Jump to content
BC Boards

Newbie - help evaluating rescue BC mix pair for working potential?


Recommended Posts

We have an organic vegetable and hair sheep farm in the subtropical Caribbean. Just 40 acres and about 40 sheep + 2 LGDs at the moment but looking to get up to about 100 sheep. Also turkeys, chickens.

Over the New Years holiday a pair of young stray border collie crosses (BCCs) showed up at the farm. We're trying to decide whether we should hang onto them, I'm looking for help evaluating their potential ...and management tips so I don't ruin their potential! (I'm a total newbie to stockdogs but have a couple years experience with LGDs, moving sheep, and obedience training shelter mutts. I'm working my way through the FAQs and archives on this site.)

 

We immediately registered these BCCs at the local animal shelter and passed their photos around online, but no one claimed them. Two separate people recognized them and contacted me, said they had been feeding them for months at two different industrial sites a few miles from the farm, one even sent us pictures they had taken of them at one site. The vets and shelter staff did not recognize them. The female (18lb.) had a spay scar, the male (30lb.) unneutered. Clean white teeth say they're 1-2 years old. We had a pretty immediate offer from a BC rescue group in TN who is willing to take these dogs if they don’t work out for us, so we’re willing to give it a little time. We had a full workup done at the vet after a few weeks, they had no RFIDs, were clean bills of health, we had them chipped/vaxxed etc.

They tamed up to me and learned the names we gave them pretty quickly. Recall with a special whistle has been pretty good. We had the boy neutered last week and have had them in a recently acquired 10x10' dog run and only on leashes for walks this week for post-op, they've been good sports about it.

 

Prior to the neuter surgery we were just letting the BCCs hang out in the yard by the house/work area. When they’re home, they follow me and/or otherwise keep tabs on my whereabouts. If I go out to the pasture areas to work with the sheep/LGDs (the LGDs don't come to the house), I leave the BCCs at the gate. They are almost always waiting at the gate when I come back. Once I’m through the gate they are jumping up greeting me, the male gripping my hands and legs gently and getting underfoot pressing up against me. I’ve been discouraging all that, but wonder if it means herding potential?

I didn't go looking for herding dogs, but since they are ‘homeless’ but otherwise young and healthy we are thinking of keeping them if they might learn to work and be happy here, and we have the bandwidth to manage them. We are busy people but we like dogs. We have the LGDs out in the pasture areas (old one passed away, currently a new pair of 16 week old pups) to keep our sheep and poultry safe from feral dog attacks, and a 4 year old 40lb. shelter-adopted shepherd mix house dog. Our family next door has a 6 year old 60lb. shelter-adopted house dog. Our home is extremely tiny so I'm not optimistic we can add two more highly energetic indoor dogs, but it's hard to imagine bonding closely with a dog that isn't in the house some.

The BCCs are entertainingly playful with each other and mostly a team/inseparable. This is great as they keep each other busy. In the first month or two when we had them loose, at night they'd sometimes hunt rats. On the other hand they had started a habit of going off on walkabout (6:45am departure, return between 9:30-11:30am) each morning, wandering off into cattle pasture areas beyond our farm borders for mucky pond or beach swims and vermin hunting and - as of last week - picking up lots of deer ticks (luckily no lyme or RMSF here but they can get tick fever). So I’m trying to figure out what to use for tropical-strength flea/tick prevention for these guys, and wondering how much independent activity I should be allowing them.

 

I have introduced the BCCs through a fence on leashes to the LGD puppies, who barked at them nonstop. The BCCs yawned and avoided looking at them. Through a fence, with the LGD puppies present, they are unexcited by my sheep. The male showed strong interest in our tractored (movable coop contained) poultry. Once he discovered the chickens I had to carry him out of the pasture. :)

I’m feeding them the same thing I’m feeding the LGD pups = the breeder’s recipe = modified Pitcairn recipe = 24% protein from grains par-cooked with added fresh raw blended garlic and vegetables and nutritional powder mix (yeast, kelp, calcium etc other stuff) and some cheese/sardines/other treats added. They are cleaning it up. They get raw beef bones 1-2x week. I’m guessing the wrong food with too much energy in it can make BC’s unmanageable. So maybe this recipe for growing big dogs slowly is coincidentally a good mix for the BCCs too.

I don’t currently have a fenced yard near the house to keep them in other than the 10 x 10' dog run. We have a lot of people coming and going from the farm for vegetable sales including wholesale customers and a farmstand a few times a week on the property, and they don’t usually bark at people coming and going (unless they have a dog in their car). They watch everyone and are either standoffish or tolerant. They’ll let some visitors pet them now. I have a small (1-2 acre) pasture zone I could fence them into but it's possible they could find a way out. We use electric netting on the farm, could that be a possibility for some temporary fencing for them...? In the first weeks I occasionally used XL airline crates by the house when I needed them contained for an hour or two.

Ideally I’d like to be able to use the BCCs to be farm ambassadors (keep morale high), and help us work the sheep and maybe also poultry in the future. I do weekly rotational grazing so don’t need a lot of help moving the sheep in general - we just open a gate and with the small numbers we have the sheep are pretty well trained to come when we call them to the new grass area and move through the gate quickly - but once in a while there’s a recalcitrant ewe that makes it more difficult, and there are times we want to catch them in a small pen for processing or treatment or examination and that’s where I thought maybe a helpful dog might help us pen up/catch/hold a ewe or a nervous lamb and move things along. Once in a great while we do a big move across the farm with one of the sheep groups and it would be nice not to have to build netting chutes for that. It would be helpful to have extra dogs to keep deer out of the gardens at night and chase rats. And I’d like my 7 year old (human) to work with the BCCs, help me train them.

I’m not sure how to start training them, how best to see what their potential is… figure out what would be the best strategy for keeping them happy. They seem very different - softer, more intelligent and more independent - from the shepherd mixes I have obedience trained in the past. They are a bit more like mature LGDs, always sizing things up.

Soooo… I’m looking for ideas or tests to evaluate their working instinct/potential. If they're not going to work out for us, I'd like to get them moving toward the right situation/fit. They are not terribly interested in playing fetch, but love chasing each other. Summer is our slow season when I have more time for these kinds of projects. Where should I start?

 

Sorry for the length of the post!! Trying to paint a picture of us and the dogs...

Link to post
Share on other sites

The very best thing you can do is find a trainer to do the evaluation for you. If they do have any talent, it's far too easy for an inexperienced person to mess it up, and if they don't have talent, it's too easy for something unfortunate to happen - such as the dogs becoming overexcited and chasing the sheep. If they are a BC mix, there's no telling what the other half of their family tree might bring to the mix.

Also If your sheep have never been worked by dogs, there's every chance they could either go on the fight or run madly - either scenario unfavorable for evaluating green young dogs. And it could end up with injury to your sheep or harm or fright to your dogs.

For evaluation, they should be taken to a trainer who can guide them correctly and who has gentle, dog-broke sheep that will be fair to your dogs. Working livestock is not something one can learn alone.

Where are you located? Perhaps someone here can recommend a trainer for you. Good luck!

~ Gloria

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks Gloria!

 

Agree your solution would be the ideal one and the absolute fairest to the pups and to the sheep... however, we're on a Caribbean island so I'd estimate the closest stockdog trainer in the Southeast would have be 'shipped in' – at least a $5-600 flight away plus transfers, lodging etc. plus their time... no stockdogs or trialling clubs or dog-broke sheep in the region, if there were you're absolutely right I'd love to get help locally! I'm considering trying to work in auditing a stockdog clinic sans dog next time I'm visiting family up in the states, but that could be months or a year away.

 

Is there a second best suggestion?

 

I was hoping for some DIY suggestions about activities to try with the dogs or some other co-indicators/tests of herding potential and/or prey drive prior to any large expenditure (we are a young family farming full time)... I'm continuing to scour YouTube videos and this forum and such. I found a video of a guy working with a GSD puppy in a fenced yard, using a long PVC pipe with a towel attached to a string. He was teaching the flank (away and bye) commands by having the puppy chase the towel as he dragged it in a circle. Maybe something like that? What kinds of behavior could I try to trigger that might indicate (or rule out) herding potential in a dog?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Also of note - my sheep are all well-broke to LGDs - they'll butt an annoying pup gently. And a handful of the older ewes are hand-tame and seek petting, or at least have a small "bubble" or flight zone for human presence. Their rotational grazing paddocks tend to be fairly small (5-7 days) and they are used to us. Don't know if that would make a difference. But I was more thinking of human/dog interaction to get a sense of their potential first. What behaviors/factors would cause you to 'go no further' investing your time in training a herding dog?

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have introduced the BCCs through a fence on leashes to the LGD puppies, who barked at them nonstop. The BCCs yawned and avoided looking at them.

 

Both the yawning and looking away are appeasement gestures. They're telling the pups that they're no threat. Pretty sweet, actually. ;)

 

The fact that they're not interested in the sheep through the fence could mean that they're just not interested. But, of course, that's no guarantee.

 

I'd guess these are littermates who are very bonded to each other. You might try separating them and taking one of them to the sheep, perhaps on a leash or long line so that you can prevent her or him from getting into trouble if they do show keenness.

 

Kudos to you for taking them in, caring for them and having a sensible plan in deciding whether to keep them or move them on to someone who'll make sure they'll get a good home.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Also of note - my sheep are all well-broke to LGDs - they'll butt an annoying pup gently. And a handful of the older ewes are hand-tame and seek petting, or at least have a small "bubble" or flight zone for human presence. Their rotational grazing paddocks tend to be fairly small (5-7 days) and they are used to us. Don't know if that would make a difference. But I was more thinking of human/dog interaction to get a sense of their potential first. What behaviors/factors would cause you to 'go no further' investing your time in training a herding dog?

 

 

Well, bear in mind that sheep who love their LGDs may freak when faced by a dog trying to work them - it's a semi-predatory behavior that sheep don't like if they're not used to it. ;)

 

But since you're clear out there - (ZOMG, I want to come visit!!) - videos are a good second best. I'll also recommend Patrick Shannahan's videos. He has a series that go from pup to trained dog. Google Red Top Kennels and you should find him and them. :) Also Google the website "Border Collies in Action." They have a number of videos for sale, as does the International Sheepdog Society (ISDS) website shop.

 

A thought on your first post: forgive me for saying, since I don't know how things are where you live, or how many people are around you, but I'd be SUPER wary of letting my dogs roam. There are a thousand things that can go wrong, from finding rat poison somewhere a half mile away, (or eating things that make them sick or cause bowel obstructions or perforations) to being hit by cars, to being attacked by other stray dogs - and also starting to chase and harass other people's animals or chickens. So, so many times dogs are caught killing chickens, attacking cats or small dogs, or chasing livestock who would never do that sort of behavior at home. Their owners are either horrified or flat refuse to believe their well-behaved-at-home dog could do that.

 

Dogs on the loose can easily develop a "pack mentality" when out there away from you, and what starts off as curiosity can become bad behavior. The 10x10 kennel sounds like a perfect place for them when you can't watch them, and maybe later you can expand that to a larger area. But even though you may let them have the run of your place most of the time, I'd be super concerned about what dangers they might find if they went off the place. Just my thoughts, not knowing your situation. :)

 

Anyhow, check out some videos, because while books are very good, I think watching the work in action may be easier for a new person to grasp. Just remember to factor your sheep into everything you do, because they will not react the same to your dogs as they do to your LGD. Good luck!

 

~ Gloria

Link to post
Share on other sites

Wow, thanks all. This was the guidance I needed!! I will check out some videos. Agree bonding with, and training them, one-on-one is the next step.

 

Gloria I completely agree with you about the wandering thing. As livestock farmers who have suffered losses from stray dogs (a 9-pound feral Cairn terrier and his 11-pound feral Bichon partner killed two of our prize 30lb. heritage turkeys last fall) we of all people should know better than to let dogs roam. They can be shot if harrassing livestock! I agree fully that most pet owners have no clue what their dogs are capable of when in like company and not in their own territory. Our own pet house dogs are always leashed or inside. Close to our farm are only cull cows in an adjoining plot (no calves) and our own well-fenced and electrified sheep and poultry, with 2500 acres of mostly fallow pasture around us, but you never really know what a pair of dogs are getting into unless you're watching them.

 

I had very mixed feelings about their walkabouts for their safety - but knowing how many months they were running loose on the island on roads and in the rough, I didn't want to contain them too much in the first few weeks for fear they'd become highly motivated to escape before they felt they had a home here. I also kind of let them because I was being lazy (or busy) and felt they needed and enjoyed the entertainment and exercise. I was sure they were going south into the pasture and not north to the road - they were coming back wet from swimming. I think we are feeling better about their bond with us and their level of ferality. They are relaxed and quiet in their little dog run now, not trying to dig their way out or pacing etc.

 

We'll start with basic obedience! I was hoping for a less time-intensive way of forseeing the future potential of these dogs but there probably is no way to know until I've worked with them longer.

 

Thanks again so much for the input.

Link to post
Share on other sites

That sounds workable. How big a circle, and do you think 4-5 sheep would be enough? Guessing I should pick flightier/more nervous/reactive ewes...? This would be pretty easy to do with electrostop... I also have some small permanent fence catch pens here and there on the farm where I could put a few animals and let the dog run around the outside.

Link to post
Share on other sites

A word of caution. Both dog and sheep can go through electric netting. Using it for a round pen could be counterproductive. The sheep in a panic may learn they can go over or through it, and of course the dog can learn the same thing. If it's electrified and the dog gets shocked for being overenthusiastic, it could be turned off work all together. I'm sure you know this, but wanted to point it out for those who may not.

 

J.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with Julie about using electro-netting to make a small pen for the purpose of introducing your dogs to sheep. That could go very badly in a couple ways. But, if you already have a small free standing pen or can easily construct one out of real fencing panels, it might be worth a try. However, I have had two dogs that showed absolutely no interest in stock that were contained within a small pen similar to what was shown in the video, and both turned out to be extremely useful helping manage a flock of about 70 sheep. To be fair, both these dogs had already seen stock up close, and were familiar with stock being contained behind fences, so I think part of their disinterest was because they knew perfectly well that the stock weren't going anywhere. They were plenty interested as soon as they were put in a situation where they could interact with the stock in a meaningful way. And conversely, I think it would be quite possible for a dog to show "interest" in stock confined to a small free standing pen that would resemble herding behavior, but since the dog has no choice except to run around the perimeter, it is pretty hard to separate useful interest from simple prey drive that is being thwarted by a physical barrier. An experienced trainer could likely tell the difference, but it would be easy for a beginner to be misled .

 

I'm not saying don't do it. As long as you have a real pen that the sheep can't jump out of or knock over, and that the dog can't jump/climb/crawl into, it can be an interesting thing to try. But the outcome, taken by itself, will only give you a clue as to your dogs' potential. Don't make any decisions one way or the other based on that test alone.

 

Oh, and I would pick four or five or six of your calmest sheep for this. Flighty sheep who feel trapped while being circled by a predator are likely to do bad things. Ideally you don't want to use sheep that will challenge and stomp at your dogs either, but the last thing you want is an inexperienced dog frantically running circles around panicked sheep desperately trying to escape from a trap. Safety first!

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll third or fourth the "don't use electronet" warning. Scared or freaked out sheep can flatten it in a heartbeat, and it's terribly risky if animals get tangled up in it. A pen for this exercise must be sturdy enough to withstand sheep hitting it it at a fairly good clip, so you'll need T-posts and good wire. Safety first, indeed! :)

~ Gloria

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...

Thanks all. We've had a lot of other priorities for the last few weeks so have been on basic maintenance with the BCs. I have let them follow me around on chores and I'm pleased with what I see - there is prey drive, they're observant and smart, the sheep watch them but are not terrified. Hope I'll free up some time soon to order and watch some videos!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...