Herding lesson #2: This blog really isn’t about herding, it is about trying to get my dog to the herding pen. It’s about trying to be a good leader. It is about picking yourself up, every single time you stumble. It is about listening, learning and upon failure, not giving up, but instead coming at things a different way. Remaining flexible and of course, humility. I have to stand in it, hold us there. I can feel their eyes, all of the stares burning though us. I hear your whispers. We have a right to be there, trying to figure it out. It is certainly not easy.
Jedi did a wonderful job herding, he even told one of the sheep who challenged him to get back in line. His full name includes “Unstoppable Force”, nothing is getting through him and that is where he shines. This however, includes me and that is where the heart of the problem lies. For now, he makes me look good in the herding pen, even though I have no idea what I am doing. When we finished, he pranced out of that pen like he was the king of the world. He got to use all of those skills that are unacceptable in the main stream dog training world.
So, how did he do with the other dogs. Boy, did we start off well. First we walked past a blue merle Border Collie. I did give him a big leash correction after he started to posture. She was really timid and didn’t want anything to do with us. Whooo hooo!! Next, a female Rough Collie, no problem. We are on a roll. That’s right, let’s not forget, he knew where we were going and what we were going to do. He had nice focus on the way down to the pen.
In the pen we go, we are working on walking behind the sheep. He was doing a nice job, but the rough collie in the pen next to us was giving him some crap. I called him back to the sheep and we were herding again. Before we knew it, that stinker collie was at the fence again, barking up a storm. He stopped again to look at her, I called him. He ignored me and got a correction. We did a few more rounds and the instructor had us stop. Jedi couldn’t focus on the sheep, the collie was too distracting. The instructor wanted us to go walk around, let him sniff a bit. Ah yes, stretch his brain. But there are dogs out there!!!!!!!!!!
I took a deep breath and off we went. We walked around and he did pretty well. I kept extra space for us when other dogs passed. Now, cue the black and white border collie. Not sure if it was a boy or girl, didn’t think to look. I never noticed if he had certain triggers, breed, color or sex, mostly because…well…normally everything set him off. I will give this no energy, but I will say it once right now. I do know the first daycare incident was with a black and white husky. Is that a trigger for him?? Doesn’t matter, I need him to know he is safe with me, no matter what we face.
I gave us more space to let the collie pass. He was getting a little agitated. Cue the dumb dog trainer. We stood a ways back and watched the collie herding. Jedi started to get a little whiny and quickly escalated over threshold. I should have given him another outlet or just removed us the moment he showed that level of excitement. He began to focus too hard on the collie and the running sheep. His full herding drive kicked right in. He spiraled out of control before I knew it.
We moved behind an RV and I started formulating a plan to get us out of there. Too late, when we came around the corner, the collie was out of the pen. Jedi lost it. I gave him a correction, but that only egged him on. Cannot correct a strong herding dog, after he loses his mind. In Jedi’s case, it turns on his drive up even higher. He has never bitten me and I know he wouldn’t do it on purpose. Why create that environment for him. I have practiced collar grabs on him since he was a pup. I grabbed his collar and just drug him out of there.
I put him in the car to let him chill. When the rest of the dogs cleared out, the instructor called us down to have another go round with the sheep. This was for him to have fun and over write the bad experience we had just had. He did have fun. Afterwards, I asked the instructor if there was another way down to the pen. There is, there are usually no dogs in that area either. Yes, a less stressful way.
I have always been told food is what I needed to use. Food not only blocks emotions, but it releases dopamine. You are literally reprogramming your dog’s brain and response to the things that cause the reaction with good brain chemicals.
I had been very successful with food before. Once instance, we had too many people over watching a football game and he got very stressed out. I sat with him behind a gate and fed him every time he started to react. I was blown away with the results. The very next week, we had the same people over to watch the Vikings lose, so we had shoulders to cry on. Just kidding, we didn’t cry. We had all seen that exact same missed field goal before. Anyway, I digress. I brought him to the same spot, behind the gate. He was totally fine! Not stressed, it was pretty cool.
I have applied this in our dog reactive work. We just have had difficulty finding the right distance, managing the food and well, we just moved. I need to get going on this again. This time, I have decided to ditch the food. He is very food motivated, but he still builds up. Even if they dogs are far away, the movement just seems to hit his herding drive. I have also read that the reward needs to be something just as intense as the stimuli. A good leader tries different things, tries to work with their team.
I have played tug his whole life. He loves it. I use it when we train obedience, his little eyes bug out. I swear one more ounce of pressure and they will shoot out of his head. This will also be a wonderful release for that build up. He gets to bite, pull and run. We laugh and laugh. Could playing also be releasing dopamine? DUH!!!!!!!!! It does. We have such a great time playing, we forget what is around us…and many times I trip and fall over something. Oh how I don’t want to fall in poop next week, but I would take a million poop baths, if it gets us moving forward.
Right now, I do not feel like we have taken any steps forward. I believe we are doing something like writhing and slithering on the ground. Trying to find a path to start down, still fighting each other. I believe many people would have given up on this boy, with his over the top drive and endless energy. He was a difficult pup and drove my husband up the wall. My husband told me at one point, I could not leave him alone with Jedi. This made me giggle, of course I understood. Jedi was an exhausting pup. It wasn’t until somewhere around 15 months, he settled in a bit. Maybe not have sent him back, but just resign to the fact that he is the perfect dog at home and just let him remain there.
I will admit, there is also something of an “Unstoppable Force” in me. Yes, I believe my husband would agree. I am glad he doesn’t have a wordpress account, I am sure he would comment on this one. Jedi is a dog after my own heart. Endless energy, huge drive and absolute obstinacy when it comes to giving up. Remember the in the terminator movie, where the terminator was severed. All it had left to move forward was one good arm. If all I had was only just an arm, I would continue to drag myself forward just like that terminator did. So would Jedi.
He won’t let go of his undying nature, not matter what. He is a loyal friend and I know he would never give up on me. I used to be afraid of the world, had severe anxiety. I have to dig deep here and find a way for him to believe the world is a fun place. Not everything is out to get him. I need to ponder on what I did to get from there to here and then put it into dog terms.
My dear Kiska the Akita, taught me how to tame a big crazy playful lion with an agenda of her own. I think I have a bull on my hands now. It may be that neither one of us wants to give up or give in, we are butting heads. We need to work together in terms we both understand. Let me see, how to tame a bull…there must be a manual on that right?? I can google it…right???? No, I need to go back to doggie language 101, my next blog “How to speak dog”. Jedi and I are going back to the beginning, I finally see there is a crack in the foundation.