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Herding vs Agility crossroads


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I've skimmed the forums off and on for a couple years. I registered to post this. I am really struggling at a crossroads where I do not know how or where to move forward.

 

I'm not sure where I should post this...Big Hat? General?

 

Question-

Is it possible for a newbie to train and trial a novice sheepdog with lessons once every week or two?

 

Background-

Adopted 1.5yr BC from a sheepdog person. Dog was originally purchased as a puppy for agility and returned while young. My intent was agility. Siblings are successfully competing in agility.

 

Adjusting to suburbia has been difficult for him. He is still noise sensitive to regular household sounds like water running through the pipes. He is highly reactive to dogs and motion. He appears dog aggressive when on-leash. Off-leash he is quite appropriate, if a little unsure initially. He was attacked and injured on a leashed walk by an aggressive dog-at-large this summer. That didn't help either of us.

 

Classes have been very difficult because the environment immediately puts him over threshold. Actually, it starts in the parking lot. He wants to stare and bark at other dogs. If other dogs are exciting, he loses his marbles.

 

Current status-

We had a couple herding lessons with someone recommended to me by agility people. I love watching him do something he loves. Someone I respect suggested I stop agility and pursue herding “until things settle down.” That sentence left me in tears. I miss the agility community I was part of before my first sport dog retired and died suddenly this summer. Will herding lessons magically settle him down for other activities?

 

I am afraid it is not possible to pursue herding without more frequent access to sheep. I understand the common advice is for a newbie to buy an experienced dog, drop it down a level, and learn with that dog. I understand that wisdom from the horse world: green on green = black & blue. Selling trained dogs is not done in the agility or obedience communities I come from, so I sought a young adult from a recommended source. This dog cannot make eye contact, eat, or play in the presence of moving dogs.

 

Now what do I do?

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How old is this dog now?


Have you seen a behaviorist? What kind of behavioral modification things have you done? What kind of training (outside agility) do you have under his belt? Is this an excitement issue or a generalized fear issue? Or both, with the response to noises being one thing and the response to dogs being the other?

 

In the absence of those answers:

 

I can only tell you that for me, stopping agility and classes for a solid 6 months, working obedience and behavioral modification and meds made a world of difference, but that trying to keep the dog in classes because I HAD TO DO AGILITY made things worse. My pride and resistance to medication made things worse.

 

We broke from agility for about a year. We let her decompress. We got medication. We did nothing for a while (months) except hang out at home and play and learn together. We built a relationship. We built trust. We built fluency in obedience and communication. We built confidence. THEN we went back to agility. Not group classes, though. This dog will never do a group class, at least not an indoor one. It's simply too much. She deserves to be heard and respected on that. We played in the yard, we played with rally at first ( outside, and more controlled dogs) and disc with *A* friend or two or on our own.


She's doing her first agility trial this weekend. I expect little from her, but I know now that eventually she'll be okay.


She started having reactivity issues at 6 months old. She fell apart completely about 18 months old. She's a few weeks shy of 2.5 years old now.


It. Is. Work. I think doing something els is a good idea, but mostly because it will keep him busy and take pressure off both of you, build relationship and build confidence. See a vet or behaviorist. Consider meds if it's suggested. Do some b-mod if that's suggested. Do the sheep herding (or nose work or rally or lure coursing or train stupid tricks). Play games. Breathe.


Reassess in a year.

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Well, I tried herding with a reactive Border Collie. She was not reactive in the herding environment and I thought that herding helped with her confidence. I worked with someone who overstated her credentials and my dog developed a lot of bad habits (chasing, not herding). Looking back on it, I would not do it again. Because I let the genie out of the bottle and could not pursue it. I think that it would be impossible for a novice dog/ novice handler to develop any meaningful skills without both regular lessons and regular (multiple weekly) access to sheep. Maybe one could pull it off in AKC herding but not USBCA herding. My current dog is from working lines and I have not tested him on livestock for the above reasons.

 

I highly recommend nose work for reactive dogs and for dogs that need a time out. My reactive girl loved nose work and that helped her confidence much more than her time with sheep.

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Nosework or rally would be my actual suggestions. I don't know anything about herding, and I should have said so. I'm sorry.


But do something. Something with more focus, more control, less outward excitement, and take the rest of my advice for what's it's worth - which isn't much.

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I do herding with a fearful dog. I do believe it has helped him tremendously. I am able to train once or twice weekly. He cannot play agility due to a nasty psoas issue that is very hard not to aggravate doing agility.

 

I grieved. I really really wanted a sports dog, it hurt to let that go.

 

But then I got over it. I discovered 2 new things to do with my dog.

 

I am realistic. Am I going to Meeker any time soon with my dog? No. But I am able to compete at AHBA trials in various classes and maybe someday I could run in Novice at a USBCHA trial (I am lucky to live near a group that offers smaller trials locally).

 

What do we get from it?

 

1. I am learning a lot. I may someday have a different dog and what I learn now may help me then.

2. My dog is working and engaging his brain in a way that taps into his innate "because he is a Border Collie" skills. He is learning to not rely on me, to make choices and be confident. It has carried over quite

3. a new community of lovely people who I am happy to know and engage in their culture

 

We also track. Tracking has also increased his confidence. He really really likes using his nose, he would track right past previously scary people/things when in scenting mode. Tracking is a terrific way to spend time outside 1-1 with my dogs enjoying nature and time spent together.

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You can also pursue private agility lessons and field rental...and gradually add other dogs into the mix, if desired

 

However, I don't think that things will "settle down" without active intervention. I would try to find a Control Unleashed class. If there is not one in your area, some instructors will do video lessons. I can give you the name of someone in Florida.

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Leslie Nelson has said, “Love the dog you have, not the one you wish you had.”

 

Probably not advice per-se, but something to keep in mind. I absolutely understand missing the agility crowd and know it can become a huge part of you life and social circle, but -

 

The first step to figuring out what to do and how to handle things and what you want is to love the dog you already have, no matter what other advice comes up. Grieving the dog you wanted is okay, but don't forget to love the guy you have, agility or no.

 

And keep possibilities open as you figure things out. Regardless, the dog you have now isn't the dog you'll have next year or three years from now. They grow, they change. No, problems don't just go away, but they never stop growing and changing, either.


And I'm sorry for the spam, but this is a thread that really hits home with me.

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Dear Doggers,

 

The OP wondered "Will herding lessons magically settle him down for other activities?"

 

"Magically?" No. But if the dog has the instincts and the instructor is competent, and you can train every other week or so, I'd say yes. Success in something so fundamental to the working sheepdog's makeup should improve pet dog behavior.

 

I can't predict whether this better behavior will translate into improved agility runs. Mannerliness, yes. Sport? Dunno.

 

Donald McCaig

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Well, they are not, are they.

 

Any stockwork training is no fun for the sheep involved, especially in the early stages.

They are submitted to stress, and if things do not go as planned even physical harm, and yeah, I think that is in itself acceptable if it is within limits, and if the utmost care is taken to prevent suffering for the sheep involved.

 

But I think that sheep are no dog toys/training aids, and one should have a very good reason for training dogs on stock.

In my humble opinion just fixing behavioral problems of the dog is not good reason.

A dog with such problems/flaws should not be put on sheep I think.

 

You should only put a dog on sheep that you think has a very good prospect of becoming a (very) good stock dog. You owe that to the sheep.

 

NB. Can you tell I was a sheep keeper before I became involved in training border collies ;)

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Well, they are not, are they.

 

Any stockwork training is no fun for the sheep involved, especially in the early stages.

They are submitted to stress, and if things do not go as planned even physical harm, and yeah, I think that is in itself acceptable if it is within limits, and if the utmost care is taken to prevent suffering for the sheep involved.

 

But I think that sheep are no dog toys/training aids, and one should have a very good reason for training dogs on stock.

In my humble opinion just fixing behavioral problems of the dog is not good reason.

A dog with such problems/flaws should not be put on sheep I think.

 

You should only put a dog on sheep that you think has a very good prospect of becoming a (very) good stock dog. You owe that to the sheep.

 

NB. Can you tell I was a sheep keeper before I became involved in training border collies ;)

 

I hear you, on some level. Its true that beginner dogs are challenging for sheep.

 

But then again, everyone starts somewhere.

 

And theres behavioral problems, and behavioral problems.

 

My dog might have bitten a human who scared him badly enough. He dislikes being petted by people. He went through a very fearful stage.

 

But he never once has behaved inappropriately on stock. He doesn't charge, he doesn't grip (except the one time he did it totally appropriately). He has a fair amount of talent, his handicap is me and the training he had before thats incompatible with stock work.

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Would you let children who have behavioral issues with other children and have never been around dogs learn how to behave properly by practicing with your dog in a small room?

 

They have to start somewhere.......

 

 

 

 

 

This analogy was offered to inspire others to consider the training of stockdogs from the point of view it can have on the livestock.

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I have studied Control Unleashed, Control Unleashed Puppy Program, BAT, and Fired Up, Frantic and Freaked Out. I have taken online classes for reactive dogs with Amy Cook at FDSA.

 

I have had him about a year, so he is ~2.5yo.

 

He is on L-theanine and Melatonin daily. My vet does not want to prescribe a rx for daily anxiety. I have a plug-in DAP diffuser. We use Alprazolam (generic Xanax) and Trazadone for extreme sound situations like thunderstorms and fireworks. We also tried chinese herbs on the recommendation of a vet but they caused GI upset. I'm trying.

 

Simply walking in the neighborhood can include outbursts of reactivity to dogs across the street. If he sees another dog, he does not willingly accept treats or toys, so I have very limited tools besides dragging him away to get more distance from the trigger.

 

Where we have taking herding lessons, any dog in view is a calm and mannerly herding dog. He can look at them quietly. Plus there's sheep: he'd much rather look at them! He was bred by an experienced sheepdog handler and definitely wants to work stock. I'm afraid taking him in that direction is unrealistic for someone working full time and living in a crowded suburb.

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....unrealistic for someone working full time and living in a crowded suburb.

 

 

One of the first years after moving to MD (several years before we got started training sheepdogs) we went with friends to watch a sheepdog trial; it was Oatlands near Leesburg VA. I can recall Donald McCaig announcing for some of the runs. The description of one handler stood out in my mind at the time. The handler lived in Arlington VA (I believe), did not have his own sheep or farm, and traveled to a farm to train. The handler was competing in Open at one of the VA Triple Crown trials of at era; a big regional trial that attracted nationally ranked handlers from all over the country. He proved that with commitment it is not unrealistic to be working full time and living in a crowded suburb.

 

BTW I bought my first whistle that day and drove my wife and friends crazy on the drive home. :lol:

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I have a bc whose main hobby is agility with some obedience and occasional sheep work.

 

Fortunately he doesn't have any behavioural issues beyond being very excitable around agility.

 

What I have found is that the way he behaves is very activity specific. He has much more self control around sheep but it hasn't automatically translated to agility. However, in real life I try to set similar boundaries as expected when around sheep. He could be better but the fault is mine.

 

We're at a bit of an impasse with sheep work atm because I can't get to training very often. When I could do it often my trainer is jetting off to take clinics abroad. With that little training my dog isn't going to get to trial, but If I can get my act together with weekly lessons he could be moderately competent.

 

We also have a dog that has never worked sheep. I don't think it would have made a jot of difference to him and he wouldn't have been very good at it, I'm sure. Very reactive to other dogs in his space, capable of biting a stranger who pets him too long. He's nearly 11 now and much better through management but still not a dog you can ever relax with in company. Think he has several screws loose. He's been competing successfully in agility since 18 months but it's been nerve wracking and his initial training had to be done out of class. He needs his personal comfort bubble, has never bitten another dog but has made loud pseudo aggressive protests, tolerates other bcs best, especially puppies.

 

Welfare of the sheep is the trainer's responsibility. I've only once been at a clinic where one group of Shetlands had clearly had enough of being bothered and they were perfectly capable of dealing with the situation. Normally beginners where I train are started on well dogged herdwicks or hebrideans.

 

Really theory only goes so far. You'll never know how your dog will respond unless you give it a try. Genie out of the bottle isn't really an issue if you live in town. More so for me as sheep are everywhere.

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Would you let children who have behavioral issues with other children and have never been around dogs learn how to behave properly by practicing with your dog in a small room?

 

They have to start somewhere.......

 

I think that would depend on what the behavioral issues were. Is the behavioral issue that the child is shy and afraid of adults? Maybe in that case, being around my dogs in a small room with an experienced adult supervising would be fine, and maybe even a good idea.

 

If the child is an aggressive hitter who is terrified of dogs or any animal? not so much.

 

A shy dog or one who is excitable in the context of agility may be different around stock.

 

In my case my dog was fearful of adult people touching him, and always appropriate with the livestock, and we work with a skilled trainer who competes in USBCHA and id very experienced.

 

As I said in my post, theres behavioral problems and theres behavioral problems.

 

A blanket statement that a dog who has issues should not be allowed to work stock is just that, a blanket statement that may not always be accurate.

 

 

This analogy was offered to inspire others to consider the training of stockdogs from the point of view it can have on the livestock.

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Mý point was more specific than that blanket statement you are giving.

 

My apologies then. It is certainly not my intent to misrepresent you.

 

You said, "I don´t think stock work training should be done as a kind of therapy to fix behavioral problems in dogs (whatever they may be)."

 

I countered with "behavioral problems" can be things that are not a detriment to working stock. In my dogs case his innate fear of humans was not. He was no more unpleasant for sheep to be around than any other new to the stock dog. It was a good fit for him.

 

As a result, I am now very interested in stockwork, and I would like us to become very good at it. Its kind of unlikely due to the general ineptness of me and the fact he was trained to do other stuff first. We are working towards competency.

 

My next dog will likely be a started dog and I will work stock more and more (hence my starting somewhere comment, meaning that this is how people get interested in stockwork, by starting the dog they have).

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My dog's "behavioral problems" nearly vanish in the presence of sheep. He thinks, he exercises self-restraint, he is confident. He is not a gripper. He can watch other BCs with a quiet, intense excitement that appears more stable and thoughtful than the barking outbursts when watching or hearing BCs run agility.

 

As a newbie to this, I do feel conflict keeping pets (sheep) for our pets. The farm and the livestock exist for sheepdog work, not for wool or meat where working them would be a necessary by-product. After our lesson, we did some practical farm work but still those sheep and that farm exist for the dogs. If not for the sheepdog hobby, they wouldn't exist.

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I think that there is something about stockwork that is a great normalizing factor for some Border Collies. For some, it helps them make sense of their world and utilize their innate instincts that confuse them otherwise. A light bulb clicks on and their brain seems to go "ah, THAT'S what I'm supposed to be doing!"

 

So, while I wouldn't recommend automatically putting a BC with some behavioral issues on sheep, if you've tried it and it works for your dog, then why not continue? Be sensible, respectful and ready to learn and grow in your dog and livestock handling skills. You'd be far from the first person who has had that type of introduction to the stockdog world!

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I wouldn't worry too much about the off sheep behavioral issues. I don't think they have any bearing on how your dog will interact with the sheep. The way I see it.....EVERY border collie is set up for behavioral issues of some sort the moment you take the dog off the farm property simply by the nature of how and what they are bred for.

 

As Maralynn mentioned ...there's a very good chance of your dog's "meaning of life" switch to be tripped.

 

My thoughts on your question about being able to trial as a weekend handler is an overwhelming ...YES. You aren't going to win any tittles but you can get out there with your partner and have fun. I'm trying to manipulate my two sport bred Collies to herd rather than chase but it's very slow going and I'm about 70% reserved to the fact that it'll never happen. Both are beyond the stage of gripping willy nilly (it wasn't too bad) now, but any good trainer will or should introduce the dog in such a way as to not stress the sheep too much.

 

Also and it hasn't been mentioned....but, be very aware that the herding bug is a very infectious pathogen to us humans. It will sneak up on you and before you know it you'll be sacrificing everything to "Chase the Dragon"....lol For newbies like me it is immensely rewarding. So much so in fact that I am in the process of buying a 3 yr old started bitch. I actually ran my first trial (not official) with her a few days ago as our introduction to each other and we hit it off great actually. Before i began even dabbling in herding I was all about frisbee....now, it's a very distant alternative. I have many to thank on this board for steering me down this road.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The way I see it.....EVERY border collie is set up for behavioral issues of some sort the moment you take the dog off the farm property simply by the nature of how and what they are bred for.

 

My thoughts on your question about being able to trial as a weekend handler is an overwhelming ...YES...

 

Also and it hasn't been mentioned....but, be very aware that the herding bug is a very infectious pathogen to us humans. It will sneak up on you and before you know it you'll be sacrificing everything to "Chase the Dragon"....lol

Hey B Point, I just saw your response. If my boy never had to leave farm life, you'd never know he had any issues. I'm sure his breeder didn't, stating his best trait was how he gets along with every dog.

 

Thank you for the encouragement. I have really enjoyed each lesson. The trainer is fascinating, it's a gorgeous time of year, and watching the communications and pressures is mesmerizing. My dog loves it and I guess ain't half bad. I leave the field sooo proud of my boy.

 

Just this morning, I might have bought a better coat and pants for withstanding sheepdog training. Maybe. Just maybe :P. I guess I'm starting to sniff out that dragon.

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