Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Reflections

We’re still on herding overdrive here at Chez Champion of My Heart, 10 days after Lilly’s big herding instinct test on 7 or so boer goats at Vademar Farm in Fort Lupton, Colorado. On our long drive home and in the days since, I bet I’ve thought of 100 things I wanted to remember to tell you.

I suspect I’ve forgotten at least 90 of those. Some ended up as text slides in the three videos, so here are just a few final important things…

Shoulder Blade Spacing & Learning DOWN Amid Livestock

As I mentioned Monday, I asked a few friends with herding experience to preview Lilly’s herding instinct test videos, and Cathy Lester wrote to ask me about how many fingers I could fit between Lilly’s shoulder blades.

Regular readers will remember Cathy because she created our Never Shock a Puppy graphics, wrote so eloquently about the loss of her beloved border collie Jeffrey … and, by the way, has a new darling border collie puppy named Victor (Jeffrey’s grandson & bred the day Jeffrey passed).

So, I asked Lilly to stand up straight, and I can put 3 fingers between her shoulder blades, which is about 2 inches.

I’ll let Cathy explain why this might matter:

“Don’t worry about the down. In truth, the position is stop. Some dogs are more upright in their herding style (that’s what I see in Lilly). Jeffrey was that way. Down was mostly stop and drop your head or avert your gaze… then back at it. It would be interesting to know what her shoulder assembly is (how many fingers can you fit between her shoulder blades at the withers).
When the shoulder blades are closer together (one-2 fingers) the dog seems less likely to go down to the ground. When the distance is greater (2-4 fingers), they tend to drop more comfortably. Just a thought.”

Our friend Elaine, whose dogs faced a near miss with a tornado a while back and whose video interview made the cut when ours didn’t (click through here to see her herding dog Ben) made this same point a few days later in an email. She said:

“There are border collies who work more upright with little to no eye, and they actually do pretty well at moving stock.  Sometimes better than dogs with eye because too much eye causes the stock to stick and not move.  So upright dogs aren’t as stylish and precise, but they can often move stock better.  My first border collie was very much like Lilly as far as being upright and little eye.  Also one of my favorite BC’s was an upright dog.  He could do anything.”

Herding = Mentally and Physically Taxing Work

Even though Lilly was a smiling, running, happy little fool working the goats, never doubt the mental and physical toughness required. She was exhausted after the one-hour herding instinct test.

I have her a snack before we left the farm. I gave her a bunch of water when we stopped at Costco. I let her get out to stretch and potty when we stopped at the grocery store. I fed her dinner as soon as we got home, and she konked out. I mean slept like the dead that whole evening.

Lilly sound asleep

Threshold Between Fun and Seriousness

It will be interesting to see in her next few lessons if Lilly transitions from silly fun to joyful-but-real work in her herding mindset:

  • Will her tail stay low?
  • Will she learn to glare, crouch, and stalk?
  • Will she wipe that grin off her face?

I kind of hope the answers are:

  • Yes
  • Yes
  • No

… because I think it would be hilarious to have a herding dog who grinned the live-long day while bossing around livestock.

Still, it was nice to have Elaine say this:

“I’m actually pretty impressed.  You can tell she does have natural balance [moving when the handler moves to keep the stock together]. From her tail, it seems she is still unsure of what is expected, but there is a lot there to work with. And like you said, she does show times where her tail is down, and you can just see the wheels in her mind turning trying to figure this thing out and how to do it.”

Herding Story to be Continued

I’d hoped we could get Lilly back out to the farm next week, but a big, lasting cold snap is expected to hit the state on Sunday. So, perhaps the week after that.

In the meantime, feel free to comment, recommend resources, or tell me your herding stories.

Need to Catch Up?

If you’ve come to our herding stories already in progress, you can catch up via posts from earlier this week:

Lilly’s Big Year

Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Part 1

Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Part 2

Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Part 3

9 thoughts on “Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Reflections

  1. January 31, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    I bet that work is mentally as well as physically exhausting. How tired a dog is doesn’t seem to show up until they stop the activity. The skijor training I did with Java last weekend was like that. She was SO wired during the training and didn’t seem to be tiring or calming down at all. But once back in the car she was soon snoring.

    1. February 1, 2011 at 5:02 pm

      Yes, Maery, it’s really hard work. Lilly definitely konks out after working livestock.

  2. January 8, 2011 at 5:42 am

    I recently read a few comments on another blog where people expressed concerns about getting dogs so they can “do things for humans” and implying that the dogs were being exploited.

    It was a quickie comment so I don’t know exactly what they meant to say but I really think dogs (like humans) thrive when they have a job that really fulfills their inner spirit.

    You’ve given Lilly some jobs that have really helped her come out of her shell. But I was astonished in the last video to see her unfazed by the barking dogs. At that moment, Lilly looked to me like she knew she had a job to do (even if she hasn’t yet learned what that job is).

    I hope you have the resources to allow you to explore herding more–to see where Lilly goes with it. I look forward to seeing more.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. January 8, 2011 at 1:40 pm

      I wonder what kind of exploitation they mean. I’ve always said that Lilly came first, and the various dog sports we’ve tried came second. I simply cannot imagine Lilly (or any border collie or smart/active dog) living a regular life in a regular backyard … without the benefit of activities that exercise mind and body.

  3. January 7, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Sorry I have no herding stories for you …
    But I love this series and am very glad you take us with you on the ride.

    I do a lot of tracking with Kenzo, and one of my favorite moments is when he “passes out” the way Lilly did. Then you know they have been in touch with theselves and did all they could to solve the puzzle (without our help or interference, yeah!).

  4. January 7, 2011 at 9:15 am

    I really enjoyed reading about this through all the posts! Lilly is quite a girl.

  5. Aly
    January 7, 2011 at 8:30 am

    I wouldn’t worry too much about “the eye” either.. Clementine doesn’t have a border collie stalk at ALL, but she is light on her feet and moves constantly to tell them where to go. We teach a down on the livestock to get her to stop pacing and listen to the handler for more instruction. Of course, Clem hardly does it without giving some lip. BARK BARK BARK.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/clementgreenberg/Herding#5238591367394112898

    of course..she can be quiet sometimes:
    http://picasaweb.google.com/clementgreenberg/Herding#5181511066301836578

    1. January 7, 2011 at 8:51 am

      Very cool, Aly. Clementine does seem to lower her head a bit though, and that’s almost like stalking. :o)