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.
The moon now is the second full moon of the month which makes it a Blue Moon.
For Fix’s ten month birthday today, we took a hike. The entrance to the Quebradas Backcountry Scenic Byway, managed by the BLM, is about a tenth of a mile from my gate. While traffic (vehicles and dirt bikes) can be an issue during holidays and weekends, during the week it is generally quiet. (It is also a place to avoid during monsoon season as flash flooding is common and dangerous.)
Fix drags a line on these hikes but that will change soon. His recall is such that I can call him off deer and today we flushed a jack rabbit and he simply returned to me without the need for me to call him back.
He is turning into an excellent companion as well as a good chore dog, but part of me misses the adorable ball of fluff I brought home last May.
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.
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.
It is hard to believe that 2017 is drawing to a close. I have been told that time speeds up as one ages and I can agree with that statement. 2017 has brought many changes to the farm and my personal life. Hopefully these changes will turn out to be good choices as 2018 progresses.
It is even harder to believe that the tiny pup I brought home in May turned nine months old today. Due to health issues, Tuck was retired from working this fall and Fix will assume his duties come spring when the livestock start getting moved back to pasture. In the meantime, Fix is enjoying being unemployed. . .
The chicks turned 6 weeks old on Monday. I started opening up the pop door to the outside run for the chicks this past weekend and they have been having a grand time with the extra room. I had bought a Hen Hydrator which is a 5 gallon bucket that hangs with nipples for the chickens to drink from because I was tired of having to clean out the trays on the ground waterers. It plainly states it is not for chicks, but I went ahead and lowered it to chick height and the chicks have been happily using it for the past few days.
Cosmos, the youngest buckling, does not quite understand the proper way to go down a slide.
And here is Fix – who is starting to mature into a very nice looking dog.
Once your dog will “place” for at least two minutes with you moving around the room, you are ready to progress to Step Two – teaching your dog to travel to its “place.”
Step Two: Place your mat or rug one step in front of your dog. Toss a treat on the mat and tell your dog to “go place”. When your dog steps onto the mat and eats the treat, Praise and Release.
Duration: Gradually increase the length of time the dog remains on the mat before the Release.
Distance: Once your dog is able to leave your side and go one step to the mat without assistance and remain there for 2 minutes, you will start to increase the distance away from the mat that your dog is sent one step at a time. Each time you add distance, reduce the length of time the dog remains on the mat and gradually increase the time again. Until the dog is successfully completing a “go place” at two steps without physical assistance you will not move further away. Each increase in distance should be one step at a time. Continue until you can send your dog 20 feet to a mat and the dog stays until Released.
Distractions: Reduce the distance you stand from the mat back to one step and have a distraction ten feet away. If you have been working without a leash, make sure you put a leash back on your dog so that you can prevent him from going to the distraction. Send your dog to the mat. When your dog is successfully ignoring the distraction, move the distraction one foot closer and repeat. Continue to move the distraction closer only when the dog is able to successfully ignore it.
Difficulty: Once your dog is ignoring a distraction and able to “go place” from one step away, start increasing the distance you send your dog one step at a time and begin with the distraction ten feet away again. Continue to vary the distance you send the dog, the type and location of distraction and duration of the stay on the mat.
To recapitulate, the first step in teaching a “Place” command is to teach the dog to remain in a designated spot until released.
To teach this you will need the following:
- Something to use as your designated spot – a bathmat, rug, elevated dog bed, etc.
- Treats (optional)
- Release word
Step One: Put your dog on leash. Put your mat or rug in front of your dog. Help your dog step onto the mat as you say “place”. Do not repeat the command but use the leash as necessary to ensure the dog steps completely on the mat. Your dog may sit, stand or down but may not step off the mat until you have released your dog.
Duration: build on duration first; start with five seconds and increase the length of time you require your dog to stay on the mat before being released.
Distance: once you have built up to a one-minute stay on the mat, reduce the duration back to five seconds and start to move yourself further away from the mat, one step at a time. If your dog tries to move off the mat, use the leash to prevent the dog from stepping off the mat, without stepping back into the dog. When you are able to step away leash length (6 feet) for five seconds, gradually build up the duration again, five seconds at a time.
Distraction: once you are able to move six feet away from the mat and your dog can stay for one minute, start adding distractions. When you add distractions, reduce the distance you are standing away from the dog and the duration of the stay. Again, use the leash as necessary to ensure the dog does not move off the mat until released. Start with mild distractions and work up to heavy distractions. As your dog learns to ignore the distractions, gradually build up the duration and distance again.
Difficulty: once you are able to move six feet away from the mat and your dog can stay for one minute with heavy distractions, you are going to increase the difficulty of the exercise. While your dog will initially still have a leash on, you will no longer be holding it. Start moving around the room, being prepared to pick up the leash to enforce the “place” if necessary. Vary how far you move, how long the dog must stay and the level of distractions.
A Place command is incredibly useful. Put simply, a place command involves teaching a dog to travel to a specific spot (I like using bathmats as mats are portable and easy to travel with) and then to remain in that spot until released. It is easier for most people to teach than a solid stay because the dog isn’t required to remain in either a sit or a down, but as long as the dog remains in that spot, can sit, down, stand, turn around. . .you get the picture.
So in keeping with my resolution to actually start training Fix, I decided a Place command would be a good addition to his education.
TRAINING A “PLACE” COMMAND
This exercise consists of training two separate exercises and then combining the two into a single exercise.
The first part involves teaching the dog to remain in a designated spot until released. The second part involves teaching the dog to travel to the designated spot.
In training this exercises, as with all exercises, the Four D’s of Training are employed. These are:
Remember, you want to build on success, so your goal in training is to set your dog up to succeed, not fail. Be sure your dog understands what is required before making the task more difficult.
To begin, you need a RELEASE word. This is a word which you will consistently use to let your dog know it is free to do something different. For example, in this case, once you have told your dog to “place” your dog should not move from that location until you have given permission; i.e., a Release. It is important that you use this word to release your dog following every command. A Release word is not the same as praise. Praise should be given while your dog is performing the action (sit, down, etc.) so that you are praising the action and not the dog’s behavior after completion of the action. A Release word simply means your dog has your permission to do something else and should not be followed with praise.