Jump to content
BC Boards

Recommended Posts

Hi All,

here is my question: would it be possible to train a sheepdog with R+ methods?

I’m asking this because recently I started herding lessons with Spillo and by observing what was going on I did not think that positive training could be very effective in this case.

But I’m new to training,meaning that even if we always had dogs in the family, I did not do specific obedience training, it was more like "my mom style" of training and pretty much common sense. the dogs were not allowed in the house and rarely saw a leash.

anyway, I started to learn about training methods when I moved to America and I got Spillo. We did a lot of progresses, he had some reactivity, I would say mild reactivity, but still enough the let him leave his brain at home at times.

We worked with positive training when he was a puppy, counter conditioning when he started to show reactivity issues. I disciplined him for things I consider unacceptable.

Then we started herding, and the first exposure was overwhelming. He was lunging and barking at the sheep, we started in a small pen and started to learn how to circle the sheep to let them move. He could not hold the pressure at a certain distance and start the lunging. So corrections are used in this case.

Then there was our first lesson, and he started the same way, so corrections again. I was a bit concerned, but he did not seem to mind about it. He really wanted the sheep. He made me end up with the face in the dirt in one lunging, but that stopped him, he came back to check on me. So he was not completely detached. The trainer at first was not sure to let him loose, but at some point the sheep moved in the center of the pen and she let him loose. And the magic happened! He run around them and started to gather them towards me. The crazy barking stopped. When the sheep gathered in a tight corner, he went without hesitation between the sheep and the fence and moved them. I could not believe that this was my very soft, extremely sensitive and at times fearful boy…

So this experience made me think a bit, and considering that BC are sheepdogs after all, I feel less concerned using corrections with him when needed. I’m also curious to learn if anyone has been successful with R+ methods when it comes to herding and how that would work, as you are not supposed to use distractions such as food or toys.

(sorry if my English is not perfect)

Link to post
Share on other sites

There is no higher "reward" for the dog than being able to work the sheep. A good trainer set the dog up for success, makes the right way easy and makes corrections effective.

 

Minimal corrections come with training. But they're not unfair. They get the point across and move on. If a trainer is using an abundance of corrections or the dog learns nothing from them or shuts down then I'd look elsewhere. If the dog learns and goes right back to work then your dog will do fine.

Link to post
Share on other sites

In my humble opinion it is not possible to train a dog with good string instincts for stockwork, without corrections.

 

On the other hand a dog with little interest in sheep, and not a lot of inherent stockwork capability would probably be trainable with positive only methods to do "push button" stockwork. But I would not be interested in such a dog (can't imagine anyone would. ..), it would never be good enough for real work.

Link to post
Share on other sites

A great trainer says that a dog should know three things before being taken to sheep - his/her name; the recall (which is usually not very functional in the initial exposure to stock ;)) ; and how to take a correction.

 

A true correction is not meant to be a punishment. It is meant to convey that what the dog has offered (or done) is not what is desired, and to offer another, different behavior. When what the dog does/offers is correct, then he/she gets the sheep (continues to work). The more the dog knows, the stronger a correction might need to be to reinforce that he has made the wrong decision. Or, the more undesirable the behavior is that the dog offered, the stronger the correction might need to be, for the sake of the livestock (and the dog and the handler).

Link to post
Share on other sites

I am like you, a trainer of other things, who had spent a lot of time working through issues with my boy. I had to learn how to correct him and also help him understand that the unpleasant consequence (whatever it is) was meant to teach him something, that its not personal, and that its over as soon as he gives to it. It was hard for me to do, and hard for my dog to learn (hes very soft, and doesn't want to be wrong).

 

I spent time watching my trainer (with friends dogs) before I went to her, and I learned to trust her so if she told me that I needed to be more forceful about something, I felt ok about it. She is awesome, she always has my dog and her livestock's best interest at heart.

 

In a way, its been good for Argos to learn its ok to be wrong, and that just because I correct him doesn't change our relationship and that I am trying to communicate something to him.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have no idea what an "R+" method is. But if a dog has the true instinct to work, the highest reward you can give him is his sheep. Everything else is superfluous and he will have no time or interest in any other reward.

As for corrections, a correction is simply a form of communication. If your child asks, "Mom, does two plus two equal six?" and you reply, "No, honey, it equals four," that is a correction. Then you show the child why and how two plus two equals four and he has learned something.

It's no different for a sheepdog. If you ask the dog to go "Come bye" and he goes "Away," you stop him and make sure he gets the "Come bye" right. If you ask a dog to stop and he keeps coming, you make sure he stops and you reinforce the command. Both of those are corrections. Neither are punitive. A correction is simply making a wrong thing correct. It's a means of telling him, "No, that's not what I want. This is what I want instead."

The main thing you need when training a sheepdog is clear communications. Make sure he understands you, make sure you set things up so he can be right and give you the result you want. If he persists in being wrong, then probably you are wrong and he is not understanding what is being asked of him. Correct yourself so that you can correct him.

Don't worry about trying to tweak obedience or whatever the heck training to suit sheepdog training. Your trainer should have a method in place to help him learn and to help you learn. Listen and learn and don't worry about corrections unless you see that your dog is actually troubled by them.

Best of luck! :)

~ Gloria

Link to post
Share on other sites

It is interesting to me that many people think/assume a correction is a bad thing or negative. It is more information for the dog which can be very useful. A dog that is corrected ideally looks to you saying "what?" Then you can help them with more information.

 

Every dog is different but I believe those that are raised well being taught the basics of what behaviors are acceptable and what are not, taught to be respectful are well prepared for stock work and tend to not need much in the way of correction. Those that come to stock work that have learned they are in control, do not care who is on the other end of leash, and have gone through life doing their own thing will be tougher to get through to. They will be the ones that work for themselves and not really looking to work as a partner or looking for help. More than likely they will need to adjust their thinking before working stock. If you take a dog like that with instinct to stock it will most likely blow you off. YOU need to protect the stock so resort to harsher corrections in order to get through to the dog when in fact the dogs mind needs changed before he ever is allowed to be with stock. These are the dogs at clinics where I see a clinician really have to work to get through to the dog. Had the basics - the foundation been in place - the stock work will follow.

Link to post
Share on other sites

As others have said, the reward is getting to interact with the livestock; the reward for correct behavior does not come directly from you. You'll have a hard time not letting the dog have its reward (interacting with the sheep) every time it is wrong since you won't know it is wrong until after it has interacted with the sheep (already gotten its reward).

Link to post
Share on other sites

My BC doesn't work sheep/livestock but I do have to add that in agility and obedience, even though I am very much a R+ trainer, I use "corrections" in the form of a non-reward marker. I tend to use "oops" or "I don't think so" or something like that. It lets my dogs know that what they did isn't right and they should try something else. It isn't severe, and it's never done with malice or anger.

Link to post
Share on other sites

It is interesting to me that many people think/assume a correction is a bad thing or negative. It is more information for the dog which can be very useful. A dog that is corrected ideally looks to you saying "what?" Then you can help them with more information.

 

For me it was context. A correction in the house with Argos is a quiet "ah ah." When I was working through his fear issues, my reactions were always measured and focused on helping him create positive associations with things he feared.

 

One of the first things I had to correct with stockwork was a creep on the lie down. I was a bit smug about my dog's general well-behaved-ness. He has a solid, instant down in real life, and it translated fairly well to stockwork. But then he would creep 1, then 2 to 3 then several steps into the bubble or towards me.

 

I was instructed to correct him by whapping my stock stick firmly on the ground and invading his space until he "gave" while giving a growly "uh uh."

 

Had I done this type of thing in my back yard, he would have freaked out. Heck, even growling that loud at him in my livingroom would have sent him under my bed.

 

Of course on stock, he didn't. He was actually confused, and I had to be taught how to make it clear what I meant by what I was doing. But man, it felt weird and terrible.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I am like you, a trainer of other things, who had spent a lot of time working through issues with my boy. I had to learn how to correct him and also help him understand that the unpleasant consequence (whatever it is) was meant to teach him something, that its not personal, and that its over as soon as he gives to it. It was hard for me to do, and hard for my dog to learn (hes very soft, and doesn't want to be wrong).

 

I spent time watching my trainer (with friends dogs) before I went to her, and I learned to trust her so if she told me that I needed to be more forceful about something, I felt ok about it. She is awesome, she always has my dog and her livestock's best interest at heart.

 

In a way, its been good for Argos to learn its ok to be wrong, and that just because I correct him doesn't change our relationship and that I am trying to communicate something to him.

my dog is also very soft, usually :rolleyes: . but he did not seem soft at all when exposed to sheep! I doubt he even felt most of the corrections, that BTW were mainly body blocking, verbal corrections. the leash corrections were self inflicted as he was lunging. I do like my trainer, I was prepared to the fact that some sort of correction would have been applied.

I did not expect my dog to be so resilient.

same as you, I was exposed to a different approach to training, where somehow the corrections are implicitly considered negative, particularly for reactive dogs. with my question I was trying to understand the validity of R+ approach for this specific type of training. I personally do not consider corrections as something bad, I do believe they have a place in the dog formation, but it is also true that trainers in general have quite different ideas about how to best train a dog.

Link to post
Share on other sites

As others have said, the reward is getting to interact with the livestock; the reward for correct behavior does not come directly from you. You'll have a hard time not letting the dog have its reward (interacting with the sheep) every time it is wrong since you won't know it is wrong until after it has interacted with the sheep (already gotten its reward).

This ^^

Some of the best and most experienced trainers I've seen actually have to correct very little (and those with very minimal force) because they can read the situation and can see a mistake coming before it happens and position themselves in a way that will head off trouble with only a mild bit of pressure. This opposed to a less experienced handler who may find themselves correcting for the dog already having taken a dive at the sheep or sliced into them and scattered them.

 

The sheep will do a lot of the teaching and the trainer is there to prevent trouble and to assist the dog in making better choices. Example: trainer sees dog is going around but getting a bit tense, so trainer puts a bit pressure at the right spot, dog bows out, dog sees sheep relax and slow down as a result, dog is rewarded by being able to get to the head of the sheep without losing them and seeing that he's in control, dog decides on his own that next time the situation comes up bowing out is what works and he'll do more and more of it. In this case, smart handler positioning or a bit of pressure is all the correction needed,and not something the dog sees as punitive or demotivating. It would be more demotivating and punitive for the dog to continually lose his sheep and keep chasing around and around getting more and more frantic because he's too tight and his trainer won't show him how to be correct.

 

I'd say this is also another reason that you breed for good inborn abilities, because the naturally talented dog will more readily make the right choices on his own and will naturally recognize and seek out control of the stock. Some of the most punitive training situations I've witnessed are when the dog (often not a border collie) has little natural ability - to the point where the dog doesn't recognize 'control' as a reward but gets more reward out of chasing and gripping than from proper work. That situation is not fair to either the dog or the sheep.

 

More advanced training with a dog that wants to work with the handler also doesn't require much (if any) more punitive type corrections. My current dog is very biddable and simply stopping her when she's making a wrong choice is usually all the correction needed - she then makes a better choice and is allowed to continue working.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Dear Doggers,

 

I have seen Hall of Famers offer very severe corrections. I have seen those same trainers correct with a murmur or change in stance. As a rule one employs the least effective correction but the guiding principle is effective not least. The dog must understand it is being corrected and when, over time, an owner has allowed the dog to develop an inaccurate and unsatisfactory (to both dog and owner) understanding of the world and its place and duties, initial corrections may be far more severe than with a dog that has been properly nurtured from puppyhood.

 

Bill Koehler is over the top about this but has a point when he argues that ineffectual (or absent) corrections are a form of cruelty because the dog is likely to come to harm or be killed as unmanageable.

 

What I have seen, usually but not only with women novice sheepdoggers, is the belief that corrections aren't (a) kind (B) modern and © predictable. Who am I, a novice that doesn't really know what the dog and sheep are doing, to say something nasty to the dog -or worse!!!

 

Until the handler learns she/he has the right and duty to correct a misbehaving sheepdog their lives together will be unpleasant for both.

 

Donald McCaig

Link to post
Share on other sites

Dear Doggers,

 

I have seen Hall of Famers offer very severe corrections. I have seen those same trainers correct with a murmur or change in stance. As a rule one employs the least effective correction but the guiding principle is effective not least. The dog must understand it is being corrected and when, over time, an owner has allowed the dog to develop an inaccurate and unsatisfactory (to both dog and owner) understanding of the world and its place and duties, initial corrections may be far more severe than with a dog that has been properly nurtured from puppyhood.

 

Bill Koehler is over the top about this but has a point when he argues that ineffectual (or absent) corrections are a form of cruelty because the dog is likely to come to harm or be killed as unmanageable.

 

What I have seen, usually but not only with women novice sheepdoggers, is the belief that corrections aren't (a) kind ( B) modern and © predictable. Who am I, a novice that doesn't really know what the dog and sheep are doing, to say something nasty to the dog -or worse!!!

 

Until the handler learns she/he has the right and duty to correct a misbehaving sheepdog their lives together will be unpleasant for both.

 

Donald McCaig

there is in fact a sense of guilt for novice trainers (at least this is how I feel) when giving a correction, due to the fact that I'm aware I'm not knowledgeable enough and there is the risk of correcting the wrong thing at the wrong time. when my dog was a puppy he was heavily socialized, I did obedience training as I was thinking to compete (before discovering that dogs without a pedigree needed to be neutered, so I abandoned it). when he started to have some reactivity issues and lunging at things on wheels I was correcting him, but it was pointed out to me that with corrections I was making him reactive. when I saw him lunging at the sheep, it did not seem much different from him lunging to a jogger passing by very close to him, so to my understanding both are related to impulse control. my confusion is why in one case It is best to work on desensitize and counter conditioning, and in the other corrections are ok to give (from a point of view of the dog, I do understand that sheep need to be protected). there is also to say that probably dogs that are used to the sheep presence since puppy hood are probably already desensitized?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Dear Ms. Luana,

 

Usually sheepdogs are kept apart from sheep until the pups are 5/6 months old. Introductions are brief and focused: Has the dog's genetics kicked in? Does it crouch and eye the sheep? If not, the dog is removed until next week or the week after. Some pups don't start until they're a year and I've an unusually timid gyp, assigned as pet when she showed no interest, who "saw" sheep for the first time when she was 4 years old - much too late to start a trial dog's training though she may well have been ok as a chore dog.

 

Donald McCaig

Link to post
Share on other sites

Dear Ms. Luana,

 

Usually sheepdogs are kept apart from sheep until the pups are 5/6 months old. Introductions are brief and focused: Has the dog's genetics kicked in? Does it crouch and eye the sheep? If not, the dog is removed until next week or the week after. Some pups don't start until they're a year and I've an unusually timid gyp, assigned as pet when she showed no interest, who "saw" sheep for the first time when she was 4 years old - much too late to start a trial dog's training though she may well have been ok as a chore dog.

 

Donald McCaig

the age issue was actually my first question as I know I should have started sooner. but I do not have high expectations, just try for some time to see if he can work sheep. in the first lesson he wasn't scattering the sheep, he was able to collect them and also go in between the fence. walking calmly behind the sheep, he was not able, he was rushing. I guess I'll post more in the training session if we will do some good progress :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Some pups don't start until they're a year and I've an unusually timid gyp, assigned as pet when she showed no interest, who "saw" sheep for the first time when she was 4 years old - much too late to start a trial dog's training though she may well have been ok as a chore dog.

 

Donald McCaig

Not when your chores have the same degree of difficulty as trialing.

Link to post
Share on other sites

What I have seen, usually but not only with women novice sheepdoggers, is the belief that corrections aren't (a) kind ( B) modern and © predictable. Who am I, a novice that doesn't really know what the dog and sheep are doing, to say something nasty to the dog -or worse!!!

 

Again, a lot is context. In other training areas, when training something new and challenging such as high level obedience or agility, one of the easiest ways to make your dog not enjoy the activity is to apply corrections for trying and getting it wrong. Especially when in many cases, it was the handlers actions, not the dogs actions that caused the error. So if my dog popped out of the weaves because I moved in a way that was identical to a movement cue, and I correct him for doing it, I would be correcting him for doing what I had told him to do. It would be very easy for him to become very stressed about performing weave poles, create avoidance and slowing, etc.

 

Of course stock work is different, because of the stock and also because of the Border Collies brain. It is truly the most challenging thing I have ever (tried) to do. So I am feeling way in over my head when I am out there, and the idea of correcting my dog for an error felt like I would be correcting him for my mistakes as above.

 

The difference being that my obstacle is moving and reacting to his movement, and he is "bumping them" by stepping into the flight zone to take pressure off himself (because he did it once and they moved and whew! that felt better) so he doesn't have to deal with it and in this case a correction is fair and obvious (and useful when well timed). Whats more, the likelihood that his drive and desire to work with me in this context is very different that training weave poles or a go out. So even when I botch the correction (by being late) just him knowing I didn't like it is useful info to him. Whats more in some cases, the stock may need protection (depending on the situation).

 

A poorly timed correction when teaching scent articles will result in avoidance of the activity, scenting in general, obedience in general; a poorly timed correction during a sheep lesson makes him slow down and wonder why I am correcting him.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Dear Doggers and Mr. Smalahundur,

 

You wrote: "Not when your chores have the same degree of difficulty as trialing."

 

No chores, not even an annual hill gather are as difficult as trialing. The important difference is that the dog will have done chores before, usually often and the sheep know the dog. Not so in big trials.

 

When routine work is more difficult - one of those New Zealand gathers where the dog is offload from a helicopter on one mountain and outrun to the next - the task can be much, much harder physically on the dog and much more demanding of his natural skills but commands are simple and the task is - complicated by scenery -simple: bring the sheep to where they can be loaded -however the dog gets them there.

 

I do think that's more fun (for the handler) than trialing. As I was starting out, 30 odd years ago, a Texas rancher held andannual "Great Goat Roundup". He provided a bunkhouse and a camp cook. Handlers came from all over the country to sent their dogs into the roughest West Texas badlands to gather five thousand goats, grazing here and there on 20,000 acres and fetch them in. Jack Knox told me about it. Jack was awestruck.

 

We all love asking our dogs to do more than they can- to force us to do more than we can. Some trials do that. Rarely, chore work on a smallholding will occasion it.

 

For the most part, trials are more difficult.

 

Donald McCaig

Link to post
Share on other sites

One question ms. McCaig, did you ever do any serious hill work?

 

On horseback , days on end, dealing with non dogged sheep and their lambs from multiple farms, more often than not just a fierce mother with her offspring, while having to transverse difficult terrain like bogs, steep slopes, lava fields, rivers etc?

No roads, tracks, fences or bridges off course.

 

If not, with all due respect, your opinion on it is just theory....

 

Trials are not "more" (or less) difficult then that, they are different. So different actually that I often wonder if there is not slowly a schism developing between "sport stockwork" and real stockwork. you can hardly compare the two.

 

I have no use for the kind of "just a choredog" that you seem to think is good enough for a farmer/rancher.

I need a good dog, with lots of stamina, that can run over gravel for the day and be fit to work the next.

How do I know that brilliant trail dog that shows high intensity, great work for twelve whole minutes on a nice soft grassy field has the capacity for that?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Surely the BC was developed as a dog that could be used to get jobs done that humans would find difficult, using natural instinct and initiative often out of sight? It doesn't have to be pretty or inch perfect, it just has to be done.

 

How does that compare with the game of trialling where so many commands are used to assist the dog to do it just right? How useful is that in the real world? Games are fine and fun but they shouldn't influence or lose sight of the real objective.

 

I run my dogs on the salt marshes where many sheep graze at this time of year. In the evening I will see a dog appear from nowhere, round up the sheep and take them home - no human in sight. That's what they're for.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Keep in mind "farm chores" and "trials" do not mean the same thing everywhere; or the same thing in everyone's mind. I can easily find examples where a trial is much more difficult and testing of a dog's natural ability than farm chores; just like I can find examples where the opposite is true.

 

Trials where the distance, terrain, weather, and difficulty of the sheep make handler commands ineffectual and the same can be true of farm chores.

 

Then there are examples of farm chores where the dog must take handler direction where it goes against instinct which is also part of trialing (dog-leg fetch is required to safely gather sheep). Gathering sheep everyday off the same area is a learned pattern for both dog and sheep; this will be difficult in the beginning but over time a much easier task.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Gathering sheep everyday off the same area is a learned pattern for both dog and sheep; this will be difficult in the beginning but over time a much easier task.

Thing is you don´t really need a dog for that now do you? Just train your sheep to come running if you rattle a bucket of grain.

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...