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January 4, 2011

Last Wednesday, with full crate and dog-on-the-go regalia loaded into the Mini, Lilly and I trekked about 1 hour and 15 minutes east to Cathy Balliu’s Valdemar Farm in Fort Lupton, Colorado. That’s where Lilly’s history-making herding instinct test took place.

(Many thanks to Aly for the training referral and to Hilary from Fang Shui Canines for seconding Cathy’s nomination as someone who would handle our soft-soft temperament girl well.)

Thanks to the Colorado Weather Gods

I cannot tell you the relief I felt for picking Wednesday when bitter, below-zero temps, with winds and snow, blustered into the area on Thursday and stayed for many days.

Layers of clothes seemed wise and I stuffed my wool hat, thinsulate gloves and other winter wear into the car, just in case, but the afternoon temperature on Wednesday hit nearly 50 degrees. It was a tad breezy (as you’ll hear in the videos over the next few days), but nice.

It’s been a dry, warm fall and early winter here, so boots weren’t necessary thanks to the nonexistent snow.

The Welcoming Party

As I trundled along roads labeled simply County Road, plus a number (sometimes including a fraction), I worried the farm might be hard to spot. So, a giggling fit ensued, when many black-and-white border collie faces greeted us along one fence line. Even before I noticed the large flock of sheep and goats behind the house, I knew we’d arrived.

Cathy lives with 10 dogs, most of them border collies, and she let one of her elder statesdogs out to join us. She calls Ben her “neutral” dog, meaning he is neither overly friendly or reactive. In truth? Ben didn’t give a rat’s ass about me. He didn’t give a hoot about Lilly. Ben cares about one thing … the livestock.

He was the perfect dog for Lilly to experience on the farm. He completely ignored her, and she was just fine with that.

We walked across the middle pasture and found dear, sweet Ben, practically glued to the gate with livestock on the other side. He wasn’t amped up. He wasn’t outwardly excited, but he was ready — very ready — to do his job.

I found it hard NOT to grin, when he helped Cathy clear the round pen, leaving just the 7 or so goats for us. Cathy dismissed him with, “That’ll do, Ben.”


(I added the movie “Babe” to our Netflix queue and moved it to the #1 position for that one line alone. It should arrive tomorrow.)

Herding Instinct Test, Round 1

As I mentioned yesterday in the post called Lilly’s Big Year, in our 1-hour lesson, we gave Lilly three opportunities to work with the goats. This is the story of Round 1. (Stay tuned for Round 2 and Round 3 the next couple of days.)

Unlike the other kinds of dog training we’ve done, where Team Lilly includes me, I arrived fully prepared to hand over my girl.

With Ben waiting to portion out our allotment of goats (Dog Geek tells me they are Boer Goats), Cathy, Lilly, and I simply stood outside the round pen and talked.

Ben was right there. Cathy’s other dogs were not too far off watching from behind their fence. The various livestock — including sheep, goats, a llama (I think), ducks, and roosters — hung out in close by.

And, Lilly remained completely fine. Completely. Her tail stayed mostly out. Her ears stood tall, not glued to her head. She POKED (hand targeted) Cathy when I asked. She accepted Cathy feeling her from head to toe. (I assume checking for her basic conformation and build … and just saying hello.)

Yes, Lilly barked and growled from inside the car when we first arrived because the other dogs barked at us, but once she hopped out, she took everything in stride and only needed a handful of treats to settle into a herding mood.

Unlike sheep that would be thrown by having 2 people in the round pen, the goats didn’t care, so I got to walk Lilly into the arena and stay with her the entire time.

STEP 1 –> Cathy asked me to walk Lilly toward the goats on leash and let her sniff them. Lilly wasn’t pushy. She didn’t strain to get at them, but she appeared tickled, just happy, Happy, HAPPY to see the goats up close.

After less than 30 seconds, Cathy said, “Turn her loose.”

With some trepidation, I asked, “Completely?”

“Yes, take off the leash.”

So, I did, and this video shows the chasing, barking, and nipping that resulted.

Cathy says that giving dogs the chance to discover instinct is an evolutionary process. Not every dog goes through every stage, but quite often, this is how it looks at first.

The video files I made are HUGE, literally hundreds of MB in some cases, so the video embeds I do this week may take quite a while to load. I’m so sorry about that. If your Internet connection isn’t speedy, you might prefer an electronically condensed version of the same video. The footage isn’t as smooth, but you can probably get the idea.

Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Part 1 (full-size file) (smaller file)

about 2 1/2 minutes

Share Your Herding Dog Insights

I’m so excited to hear what everything thinks, especially those who have done herding with their dogs.

  • What do you think of Lilly’s response to the goats?
  • Do you think she handles the “corrections” well?
  • Have you ever seen a happier girl?
About the Author 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.

  1. Just saw this post; thanks for the mention! I’ve seen your other herding adventures; not sure why I missed this one!

    Are the dates off, or are you posting in the future? maybe I’m just reading future posts?

    Great job with Lilly!


    1. That’s a post from a while back. I keep changing the date format in my dashboard to look like something good (Monday, February 28, 2011), but it keeps reverting to a weird date/month/year format. Maybe that’s why it looks funny. Completely aggravating.

  2. I’m surprised that a dog, put in with an animal they haven’t been around before, doesn’t just freeze. But then Java was always trying to herd the horses so I guess it can be an instinctual thing.

  3. I loved watching this. When I was younger we had a collie – we thought she was really devoid of any herding tendencies until we saw a young toddler wander out into the street – there was our dog, nudging him back with her nose! Amazing.

  4. It’s really neat to see this process right from the beginning. Thank you for sharing.

    Yep, I did see Lilly’s ears go down when the flag came out and she skirted Cathy pretty wide. But she gained confidence the longer she was out there.

    Having a job could be the next big leap for Lilly in becoming an even more confident and happy dog.

    Can’t wait to see more.

  5. What a wonderful video. Amazing to see how much Lilly seems to enjoy it and see her acting so self-assured around all those new things.

  6. How fun!! Lilly does look really happy. I got nervous with the first correction because when Lilly first hesitated afterward, I didn’t know if she would freak or recover. Looks like she recovered just fine. Can’t wait to see more!

  7. I find it so intriguing that Lilly has such problems with new places, things, people, etc., yet went right into this environment and interacted with the goats so readily. Awesome!

    I do think she was startled by the flag, but I don’t think it’s a huge deal, because she continued working.

    I notice you mentioned that her tail is down.. I couldn’t hear Cathy’s response for that. Is it simply because she’s in “working” mode? I see a lot of BCs who carry their tail this way.

    1. Yes. Sam, I forgot to mention that, and I’ll talk about it more tomorrow, but … lowering the tail is a good, more serious thing for the dog to do. It shows some composure and control, like the dog is moving into work mode.

    2. Oh, and Sam … When I ask about the tail, Cathy starts to say that it does show that Lilly’s whole demeanor has shifted, then she says how “expressive” Lilly’s ears are … but then she has to intervene because Lilly is working up to being too bossy with a goat.

    1. Well, Eric … at least Buddha did and could hold a DOWN in the process. As you’ll see in tomorrow’s video that was a big-time NO GO for Lilly. She would not, could not do it.

      I love the beginning when Buddha is like, “Hey, Paddle Man, get your sorry self out of the way, I have sheepies to boss around.”

      Lilly is majorly poop obsessed, but she didn’t seem to notice and did not eat any poop. I was amazed.

  8. What fun that was to watch! My mudi has been on ducks, but not sheep or goats yet. It’s so cool to watch them the first few times and see the instinct kick in! I think she handled the corrections really well, took them right in stride. Griff is not soft, but he is anxious around people. He took corrections from the woman we worked with (similar to the corrections shown here, just the verbals) all in stride. He didn’t get weird with her, and continued to work.

  9. I’ve been out to Cathy’s a couple of times and I really like her. One of these days we’ll head out there again, Strum loves herding.

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