A Working Dog No. 2

In the last post I mentioned that a dog with a herding title may not be able to actually work. There is a huge difference between taking direction in an arena where the handler is standing close by, and being able to work without direction to accomplish a task. In my experience, very few dogs which trial are capable of the latter. (And yes, I used to trial dogs many, many years ago.)

As an example of the difference, here is one of the many instances where Tuck has proven himself as a working dog.

Back in September of 2013 heavy rains caused flooding in my area (see post). The sheep had been in the east pasture when it started to rain and while Tuck and I had gone out after the rain let up, the depth of water and degree of mud made me decide to leave the sheep out for the night.

Tuck trying to get to the East Pasture

I received a phone call early the next morning from the post office saying that my order of chicks had arrived. I knew I was not going to be able to get off my property so I called a friend and asked her to pick up the chicks for me and once the frontage road had been cleared, I would meet her at the gate to pick up the chicks. So later that afternoon, after the county road crews had worked on both the frontage road and the county road I live on, she drove over to deliver the chicks. Tuck and I navigated around the cottonwood that had fallen in my drive and waded down the drive (which was still under water) to meet her at my gate.

Drive under water

Unbeknownst to me, the road crew had knocked down the corner post (a railroad tie) and the fence in the east pasture along the road was down. As my friend drove up she spooked the sheep that had made their way onto the road and the sheep took off south, around the bend and out of sight. My friend was upset and wanted to know what to do to get the sheep back. I simply told Tuck to bring me the sheep and he trotted off while I stood talking to my friend through the window of her vehicle. In relatively short order, the sheep appeared around the bend with Tuck behind them. He pushed them through the gate and down the drive where I knew the downed cottonwood would block them until I could wade back down the drive with the chicks.

A good working dog does not need to be micromanaged and given constant directions to get a job done. The dog simply needs to understand what the job is and then left to decide the best way to accomplish it.

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3 comments

    • The reason why so many “trial” dogs cannot actually perform useful work is that the traits necessary are not being selected by breeders. A dog with minimal instinct and working ability can be trained to take commands and do well enough at trials. However, if a breeder isn’t selecting for working ability – able to work independently, without constant direction, exercising good judgment and being able to problem solve – those traits will be lost within two generations. Tuck’s ability is natural and my skills as a trainer have little to do with his performance. At least 85% of Tuck’s work is done out of sight and without direction. With more and more breeders of “herding” dogs telling potential buyers that herding titles indicate working ability in a real life situation, it is getting increasingly difficult to find a useful stock dog. I’m lucky that Tuck’s breeder is still breeding (and working her dogs.)


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