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Lilly Herding Lesson #2, What Didn’t Go Well

Yesterday, I reported on What Went Well in Lilly’s second herding lesson. Here is a recap of what didn’t go so well.\

Snarking at Ben

In this week’s post about weaning Lilly off of Xanax I briefly mentioned that, after several close encounters with our trainer’s amazing/mellow dog Ben during earlier visits, Lilly went ballistic at him.

Maybe she was jacked up with excitement about the goats. Maybe it really does have something to do with not taking the xanax anymore. I don’t know.

But, Lilly seriously lunged, barked, growled, air snapped, and was a total pain the butt for about 30 seconds. It took effort to move her far enough away to stop fussing — 20 or more feet — and she fought me the entire way.

I asked for a DOWN and gave her time to settle down before allowing her into the pen to work goats.

Interestingly, when we took our first break, Ben was waiting to walk with us to the other side of the barn where we rest, and he snuck up along side Lilly and air snapped at her neck.

Lilly didn’t seem to notice. I kept her walking. Nothing came of it.

I know dogs don’t really think this way, but I wondered if he was paying her back for being such a brat earlier. Cathy thinks he was trying to horn in on the all the cheese Lilly was getting.

Zero Balance

We saw in earlier videos of Lilly working goats with our trainer that she does have some natural sense of balance, where Lilly adjusts her position based on the handler.

Well, when I’m the shepherd / goatherd, our balance sucks. I mean seriously … sucks. Much of the time Lilly doesn’t move when I move or she ends up right next to me (which … to her credit … is where she has been trained and rewarded to be in most other contexts).

And, according to our trainer, Lilly is still doing all THIS for her own private enjoyment without an inkling that we’re working together. As far as Lilly knows right now, I’m not EVEN in the picture.

How sad is that?

Poor Fetching

With just a little encouragement following any AWAY cue (which means go get me those goats), Lilly would indeed go get the goats, but she often split the group right up the middle or left 1-2 goats behind and would have to be reminded to gather up the rest.

She did a great first outrun of the day, then went to pot.


Lilly alternated between:

  1. Trying to nibble/air snap the goats as she moved the herd/flock
  2. Deliberately cutting one from the group so that she could harass it by chasing, biting, etc.

Both actions are her attempts to get the goats’ … goat (pardon the pun). She is trying to make it more fun/exciting.

For now, we’re mostly allowing the nibbling in hopes that she realizes it produces ZERO results and stops.

However, because the chasing/biting an individual goat is self-rewarding, I must step in and interrupt that by hollering a short correction and stepping into her space until she relents enough to allow the goat to move to the inside arc. Even a brief hesitation on her part can return the spatial balance.

Zip It

In my haste to make sure Lilly kept her spirits up, I talked a LOT during our first turn in the pen. Lots and lots of praise and instruction.

Cathy told me to be quiet because the goats are their own reward, and Lilly was so intent on them … she wasn’t really listening anyway.

Accidentally Calling Lilly Off

The keep-your-mouth-shut policy is a good one because sometimes in my banter I would say a phrase that Lilly understands in another context, causing her to give up her position and return to my side.

Once when this happened, and I looked at Cathy, mystified.

“You said, ‘Come on,'” she explained.

I doubt I could switch entirely to whistled instructions (the way many herding handlers do), but it seems I’ll need to come up with a whole new set of words (or grunts) that we only use with livestock.


At one point, Lilly realized that the front pen (next to the one we used) also held sheep and goats. She stood by that gate:

  • Barking her head off
  • Leaping into the air
  • Ignoring my high-pitched attempts to get her attention (lil-lil-lil-lil)
  • Completely blowing off my LEAVE-IT

I asked Cathy what on earth was up with that during our next break, and she said she thought Lilly was thinking, “Hey, I could go boss these and do anything that I want. That’d be way more fun that being in here with YOU and having to follow some rules.”

Mental Exhaustion

The fourth and final time we went into the pen, I simply COULD NOT get Lilly to engage with the goats. I tried running around, changing directions, offering encouraging noises (not words) … because those strategies had worked earlier. BUT, Lilly was having none of it and stayed glued to me.

Cathy hollered, “I think we’re done.”

So, we stopped for the day. When a dog is done, she is done.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating … Herding is taxing work for the dog. So many things to smell, see, process, do.

Still Not Really Thinking

Indeed, Lilly is processing more information than any of us can imagine as she bosses the goats around, but she does not yet seem to be thinking or  solving problems.

Right now, it’s still a hilarious way to spend some time. That’s fine for the time being. I’m glad she enjoys it so much, and goodness knows she is pooped when we’re done.

Over time, we want to see her making decisions and using deliberate actions to control the stock. For example, one reason we still haven’t really seen Lilly use her “eye” is that she works so close to the goats and uses her body to pressure them … she has no idea she can do it with looks alone.

Next Lesson

Cathy, our trainer, is off at a couple of big herding trials in Texas through March 8. (Good luck!!!)

If things shape up as expected work wise for me, March might be a crazy-busy month, so we might not get back out for a lesson (unless we can snag a weekend one) for a few weeks.

But, we will go again and continue exploring this process with Lilly. Next time, we might add in a few sheep .


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

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Reflections

Herding Insights

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #2, What Went Well

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.

Pamela - February 26, 2011

When I was reading your description, I had the same reaction as Sam. It’s not your goal, but feeling comfortable enough in a situation to act up a little without hiding or lunging every second might be a sign of her inner braveness.

I thought it was interesting that Lilly immediately responded to your “come on.”

Anyway, it’s fun to watch. I know it’s frustrating to learn new things, though.

I’m so glad you’re willing to share with us.

Sam - February 25, 2011

Ok, liked I hoped, I DEFINITELY think there was more positive than negative. Lilly was willing to work for 3/4s of the lesson, snarked once at Ben, and had some control issues. But I feel like you’ve got one very important thing in place – Lilly’s enthusiasm for getting to be with the goats. Might it be sloppy right now, might she be doing it for the “wrong” reason? Yes… but without any enthusiasm, I’d gander that you wouldn’t have gotten through the lesson!

I’d even look at the “Distractions” situation as a good thing.. because although you want her to be under your control and do as you ask, she was not afraid to think independently and outside of the box! I think there’s a certain toughness under that shy exterior. 🙂

I mean, I don’t know a thing about herding, so take everything I’ve said with a whole salt shaker full of salt.. but this is just the impression I got based off of your two posts.

Aly - February 25, 2011

Welcome to my world….

Yes, it is very important to have different cues for herding than you do with other stuff. For instance, in herding I say down…but in agility I say crash. Instead of right..its come bye/left is away to me. Agility is left and right. Stay for herding…wait for agility.

The “shutting up” is the same advice Cathy gives me. It works! Honestly! Clem has cattle dog temper tantrums where we just butt heads and end up screaming/barking at each other.. but the minute i shut up and ask a little less of her, she becomes calm again.

I think we’re going out on March 26th around 1 for a lesson. You should see if you can get in before or after then!

NoPotCoooking - February 25, 2011

Oh you made me laugh here:
As far as Lilly knows right now, I’m not EVEN in the picture. How sad is that?

I just love Lilly.

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