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Introducing our BC to livestock


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Hi All, 

Am seeking some advice on introducing our older, rescue BC to some livestock to manage his behavioural issues/give him more "work". We adopted him from a fairly grave situation when he was 1 or 1.5 years old (he's now probably 2 years old), so we assume he spent the first year of his life in poor conditions, not trained, not socialised and living under very stressful conditions. 

Nonetheless, we have persevered with him. He has many behavioural issues, including reactivity and "defensive-type" aggression towards other dogs and other animals in general when on the leash, due to his history of not being socialised, and then also being very unlucky and being attacked by a large off-leash dog during the very first week we adopted him. We are trying to address this with a behavioural therapist as well as other issues, including his strange bipolar moods with my husband. 

Anyway, up until now I have managed to give him sufficient physical activity everyday, and really tried to put a lot of focus on mental training, because without it he's pretty wild and distracted. We have started attending agility classes once a week, and on the other days I try to do a lot of obedience and trick training with him to stimulate his mind.

He's a fantastic worker - really, really loves to work. Gets far too excited about it, but I'm also trying to work on that and redirect that excitement into better focus. Until now I have feared putting him anywhere near another animal (other than the very few dogs he does enjoy playing with) because he seems to go into a psychotic mental overload with anything - birds, cats, donkeys, horses etc. He has seen sheep through a fence, but he just goes into hyper reactive mode and tries to bark and lunge at them. So I've been really nervous about introducing him to anything with the fear he'll just attack and harm them. 

But I'm very, very curious whether he will or not, or if in fact it's just his herding instincts coming out to play, and if it would actually be seriously beneficial for him to have a go. We have a little bit of land, and would like chickens, and perhaps a sheep or two, but I'm very hesitant about how to go about it and if it would be a big mistake.

I live in Spain, and am not fantastic with the language, so I can't necessarily just call up a local sheepdog trainer and get some help. There's also not a lot of sheep farms around us. So any online advice would be fantastic! Even if there's a good information pdf/book out there especially dealing with introducing problem older rescues to livestock. Anything would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks in advance, 


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Well,  " a sheep or two" obviously doesn't cut it. I'd say for training purposes you need at least three times as many.

Furthermore, why does this particular dog need to work stock? I would be extremely apprehensive to allow a dog with the issues you describe anywhere near my sheep (and in the unlikely event not without a "sharkcage" to protect the livestock...)..

My opinion is if you want to work stock you find a dog that is capable of doing that. Stockwork especially with a green dog is always stressfull (and sometimes dangerous) for the sheep involved. Why add to that equation a dog that has behavioral problems to begin with.

As you see I am rather opposed to stockwork "for the benefit of the dog". Sheep aren't dog toys, or a therapeutical panacea for all kinds of bc behavioral problems.

If you yourself have a burning interest in stockwork with dogs, go for it.  Find someone experienced, and let him assess your dog ( but be prepared to be dissapointed).


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6 hours ago, SarahKent said:

But I'm very, very curious whether he will or not, or if in fact it's just his herding instincts coming out to play...

Aggression is not a "herding instinct" and is never a desirable characteristic in a herding dog. Nor is the inability of a dog to control himself around the animals that he's supposed to be working.

And I agree that sheep shouldn't be considered therapeutic equipment for a "wild" and potentially aggressive dog. Sheep are living things with their own feelings of fear, pain and stress and deserve to be treated with respect.

I also agree that this is a situation that absolutely warrants working with someone experienced both with training working sheepdogs and who is also competent with working with intense and potentially aggressive dogs. My first working border collie was a very well behaved dog in other ways but very keen and out of control on sheep. He had no idea what to do with his intensity -- nor as a novice did I -- and it started out resulting in some bloody sheep. I started taking him to clinics (this was in an earlier time when there were few ppl in the US offering clinics) and had mixed results at first. One trainer who worked nationally was extremely competent with the dog while another well respected trialer had absolutely no idea how to handle a dog like that. It was beyond incredible how little he understood how to handle dogs different from the type he preferred to work with himself and I'm very lucky that he didn't do irreparable harm to my dog, as he well could have with a less resilient dog than mine.

The first clinician, Jack Knox, wasn't close enough to work with regularly, so I ended up sending the dog to him for training. At the end of a month he returned a well started dog to me that we were able to do chores with with no more bloody sheep. The next year I sent him for anther month and came home with a fine working dog who I was able to continue to train further myself. But I would never have been able to accomplish this on my own, not with this dog and my lack of experience.

This is all a long winded way of saying that if you can't work with a competent, experienced trainer who has been successful with intense, hard to control dogs like the one you have, then IMO you really shouldn't pursue this line of training or any other that involves other animals.

It sounds to me like you've achieved a lot with this dog. Kudos to you for that! I do think both you and he will be best served continuing with the kinds of things you've been doing with him already. And if you're not familiar with it, I think the Look at That protocol developed by Leslie McDevitt in her book Control Unleashed (explained more thoroughly in the the 2nd puppy edition) could be very useful for you. If you can't find the book, there are plenty of trainers demonstrating the technique on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet.

And as it seems he's still so over the top, you might really benefit by consulting a veterinary behaviorist who may be able to help with medications that can bring him down a notch or two to where he can engage his thinking brain in order to be more receptive to training.

Wishing you the best with your dog.


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