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Where's the gather?


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Hi, I'm curious- if you had a 14-mo old who, after 5-6 sessions on sheep, circled, changed direction, and seemed comfortable driving, BUT showed no gather what would you think and/or do?

 

Isn't that tendency hardwired? Or could it be something that might still emerge with experience? The training videos posted here all seem to show this basic tendency (and at much younger ages) to go around, gather, and bring sheep to the person. I guess I've heard of dogs who had to start out driving, but then how do they learn to gather?

Thanks for any insight!

 

 

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Dear Ms. Alfreda,

 

Paticulars, please. Does the dog fail to bring all the sheep or not bring sheep at all? Are you working in a small pen or an open field. Are the sheep "school" sheep or range sheep?

 

Some very young dogs will go into a pasture and bring (most) of the sheep. Other dogs need to get the idea. I am a little puzzled by "comfortable driving" since that's usually taught much later than fetching and not during the first 5 or 6 sessions.

 

In the first sessions I convince the dog that we're working together. Next, I get him going around me and the sheep both sides. Then I back up rapidly and as the dog holds the sheep to me, I begin teaching a simple short fetch and - hopefully - a bit of pace.

 

You can't really do a gather until the dog is outrunning to the sheep and short outruns come after the fetch.

 

Donald McCaig

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Mr. McCaig,

Thank you for your reply and questions-

Particulars: round pen, 3 "puppy" sheep, dog circles but when the trainer tries to walk backward, the dog busts in grips and/or splits and chases (he's been on and off the long line and yanked off his feet several times). She feels he's trying to take the sheep away from her.

 

"comfortable driving" means that when walking around the pen with the trainer going in the same direction- driving the sheep in front, the dog is calmer, will stay farther off, feels the movements of the sheep, and looks like he's working. Dog doesn't have concept of go around, away from person and bring sheep back. Doesn't seem to want to group them together either.

 

We tried an artificial 2-person gather in the pen yesterday. I backed up with the sheep and she walked the dog on a long line (just in case) into me and I encouraged him. It was much calmer and pup just seemed kind of confused.

 

Thanks! ( I will try to post a video, but am having some tech troubles...)

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Sounds to me as if the dog lacks confidence and doesn't yet understand what is required of him.

.

This may be why he is happier 'driving' sheep walking alongside the trainer.

 

It may also explain why he is rushing in to grip because he doesn't yet understand how else he can balance stock and move them towards the handler.

 

If when he stays off his sheep, he tends to circle at a distance (while not looking at the sheep as he does this) then this is another sign that the dog is telling you that he doesnt feel comfortable near to the stock because he would rather remain out of contact and away from the pressurised zone.

 

As Liz suggests a video may help.

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I love the long line for starting dogs HOWEVER, if the dog does not have a strong heading instinct it can create some problems. Sounds like he has been allowed to simply 'follow' sheep instead of being taught the proper way to move sheep.

 

Additionally the addition of a person in front of him may add a new pressure. Perhaps he needs you walking in front while the trainer handles the line behind so he can get the picture and the trainer can reinforce proper commands.

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O.K. here (I hope) are links to a video of lesson #2 (sorry I'm new to uploading). [video removed 2/24/15] This is Otto at 14 mo. He's on long line because off it he was chasing sheep into the fence whenever she tried to back off or when he got too close.

 

What Pam describes with me in front and trainer walking with behind is (I think) what we've done twice now. Artificially, he is "bringing" sheep to me. He does that, but he looks a lot less keen and often sniffs and looks away. Tentative now. or Bored?

Thanks so much for your comments. I am still wondering if the behavior of holding sheep together to a person is something that is taught, or emerges from genes/instinct?

Rebecca

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I just see a young, hot headed dog. If the space had been bigger so the trainer could back up more, I suspect your dog would have fetched them. JMHO, but I hate round pens. Preference is for at least a small paddock (few hundred feet across) or a field, long line and easy sheep.

 

This is one of my dogs being started, her first lesson. You can see she is on a line. When she first saw sheep, her reaction made your dog look tame.

146713-R1-04-20.jpg

 

146713-R1-15-9.jpg

 

Sniffing and looking away can be a dog that is distracted, but it can also be displacement behavior (stress response). That should go away on its own with proper training.

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The dog has to reach balance (the place where he feels the sheep are under control between him and the handler) before he can fetch. That didn't happen in the video here, because the trainer was moving in a way that kept him off balance. I felt he spent the time he was free from the line just running off the tension he'd built up while he was on the line. Evidently the trainer is apprehensive that he would dive into the sheep if she did let him get to balance. She was certainly right about that early on in his "free running" -- he wasn't looking in to find balance at all -- but whether he might have been able to feel balance toward the end when he was tireder, I couldn't tell for sure. Anyway, in answer to your question, the bottom line, IMO, is that the trainer is not working on fetching, or even permitting fetching, at this point -- she is trying to get him more relaxed and wider circling, to a point where he no longer wants to dive in -- and therefore there's no reason for you to worry based on the stage he's at now that he won't fetch as the training goes forward. He just hasn't come to that point yet. It's a long road.

 

And BTW, I wouldn't count what he was doing when he was on the long line as driving, even though he was behind the sheep and they were moving forward. He was just walking behind the sheep because he was being kept in that position. So he's not learning to drive before he learns to fetch. You have to let him have the sheep before he can either fetch or drive, and the trainer clearly doesn't feel he's ready for that yet because she isn't letting him have them.

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re the video... It is a testimony to the instinct to work and their desire to please man, that these dogs ever learn to help us herd. We label them, put them in a pressure environment, don't develop their respect for us before going to stock, and whack them or "jerk them off their feet" when they show the enthusiasm we hoped for.

 

The first part of the video with Otto on the leash walking toward the stock doesn't teach the dog anything about herding, nor does it bring out his intrinsic instincts that you want to shape and control. Probably makes him frustrated. He is a real warrior to do that "exercise" and still want to work sheep. You can see him turning his head away and then go back when called to following the sheep on the leash.

 

Your two person exercise in the first post won't work. One thing you can do with two people is let one hold the leash/rope until the TRAINER is near enough to the sheep to block the dog (see V. Holland pg. 49 - 60). Keys: get the dog to the opposite side of the sheep; nearly continuous motion; stop the dog only on balance. Short sessions.

 

RED FLAG alert. If you've been doing what is illustrated for "5-6" times, do something else. A rule of thumb is if what you're doing is working, keep doing it. If it isn't working STOP and do something else. Otherwise you're just teaching the wrong behavior and hurting your and the animal's confidence. (also applies to most of life's problems)

 

A good goal for this dog might be to start seeing some relaxation (and not just because he is exhausted from a long, pressurized session).

 

With the number of times Otto has changed direction in the video, you could have taught him his right and left commands. As it is I can only imagine what he thinks "Good boy" means for him to do. Stick to the commands you've taught or teaching and corrections. The work is rewarding enough for a keen dog like Otto. The chatter while the dog is on stock is just static for him to ignore, which you don't want him to learn to do. Remember you're teaching him to learn.

 

In addition to Holland's book, I highly recommend you find the seven part series of articles published in the Working Border Collie magazine titled "Training Skills" by Kay Stephens Sep/Oct 2005 - Nov/Dec 2006.

 

That bush in the middle of your round pen makes for a worst training venue.

 

Have you worked on a lie down off of stock?

 

I really like your dog and hope you have great success. The time necessary is worth it. Don't blame the dog; don't label the dog. Find a way to get the results you want.

 

Sincerely

Bill

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I'm with Bill and Eileen on this one. I don't see the point in walking him on leash behind the sheep. He appears confused and maybe frustrated, flipping and flopping around to look at her, and his attention is darting around. I feel it's just building his frustration, because the one thing his brain is screaming for him to do is CONTROL THE SHEEP. He's not driving and he's not controlling the sheep while behind them, and he knows he's not controlling them - hence his anxiety.

I also see a dog who's simply young, keen and hot-headed, which is certainly not a fault. Once the trainer turns him loose, I'd say he's burning off a lot of excitement, so I'll presume the trainer's goal there is just to get him circling more sensibly.

But from the video, I'd say he's not yet trying to find balance to gather and fetch sheep. (Plus there's not really enough room there to do that.) Maybe he is simply not ready for that. Not to worry, though, as he's young and he'll have to come along at his own speed. His ability to feel the gather will happen after he's settled down enough to feel the sheep at all. Right now, all he feels is the 'need for speed.' :P But all things in due time.

~ Gloria

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I too saw a dog that was frustrated. If you watch the part where the trainer takes the dog by the collar, walks it towards the sheep then lets it loose, the dog rushes in and isn't in thinking mode. This was actually putting extra pressure on an already excited dog. Also through the video I didn't notice any change in the dog, it was allowed to continue racing around in a circle without being allowed to feel the sheep. The trainer spent the time staying close to the sheep, instead of helping the dog find the correct distance and balance on the sheep. I'm not trying to speak ill of the trainer but this is what I am seeing from the video. 11 minutes seemed way too long to have your dog just running around in circles not learning anything. You can tell your dog really wants to try but isn't being given much direction. Bill has some good advice on reading material, plus are there any stock dog clinics that might be coming up in your area?

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I agree with the others, the dog is frustrated and is not really being shown how he can use his instinct to reach the balance point and calm his mind. I second Bill's red flag alert..

 

 

RED FLAG alert. If you've been doing what is illustrated for "5-6" times, do something else. A rule of thumb is if what you're doing is working, keep doing it. If it isn't working STOP and do something else. Otherwise you're just teaching the wrong behavior and hurting your and the animal's confidence. (also applies to most of life's problems).....

 

A good goal for this dog might be to start seeing some relaxation (and not just because he is exhausted from a long, pressurized session).....

. Remember you're teaching him to learn.

 

I really like your dog and hope you have great success. The time necessary is worth it. Don't blame the dog; don't label the dog. Find a way to get the results you want.

 

 

Just out of interest, what made you pick this particular trainer to help you start your dog on stock?
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I agree with what others have said. I see a young, frustrated dog that is not getting the help he needs. Is this your trainer in the video or is it you? I don't want to make assumptions. Either way, I agree with Bill, that maybe try something different when you are working your dog.

 

if you feel like you keep getting the same results with this trainer, potentially seek out another trainer or find a good clinic.

 

You might also check out an online course. I did the Scott Glen Sheepdog training course online - starting a young dog and found it helpful. I am not sure if it is still available or not. There is also the MaCrae way course on Starting a young dog, though I haven't done it myself, I have heard it was good.

 

The online course helped me get a better visual of what it should look like and what I was actually trying to achieve. I was a beginner when I took it and it gave me more understanding of what balance was and how to help my dog.

 

Good luck.

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If you watch the part where the trainer takes the dog by the collar, walks it towards the sheep then lets it loose, the dog rushes in and isn't in thinking mode. This was actually putting extra pressure on an already excited dog.

 

I felt that way also. When I use a line on a beginner dog, I just let go of it and let the dog trail it at the point when I want to give him freedom to work. That avoids the tension created by the process of unhooking it, and also is less of a demarcation for the dog between being controlled and being free. Usually it takes a little while before the dog realizes he is free, and so you skip over that "yee-ha!" moment and have a better chance that he will continue on in calmer mode. It also makes him easier to catch, if necessary.

 

I realize how problematic it is for you as a newbie to look like you're telling the trainer what to do, especially when she is apparently wanting to protect her sheep. This is one thing, though, where you might be able to indirectly suggest it by asking what would happen if the trainer just let go of the line when Otto seems to be relatively calm and focused and oriented correctly. If she was on the lookout for a moment when he was calm and focused and oriented correctly, she might let him go sooner and thus cut short the prolonged (counterproductive, IMO) stage of following the sheep around the ring.

 

ETA: Maybe I should add that I do like to start a dog in a ring (although preferably not one with a no-go zone in the middle), and I'm not inclined to use a line for much at that stage (though I'll often have the dog trailing one). This is just by way of illustrating that both methods have their proponents. I do like to move the dog out of the ring as soon as he's got the idea, though.

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I couldn't watch the whole thing... does she actually hit the dog with the stick around 7:04-7:05? I am nowhere near qualified to give advice, but you can sense how frustrated the dog is and all that walking behind really amps him up for when he finally is released. Not a fan of the jerking around, either. I think he's a good dog for wanting to work after all that. *shrugs*

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I won't pile on to what everyone else has said here except to note that I will start in a round pen (one without obstacles that just beg the sheep or dog to crash into and injure themselves) and with a line on the dog. I will walk the dog toward the sheep and as soon as the dog bends out as if it wants to go around, I let go of the line and let the dog go and start backing up to give the sheep somewhere to go once the dog gets behind them, so the dog that goes around has a chance to do a tiny fetch even from the very start. Even dogs who want to dive straight in will at some point bend out and then can be encouraged around.

 

Unlike Bill, I don't train flank commands early. I don't train any commands early, though I will ask for a stop. Early training to me is for the dog to learn to feel and control stock without a lot of jabber or commanding (i.e., distraction) from me. I will give a voice correction for behaviors I don't like, but beyond that will try to let a pup/youngster just work. You can back up in a round pen, across the diagonal, although the piece of fence in the middle of this pen would make that difficult. You'll get 4-5 steps of a fetch, which is plenty if you don't want an overenthusiastic youngster busting in (because they have no clue how to rate themselves and so are going to pushing up the sheep's butts after just a few steps forward). Four or five steps of pushing then turn and the pup gets to flank around and come back to balance.

 

In general, I also prefer more than three sheep, mainly because a larger number will behave more like a flock so the dog is actually working sheep that behave more normally.

 

I also try to make sure that the sheep stay between me and the dog so the dog is actually affecting/working the sheep. I understand wanting to get between the sheep and the dog to stop any misbehavior, but at that point a trainer is setting up an antagonistic situation between herself and the dog and the sheep are no longer in the picture, except as something that the dog would like to get to, but will have to get past the trainer (as fast as possible) to get to. You can influence the space between the dog and the sheep while staying on the opposite side of the sheep from the dog. (Note that this is a generality--there are times when I will walk through the sheep and block the dog from them, but that's for specific situations and not routine training.)

 

One thing I adamantly agree with is repeating things that aren't working. I also don't think circling, sometimes somewhat mindlessly (or so it appears) teaches a dog a whole lot. I've seen lots of dogs learn to orbit sheep, which is beneficial to no one.

 

With the more sensible youngsters, I'll do as Liz does and move them into a larger space to work; here's it's a rectangular shaped paddock about the size of a riding ring. BUT, I don't let the pressure of a small space go by the wayside. All dogs need to be able to work in tight situations and wide open spaces, so I will often work a youngster in a round pen and a larger area, and even in the larger area, I will do plenty of work along the fence (figure 8s, with the dog going between the sheep and the fence) and in corners to help the youngster get used to remaining calm in tight places.

 

I want to thank you for being willing to share and accept criticism and comments from all of us. Starting your first dog, especially one as enthusiastic as Otto, can be a real challenge, most especially for new handlers. I will second the suggestion to find clinics near you and also to read books if you have them available. I especially like Julie Hill's book The Natural Way.

 

J.

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Great post in general, Julie, but especially this:

 

 

I also try to make sure that the sheep stay between me and the dog so the dog is actually affecting/working the sheep. I understand wanting to get between the sheep and the dog to stop any misbehavior, but at that point a trainer is setting up an antagonistic situation between herself and the dog and the sheep are no longer in the picture, except as something that the dog would like to get to, but will have to get past the trainer (as fast as possible) to get to.

 

ETA: PSmitty, the trainer did not hit the dog, she hit the ground next to the dog.

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Hi, I just want to thank everyone for their input. I do appreciate it!

 

Iwant to clarify that the person in the video is the well-qualified trainer (USBCHA trailer with many years of training dogs and students who trial). I am the one filming and trying to stay off the fence so as not to have the sheep stick there. Otto is frequently looking toward me wondering what he is supposed to do... and yes, he is stressed, and not really being shown what *to do.*

 

There's so much to respond to here, I'm not sure where to start- --I'll have to do a bit at a time. I've been re-reading an old thread (thanks Eileen) about B. Daziel's methods, and using a long line vs not, and about potentially taking the "gather" out of a dog by doing too much driving or line work... As a beginner I can't say if that's the exact approach this trainer is *now* using, but after the first sessions of diving in, gripping, and chasing sheep, she decided that he had to be on a line to prevent (and to correct) the chasing. She thinks Otto is weird about pressure-- in that he needs to be pulled off the sheep with a line, because he doesn't push off them with body pressure- or at least not when he's too close or amped up.... she thinks he doesn't fear her correction enough (this latter point is the main part I disagree with, I don't think he needs to fear, he needs to learn what *TO* do. He needs to be shown and shaped).

 

Anyway, she did mention Dalziel and how with some dogs they need to be on a long line and lunged like a horse for a long time... This experience has been frustrating for me, because that is *SUCH* a different picture than what appears in most of the training videos- Look at Denise Wall training May or many of the others, all those young pups are staying pretty well off the sheep and going around or even to the heads....

 

I will post another video soon that shows what happened when trainer did try a larger area and letting Otto loose, but I just want to say that if the current goal is to build: confidence, calm, and respect for the stock BEFORE Otto can be "free" to move around and balance, gather, or drive then I'd say that that is what we've been doing with the 2-person technique in recent sessions.

 

In spite of some bad experiences so far, Otto seems interested still, and I do see growing comfort in being close (on line to sheep -usually behind them, with one person holding the line and me in front of him, backing up with the sheep between us) and we are doing short, slo-mo flanks. He shows increased "work" posture and a tendency to cover inside flanks... charging is down to 1-2Xs a session at close range and/or when pressure increases (ewe stares at him, or turning a tight corner... All of this has been happening in the 3 most recent sessions using 2 people and the line hooked to a belly harness (pinches). I haven't been able to video those because I'm in there. I don't know if there is a danger in doing that in never getting a dog to feel his sheep, think for himself, or gather-- BUT I wonder what you guys are doing with dogs that chase and grip? Are you allowing sheep to be injured or killed????

 

Also, at Bill's urging I re-read Holland's section on starting. He talks about 2 goals of first sessions, one being getting the dog to circle, and the other, to let the dog have a positive experience. I would say that goal #1 was met, but maybe not #2. This trainer is the second one I've tried and I shopped around regionally a lot... I do not wish to criticise- she's been really generous in terms of answering questions and offering me opportunities to get livestock experience for myself, and I've been able to watch a lot of more advanced students take lessons. Finally thanks to Bill for liking my dog- I like my dog too! IN fact I love him! He's my only one at present, and I so much wanted his early training to be done well! I don't know if he's "hard" or "weird" or not sensitive to pressure, or just naive to livestock, or what, but I do very much care to cultivate his best qualities and abilities!

Thanks so much again to everyone! Rebecca

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Please bear in mind this is coming from a complete novice, but I wonder if giving him some time off to grow up mentally may not be a bad idea. In the past almost two years that Timber has been working he has been given anywhere from 3-6 weeks off several times. The first few times it wasn't really planned, life just got busy, but I was always more please by the dog I had when we went back. A few times they were planned breaks, I hit one point where I left a lesson in complete tears, soaking wet, the top from rain, the bottom from mud & manure, and him so worked up it was like I wasn't even there. We took about 2 months off that time, although I had to use him a bit at our place which I did on leash and worked on him respecting and wanting to work with me. I went back with a completely different dog.

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