|In the beginning|
When a dog puts his feet on you, it's a sign of disrespect and of it's dominance towards you. I believe they can differentiate between play time and otherwise, but usually, when aged dogs put their feet on one another there's going to be a fight over dominance. In order to raise a well mannered puppy, you cannot allow it to be disrespectful and this starts from it's earliest contact with you. It's much, much easier and less stressful for everybody if you teach respect from puppyhood than it is to re-train a 40 pound dog that's jumping all over you as well as everyone and everything else.
Star has known no other way since I've had him. At 10 weeks, he has already learned the lesson and rarely puts his feet on me. He has learned that if he wants me to open the kennel gate, to be fed or petted, he has to have all 4 feet on the ground . Consistency is absolutely crucial to accomplishing this and I do mean every single time. Here's what I do. When he jumped up on the kennel gate, I growled at him. "Aahh!" Then when he put his feet down, I opened the gate and let him out. In the beginning I would open that gate as soon as he got down, but overtime I required that he stay on the ground for longer periods before I opened it. It took no time for him to learn the lesson and now just a quiet "Aahh" gets him off that gate and keeps him there if he gets excited and forgets.
I know of one person who's dog was so unruly in his kennel that they had to put plexi-glass on the gate to keep him from hurting himself. I'd rather just teach mine to be well behaved. When the puppy put his feet on me, I simply and gently shoved him down with my hand and gave the same growl. The growl lets the puppy know that it's doing something wrong. Just pushing the puppy down isn't enough. It might be considered play. You have to push him down with the growl as a correction. The push doesn't have to be and shouldn't be harsh or scary. It should be gentle, but resolute and it absolutely must be consistent. Consistency is the key to the whole thing and this holds true for everyone that has contact with the puppy. If you don't allow him to jump on you, but others in your family do, you'll just be wasting your time and confusing your puppy. Be consistent!
Day 18os 5/10/2009
I introduced Star to whistles today. Usually I wait until a dog is solidly on voice commands to do this, but he took to it just as easily as he did voice commands. Going forward, I'll likely use both interchangeably. I like the idea of training voice and whistles at the same time and because of Star's sensitivity to my voice and mood, I think he might like whistles better.
Last Friday Star went to the vet and had a foxtail removed from his ear that he picked up in my 3 acre training field. Even though the sheep have grazed it, the plants just head out closer to the ground. To avoid the foxtails, I'll be working away from home on a grass field that's available to me, and that's where we were today.
Still preferring the away-to-me side, I set up a walk about so that he had to cover on the come-bye side to keep from losing his sheep. I still prefer to let him work this out on his own, rather than force the issue. I sent Star on bigger outruns today, maybe 100 yards, and he was pretty nice. He didn't cross, went out with fair enthusiasm and made a fetch with a bit too much pace, but not enough for me to correct him in any way or attempt to stop him. He was not rash and there was no chase or grip. I am teaching him that his first and foremost job is to bring me sheep, and I let him do that pretty much at will. It was hot today and Star got his first taste of working sheep in Southern California. He got hot and when he headed for the shade, I simply walked off with the sheep. When he came back to work on his own, I gave him a flank, downed him and called him off. After working the other dogs, I let him gather the sheep and load them in the trailer. Not only did he do that with enthusiasm, but tested his nerve twice by going in after them with a tentative nose bite just to be sure. Good boy.
Day 88os 12/6/2009
We worked again on getting him deeper at the top of his away-to-me outrun. The first time I sent him, he flattened out, which causes his tail to rise and his gate to become ragged when he comes to balance at an odd angle to the sheep. It is plain to see from his body when he is wrong. This time I stood by the sheep and backed up as he came near balance after speaking to him at the point of his outrun where he flattens.
I am still allowing him to turn in and come on to the lift with intention, but noticed that he defaults to a come-bye flank when I steady him with a whistle just after the lift. A quiet "here, here," brings him back on task, but I would like to avoid the default flank all together. We practiced a steady with an immediate "here, here," and after 1 or 2 tries eliminated the default flank on the steady whistle.
Back to the outruns. I sent him a few more times with me at the sheep correcting at his "flatten" spot, then tied him in the shade to soak. I was interested to see if he would internalize the lesson and improve. After a short break I sent him away-to-me from my feet and was gratified to see him carry all the way beyond his sheep to finish in a nice arc on balance. Hope the lesson holds tomorrow.
Day 124os 4/25/2010
Today, for the first time shedding, I was able to call him through away from the fence. He is not following my body, however, and has many times turned on to the wrong group. I have not, and will not correct him for anything as long as he keeps coming through the hole. To avoid it, each time he started through, I crossed my body in front of him, between him and the sheep, turning the shed into a fetch instead of letting him circle all the way around, and spoke to him, "here, here," to keep him on the right group.
It worked, but even when he was able to catch the sheep before they re-grouped and fetch them to me, he would stop and turn to the cast-offs. That hesitation caused him to lose the sheep he was supposed to holding, and I had to work at it to maintain my good attitude. He is absolutely determined to keep things together, and you gotta love that! I was not frustrated with him, but by the sheep's sour nature and their insufficient numbers. I kept thinking; "I've got to get more sheep."
Any negativity on my part, however, manifests in Star, so I have to be careful with my emotions while I work him. Today I did this by reminding myself how young he is, and how well he works for me in almost every regard. In other words, I used gratitude, and it alleviated my frustration.
Day 157os 7/25/2010
I stepped out into the most beautiful morning today. Cool enough for a light jacket which I wore almost the entire time we worked. I really opened things up today, and set up outruns that were every bit of 500 yards, maybe farther. Price and I drove sheep to the farthest reaches at the low end of the field. Back near the truck, I took Mirk and Star, one at a time, onto a little rise to send them on their way.
That little hill did nothing for the dog's ability to spot their sheep, they were too distant. But it gave me a great vantage point to watch and enjoy my dogs, and I do love to watch them run. Star went out on blind faith, finding his sheep easily after crossing the wash to my left. At one place on the first outrun, he appeared to be dangerously close to crossing, so I gave him a re-direct whistle at the exact moment he decided to widen and look further. Learn anything lately, Amelia? Trust you dog, damn it!
Snowbirds on the Border Sheepdog Trial is coming up in a couple short weeks, and Christmas is upon us. I'll be spending lots of time in the training field, and I hope your season is joyful and filled with the love of family and friends.