was the point of it??

 

The point was that I learned a lot. I learned patience. And, I learned what a really really good dog was capable of doing by watching others and being exposed to top hands. I was exposed to better working dogs, learned about them and, eventually, when it was time, I acquired my first quality working dog....first a fully trained dog and later a working pup that eventually changed my life.

 

So, take what you will from my story. You might lower your expectations, but realistic when you approach your next potential trainer and set goals one step at a time. Don't put so much expectation on this. And, yes, try another venue.....such as agility or obedience. Perhaps you can have active fun with her, and less time and cost in a venue that is satisfying to you both.

 

At 14 months, she is very young and is probably not at the end of her potential in anything.

 

I still have my first dog....she is nearly 16 yrs old and has had a good and fulfilled life with me despite being "retired" from stock work at 3 yrs.

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My dog used to regularly react to other dogs by getting into intense fights with them if they got near him. He's better now, but I had a lot of discouraging days and a couple vet bills to pay.

 

I got to a point with my dog and his reactivity where I had to say to myself, "He's not a different dog this afternoon than he was this morning. You just know more about him." Every time we had an incident, I learned more about how Buddy responded to the world, what scared him or set him off.

 

So... your dog is exactly the same loving, happy dog she was before you realized she's not a great sheepdog. The only thing changing here the picture in your head. And the great thing is, you can make a new picture, for free, and never even let your dog know she disappointed you.

 

Mary

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My story is similar to Elizabeth's. I tried very hard with my first dog Ella to make her a sheepdog. I even considered sending her out for training. She had talent, but she had almost zero biddability. It was not until I got my second dog Rae (a retired Open dog) that I was able to realize that it wasn't Ella's fault for not being a good sheepdog, heck she wasn't even bred with that in mind. Ella and I pursued agility and she was very skilled and highly trained, though we've only competed twice. Once I got sheepdogs I didn't have the time, money, or desire to continue with agility. But it was a very fun activity for the two of us, and most importantly, we didn't fight with each other. The pressure I put on us was in trying to make her a sheepdog, not in letting her be an agility dog and pet.

 

If you are interested in learning, would you be able to go watch lessons (for free)? I did that for a long time. Even when I was struggling with Ella, I learned more from watching lessons and watching my instructor work her dogs than I did while out there with her. Eventually I was allowed to work my instructors dogs and we developed a friendship, which later resulted in being hooked up with the handler who was retiring Rae. And that led to more sheepdogs!

 

And re: power. You will probably get many opinions on this, but I'll give you my experience. A year and a half ago I acquired a dog who had basically peaked with her handler. She was well-trained but had tension and lacked power, and at 5 years old, I figured that little would change. But I tried anyway. Since I got her, I have worked on nothing but exercises to relieve tension and build confidence. Now, she still does not have much power and has trouble moving heavy sheep, but what has changed is her confidence. Previously, she would not have had the courage to fight through difficult situations. Today, she tries. In fact, I just ran her at the National Finals and she was able to fight a challenging ewe for much, much longer than she ever had in her life. She even gripped it on the face at one point, which may have been her first ever nose bite! We ended up retiring, but she was actually out there doing all that she could, and I couldn't have asked any more of her.

 

So I'd say yes, take a break from sheep. If you return and she still can not progress, maybe consider getting another dog if you still want to learn. I understand that you want to make it work with the one you have and I admire that, but when you get a dog who has more natural ability, you will see that it doesn't have to be such a struggle! And it should not take anything away from your relationship with the current dog. In fact, I began to love Ella more when I focused on what she was and not dwelled on what she wasn't. The dogs do pick up on that.

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I want to say thanks to all who responded. I've been reading these posts with great interest. The recurring theme of accepting where you are and continuing to move forward, no matter that 'where you are' isn't where you thought you'd be, is very timely and helpful for me in almost all areas of my life right now.

 

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

Ruth and Agent Gibbs

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Thank you all. :) I have tried very hard to cloak my disappointment and frustration whenever Lady would have a particularly bad time sticking/clapping. I know that dogs in general are sensitive to tone, BCs possibly even more sensitive, and I didn't want her to sulk or start to have anxiety creeping in from knowing that I was upset.

 

We celebrated the little victories we had along the way - maybe she'd finally break her stare, or she'd take a flank particularly quickly. There was a small moment where I sent her on an outrun maybe 50 metres up, and the sheep had a very strong pull towards the pen placed along the way. They tucked themselves neatly into the bramble and thickets by the sides of the paddock. I sent Lady in, thinking she'd get entranced and stare at them while I had to go extract them from the overgrowth. Imagine my surprise when not only she was taking my vocal commands, but she pushed the three sheep free from the bramble, and fetched them neatly to me. Moments like that kept me going when it felt like Lady became hypnotised, or demonstrated how badly she lacks in power.

 

Like I mentioned earlier, I don't want to walk away from herding entirely with this bitch. She is so lovely and the glee on her face as she runs to me after "That'll do" is heart-warming. But I have given some thought to, sometime later next year, perhaps looking for a different type of dog, with the guidance of sheepdog friends/handlers/trainers to help pick. By that time, my finances will have improved, and I hope to have found a place where I can train at least weekly for a decent amount. Where there's a will, there's a way. I'm not anticipating *loving* agility as I know my true love is sheepdog training, but if it fulfils her desire to work, keeps her active, and lets me appreciate my dog for who she truly is, then I welcome the sport with open arms.

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I don't think you should give up on her. I have a bitch with lots of eye and I have learned to work her (with the help of trainers) to bring out the good and minimize the stickiness. It took a while but when she is working well, you wouldn't know she had struggles walking up and flanking to kingdom come (very quickly however). Another friend of mine competes with a dog that couldn't move sheep 4 years ago. She was persistent when others said to give up. Really good trainers will be realistic but will help you train her to be better

 

Cynthia

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The Border Collie in Action catalog has announced that Julie Simpson Hill's revised book "The Natural Way" will be available in December or January, if everything goes as planned.

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