Today the puppies turn five months old (wow!). In the past I have waited much longer to start my dogs, but I am experimenting with these two and have let them follow me around while I worked the adult dogs since they were old enough to have the coordination to keep out of the way of danger. Now, at five months, Griffon is already starting his formal training. I’ve done a little with Raven but she needs some more foundation work before we do more on stock. But Griff? He’s a puppy genius.
Griffon has now been on stock in a formal sense (i.e. me actually training him, not just letting him tag along while I do work with the big dogs) four times. He’s calm, steady, relaxed, and totally confident. He’s easily going both ways, balancing perfectly, has lovely square flanks, keeps pace, shows excellent feel for his stock (i.e. keeps the perfect distance to hold their attention but not cause them to panic), has a natural lie down, and can actually wear the whole flock to me all on his own now.
Two nights ago he helped me finish chores by wearing the goats about 200 feet from the field right into the barn. Anyone who has worked a dog on goats will know that they are much more challenging than sheep, and many a border collie will simply not work them. But Griff was not only keen, he was successful! Ignoring their threats with their horns, he walked into the goats and they turned and moved off him, following me, all the way home.
I will have to get some more video to document his progress!
Griffon is not totally perfect, however, as while he’s a dream to work, he’s a devil to call off. He went from Mr. Perfect to Mr. DWDH (don’t wanna and don’t hafta!) in a flash, and our 5 minute training session wrapped up with nearly 30 minutes of catch-the-puppy.
This of course is typical of a pup without a solid recall, and he should have been on a line so I could catch him more easily. But, well, the best laid plans and all…. So we turned the session into more training, using the Premack principle. That is, using a more likely behavior (working sheep) to reinforce a less likely behavior (letting me walk up and touch him).
There are two challenges to calling a dog off stock. The first, of course, is that he doesn’t want the fun to end so he avoids you. The second is the desire to balance to you, so when you move towards him, the genetic programming in a well bred dog triggers a deep urge to circle to the opposite side of the sheep and stay at 12 o’clock to your 6. Wherever you go.
The fix is to move the sheep against a fence and walk through them so you and the puppy are both on the same side of the sheep. Then, keeping close to the sheep so your trajectory is shorter than his, move back and forth in an arc, blocking him until he lies down. When he finally does, walk quietly towards him and tell him he’s super good and stroke him quietly.
Then, suppressing all urges to scoop him up and carry him away, release him back to the sheep. Repeat until he easily lies down and lets you walk up and pet him. Then, tell him he is awesome, feed something super yummy if you have it, and quietly take him out of the field.
This session reminded me of several things I need to work on off-stock: lie down on command, walking on a leash, recalls off distraction, and the collar grab game come immediately to mind. I have been doing all of these things but apparently not nearly often enough! We have our work cut out for us, but we sure are off to a great start.