March 1, 2016

Farm working Dogs in New Zealand. 5. Further training

By Dr Clive Dalton
This is the wide sweep a dog takes around stock when sent to gather them.  It’s a strong natural instinct in the Border Collie.   When the dog sights its first sheep, it then takes another wider cast so as not to miss any more, and it keeps on casting wider itself. 

Problems arise when dogs don't cast well and run straight at the first sheep they see, or cut in on sheep and split mobs.  A wide cast is especially important if you send a dog away to find sheep that may be out of sight, called "casting blind". 

Some dogs have a favourite side to cast and will "cross the head" to get to it.  To stop this you'll have to go back to the basics of "putting the sides" on the dog.  Do it up against a fence so the dog cannot cross.  For a novice handler, teaching a dog to widen its cast is not easy.  You can end up souring the dog by over-checking it, at the stage of high excitement when it sees sheep to gather.  

Probably the simplest technique is to get the dog on a long cord.  As it moves away from you on the go-right or go-left command, start to add another command to “keep out” getting it to go wider, and use a long stick to direct the dog further out.

Some experts dog trialists teach this by driving the dog in a harness and one trainer (Mills et al, 1964) used a system of ropes around a post to pull the dog to widen its outrun.  Other trainers have used a chariot-like device to steer the dog while giving spoken and then whistle commands.  Another trick is to attach a spare collar around the dog's loin carrying a cord from the neck collar.  At your command to “keep out”, pull the cord and it shifts the dog's bodily direction.

It would not be wise to get involved with these techniques unless you had expert help.  Contact a local dog trainer for some simpler way to solve the problem.

This can be hard for some dogs, as it means leaving the sheep they've just captured.  First you have to strengthen the commands to "stop," and then "leave go" the current job.   Then the new command to recast or "go back" is taught. 

It's also useful to teach a body signal as well as the go-back command.  An extended arm or stick is good, as the dog being visually alert can see this at a long distance, and it helps to reinforce the message, especially if you walk in the direction you want the dog to go.

Some dogs with a strong heading instinct find driving sheep away from you difficult.  The way to overcome this is to teach the dog in a race so that it's hard for the dog to head up each side.  When the dog heads, keep calling it "in behind" until it will work the sheep on short heads itself.  Accompany the dog at the start of the drive and then gradually hang back and let the dog do it alone from your distant directions.

This is where a dog stays ahead of driven stock, holding them up but not too much.  It simply restrains the leaders without balking the mob.  It learns to hold the mob until the last minute and then backs off.  It's best taught in a race with a big mob moving up to the dog (under pressure from behind) which naturally will want to hold them.

At the appropriate time as the pressure builds up on the dog, give the command to "back off" or "get outside".  A hand signal will help too.   A good dog won't need commands once it has learned the job. 

This is the ability of a heading dog to separate off a sheep and prevent it from joining the mob again.  In British dog trials, it has to keep on doing this until a marked group are shed off.  It's a useful trait at lambing time when ewes and lambs may have to be sorted out individually in the paddock.

Note the dog has to do the shedding and not the person!  The TV spectacle of the shepherd running around frothing at the mouth, and the dog standing watching with a smile on its face is not the general idea.

The dog is trained to come through gaps between individual sheep at great speed, indicated by the shepherd's stick to a command of "here" or "here this."

To get the speed into the action, you need a sharp eye dog and the dog on a light cord.  On the command, "here", if the dog is confused, pull it towards you.   You need great control after the shed, as many dogs want to go around and chase the sheep back again.  The dog has to understand that you want that sheep kept separate. 

Jumping, backing and bike riding
Dogs generally love to jump and can be taught this trick from a young age.  Get them to jump on to anything around the place, into their pens, on to boxes, wool bales, bikes, etc, to the command "get up".  Make sure they are strong enough to do it, and give them a hand in the early stages in case they get hurt and are put off.  Reward the dog with plenty of fuss when the task is completed.

Use the same technique to get them to jump on to sheep.  But make sure the sheep are well woolled and tightly packed so the dog doesn't fall off and get stood on.  Only when the dog is competent to run along on sheep, should it be commanded to jump on loose sheep.

On bikes and vehicles make sure dogs are safe and drive slowly until they learn how to balance to stay on.  Make a proper tray on a bike for them to provide grip and protection.

Catching sheep
Trainers disagree strongly on whether dogs should be taught to catch sheep.  Some are concerned it encourages sheep worrying, and can spread through the shepherd's team of dogs.   Other shepherds (as they age) like a dog that will catch sheep, especially at lambing time and at docking.

Remember that dog's teeth can puncture hides and tear muscles, and this costs the industry a fortune each year.  So you need a dog with a "soft mouth" for the job, that holds with its mouth rather than bites.   Huntaways generally have much softer mouths than heading dogs, but the heading dog has the speed and agility to be ideal for catching sheep.

Teaching this task can be tricky so talk to someone who has been successful.  You have to develop the "catch-to-kill" instinct in the dog, and this is done by exciting the dog, then making sure it is checked at the right moment.  This is when YOU have hold of the sheep.

You can easily get things wrong.  The dog will often hold the sheep and under fear of your approach and being reprimanded for biting, will release it just before you grab it! This exercise can repeat itself two or three times, ending in a very punctured and suffering sheep, a confused dog and a crazed shepherd.

Some trainers teach pups to catch or hold things by playing with a piece of rubber or a rag.  Others are against the whole idea.  Some dogs show a natural ability for this job while others should be banned.  It depends on the nature of the beast.  Talk to an experienced handler about this.

Heeling cattle
This is a strong instinct in some dogs such as the Border collie and the blue heeler.  These dogs will bite the heels then the noses of cattle and can cause utter confusion to the beast if not controlled.  Some dogs will even finish the job off by swinging on the beast's tail.

The dog has to be fearless of cattle and have the skill to lie low once the heels are bitten to avoid flying back feet and injury.   The dog has got to have the instinct to do it properly or it doesn't survive.  You cannot teach an unwilling dog to do this.  Your concern is generally to keep the trait under control.

To test the dog’s instinct, try a hiss-hiss sound while moving cattle and see what the dog does.  A keen dog will dive in and heal stock straight away.

Negotiating fences and gates
Conventional fences
These are no problem.  You can get hold of the dog, reassure it and push it through between the wires or through the bars of the gate.  Use a command like "get through" and reward the success.  An arm signal may help to reinforce the command from a distance.

Power fences
These are a disaster for dogs.  Some dogs seem to get an unpleasant sensation through the ground from the fence, long before touching it so get very shy of fences in general.  Manufacturers have generally not faced up to this fact, and make suggestions that dogs can be taught to jump fences.  They can, but pups and old dogs can't jump very high.  The late Neil Rennie suggested power fence companies should design special insulated "bolt holes" for dogs in a fence, but nothing eventuated.

If using power fences, at least be consistent.  For example, don't make the bottom wires (or the middle wires) hot.  The dog will then learn where it is safe to get through.  Powered outriggers make things worse, so try to keep them above dog-crawl level.

You have to be very patient, as many dogs will not get through the fence and will go long distances to get through the gate that they know is safe.  That's fine if you don't have an urgent job for the dog to do through the fence.

The most important fact about dogs getting shocks (which seems inevitable on modern farms) is not to speak to the dog for at least 5-10 seconds after the event.  Then it won't associate YOU with the shock.

Handling a pre-owned dog
With a new dog, the task is to build a new bond to replace the old one.  This could have been quite strong, so be patient.  Dogs with very strong bonds to one owner can be a nuisance at times, especially if someone else needs to work them during an emergency.  The old dog on the farm that will work for anybody is a great asset.  He's usually working his handlers if they only realised it!

The first thing with a new dog is to take it everywhere on a lead and give it plenty of fuss and attention.  This is especially so at feeding time.   Let it off the lead in a confined area first and strengthen the "come here" command.  Start to work it only when you're sure it will stay and come to you.   Keep a short chain on its collar and tie it up when not working. Most keen dogs will work for a new owner after about a week.

The previous owner will tell you the commands the dog responds to.  Apart from a demonstration, vendors may provide a tape recording of whistles.  Don't expect too much from the dog when you try them, as the dog will hear them as close but different sounds to the vendor’s.

But the dog will recognise enough to know what to do, and then you can add your command or whistle to the old one if you want to change anything.  Remember to be patient, especially if the dog has been strongly bonded to the previous owner.  It will be missing its former “pack” of the boss and other dogs.  It now has to try to work out where it fits into a new pack.

Team working
If you start to build up a team of dogs, the key to avoid extra work and disaster is to make sure you have ALL team members under control.  Disaster is assured when you command one dog to work, and the whole team join in and help. 

Remember it's very hard for a keen dog to sit and watch.  The dog's name is its alerting signal, and most top handlers have different whistles for each animal's commands.  The most important one is the "stop" whistle, especially on Monday mornings after the dogs' weekend off!

Regular work with the team and firm kind control is the key to success.  Build the team up slowly and be aware of the social ranking within it.  You are the pack leader and keep it that way.  Be alert to threats and changes within the social order.

Some handlers use dogs to discipline other dogs in the team.  This can be very effective but can also get out of control with severe damage inflicted on the culprit.  The top dog handlers do not recommend it.

Biting people
This is now a big concern.   Biting dogs are a “hazard” under Occupational Safety and Health laws where you have to Identify, Eliminate or Isolate them.  You could be responsible for any damage.  Why do dog's bite people?  Some possible reasons are:

·      The nature of the dog.
·      Over-stimulation or excitement.
·      A bitch protecting her litter.
·      To protect the pack leadership.
·      In fear (eg against vets and Dog Control officers).
·      To protect their territory (eg kennel or run).
·      Confusion or frustration.

Dogs don't like rules that change so be consistent, especially if more than one person is involved.  An example is Dad says one thing and Mum and the kids operate a different set of rules.

When meeting a strange dog, stand still and hold your hand out for it to sniff.  Never grab it by the scruff and pat its head madly.  That's a very dominating thing to do to a dog, as this is where dogs grab each other in fights!  Rub its chest or somewhere low down instead.  Adopt a low posture if you dare risk it.

Aggressive strains of dogs should be culled.  Dogs that are known biters are a concern and veterinarians say they rarely can be cured.  It's too big a risk these days to keep them.  Muzzling dogs all the time is not a very practical solution, and one day you’ll forget but the dog won’t.

Biting sheep
The concern here is that biting leads to worrying.  Working a dog in a muzzle is not practical.  Some veterinarians will advise removing the canine teeth in valuable dogs, but the dog can still do damage to stock with the remaining teeth.  A much more humane method these days is the electronic-training collar when properly used.

If you have a savage mature dog that bites consistently, the solution is often euthanasia.  The problem could be genetic and you don’t what those genes in the strain or breed.   The time to check this problem is at the puppy stage before the habit has developed.  Talk to your vet about the problem.

Sheep worrying
Dogs are dogs, and any of them are capable of worrying sheep.  The dog's diet has nothing to do with this sin of sins.  Tying dogs up when not working is a basic rule that will prevent dogs taking off.  A pair of dogs can be a lethal combination - and can be very cunning. 

If a dog has disappeared, then be suspicious.  They can travel long distances in a short time to kill on a neighbour's property.  Research shows that the weather and stage of the moon can be implicated.  They can come home free from any evidence of slaughter.

The electronic collar is about the only thing you can try before euthanasia, provided you catch them red-mouthed!  Once a dog has worried a sheep and the vice grows, then euthanasia should be next on the list. 

More on killer dogs
It's a heartbreak when a top dog you have trusted for years is accused of killing sheep, or worse still, is caught in the act.  The following information is based on work done at the Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia by Dr Garth Jennens.

Dogs are dogs and it's a myth to believe like so many people do, that their little pet dog could not possibly go out and kill. Any dog is capable of killing sheep, and the fact that it's in the garden when the owners are at home, or is back on the doorstep sleeping in the morning is no proof of innocence.  Attacks can happen any time but 80% are between 5am and 7am.  You cannot breed this killing instinct out of the species.  If you did they wouldn't be dogs!

The image of killer dogs going around in packs is a myth.  Ninety percent of dogs that kill sheep are pets, working on their own or with another dog and they come in all sizes and breeds.

You can't predict which dogs will turn out to be killers.   They can be pets for years or your top working dogs, and then all of a sudden something triggers off a desire to be a dog and go out and hunt to kill.  One common factor to all sheep killers though is that they are wanderers.  So if you have wandering dogs near stock, you can very easily have a killing problem.  Wandering dogs are the key.

Most dogs that kill sheep don't have a mark on them.  This is because after their bit of fun, they regularly go and have a swim and cool off.  Check the collar (if they have one - most don't), bloodstains can be seen in the leather.

Killer dogs have a set pattern.  They enter and leave properties by a set route, and have usually been around the area that they kill in for a few visits before they get to work.  These dogs are predictable and stick to their pattern.   They like to travel near water or up valleys where scent is funneled down to them.

The cold of winter and the heat of summer are the off season for sheep killing.  It's more comfortable at home!  But the cool of the Autumn or the freshness of Spring get them going.  They like the damp spell after rain and the full moon for their sport.

You can predict the breed and size of dog from the kill pattern such as where the sheep is attacked.  Experienced dogs will actually kill a few sheep and not maim many.  Learners will maim a great number but not be able to kill any.   Dogs have got to learn to kill sheep - and they do some awful damage while they are learning.  If it's a food kill, only one sheep will be killed.  Generally it’s all a big game of chase and catch for the dog or dogs.

A dangerous combination is a large and small dog, eg a heading dog and a terrier.  The big dog heads and catches and the little dog goes in for the kill.  They can be very cunning and quick.  Many of them can disappear and kill a sheep or two in no time, and nobody notices them disappear.

The general conclusion is that a dog that has killed stock will repeat the act and euthanasia is the kindest solution for the dog.

Here, in the middle of a job, the dog decides it has had enough for the day, and goes home early - without asking your permission!  The day ends with the dog waiting for you on the back door step, stretched on its back urinating as your approach composing your speech, begging for forgiveness before the inevitable beating.  It can be very frustrating to have dogs that bolt.

What can you do?
·      Try to find out the cause of the problem.
·      Re-establish the bond with the dog, especially if it is shy.
·      Let it trail a light cord or fishing line with a stick on the end, that you can stand on if it takes off. This cord will likely get entangled in a fence on the way home.
·      If the problem is persistent, then dispose of the dog.  It's too big a threat to your blood pressure.

Car sickness
Being sick and defaecating in moving vehicles can be a problem for some dogs - and their owners.  The solution is to get pups used to travel for short distances, stopping at the first sign of stress.  Excess salivating and whining are signs of trouble.  Reassure pups as much as possible - and drive slowly!  Then increase the distances making sure there is plenty of cool air in the vehicle.  Consult your vet as some good drugs are now available.

Jumping up, sniffing people and leg mounting
It's very annoying for strangers, and embarrassing for you the owner, to have your dog jump up on guests, sniff their crutch (both back and front) and then when they sit down, mount their leg and start thrusting.  It's not the sort of welcome most of us like and it's often very hard to get a determined dog off!  Large dogs are crutch sniffers and small ones foot mounters.

The problem develops most often with male dogs.  The secret is to break the habit as soon as a young dog starts, with a reprimand that it will remember.  It’s very hard to break these habits in old dogs.

Scent rubbing
This is a nice name for when a dog rolls in any dirt or faeces, afterbirths or a rotting carcass it can find.  Dogs love it, coating their heads, cheeks, shoulders, and then when they've had enough they depart the scene, often scratching the ground with their hind feet to leave a signature.  They seem to see it as a great experience which they are keen to share with their owner.

Check it in the pup or young dog, and not later on.  It's certainly too late when you find the dog in the front of your vehicle, smiling and delighted with it's new-found aroma, hoping you are too.

This is a vitally important subject as there is no way you can train a dog without it!  Dogs are pack animals and discipline is part of the bond building that guarantees survival.  The important question is - how should discipline be given?

Here are some key points from experienced handlers:
·      Discipline should fit the crime.
·      It must be instantaneous.  Research has shown that it must be within 5 seconds of the crime.
·      A loud voice or stern tone can be effective, so keep your normal commands as quiet as possible.
·      Beating dogs is not a solution.  It may do you some good but does little for the dog.
·      Before the electronic collar was invented, discipline at a distance was impossible.  Throwing stones was an option, and getting the pack to attack the sinner can lead to injury, but at least the reprimand was not associated with the boss.
·      One handler disciplines the dog by calling it back, holding it down in a submissive pose, which he says cools him down too, and he has time to think what HE did wrong to get the dog into the problem situation.  That's the comment of a very wise person!
·      After a reprimand, make sure you rebuild the bond with the dog.

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