Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Intro to Herding.... Ducks?

On Sunday I took Iris to an Intro to Herding Clinic given by Tenley Dexter. It was a 2 hr drive down to Connecticut and completely worth the trip!

The day started with Tenley giving a lecture about herding basics. It was perfect for someone like me who's never done herding before! She talked a lot about the difference between natural instinct and trained commands. I don't agree with all of her training methods - she talked about using correction to teach down, but I think my dogs have pretty solid downs after being taught with positive reinforcement (not always reliable with distractions, but I just need to work on building Iris up to that). Tenley definitely knows herding and a lot of what she said made perfect sense. I'd love to hear her talk about more advanced herding.

After the lecture, we went outside and saw demos from different dogs who were all at different levels of training. This was so cool to see. Tenley started with an Aussie puppy who'd only seen ducks a couple times. He was so cute, and it was neat to see the herding instincts at such a young age. Next was an adult Aussie who'd only been herding a couple times. Tenley said he was still "coloring outside the lines." At that point a dog is mostly interested in moving sheep, while dogs that have been herding for a while have learned that a bigger part of the game is keeping sheep still. This guy was having lots of fun moving his sheep around the small pen.

The next couple dogs were in a larger pen and had more experience. One was an Aussie who'd only been herding for about a year (I think) but lives on a farm with sheep. They demonstrated the different commands (come bye, away to me, out, walk up), and fetching and driving. Next was a Rottweiler who had a lot more experience. He was so much fun to watch and so different from the Aussies. The Aussies were full of bounce and did big running arcs around the sheep. The Rottie had such a big strong presence, he'd just trot toward the sheep and they'd move away from him. Last was one of Tenley's Aussies. We went over to a big field set up for stock trials. The sheep in there were mostly lambs, so they were a bigger challenge for the dog than the dog-broke sheep the earlier dogs had been working. Tenley had her dog go through the exercises of a stock trial. It was awesome to watch this dog work. She had excellent control of the sheep and was very attentive to Tenley's commands.

Then we got a break for lunch. All of the dogs had stayed in their owners' cars during the lecture/demos. I kept Iris in her crate on the backseat so I could leave the windows down for her, and luckily it wasn't too hot out. I'm sure Iris didn't relax much. Even with a sheet blocking her view of the world, she'd bark when the dog in the next car over would bark. I need to work on getting her more used to being crated in public. She loves her crate at home.

After lunch, Tenley started introducing dogs to sheep. Owners didn't go in with sheep, but if their dog ended up working ducks, then the owner could go in. We were #18, so it was around 4:30 by the time we got our turn. It was really cool to see how the other dogs reacted to the sheep. There was a huge range of responses. There was an Aussie who's been chasing goats and horses at home and all he wanted to do was chase instead of herd. There were a couple of Bernese Mountain Dogs who were really fun to watch and mostly wanted to hold the sheep in a corner of the pen. There was a few Aussies who "got it" right away, and a Corgi who was so interested in the sheep Tenley said "there's nothing else in his world right now." There was one dog (looked like an Aussie or a BC mix) that just wasn't interested. The thing that I was most impressed with was how much Tenley tailored her style to the different dogs. She could be really encouraging with the hesitant dogs and really assertive with with pushy dogs. For the over zealous dogs, she's use a rake to move them into position or push them back. Even though she called it "hitting" the dog with the rake as a correction, it was a plastic garden rake and "hit" isn't the word I'd have chosen. She was using it more as a way of getting the dog's attention and redirecting the dog and never actually hurting the dogs.

Iris was so good about waiting her turn. I left her in the car during most of the dogs before us and only had her wait outside through about 7 dogs. When I had her out, she never barked at the other dogs. I could see her thinking about it a couple times and got her attention back on me. I was proud of her! Other dogs were walking pretty close to us. Iris lay down next to me while we waited and was so good.

Now the biggest surprise of the day came when Iris went in with the sheep. I fully expected Iris to "bust in the like Kool-Aid man" and run the sheep around. She's pushy with my other dogs and determined to chase cars (the bigger the better). Plus she's already killed livestock. Before I handed her over to Tenley, I told her a little about Iris. I explained that I'd only had Iris since last summer and was her fifth owner. I also told her that Iris was surrendered to the shelter for escaping and killing two ducks. Tenley wasn't at all concerned about the duck incident.

Iris was in the the sheep for about 30 seconds. She was so afraid of them! Poor girl. She came running back to me, "Mom! There are monsters over there!" My tough little b*tch isn't so tough when she's out on her own. In her defense, there were about 30 strange people and strange dogs outside watching and I sent her by herself into a pen with a stranger and three monsters. But that does tell a lot about Iris' personality. She's definitely of the mindset that the best defense is a good offense, and she's not as tough as she makes herself out to be. I've suspected that all of her huffing and puffing is really because she's just nervous.

Tenley suggested that we try her on ducks (so now I'm thinking, "Great. I'm going to have the only dog who goes out there and eats the livestock.") Iris did awesome! I got to go in the pen with Iris, Tenley, and the ducks. Iris never tried to use her mouth on the ducks. She did run over to the fence a couple times to check what the people outside were doing. But she was really happy to move the ducks around. She was being goofy and bouncy when she first realized that she was allowed to chase ducks. A couple times, she got excited and stepped on the ducks when trying to run after them. Oops! A little too much enthusiasm. She did check herself and even walked after them to make them move. It was so cool to see what she could do with no training. She also came and checked in with me a couple times (not something that she was supposed to be doing for herding, but it is something I want her to do for agility, so I can't complain!) At the end, Tenley said "Iris would make a really nice duck dog." That was such a big compliment since Tenley definitely wasn't telling everyone their dog would do well at herding.

All in all, the day was definitely worth the drive down to CT. I was so proud of my little duck dog. While I have no intentions of stopping agility, I think it'd be fun to do more herding with Iris. She really enjoyed working the ducks. I'd also like to see what she'd do with sheep in a less stressful environment, maybe after she's worked with ducks a few times.


Jules and Ike said...

I like having the opportunity to read about your relationship with Iris as it evolves. Sounds like a great weekend - not only was this a really fun experience but you gained insight into your dog and your relationship with your dog.

I really enjoy seminars because you can take so many different things from them - you can pick and choose what works best for you and your dog.

That is AWESOME that Iris did so well with creepy people and dogs all about.

Ike used to be a bit more barky and reactive in his crate in new environments - he now chooses his crate at a seminar/trial and just CHILLS OUT very zen-like - so I bet Iris will get there too.

I want a herding dog. I am very jealous of your herding experience! And Tenley is a great name (possibly a good dog name).

Katrin said...

Sounds like you had a great herding experience!! Awesome!

Monty LOVES to herd and honestly out of all of the dog 'sports' I've tried, I LOVE herding the most too! (yes even more than agility and waaaaaay more than hunting!) It's just that amazing natural instinct your dog has coupled with since an intimate communication with you, the handler (and no dead ducks in the perfect herding world!)

I was very sad (as was Monty) when Colleen (my herding instructor) moved north :-(

Diana said...

Great post. thanks. I really learned alot since Ive never done herding. Sounds like you both had a good time. Diana

Cat, Tessie, & Strata said...

There is someone offering herding lessons May 4th in... gah, not Chicopee, but around there? Western MA. Damn, I can't find the flier, I picked it up at the trial last weekend. It's like $25 for a session or something, I think they have ducks and sheep? I was going to try to get a late appointment for Strata so we could stop by on the way home from the ACE trial.

I'll see if I can find more info on it. :(

Blue said...

Julie, it was definitely worth the trip even if just because I know a little bit more about Iris! That's awesome that Ike sees his crate a "safe place" when he's at trials/seminars. I really hope Iris gets to that point eventually. Ike needs a Corgi sibling so you can do herding...

Katrin, it was so cool to watch the experienced dogs work! I really would like to continue with Iris (and hopefully continue with no duck for dinner...) Where is your trainer located now? I'm trying to find someone who isn't too far away but has both sheep and ducks.

Diana, thanks for the compliment! I'm glad you enjoyed reading about Iris' herding adventures. I learned a lot on at the seminar too. It was my first time.

Cat, if you find that flyer, I'd be interested. I think odds are good I won't have to work that day. It'd give me a chance to work with Iris on her public manners a little more, plus expose her to ducks again.