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Lilly Herding Lesson #1, Reflections

Let’s resume our discussion of Lilly’s herding lesson with some reflections on the overall experience. As promised, I’ll also clue you into to a couple of details that may shed light on how things went.

Instinct, But Low Drive?

At first, I thought Lilly’s control around the goats showed a certain maturity and development. Even her slower movements seemed like a good thing, like she thought about it more and made decisions as she went.

BUT, as the slowness turned into sniffing and into what seemed like reluctance to work the goats, I began to worry.

We’ve seen this kind of slowed behavior turn into a full-on, flat-out shutdown before. More times than I can count.

So, did something go “wrong,” or is this a common progression in the development and training of a herding dog? Those of you with more experience, please comment.

That, friends, is why we began to challenge Lilly with harder tasks … we were TRYING to make the goats more interesting to her … because from the get-go (when we first worked in the small pen) … she seemed, for lack of a better word, BORED … or maybe stressed.

Because I’m (well) me, I’ve been going over it and over it, trying to figure out why Lilly showed MUCH less interest in herding this time. Here are a few ideas:

Late-Breaking Fear?

Even though Lilly took the corrections and pressure in her herding instinct test well, I worried that the fear of Cathy, the flags, the location, the process might crop up later. Again, there is a history of this … where something that SHOULD have scared Lilly seemed fine in the moment, with repercussions later.

Dogs, Dogs, Everywhere!

When we first arrived for our lesson, several of Cathy’s dogs were running around in her big yard between the house yard and the working pens/livestock areas. Because they were all behind the fence, it really wasn’t any different from our arrival for her herding instinct test.

EXCEPT, I didn’t realize that the fence clanging sound I heard was her corgi wiggling through the squares in the fence. She is that small and that motivated.

So, I honestly didn’t even realize she raced up to greet me … and Lilly … until she was there. She is a FAST little bugger.

I bent down to say hello, partially because I wanted to meet her and partially because I wanted to keep her from getting to close to Lilly, who was still in my car in her crate (with the back hatch up), so she could SEE everything.

I ultimately had to turn my back on the corgi so that she would heed Cathy’s calls.

I didn’t think much about this, until later. Because we have a long history of Lilly flat out refusing to do agility if other dogs are around, I wonder if seeing all the dogs got Lilly off to a rough start.

Leash Associations?

Because I had trouble rounding up a VERY motivated Lilly last time, I brought her British-style slip lead (rope) leash so that I could lasso her. We typically ONLY use this leash in an agility setting so that I can set Lilly loose and gather her up quickly. Again, I’m not sure it’s an issue, but I now fear Lilly has bad associations with it.

Mentally Tired?

Lilly showed tremendous mental and physical stamina the first time. And, perhaps this time, she just didn’t have it. Maybe an off day. Maybe she was just overwhelmed with working MORE goats. Maybe she just checked out … that could be what the sniffing was about … in which case, we need to pull her out of the pen before she “quits.”

Tummy Troubles?

Tom fed Lilly a bunch of fruit pulp from the juicer before we left the house. Maybe her tummy was too full.

Too Tired?

Because our lesson was at 11 am, I only had time to take Lilly on a 1.5 mile walk before we headed to the farm. Maybe she was tired? (FYI, we walked 3 miles before her herding instinct test.)

Ben Too Close?

When we worked in the small round pen for Lilly’s herding instinct test, Ben went off to do his own thing. This time, when we began working in the bigger pen, he hovered at the fence like he was trying to help.

I saw Lilly notice him, and I wonder if it threw her off … even though she really did NOT seem to mind having his help, when she needed it.

Tom’s Theory

I was fairly upset at how poorly it felt like the lesson went. After viewing the raw footage, Tom thought me nutty. She looked really good to him, like she was making progress. That’s one reason, I wanted all of you to see the videos without me swaying your thoughts on the matter.

In fact, after editing the video for you last week, I began to think it didn’t go as badly as it felt.

Tom believes that Lilly is just CONF– USED. He thinks she simply does not fully understand what her job is yet. He suspects that having her work with Ben would help because she could see what he does.

I don’t know about that. And, I don’t know how to get her un-confused.

Let’s Not Give Up Yet

Cathy explained that we need to get Lilly “hooked” on herding. We want her to have a bit of a “rush” from it. Lilly tries to create that by sometimes chasing the goats, but we’re giving her the opportunity for whatever needs to click in her brain/body to click.

The truth is that it may not click … ever.

And, that’s just the way it goes.

Next time, we may try adding a couple of sheep to the mix, just to see if a difference like that will change the dynamics.

Since this post is getting LONG, tune in again tomorrow to take a little poll. Please.


If you’ve come to our herding stories already in progress, you can catch up via these posts:

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

Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Reflections

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Part 1

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Part 2

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Part 3

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Part 4

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Part 5

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Sam - February 8, 2011

Ah, I see. So the working then stopping/sniffing repeated over the course of an hour. I thought it came towards the end. Hmm.

I’m hesitant to say she was truly afraid of something because when she was on, she was really “on” from the looks of the videos. Might have just been a fluke day, I think. Bigger pen, dogs around.. if I had to guess, I bet it was the combination of a lot of new environmental stuff plus the challenge of figuring the game of herding out. That’s my very un-expert opinion, though!

Aly - February 8, 2011

The thing that is different with herding versus other training…is that the stock IS the reward. For dogs who have some serious drive, there is nothing better in the world than continuing to work the stock. This is why you wont hear a lot of talking when people herd, just the commands. There is no need for a “good dog” because just continuing to work makes them get it. Now, for beginners you absolutely should reward any sort of interest/movement to the stock if they are not showing the drive yet. When I was getting TeeVee instinct tested he was afraid of the goats so when he would make them move, he got a very soft “good boy..goooood boy.”

You can ask around and see if anyone wants to split a lesson.. perhaps that would give her a bit more of a break too.. I might be willing to split if TeeVee doesn’t start figuring it out. Right now we’re going to be splitting my lesson time between the two dogs.

Sam - February 8, 2011

KB’s point about shortening the lesson is a good one. I know that Marge can only take about 1/2 hour of agility before she’s tired, bored, etc. Since it’s such a mentally and physically stressing activity, I wonder if a shorter lesson would be beneficial for Lilly. Didn’t most of her running off come in the second half of her lesson?

    Roxanne Hawn - February 8, 2011

    Thanks, Sam. We do breakup the hour-long lesson into several shorter sessions. Maybe we need to make them even shorter, with longer breaks. And, no … Lilly actually began the sniffing around almost right away. Remember all 3 videos from last week came before her first break, so within the first 10-15 minutes.

KB - February 7, 2011

Cathy was probably playing off of your reaction when she said “let’s not give up on her…”. Heck, it was her *first* lesson. It does make sense to me that it would be good have there be something super FUN about the next lesson to make Lilly very excited about herding.

Maybe an hour is too long, at least at first. I find that my sensitive girl, K, can only take about 10 min at a time of agility, and then she starts to act tired and bored. So, I keep it to 5 min at a time… so she’s vibrating with excitement the whole time. Maybe breaking up Lilly’s lesson into shorter segments would help.

In any case, I think that Tom may have a very good point!

    Roxanne Hawn - February 8, 2011

    You’re probably right, KB. I was pretty discouraged. We do need to find a way to make the next lesson SUPER, SUPER fun. Not sure how, though. Maybe our friends with more herding experience can help. And, as in many things … Tom may be right. Lilly might not yet understand what all this about. It’s hard to just let the instinct unfold vs the task-oriented training we normally do.

Pamela - February 7, 2011

Sorry, I have no words of wisdom about herding instincts. It’s obvious, however, how much you love Lilly. You’re working so hard to give her something fun to do, draw on her talents and instincts, and to understand what she’s trying to tell you when she may not quite know herself.

You’re trying something so new together that what you’ve seen in previous activities may not give you the information you need.

What does Cathy say about Lilly’s behavior?

    Roxanne Hawn - February 7, 2011

    That’s an interesting idea, Pamela, that our past experiences may have no bearing here. Thanks for that insight.

    Cathy pretty much just said, “Let’s not give up on her.” So, I read that as … it didn’t go well, but let’s keep trying.

AC - February 7, 2011

It’s been fun to watch the videos and read your reflection. I don’t have any experience with herding but I like Tom’s response =)

It makes sense to me that Lilly probably feels a bit stressed because she’s learning something new, in a new environment. I don’t think it matters that herding requires instinct or innate “drive.” A dog still needs to learn the rules, no?

My gut reaction isn’t that Lilly doesn’t have “it” but rather, there may be a challenge in finding ways to prevent Lilly from shutting down or making negative associations with herding because of the learning/new stuff/lots of dogs stress.

She looked good out there to me!

    Roxanne Hawn - February 7, 2011

    Thanks, AC … actually in this instance, they have to discover the instinct part FIRST, before you try to teach the words/control/actions. At least, that’s my remedial understanding of herding. It’s very different from the work we’ve done in the past.

Aly - February 7, 2011

Its always so hard to say… I think Tom might have a really valid point, that Lilly is confused and doesn’t know what her job is yet. She hasn’t learned any of the commands yet because it is all about finding the instinct first.

It’s funny how dogs react differently when they are confused.. Clementine used to run and hide and now she just barks and nips at me when I’m not being clear. TeeVee starts to wander, sniff and pee on things.

Hang in there, just remember to not put so much pressure on things. It’s all for fun!! She might be feeling overwhelmed too.

    Roxanne Hawn - February 7, 2011

    Thanks, Aly. The progression of this instinct work is SO different from the clicker/task work we’ve done before. I want to teach her the pieces and have her put it together, like we would in agility or whatever, but in this case, it’s just that early stage where she really does have to figure it out for herself. She is so good at learning the other way (via clicker, etc) that it usually only takes 3-5 tries. Perhaps we’ve become impatient. (We … meaning me.) :o)

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