Farm Dog 101: Paper Plate Recall

Fix turned 24 weeks (6 months) old today. He still hasn’t outgrown the fuglies, but I am seeing some glimmers of the handsome dog he will be.

Fix at 24 weeks

 

Despite other Farm Dog 101 posts where I state I am going to start formal training with Fix, I have to admit that has not happened. His training to date has been just day to day interactions and doing chores.

So this evening, I decided it was way past time to get serious about training and I dusted off an exercise I used to teach to students in my beginning obedience classes – the Paper Plate Recall. This is an exercise I learned from a colleague, now sadly deceased, Dick Russell from Baton Rouge, LA. Rather than type it out here, I am providing a link to the exercise explained on another colleague’s blog: Paper Plate Recall.

So after chores, I put a leash on Fix, found a suitable plastic lid and put a few treats in my pocket. While Fix does know “sit’, I have not taught him a “stay” so he is a novice dog and a great example of the “magic” of this exercise. We started at 3 feet from the lid and finished, about 10 minutes later, approximately 60 feet away with Fix holding a stay while I walked away from him to put the treat on the lid and then while I walked back to him. Click on photos to enlarge.

Lid in foreground and Fix on Stay about 60 feet away.

After I walked back to Fix, I sent him to the plastic lid

Fix at the treat

 

 

 

Fix returning on a “come” command

Almost back

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Farm Dog 101: Five months

Yesterday Fix turned five months old so I thought I’d chronicle his day. Since I leave the door open at night for the adult dogs to come and go as they please, Fix is still crated at night so he can’t get himself into trouble outside. When I got up in the morning, Fix was let out of the crate (waiting for his release word “free” even after the door was opened) and he made his usual check of the dog dishes to see if 1) one of the other dogs had not finished their dinner; or 2) if food had magically appeared in the dish overnight before dashing outside to pee. When Fix was smaller I used to go out with him, first on a leash and then later just to supervise, but he has been going out unsupervised for a few weeks now. I put the water on for coffee and washed dishes and Fix dashed back in to see if the dog dishes have re-filled themselves. After I finished my coffee, Fix was fed breakfast. (Again, waiting patiently in a sit until given his release word to eat.) Chores were next. After we did chores I went back to work on digging out gates. Fix hung around a bit and then went off to explore. He found a piece of horse hoof and played with it for awhile – throwing it up in the air, then pouncing on it when it hit the ground and then running laps with it in his mouth before starting all over again.

The Pounce

Running Laps

We played a little fetch with a stick he brought me and then he wandered off again. When it got too hot for me to continue, I took a shower while Fix hung out. I needed to run into town for groceries so I crated Fix since I was going to leave the door open for the other dogs to come and go. When I got back I spent a little time on the computer while Fix just hung out and then we took a nap in the hammock. At some point Fix jumped off the hammock and just laid down on the bedroom floor. After our nap, I did a little work using the computer and Fix alternated between lying next to me and going outside to explore. We did evening chores and he did a little more exploring while I was pulling more T-posts. He did come back to help me do a little more digging around the gate post. Then it was time for dinner and more time just chilling out in the house before bed. Not a real exciting way to turn 5 months old. . . I’ll have to come up with something special for his six month birthday next month.

 

Farm Dog 101: Fetch and Tug as training games

At not quite five months of age Fix is starting to help out with chores. I’ve allowed him to put up the sheep at night a couple of times. While in reality, the sheep will usually put themselves up once I bring them out of the pasture, as far as Fix is concerned, behind them and dragging a line, he is moving the sheep on his own. This morning after I filled a hay net with hay, Fix moved the hay net to the cart. He did this on his own, without any prompting by me.

I play games with my puppies – primarily fetch and tug – as a way to encourage team work (and to teach self-control). Fetch because later I will train a reliable retrieve to hand and tug because sometimes the dog will have to exert some force to bring me something – a filled hay net is one example.

Many years ago a fellow trainer told me a story that I’ve never forgotten. He trained bird dogs so his puppies were taught to fetch from day one. He also never corrected a puppy for picking up and carrying something inappropriate but encouraged the pup to bring the item to him. One day he had a young pup with him in a building where unbeknownst to him someone had put out rat poison. He noticed the pup with something in his mouth and called the pup to him. The pup came running with a box of rat poison. Had he been in the practice of punishing or correcting his pup for picking up things, it is likely that 1) the pup would not have come to him carrying the rat poison; and 2) the pup would have tried swallowing the poison before he was able to remove it from the pup’s mouth. I have taken that lesson to heart and I also never correct a puppy for carrying something in its mouth.

Fix really likes carrying my shoes. He learned very early on not to chew on shoes by simple redirection. However, every time I saw him carrying a shoe, I called him to me, praised and then removed the shoe from his mouth and gave him something else. Fix has also taken to carrying empty metal food dishes if I leave them on the ground. Again, I encourage him to bring those to me and reward him for that. In the past I’ve had to train dogs to carry metal objects so I’m very pleased to see Fix has no issues carrying metal dishes. Of course it means I have to watch where I put the wire cutters in the barn because I’ve caught Fix carrying the wire cutters a few times.

Finally, fetch and tug are useful games to use in training. The following is a brief introduction to TUG OF WAR.

The rules of tug are:

  • You start all games of tug (the toy should be put up away from the dog between games).
  • If the dog’s mouth touches your hand or arm at any time during the game, the game ends immediately.
  • You end all games of tug. The dog must release the tug toy on command.

Start all games of tug with the dog in a sit. Some dogs will be uncomfortable holding onto a toy if they feel you want it. If your dog is hesitant to hold on to the toy when you tug, start with just holding one end of the object and praising your dog for holding on. The next progression is very gentle pressure on the object while praising the dog for holding onto the toy. It may take several days before your dog is willing to hold on to the toy when you pull.

Remember pups that are teething have sensitive mouths – don’t jerk objects out of their mouths. Also, keep the object level and don’t tug up where the dog has to flex his neck.

Frequently during the game, tell your dog to sit or down and give. While tug should be a fun game, you don’t want the dog to become so aroused he no longer is under control.

Finish the game by having your dog sit or down and giving you the toy. The toy should then be put up away from the dog until the next game.

If you are having problems with your dog giving up the toy, with your dog in a sit or down, simply put your free hand under his muzzle and press his lower lip over a lower tooth. Praise when he opens his mouth slightly and remove the toy.

My Weekend

This weekend was spent taking down the working pen, cleaning out the lambing jugs where the bucklings currently reside, building a second compost pile with the old bedding, left over hay, and of course goat manure, and re-configuring the former quarantine pen for the sheep to give them more room. (The sheep got moved out of their pen to accommodate the horse when a tree fell into her corral.) I still don’t know if the two new does are bred, but one is starting to look as though she may be bagging up. If I have kids this fall I will need to have the lambing jugs available so my goal is to build three new goat pens plus two new shelters by the end of this month.

As usual Tuck and Fix were with me while I worked. It really is too bad Tuck doesn’t have opposable thumbs, but since he isn’t able to help with removing T-posts he elected to find a shady spot to lie down. Fix has decided that he needs to emulate his great-uncle and when I looked around to see what mischief Fix was into, I discovered he was quietly laying next to Tuck, just observing. When the temperatures started to climb I decided to quit until evening. However, later in the afternoon it started to lightly rain and I figured it was a good time to finish putting up the new, temporary sheep pen. I headed back out, accompanied by the dogs. Again, Tuck and Fix found a good spot to observe while being out of the way. Shortly thereafter the rain stopped – and the humidity soared – but I wanted to finish up so I kept working. It then started to rain heavier than before but still something I could work in. I looked over to see both Tuck and Fix hightailing it back to the house. I told them they were both wimps and kept pounding a T-post in. As soon as the T-post was set, the heavens opened and the rain started coming down in buckets. I ran towards the house – and nearly killed myself tripping over Fix who had come back to find out why I was still out in the rain. Fix is starting to act more like an adult dog and less like a puppy. . . I’m going to miss my puppy but am ready for the next stage in starting Fix as a stockdog.

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.

A Working Dog

Every day since I returned with the new puppy, Tuck and I have moved the remaining sheep out to the east pasture. The east pasture is probably about five acres and was not used for a couple of years after a road crew took out a corner post and most of the fence along the road. I finally had the fence replaced last summer and was able to use it to graze sheep again but it is still very overgrown.

Yesterday morning Tuck and I moved the sheep as usual. Usually by evening the sheep are waiting at the gate to go back to their night pen. Last night, however, when Tuck and I went for the sheep, the sheep were no where to be seen.

Since I was wearing shorts I wasn’t enthused about traipsing through the pasture looking for sheep so I sent Tuck to find them. Given the terrain, I couldn’t see Tuck or the sheep so couldn’t give him directions other than just to tell him to find the sheep.

It took him awhile, but . . .

 

Unfortunately the phone camera isn’t a great way to take photos so I couldn’t get both Tuck and the sheep in the same shot.

While I think it is admirable that people want to do things with their dogs and are willing to spend the time and money to take lessons and trial their dogs, don’t ever believe anyone who has a herding instinct title or herding title when they tell you that their dog can work stock unless they can demonstrate that the dog can perform a task on its own without being given direction. If you need a true working dog look to a breeder who actually works their dog in a similar situation to yours, and not just one who has titles on their dog. These sheep are trotting – not running – and even so, if I hadn’t been yelling at Tuck to hurry up, he would have brought them up at a walk.

Over the past ten years Tuck has proven he is worth his weight in gold (most days) and I’m hoping his great-nephew will be as good, if not better, a worker.

Random Puppy Photos No. 5

As a “teenager” Fix is fluctuating between being a delight and a major PIA. Yesterday he was being delightful.

18 weeks – supposed to be napping in the hammock

Today he is all “You said what?”

Random Puppy Photos No. 4

Fix turned 17 weeks old on Saturday and I weighed him just out of curiosity. He is lanky – all legs and nose – so I was expecting him to come in at around 25 lbs. I was surprised to find that while he may not look very substantial, he weighed a hefty 32 lbs.

All legs and nose (and tail)

Farm Dog 101: Raising a Puppy with Other Dogs

If a “breeder” tries to sell you more than one puppy, saying that they can keep each other company, run far, far away. Even experienced trainers avoid rearing two puppies at the same time. As mentioned before, puppies do not learn good dog-dog social skills (or pretty much anything else positive) from other puppies after a certain age. If a puppy has been raised to 8 or 9 weeks with its litter-mates, it has learned what it needs to learn and is ready to learn how to form a bond with a human. Raising two puppies – correctly – at the same time involves a huge investment of time and even then, provides a less than optimal environment for both puppies.

However, many dog owners bring new puppies into households with a dog (or more) in residence already. As stated before, I do not own pets. Each of my dogs are companions or, in the case of Fix, being raised to become a companion. This means that I cannot leave raising the puppy to the adult dogs but rather have to invest the time and energy into raising Fix myself. It is certainly easier just to throw the puppy in with the big dogs but it won’t create the relationship I want to develop. Puppies that spend most of their time with other dogs end up, not surprisingly, forming bonds with the other dogs and become what is called “dog-bonded.” I want, however, a dog that is more bonded to me and which prefers my company over that of the other dogs.

I currently have three adult dogs in my household. SLT (Sleet) is probably about 14 years of age at this time. She is a failed foster (a dog I was fostering for Australian Shepherd rescue who was not placable in a pet home, and therefore remained with me.) SLT is very deaf and spends quite a bit of her time currently sleeping. She also has a “kick me” sign firmly in place. She is very (read, overly) tolerant of other dogs’ bad behavior and even when she attempts to correct Fix it is not effective and therefore SLT is not a great adult dog to be teaching manners to a young puppy.

Tuck, who just turned ten, is my working English Shepherd (and also the grand-uncle of Fix). Tuck prefers to pretend that Fix does not exist most of the time. He will correct Fix if necessary but otherwise just walks away when Fix tries to engage him.

Kip is probably about 9 years old. She is an English Shepherd who I fostered (and ultimately kept) for National English Shepherd Rescue (www.nesr.info) a few years ago when the Yellowstone Sheriff’s Department seized about 200 dogs from a very bad situation in Montana. Those dogs all spent several months in custody before the case wound through the courts and the dogs were released to NESR. Kip, like many of the ONB dogs, has some significant orthopedic problems. In Kip’s case she has a spinal stenosis in her lower back which affects her mobility. Despite this handicap, Kip has undertaken to take over Fix’s dog education. First thing in the morning, Kip and Fix will usually play wrestling and chase games. The chase aspect is usually Fix zooming around while Kip waits for him to fly past where she can roll him. After the initial morning games though, Kip will generally correct Fix for bothering her as the day progresses.

I monitor Fix’s interactions with SLT because she is not capable of teaching him good manners. Tuck is capable (and willing) to limit Fix’s interactions with him as is Kip so at this stage all of the dogs are generally out together (where I can monitor Fix with SLT). However, when Fix was first brought into the household, his interactions with all of the dogs were more limited. He was allowed approximately ten or fifteen minutes every couple of hours with the other dogs and the remainder of the time was spent interacting with me. He was never allowed access to the other dogs unsupervised.

Back when I was training professionally I saw a lot of students/clients who were inadvertently creating problems by “protecting” the new puppy from the older dog. Everytime the older dog tried to correct the puppy for inappropriate behavior, the owners got upset and corrected the older dog which fostered the belief in the puppy that it could do anything it wanted, including hassling the older dog, without fear of consequences. Eventually, when the pup was older and has lost its puppy license, the older dog had had enough and the ensuing altercation caused a lot of consternation in the household. There is a reason there are so many Craigslist ads where people are trying to give away or sell an older dog because it “doesn’t get along with the new puppy.” If the older dog has good dog-dog social skills it needs to be allowed to correct the puppy and to teach the puppy appropriate behavior around other dogs. In the case of a dog like SLT, who is incapable of effectively teaching this lesson, I simply monitor the interactions and prevent Fix from developing bad habits. This means that sometimes he ends up in a time-out (spending a short time in his crate) away from SLT.

So Fix has spent (and will continue to spend) most of his time interacting with me (or simply sleeping at my feet which he is doing now). Initially his interactions with the other dogs were limited and even now when all of the dogs are out together, Fix is still monitored and supervised. I allow the adult dogs to correct him as they see fit and will undertake to correct Fix myself if he doesn’t respect SLT’s attempts to warn him off. In this way Fix is learning 1) that I am the most important being in his life; and 2) how to appropriately interact with other dogs and respect their space.