Socialization in Times of “Physical Distancing” and “Stay at Home” – clarification

In the first post when I mentioned taping sounds that your pup may not experience off your property and in new surroundings, I neglected to mention that those should be played for the pup sporadically OUTSIDE. Most people watch TV, movies or use their computers so your pup is likely to have heard sirens, etc. in the house coming from those different media sources. It is a different thing to hear those outside in an area where the pup may not be expecting to hear those sounds.

Secondly, I heard the governor of California explain why he disliked the term “social distancing” and instead preferred “physical distancing.” After hearing his explanation I have to agree with him, so I am now trying to remember to use a more accurate term “physical distancing.”

Socialization in Times of “Social Distancing” and “Stay at Home” – Part Two

Strange People: Introducing your puppy to new people and “social distancing” are not compatible. However, there are some things that you and members of your household can do to minimize fearful behavior around people as your puppy grows up.

Make a list (can you tell I’m big on making lists?) of different clothes worn in different seasons. One of the things that a lot of people don’t think about, is that the strangers you may introduce your new puppy to in one season will likely be dressed differently at a different time of the year. Clothing really does make a difference to a puppy as the silhouette of someone in a hat looks different than the same person without the hat. This is why your puppy may have a fearful reaction to someone it knows until that person gets close enough that the puppy can smell him or her. This exercise will put you ahead of the game as you will socialize your puppy to yourself and others in your household wearing different clothing. Wear hats of different types; wear heavy jackets, lighter weight jackets and no jackets at all. Wear glasses, sunglasses and no glasses. Put your hair up and leave your hair down. Wear clunky boots and strapless sandals. In other words, play dress up. If you have any kids in your household, or a spouse or significant other, have them play dress up as well. See who can come up with the most ridiculous outfit.

Make a list of your friends and family and then note the distinguishing features for each. One may have facial hair, another might wear glasses. While you can’t introduce your new puppy to them, you can try to simulate those characteristics. Wear perfume or aftershave. If you have a cane or crutches, use those around the puppy. Change your gait – shuffle or limp. Don’t forget that sounds are important – talk to your puppy in different voices. Deep voices, high pitched voices, loud voices and soft voices. Practice different accents.

Your puppy is going to KNOW that it is you in that clothing or faking that accent but you are habituating the puppy to a lot of differences that it will eventually encounter in the real world. Is it going to be as good as introducing your puppy to your friends and family? Probably not, but it will be better than not doing anything at all and you will remain socially responsible by distancing yourself from anyone not in your household.

Socialization in Times of “Social Distancing” and “Stay at Home” – Part One

The primary socialization period for dogs is from 20 days (roughly three weeks) to 6 weeks and the secondary socialization period is from 6 through 12 weeks of age. Since most puppies go to new homes at about 8 weeks, this means that the breeder is responsible for ensuring the puppies receive socialization during the primary socialization period and for part of the secondary socialization period. Once a pup is brought home, it is incumbent upon the new owner to ensure that the puppy continue to be socialized to new environments, people and novel objects. Twelve through 20 weeks of age is a period of habituation for the puppy. The puppy will generally start to exhibit fearful behavior in new environments, around strangers and towards novel objects which is why it is so critical that the breeder and owner take advantage of the first 12 weeks to properly socialize a puppy.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the rules for the world. People are being asked to practice “social distancing” and avoid contact with anyone outside of their household. Many states have implemented “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders which limit excursions away from home. Both of these new rules drastically affect how one can meet both their social obligations to their communities and their obligation to properly socialize their new puppy.

In this and future posts, I will provide some ways to overcome those limitations and enable puppies to receive critical socialization from eight to 20 weeks.

Keeping in mind that since socialization is not just about exposing a puppy to things, but rather teaching appropriate behaviors in those situations, quite a lot of socialization occurs at home. As soon as a puppy comes home, it can start learning basic manners. As it grows older, basic obedience can be added. Teaching a puppy self-control (manners) and confidence (obedience) helps a puppy with the coping skills necessary to handle new environments, strange people and novel objects.

New Environments: Make a list of surfaces that your puppy has not yet had an opportunity to walk on and then think about unpopulated areas with those surfaces where you can take your puppy. These excursions do not have to be lengthy – even ten minutes a couple of times a week will be beneficial. In public, remember to pick locations where you can avoid encounters with other people and always keep your puppy on a leash or long line. Some novel surfaces can be set up at home – has the puppy ever walked on a tarp or other type of plastic that makes noise?

Make a list of environmental sounds, both urban and rural, that you want to expose your puppy to hearing. In a pinch, you can create a “playlist” of very short (less than 10 second) sounds from TV shows or Youtube videos. Include sirens, children yelling and babies crying. Just playing one sound at a time throughout the day can go a long way to ensuring your puppy habituates to normal sounds that might be difficult to expose it to while keeping your distance from people and staying at home.

Harder will be exposing your puppy to the smells it would encounter out in public, and that is mainly because you probably have never consciously paid much attention to those smells. However, dogs rely more on their noses than their vision so exposure to different odors is critical. The next time you go out to put gas in your vehicle, take your puppy. (Your puppy should either be crated and the crate secured so that it does not become a flying missile if you are in an accident, or should be securely fastened into a seatbelt / harness system.) Put the window down a little while you are putting gas into the car so that your puppy is exposed to the smells of vehicles, odors from the fast food restaurant that is likely to be next door to the gas station and all of the other myriad smells that your nose doesn’t register.

Bug wearing seat belt harness hooked into car restraint system

This is the best of times . . .

and the worst of times to be raising a puppy.

Since normally I work out of the house, I am relatively unaffected by the actions taken by my state government in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus through my state. However, for many others who had been asked to remain at home this was a drastic change from their normal day-to-day activities. More time at home makes this a great time to raise a new puppy – with the caveat that – making the assumption eventually all will return to normal – it is imperative that one teaches the puppy to be alone so that when the owners return to work the pup doesn’t start exhibiting signs of separation anxiety.

Bug had gone with me on a few trips I had made off the property, but the majority of her time had been spent at home up until she reached 10 weeks of age. At that point I became more serious about taking her into town for socialization at least twice a week. The request to ‘social distance’ from other people made it a worse time to raise a puppy given I was no longer able to socialize her around people to the extent I normally would; but I was still able to socialize her to other environments. This all changed when the governor issued a “stay at home” order that went into effect at 8:00 am on Tuesday, March 24th.

Luckily I have a puppy from a breeder who worked hard to provide the litter with age-appropriate socialization and I was able to spend a couple of weeks continuing socialization off my property. However, I am going to be challenged to continue that socialization. Since a lack of socialization* is a leading cause of behavior issues in dogs (and causes too many dogs to be euthanized), this puts owners of new puppies at a major disadvantage in properly raising their pup. I will try to put up a couple of blog posts to provide some ideas of how people can work around the issues associated with the “stay at home” order.

Bug turned 12 weeks old yesterday and this morning I noticed that she is now tall enough to drink out of the outside water bucket without having to stand on her hind legs (sorry, couldn’t get the camera on my phone working in time to get a photo.)

She is a very oral puppy and if she doesn’t have Fix’ tail (or another part of him) in her mouth she is carrying something she has picked up outside.

(I do miss the better camera on the Samsung . . .. )

12 weeks, 1 day

*socialization is not taking a puppy to new places and introducing new people, but rather teaching appropriate behaviors to the situations the puppy encounters in new locations and around strange people.

Farm Dog 101: Working Livestock with Your English Shepherd – an Introduction (Part Two)


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To start working stock all you really need is a dog and stock but it really helps to have a working pen and some type of “stick”.  The working pen needs to be a suitable size to contain the number of stock being worked AND with enough space that if the stock is bunched in the center of the pen there is 20 feet or more to the sides of the pen.  A 100 foot x 100 foot pen is ideal. Corners are tough, so if the pen is round that is even better. Again, speaking from painful experience, make sure you clean up anything off the ground that you could potentially trip over.

The stick can be a piece of PVC, a crook, a rattle paddle or a lunge whip. I’ve known people to use bamboo as well. Basically the stick is no more than an extension of your arm so it needs to be something you can easily carry and use. If the dog is really sensitive to your body language, you may want to forego using a stick initially as it may pressure a beginning dog too much.

Before I start working a dog I want to make sure the livestock are familiar with the working pen so I’ll usually feed the stock in the pen for a couple of days.

If your stock is not dog broke (i.e., accustomed to dogs and not panicking when one appears) you will need to dog break the stock now. If you’ve fed the stock in your working pen for a couple of days, the stock should be comfortable in the pen. Put your feed in the center of the pen and put a dog on leash (this doesn’t have to be the dog you intend to start working on stock but it should be a quiet dog that isn’t going to be barking frantically.) Once the stock is quietly eating, enter the pen with the dog on leash and begin walking the perimeter of the fence line. You should be far enough from the stock (at least 20 feet) so that even if the stock notices you and the dog, other than maybe moving a couple of feet, the stock will settle back down. With every circle of the pen, move away from the fence line 6-12 inches. Switch the dog (or directions) so sometimes you are between the stock and the dog and sometimes the dog is closer to the stock. Watch the stock – you will notice when the dog’s pressure causes the stock to be uncomfortable and move away. Back away just far enough so that the stock settles down again; make another circles around the perimeter, coming in close enough to make the stock move a step or two and release the pressure. Do this a couple of time and then quit. Your goal is to have the stock respond to pressure from the dog without becoming panicked. Depending upon the stock, it may take a couple of days before the stock is quiet enough with the dog in the pen to move on to the next step. If you have stock that consistently doesn’t move away from the dog’s pressure but turns and faces the dog even though the dog is quiet and not threatening, you can use your stick to add pressure to the stock. If the stock doesn’t respond to the added pressure, this is not stock you want to start a young dog on. Too few head of stock will often be more willing to challenge a dog which is why I strongly suggest starting with more than three head. Stock with young offspring will challenge a dog more and I won’t work a young dog on stock with offspring less than a month old.  Generally, if my sheep lamb in February / March I won’t start moving them onto pasture until sometime between mid-April and the first of May.

So now you have a dog and dog-broke stock. You are almost ready to start working your dog. Sit down with a cup of coffee (or other beverage of your choice) and think about what your long-term goals are for the dog. Are you moving all your stock at the same time? If not, do you have to sort stock before moving stock or is the stock penned separately? What is the routine for the stock? Are your animals used to be moved at a certain time of day? Always to the same location or does it change? If it changes, what factors influence where the stock is moved?

English Shepherds thrive on routine. However, and I’m speaking from experience, unless your routine will NEVER vary, you don’t want to fall into a specific routine with your dog too soon. It can make asking your dog to vary that routine later very difficult.

Once you know what you need to accomplish, take a look at your setup – fences, gates, etc. and determine the most efficient way to move livestock. You may determine that making a few changes in your current setup now to assist your dog is a wise investment in time.

If you have a working pen, your initial training will be in the working pen. Using a working pen allows you to have better (not absolute) control over what happens. Since good training is based on making the dog successful, having control over your environment in the initial stages is very, very useful. If you don’t have a working pen, you will have to train in the “real world” which brings a whole different level of challenges. As a well-known border collie handler once said, “you want to make the right thing easy, and the wrong thing hard.” If you don’t have a working pen, this may be accomplished by using “temporary” fences to help your dog move livestock where the stock needs to go. I use either corral or cattle panels (and lots of baling twine) to block off areas and help “channel” the stock when I start moving stock out to new pastures. Livestock, like your dog, fall into routines and it can be difficult for a young dog to convince the livestock to head in a new direction.

Farm Dog 101: Chore Dog

The young chickens are not quite six months old but were large enough to allow out. The first couple of days, none seemed interested in venturing out of the familiar enclosure attached to the chicken coop but eventually the bravest started exploring the area immediately around the chicken coop and the others soon followed. Fix is helping to put the chickens up a couple of nights ago. The rooster is the Icelandic given to me by a friend. Notice how calm and quiet Fix is moving – just enough pressure to move the chickens without panicking them.

Farm Dog 101: Working Livestock with Your English Shepherd – an Introduction (Part One)


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At the point the dog respects you, is responsive to basic commands, and is mentally and physically able to handle the challenge, you are ready to start working stock.

If the dog has been accompanying you on chores, it should now have an understanding of the routine. This is critical for an English Shepherd because most English Shepherds are working to maintain the rules set forth by their owners. English Shepherds should be able to walk through a pasture full of stock and totally ignore all the animals (without being told to do so) as long as the animals are where they are supposed to be, at the time of day they are supposed to be there. This is what enables farmers not to have to tie up or kennel their working dogs when the dogs aren’t being supervised.

Once I have decided the dog is mature enough mentally and physically to start working, I want to ensure that the dog is successful in its initial introduction to the work. Working stock requires the dog to be willing to put itself in situations where the dog may get injured — it is absolutely critical that the dog trust the handler and that the handler makes sure the dog isn’t over-faced early on. Fence lines and corners are dangerous places for dogs — they understand that even if the handler doesn’t. Handlers all too often get very upset with their dogs when they are working in pens and the dog refuses to get around the stock because it means having to go between the stock and a fence line, without realizing why the dog may be reluctant to do so.

Training a dog on stock is all about pressure – the application and removal of pressure to get the dog (and the stock) to move where you want it. Pressure, however, can be very subtle and not noticeable to the observer. The handler needs to recognize the amount of pressure that will be sufficient to achieve the desired result and be careful not to over-pressure the dog. Over-pressuring a dog will either result in the dog becoming frantic and out of control or shutting down and refusing to work. Over-pressuring stock usually results in the stock running. Stock work should be about calm, confident control. It is not productive to run the weight off your livestock. Nor should livestock be stressed by this type of handling. Having said that, especially when working a young dog, things are going to happen. Unless your livestock is heading towards the road or a high cliff, take a deep breath and slow down. (Actually, especially if your stock is heading for the road or a high cliff, stop and breathe.) Panicking has NEVER made a situation any better. Give yourself, the dog and the livestock a chance to settle down before continuing to work. This is really hard for some handlers — don’t beat yourself up over it if you overreact. Just try not to overreact the next time things get out of control.

Farm Dog 101: Working Livestock with Your English Shepherd – an Overview

English Shepherds are/should be control freaks. They understand rules and want those rules followed. That is one of the things that makes it easier to work with them on your own stock and one of the things that often makes it frustrating to work them off your property and with strange stock.

English Shepherds are “loose eyed” dogs and thus work closer in to their stock than border collies. While some dogs will bark at particularly stubborn stock, if a dog is barking almost constantly it lacks confidence and you will have to be extra careful in starting that dog to build confidence.

The first thing I do when starting a young dog (and young isn’t age related but determined by experience) is develop a bond with the dog. This means I spend time with the dog in a variety of situations, teaching the dog to respect me and fostering its desire to be with me. I will take the dog with me doing chores. Depending upon the dog and the situation, this may mean the dog is dragging a line to ensure I can control its behavior. While I don’t directly focus on the dog, after all I am doing chores, I do make sure the dog isn’t getting into trouble and is staying close (how close is a personal choice.) When I have a dog that is sticking with me doing chores, coming back to check in frequently on off-leash walks and has rudimentary obedience skills as well as self-control I’ll evaluate whether or not the dog is mentally and physically mature enough to start working stock. This is also dependent upon my stock. I won’t work a young dog on ewes with young lambs.

If I’m going to work stock with a dog, I will wait to do serious obedience training until AFTER I have started working stock. While I want the dog responsive to me, I want the dog’s focus on stock. A dog who focuses on the handler is either going to be less effective in working stock or, worse case scenario, is going to get hurt by not paying attention to the stock. It is very important to remember that if you want a partner, you have to ensure the dog is capable of making decisions and not expecting you to make all the decisions for him/her. All the dogs I train are taught self-control early on so that the dog is making GOOD decisions on its own and so that I’m not constantly telling the dog to do or not to do something.

It is also critical that you set your dog up to be successful and not to fail. While corrections are, in my opinion, a necessary part of training, corrections rarely have a place in “teaching”. Until the dog understands what is required and knows how to avoid a correction, it isn’t fair to correct the dog. Once I move out of teaching and into training, I can set it up so the dog has to make the right decision under more challenging circumstances, but again I have to ensure the dog is prepared for the challenge and I’m not expecting something I can’t reasonably expect.

The age you start a dog is not critical as long as the dog is mentally and physically ready to start. What is critical is that you haven’t done things to “turn the dog off”. I’ve seen pups that were put on stock too young and a single bad experience was sufficient to turn the dog off working stock permanently. I’ve seen older dogs that had been discouraged as pups from interacting with livestock who wouldn’t work as they got older. I’ve also seen dogs bounce back from traumas that you would have thought sufficient to turn them off permanently — my first ES got kicked by a steer so hard it knocked him across a pen, gave him a concussion and broke a molar. He tried, unsuccessfully because of the concussion, to get up and continue working.

Working poultry (chicken, turkeys, ducks), sheep, cattle and goats is challenging in different ways and some dogs will excel on one type of stock and yet may not be a good worker on another type of stock. The dog might be ready to work poultry very early on and not be ready for sheep, goats or cattle until much later. So just because your pup or dog doesn’t seem interested in working one type of livestock or another, don’t be discouraged. It may need more time just accompanying you doing chores or you may want to try starting on a different type of livestock. While I do use my ES to handle my American Guinea Hogs, I don’t recommend starting an inexperienced dog on hogs and I personally will NEVER use a dog to work horses. There are several reasons for that but it can be boiled down to a safety issue for both the dog and rider.

NOTE: The above was originally written a few years ago, when I was raising Katahdin sheep for lamb and was pasture raising American Guinea Hogs. I have downsized the number of sheep I have and the hogs are now in various freezers.

Farm Dog 101: Raising a Useful Farm Dog

Several years ago when I was asked how I started my pups working stock I wrote up some notes. I was then asked to turn those notes into an article, which I did, but the individual who requested it had moved on and the article languished unpublished. In the interests of being able to put up regular blog posts in 2018, I am going to use the article as the basis of the Farm Dog 101 posts for the next few months. This should be timely as now that Tuck has been officially retired, my plans of having Fix ease into being my primary chore dog have been altered. Fix has been accompanying me on chores since the day he arrived on the farm. Although the dynamics on the farm have changed since I brought him home in late May, Fix has a good understanding of the day to day routine and is already proving himself useful as a chore dog. However, what he lacks is the training to move livestock with direction; i.e., he can already move escaped goats back to the correct pen, or hens to the chicken coop at night if needed, but he does it without being told and without me telling him “how” to accomplish the task. By early spring Fix will be my “go to” dog when I need help moving livestock. Since I had anticipated Tuck continuing to work for at least a couple more years, over the past summer and fall Fix’ training on stock had been less of a priority. That has now changed. Fix now needs to know the basics of moving up on stock, stopping when he needs to or is told to, and how to influence movement by using a “go-bye” or “away”.

(For those interested in learning more about introducing puppies to farm work, I highly recommend an article in the current English Shepherds at Work Handbook published by the English Shepherd Club, Thoughts on Training Your Pup for Practical Farm Work. Full disclaimer: the article was written by a friend who happens to be the breeder from whom I purchased Tuck and Fix.)

Check back January 1st for the first Installment of Working Livestock with Your English Shepherd. All I ask is that you understand that my farm is different from your farm and my dogs are not your dogs, so following the posts by rote is not necessarily going to get you the dog you need for your farm. It is also very important to keep in mind that working livestock is only one small job of a useful farm dog. My dogs work year round even though I only pasture livestock part of the year. However, if you know what you need on your farm (and this can change from season to season or even day to day) and understand your dog, the basic principles outlined in the upcoming blog posts should be useful in helping you train your dog to do the job needed on your farm. The second thing I ask is that you respect my copyright and do not reprint a blog posts or any part of a blog post in any forum without asking permission first.