a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Boost's First Herding Lesson

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Boost's First Herding Lesson

SUMMARY: Maybe should be titled "My First Herding Lesson"

Drove to Gilroy (about 45 minutes) with a friend and her 10-month old puppy Dig. Dig has had a couple of previous lessons; friend has had quite a few more with a different dog whom she'd decided doesn't really get the herding thing.

Spent a lot of time talking about what works and what doesn't, what the dogs are thinking and what they're not, what the livestock is thinking and what not, how to communicate, how to establish control, how to know that you're in control, and so on.

Watched friend and Dig work a bit (Dig wants to grab the goats); watched instructor work a young border collie, watched another student work a dog, watched instructor work Boost, watched friend and Dig, watched instructor work his young but excellent Kelpie, then I got to work the Kelpie to give me a feel for what it's like being in the ring with the livestock and not have to worry about the dog. Watched friend and Dig. Tried to watch instructor and Boost again but Boost wanted mommie, so I joined them. More watching. More talking. Worked Boost on my own.

All of that took about 3 hours, I think, and Boost was in the ring for probably no more than 10 minutes each of 3 times and maybe less than that. I got about the same, but not all with her.

OK, details. Boost's first time in the ring, she expressed great interest in the goats. Checked in with me (watching from outside) a couple of times but went right back to it. She circled quite a bit and went back and forth quite a bit but the big issue was wanting to dive in at the goats, so the instructor gave me a running commentary on what he was looking for and what he was doing to avert the behavior.

Second time in, he tried to walk her out to the livestock and she just wouldn't go with him; tried halfheartedly to jump out of the ring to get to me or to my friend. When I came into the ring with the instructor, she was perfectly happy to go back to the livestock.

We had a discussion about how ending a session involves just walking in towards the dog, basically cutting them off from going anywhere except waiting for you, and how threatening or intimidating that really can be to a dog, and maybe that's what concerned her after the end of the first session.

She got better about not diving in at the goats, but slowed way down, almost to a walk. Kept working them, but looked sort of half-hearted to me. We didn't stay in all that long (I think--I was trying to follow his instructions to "stay behind me"--yeah, right!).

When she and I finally went in alone, she seemed calmer but also back to being interested and running again, although not full-out, just comfortably (seemed to me). Went to mostly circling behavior, which isn't desirable in the long run (want them to always keep the livestock between them and you) but instructor said not to worry about it for the moment.

I had to push her back from coming in at the goats only a couple of times, and I had started to figure out how to walk with the goats without tripping over them or getting my coat caught on their horns. So then I practiced getting her to change direction and mostly just tried to keep walking the goats in straight lines back and forth across the small pen without getting them too close to the wall and keeping my eyes on my dog (a lot like agility--the instant you take your eyes of your dog, bad things happen!) and on using the long stick appropriately when needed to push Boost back or give her a little directional help. Another thing where the human needs to be at least as agile and coordinated as the dog, if not more so!

That's basically all it was. Someday I might have enough clue about what's really good herding and what's really bad and what the terminology is and all that. Or maybe not. This turned into a 6-hour trip including commute, lunch, waiting, and the long combined lesson. And not cheap, either.

But I really liked the instructor, I had fun chatting away about dogs and herding and agility on the way there and back, and it was well worth the experience.

Oh--I took my camera but it never came out of the car. The herding instinct test video from a year ago looks a lot like her first session today.


  1. where in gilroy did you go, I'd love contact info...vici (viciw at linkline.com

  2. Very cool! I think herding might be as addictive as agility. Watch out!

  3. At least Boost can be controlled. That's great! One step way ahead of us.

    Last time JoJo was on sheep, I had to tackle the sheep to get him off.

    BTW - Gracie really enjoyed the previous video, thank you for entertaining her for me :)

  4. Wow, I didn't think tackling sheep was in the job description. The friend I went down with and the instructor discovered that her young dog, after he looked like he was submitting at the end to be leashed, would make a break for it THROUGH the person's legs, so there turned out to be dog tackling involved in that job description.