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January 5, 2011

We continue our tales of goat herding today, with perhaps the best video footage so far, of our brilliant/sensitive girl showing an inkling of skill and luck with her little herding instinct test flock of goats. She even rounds up a stray or two.

The Tail Tells All (well, maybe not quite all … but a lot)

I forgot to mention yesterday that I’d been warned by an experienced herding friend to expect Lilly to carry her tail high at first. She also told me to watch for Lilly’s tail to lower because it meant she was getting more serious about the work.

Lilly takes a break from her herding instinct test (with goats) to watch the roosters on the farm.

A Short Break & Round 2

After all the chasing, barking, and nipping in her first go-around with the goats, we leashed Lilly up and walked her to the far side of the barn (near the ducks) to rest and drink water.

Cathy’s dog Ben hung out with us, and Lilly didn’t mind one bit because Ben didn’t pay any attention to her at all.

I tried to get a photo of Ben, but it didn’t turn out well because my digital camera has SUCH a shutter delay.

The First Sign of Stalking

Lilly was quite keen to return to the round pen to work with her flock of goats for a second time. I unleashed her right away, but I didn’t start filming from the get-go and completely MISSED getting the first few seconds … when she lowered her head and truly stalked the goats for an instant.

[If you want to see excellent stalking, check out A Sheepdog Diary New Year’s Day post for some terrific photos.]

This shift in strategy (brief as it was) indicates that Lilly may soon understand that she can use her gaze more and movement less to control the livestock. In other words, we saw just a FLASH of Lilly using what’s called the “Border Collie Eye.”

We simply call it Stink Eye around here, but it basically means that she uses her eyes and her general demeanor … rather than as much movement to control the animals.

Herding Instinct Test, Round 2

In this video, watch for Lilly’s growing sense of “balance” (working off the handler’s position to keep the flock together). She even rounds up a couple strays (mostly by accident). And, she handles many “corrections” without too much fear or trouble.

Once again, I’ve embedded the full-size video file below. If your Internet connection speed is slow, you’ll probably be happier with the condensed video file link instead … especially since this video is about 7 1/2 minutes.

I don’t normally post such long videos because I know you’re all so busy, but there was SO much I wanted you to see.

(full-size file) (smaller file)

If you’ve come to our herding stories already in progress, you can catch up via … Lilly’s Big Year and Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Part 1

As always, we’d love to hear what you think. Post a comment, won’t you?

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. I’ve gotten a little behind in reading blogs but I’m happy to see this step-by-step progression. I’ve never seen herding from the very first time a dog is exposed to livestock. It’s really interesting!

    It’s obvious that Lilly is learning actively. And Lilly doesn’t seem to react badly to the “corrections”. It’s more communication that helps her make decisions about what to do next.

    Can’t wait to see the next post.

  2. It does make sense.. because the DOG ultimately “decides” what’s a positive punisher, what’s a negative punisher, and what’s a punisher at all (and of course the same for a pos. or neg. reinforcer). And there is a huge overlap sometimes (is the dog moving away because it wants access to the sheep again after access was taken away? is the dog moving away because it does not want the stick near it? both? neither?).. I think with herding, there is some of all four going on!!

    1. Hey, Christopher. Yep! We dragged our sorry selves out to Cathy’s. Maybe we’ll see you there sometime. If you have videos of your pups working, I’m sure everyone would love to see them.

  3. I watched the whole video and I am very impressed. I don’t know anything about herding, but I’m still marveling over how relaxed and natural Lilly looks.

    Regarding the corrections and pressure.. I’m interested in how you feel, as a reward-based trainer like me, to see in action these training philosophies that are so different than what you use in day-to-day training. (Can’t help myself as a behavior geek.. had to ask!) Personally, I find it fascinating, because Lilly does not look any worse for wear, even with Cathy waving the flag so close to her face. It’s obviously much different than Pos. Punishment and Neg. Reinforcement as they are implemented in day-to-day training, but proof to me that it’s important to know and understand all four quadrants of operant conditioning!

    1. Thanks, Sam. Your concerns and curiosity are indeed on the forefront of my mind. It was a big decision and NOT an easy decision to try Lilly out in a situation, where (like you say) the training model is so different. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t do this 4 years ago when people started telling me that working stock might really help Lilly’s fears.

      And, yet, I had coffee with my friend Elaine (who is VERY experienced in herding) the day before Lilly’s herding instinct test, and she explained to me that while some old-school herding trainers do use pretty harsh / even physical corrections on dogs, the fundamental process is that the dogs learn to use pressure and space to move the stock. That means the handler also has to use pressure and space to work with the dog. Sometimes, I’m thinking, mostly early on, that means you have to make the immediate space around the animals “aversive.”

      Otherwise, you have to remember that working the livestock is its own reward. It’s a working reward or a functional reward (not all the different, I suspect, than the functional rewards used in BAT). So, the dogs learn that when they are “good” they get to keep working the livestock, and when they are not good, then the reward gets taken away (by the handler offering a correction or at least controlling the space so that the dog must back off).

      Good = sheep/goats
      Not good = me blocking your way to your reward

      When I think of it like that, it isn’t all the different from the process we used to break Lilly’s fearful/attention seeking behaviors … where I got up and left the room (I was the “reward”), and when she was being fussy, that reward was removed.

      Make any sense? Probably not, but I’m still working it all out in my head/heart.

      I’ll probably write in earnest about this more as time goes on and I get a better handle on the concepts, but I’d be happy if any of our more experience herding friends jumped in to explain the use of the four quadrants in this context.

    1. Thanks, Betsy. I thought Lilly looked really good too, and several friends with MUCH more herding experience say they are “quite impressed.” We’ll see. We won’t really know until she has several more lessons.

  4. OMC! Lilly is a natural for sure, momma really enjoyed watching her herd the goats. She also enjoyed her conversation wif you very much yesterday. Go Lilly!


    1. Well, Baby Patches … welcome, welcome. For those who don’t know, Baby Patches is a kitty cat … hence the OMC instead of OMD. It was indeed terrific to have a good long chat with your mommio on Tuesday.

  5. The video is not to long at all, it was amazing and fascinating to see Lilly herding by just following instinct. How she got those goats back, she just knew what to do, no training necessary.

    This is just one of the best examples how dogs can awe me. Fantastic. And look at her body language. Almost forgot she is a fearful dog … double awe!

    Last but not least, she is having a great time too!

    1. Thanks so much, Kenzo … It’s a big hard for someone like me to see how the instinct is moderated through corrections and pressure, but I’m also just stunned at how it’s less about teaching Lilly HOW to herd in the same way we taught tricks and agility … and more about letting her sort of figure it out.

  6. Sadly, I don’t have time to watch the whole video, but I will do so when I get home. From what I have seen, from this and the previous video in your last post, Lilly looks like she is enjoying herself immensely. She is keeping an eye on the handler as well as the goats and already looks like she knows what she is doing out there! I am not an expert at all, not even remotely, but I’d say Lilly will make a beautiful herding dog one day. Probably sooner than expected!

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