Wednesday, December 1, 2010


A couple of weeks ago Dianne was here to teach lessons.  Ronnie Smith hosted her on his farm using his commercial flock of Romney/North Country Cheviot sheep.

The sheep were challenging, as they were not dogged.  Dogs that were typically used to working on dog broke sheep had to think.  

Jeanne B.'s Rocky

If they lifted too hard the sheep would turn on them and the fight would ensue.  The sheep also did not want to fetch.

Jeanne B.'s Rocky

They were more afraid of humans than dogs.  It was fascinating to watch the dogs figure this out and work on getting the sheep down the field. 

Jeanne B.'s Rocky
My challenge for the weekend was to learn to let go of the control & trust my dog to think things through on her own. 

Brynn worked her tail end off that weekend, as Dianne used her for sorting and moving sheep most of the time.

During my lessons Dianne pointed out Brynn was picking fights with the sheep.

Brynn would  lift sheep, when they would start to move she would stuff her nose right up their butts & shove them down the field, it would work on hair sheep, but these sheep were a different matter. When she pushed they would turn and fight. 

The trick for handing this was to watch my sheep, the minute their heads turned and they started to move away  I needed to back her off, out of the sheep bubble (flight zone), give the sheep some distance, then let Brynn bring them at a controlled pace.  When I did that the fetch line was straight and it showed me - if the lift begins correctly, the fetch usually stays correct.

Funny how that works eh?  If it starts right, it usually stays right.  Such a simple concept for a challenged mind, such as mine.  I always seem to want to make it more complicated.

Just call me Captain Obvious. 

Dianne had me sending Brynn on 500 - 600 yard blind outruns.  The first one Brynn required a redirect when she popped her head up and looked to me for help.  When she finally spotted the sheep she kicked out even more, came behind them nice and deep.  I picked up my whistle ready to blow a 'there' and more.   Dianne grabbed my arm and told me to 'shut-up' and let her think...."TRUST HER" she said.

Gasp....Trust my dog?  What?  Really?  

(Normally I would share a video here of Brynn's glorious outruns, alas I cannot.   Cindy tried to shoot video for me - but Helen the Camera confused her and thwarted her efforts. So you will have to make due with the pictures I shot while Dianne used Brynn to sort sheep for other lessons & other dogs.)

Judy & Dianne in the Twin Oaks Field which allows for 500-600 yard outruns

Against my skeptical nature I struggled and hurled trust up from the depths of my being.  (Also because Dianne scares me and I knew better than to defy her when she is holding a stick).  So, trust her I did...and my jaw fell open.

Dianne was right.  Imagine that?  

My baby dog well and truly has grown up.   Her handler has a way to go in that department. 

The fetch line was dead on perfect when I just let her figure it out.  Like Dianne said, on these type of have to let the dog use their instinct ...they are more equipped to see what the sheep are going to do, and where they are going to dart & from that distance we cannot control things.  Trust your dog, keep them backed off and be in place to correct or help when necessary....amazing how that works.

Let go of the control ...and trust your dog.  Yet another concept I may need massive doses of Valium to master.

As if you didn't know already, being a bit of a control freak is a problem I have.  GASP.  Yes... really. 

I do need to trust Brynn.  But there is a difference between trusting your dog and letting them get away with murder.  Something I have not yet figured out.  Mind you, I can trust Brynn if Dianne is on the field.    Brynn does not respect me as much as she should, and when it is just me...things can go 'poof' faster than a fart in a tornado.

After judging one of our runs in Idaho this weekend, Dianne told me Brynn does not respect me. Dianne graciously shared with me her thoughts on how to handle dogs & the balance required between the dog and handler.  She is right of course, but what it boils down to is 'how good do I really want to be?'. 

I know I spoil Brynn terribly.  She is my 'favorite'. I feed her off my fork (gross, I know).  I  let her sleep on my bed.  When she shoves my arm for a pat, I give it to her, even if I am sitting on the toilet or other inconvenient times.  I draw the line at jumping on me without invitation, licking my face or in general being a pain in the ass - I do have some limits. 

Cindy jokingly told me one time that  Brynn needs to be in a crate in the garage, facing the wall, for a few days - then she will be a little more inclined to listen rather than giving me the doggie-finger when we are working. 

Many believe your dog needs to always be a little unsure of you in order to really respect you and listen.  Not afraid, rather just unsure.   What do you think?


Erin O said...

It is a hard thing to learn to tell the difference between trusting your dog and getting away with crap.

Dogs respect consistency and boundaries. No means no and you have to be a harsh nasty about it, but the more you let things "slide" the more likely your to have to be a bitch to get your point a cross. you have to mean what you say and back it it with consequences when not heeded and rewards when followed.

I have a dog that will that I trust to go 600+yards and listen to me when he gets there. I trust him also to make good decisions when I can't see him. He stills in my lap pretty often and he gets to sleep on the bed some of the time. He knows the rules and respects my authority ;) With the respect comes trust and extra liberties. you have to earn the privlage of sleeping on the bed :)

Anonymous said...

Great photos.
I did not do a good job explaining what I meant with the whole “unsure” thing or going after the dog when ignoring you.

A dog that respects you should be able to always trust you, but respects goes both way and have to be earned.

When a dog ignores you, you have to make your point clear enough that the dog knows not to do that again, if you do it right and consistent you don’t have to nag at your dog.

We should delve deeper into this over a beer and puppy play.

RYKER said...

Fascinating post!
What do I think, you don't want to know...Ryker is spoiled silly and we both love it! I could never leave him in a crate in the garage.
But he does listen 90% of the time and is overall a very good dog.

forensicfarmgirl said...

I'm with you. My dogs get hand-outs and bed time too. I do tend to be a lot easier on the soft dogs and a little tougher on the tough dogs though. My Lily is very soft and handler-sensitive, but I can already tell that my 4 month old pup, Trace, is gonna be much tougher and so I have to be a lot firmer with him.

It is always a difficult balance. We battle that with the police dogs, but ironically, I've found that the dogs that are treated as members of the family seem to bond better and work harder than the kennel dogs. JMO

Lynn said...

"Many believe your dog needs to always be a little unsure of you in order to really respect you and listen. Not afraid, rather just unsure. What do you think?"

Sounds like you could substitute "man" for "dog" in the above sentence! ;-)

Country Girl said...

That was a great "thinker" post. I actually read it a while ago and have been pondering what you've queried. My thoughts on the subject are if you video taped yourself, then Diane working the dog, are there any miniscule body language, timing, tone of voice differences. Even stress or anxiety or excitement levels? I could be completely wrong, but in my experience it's those things that make the difference on the field.

I would think it's a good thing to have your dog bonded with you. I'm moving into the camp where I need to "parent" my dog, not dominate them. We'll see how successful this is. lol

Thanks for making me think!

Loretta Mueller said...

Totally agree with Erin O :)

There is a fine line between respect and fear (what you are calling unsure in this instance). And in order to be successful, you have to learn to walk that line (Kathy Knox clinic).

What I found from my own experience is...the dogs I love the most and SHOW them I love them the will eventually affect their working. And if I the change MY I continue to love them just as much...but I don't SHOW them I do, be a bit more reserved with my affection or giving them things, they will go back to respecting me.

Good behavior gets more things, bad behavior gets you put in a penalty box :)

I respected/feared my parents...and they love me beyond belief...I don't think you have to treat a dog like crap to get them to respect you...but I do think they need to know you MEAN everything...praise/warnings/correction/etc. Intention goes a long way :)