When thinking about what to write about in this column, I thought about the current problems I’m working on with my beardie Kailie. The issues are these: When I take her to a trial, she generally goes nuts when she first goes into the arena, and will do something right off the bat which in some cases will result in an NQ (At least in AKC, where the 50% rule applies). She is young, but there is no reason for her to go berserk when first going to work stock. I want a calm stockdog. A second issue, which goes along with the first, was noticed by a friend of mine. She thought that part of the issue might be that she has gotten used to the idea that when we go herding, its generally on a normal working day at my friend’s place, so your usual run is eight to ten minutes, with about an hour wait for her next run. The result of this may be that when she first goes into the arena, again, she is not the calm stockdog I want. She has figured out that when we go in, it may only be a short work, so she wants “to make the most of it”.
I’ve come up with several things that are helping to solve this. I spoke to my friend, and arranged to come and work her at non regular work times (such as perhaps, Friday after work, when only my friend, his wife and their dogs are there). This way she won’t get into the ‘ten minutes and out’ routine. I can vary it – work anywhere from 3 to 45 minutes with out a break, if I need or want to. (If you are going to work for long periods like that, make sure there is water in the arena or pasture where you are working) In addition, I use this technique: The instant that she stops listening to me, I don’t say a word: instead, we go to the fenceline, and stand there (if you are going to try this, take a good book the first few times!). I’ll simply stand there, and let her figure this out. What I want, is for her to sit calmly watching her stock for a period of time (generally, about a minute) before I’ll release her. Once I release her from that we’ll go back to work. Remember, let your dog figure this one out for herself. Don’t give them any commands at all. Simply stand along the fenceline and be totally quiet. It’s important that your dog learns to do this for themselves and not do this because its been commanded to. Part of the calmness we are looking for.
In addition, I’ve made arrangements with my friends to help them with their stock. I’ll feed when they are out of town, help with anything connected to stock, fencing, etc. The idea being that when we are at their place, its like she lives and works there. After several months of this, she now is totally calm when we are there. I never have a lead on her, and can easily have her come with me from pen to pen, or place to place while we feed different stock, fix a fence post, or any chores like that. The other day, we were setting up a course for an upcoming trial. Kailie, along with about three or four of my friend’s Border Collies were all in the arena with us. The Border Collies were all running back and forth at the top of the arena, where the sheep live. And they were playing with each other. Kailie’s response to this was to simply check out the situation, and come with me while we pounded some fenceposts. She wanted to be available should she be needed for some work.
So this is my tip for the month. Find ways for your dog to be around stock when its not ‘training day’, where there are lots of dogs around. Learn to use your dog as a chore dog, which will make them calmer in general around stock. Use my fenceline tip, and varying the length of time when working your dog. Make each session a different length of time, so that your dog doesn’t get the idea that whenever they go in, it will be the same time each time.
© 1997 by Joel Levinson.
This article originally appeared in “Bagpipes”, the Bearded Collie Club of America’s monthly newsletter. Reprinted with permission of the author.