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Tuesday, April 17 2018

It has come to my attention (because people keep writing me for advice) that for some reason blog readers believe I'm an expertin the following subjects:

Investigating murders
Training Livestock Guardian Dogs
Training Border Collies to herd

First off, don't send me your unsolved murder investigations. You don't have the complete report and I can't give an opinion on the crime scene without the crime scene report. And Lordy no, don't try to email me all the crime scene photos. It bogs down my computer and I'm gonna tell you the same thing - if you believe the local police did a poor job, then contact the state police and have them look at the case. I cannot investigate your murder case. I don't have enough information, and it takes an incredibly long time to look at what you send me and then say, "I don't have enough information."  Yes, if you are a lawyer and do have access to the whole case file, then your situations are different.

Now, onto Livestock Guardian Dogs. I can only give you my experiences. My set-up is probably completely different from yours. We LIVE IN THE BARN. All that stuff you're hearing about keeping the LGDs from hanging around the house doesn't apply to us because the SHEEP are hanging around the back door too. I must measure successful LGDs not in the number of predators killed but in the number of livestock animals still alive when I lock up at night and when the sun rises in the morning. If the count is still the same, the LGD gets a gold star for the day. I can't tell you how to keep your LGD from roaming. Mine roam too. To varying degrees, all Livestock Guardian Dog breeds do it. The best I can tell you is to reinforce your fences, use hotwire where you can, and use a yoke when you can. Dragging a tire didn't work for me because I began to worry too much about hanging my dog.

And lastly, training Border Collies. I get a lot of questions about this subject. For some reason people think I know how to train herding dogs. That's a laugh. It's like one of those logic problems in school. My dogs herd, I am a dog trainer, therefore I must be a herding dog trainer.

Wrong. I am as baffled by all the diagram instructions in the herding dog books as you are, so assume nothing.  My Border Collies work because I get dogs that are genetically stacked in that direction, and we do chores together. Lots and lots of chores. In the hands of a skilled herding dog trainer my dogs would be much better trained. I wish, seriously, I WISH I had the time and money to pay someone for regular lessons, but I don't. All I have is an empty bank account, a handful of dogs that are bred to work and a lot of work to do. That is the key, and the reason why my dogs 'appear' to be trained. They are not, folks. We have a good relationship and communicate pretty well, thus I'm able to roughly communicate my goals and reward the dog when it chooses the right behavior. Most of our success comes from living closely with the dog and the sheep.

I gave this some thought yesterday as I reached for Wyatt to help Mesa get the rams into their day pen. We work a lot on routines. The rams are loose in the pasture and barnyard at night. Each morning the dogs must put the rams into their day run behind the barn so the ewes and lambs can be released. The dogs know this game. The sheep know this game. Most of the time the sheep cooperate. Yesterday the rams simply weren't having it. They kept bypassing the gate and fast-walking around and around the barn. Mesa worked and worked but each time she got the little bastards close to the gate they would shoot forward to start the whole process again. Wyatt isn't ready for that kind of complicated problem on his own. He is at the 'we go out and basically escort the rams to the pen as they willingly comply' stage. He and I pretend it's herding, but it's not. It's following willing sheep. But here's the trick - he's done it enough to know that the rams SHOULD go into that pen, so when in my rage yesterday, when I opened the gate to let him come out and help Mesa, he already knew the problem. He'd been in a kennel watching the damned rams circle the barn four times already. With two Border Collies, the game changed considerably. Wyatt bowled in too fast but it had the effect we needed. There was no polish, but he was all the places that Mesa wasn't and the rams couldn't politely shuffle away. Wyatt and Mesa worked as a team and 30 seconds later the rams were penned. With the job completed, Wyatt ran from the gate and leaped at me for his big congratulations. Unlike Mesa who is embarrassed by praise, Wyatt is quite needy and likes to receive an Academy Award. The sheep were penned. He earned it. The ship was righted and our day could continue back on schedule.

That is how I train, folks. It's not pretty. It's based on relationship and routine. I cannot take ANY of my dogs onto a field and be successful in a herding dog trial, so I am not the person you need to ask for training advice. Find someone like the Sheep Goddess who actually trains and TRIALS Border Collies. My dogs simply have the advantage of working on a ranch. If we flub something up we don't have to wait until the lesson next week to try it again. And I don't have all week to obsess on my dog's brain-fart, or my own poor timing during the last lesson. Chances are good that the next lesson is merely the next time I step out the back door. My dogs can easily picture the chore because they understand the routine. When the routine changes I have just enough rudimentary commands (based on experience learned through routines!) that we muddle forward and create new routines. The dogs soon learn that it's all a matter of moving sheep or holding sheep.

I had to take this same approach to learning to use the sheepdog whistle. Not to blow it, I knew how to blow it. I needed to start putting verbal commands to a whistle because often Mesa has to work at a distance and the wind can get quite loud and blustery up here. It seemed that whenever I needed the whistle it was in the house, so I started wearing it around my neck. That didn't work because the lanyard allowed it to hang and fall forward into crap as I was doing chores. Not only is that not safe, it's not sanitary. So I put it the whistle on a heavy necklace chain and started wearing that sucker under my shirt as a necklace. (which is also not sanitary but not as bad as your whistle dangling in chicken shit.) Now that I had it with me all the time, any time Mesa started some little chore I began tooting my whistle commands. At first it was distracting to both of us but we soon developed actual tweets that made sense to the dog because I had paired them often enough with simple chores. I really love my whistle (Logan brand) and keep it handy under my shirt. Yes, it's dorky, but not really. Like the Border Collie, it's always there and that's the only way we learn anything around here.

For the most part we have to teach ourselves. The downside is that it takes a while and we learn bad habits. The upside is that no one is judging us but us. If the job gets done then we're winners. But make no mistake, that kind of lopsided training does not make me an expert in training Border Collies. If you live on a sheep ranch and have no regular access to a professional herding dog trainer, my best advice is to take that dog with you everywhere. They are little sponges. A dog doesn't learn much sitting in a kennel, but he learns an awful lot sitting in the pickup. And he's handy. When they're handy, you reach for them more often. When they learn what normal is, the good ones try to help. Reinforce their efforts. Needy ones like Wyatt want an Academy Award, but even the Mesa dogs in this world still want an "atta girl" even though they appear to blush and ignore it.

In conclusion, I'm not an expert in anything except making my own coffee in the morning. My advice regarding LGDs and Border Collies is simple. A dog is just a dog. When you start heaping too many expectations on the dog, you set both yourself and the dog up for failure. If you can find a good herding dog trainer, get the lessons. If you can't, then take your dog everywhere with you and don't expect too much too soon. And most of all, don't trash the dog.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 10:37 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
That is just about how we train our cowdogs. They don't learn sitting at home or on a chain. I do sometimes have more dogs with me than I need or want, but if they stay home in a kennel they aren't learning anything except how to be bored. And you know what a bored border collie is like. And it seems like we either have so much work for them that they are all footsore, and exhausted, or they are not getting enough work to take that edge off all the way. Never seems like there is a happy medium. I get frustrated with people that get mad at the dog because it doesn't know what to do when they never take it out to do anything. All of them make mistakes, though, and so do people.
Posted by Kathy on 05/07/2018 - 10:15 PM
Sorry for the late reply, Kathy! Somehow your note fell between viagra and cialis ads and i missed it! Darned spammers!
Posted by Forensicfarmgirl on 06/16/2018 - 04:40 PM

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