Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Part 5

The third and final time Lilly worked the goats during her one-hour herding lesson, we tried something different. Oh, I still played the role of newbie goatherd, but we asked Lilly to FETCH the sheep and bring them to me.

History of Less Than Enthusiastic Fetching

You might be surprised to learn that my ball-obsessed girl had to learn how to fetch toys. As a pup, she found the entire process very frustrating. She would look at me like, “WHY do you keep throwing that thing? I just brought it back!”

So, we started with throwing food. Sure, she didn’t bring it back, but she ran after it. Once the pattern was established, we traded toys for food, and she would get snacks for bringing the toys back. (FETCH a great way to teach COME as well.)

In short, I created a fetching monster, much to the detriment of my rotator cuff.

Why Fetch + Herding

Different herding dog breeds were originally created to serve various tasks. The border collie is a FETCHING breed, meaning the dogs are keen on going and getting the livestock and bringing it back to their person.

So, by using FETCH, we’re trying to get that part of Lilly’s brain to spark. Fetch might be our hook to get Lilly really keen on working livestock.

Away to Me

On Cathy’s advice, I asked Lilly to SIT or DOWN and STAY away from the goats, while I moved away from them and from her.

Without any pressure from a dog, the goats will stay put or do their own thing, so if Lilly and I both ignored them, they ignored us, and I could get in position to ask for her to GO GET THEM.

Lilly was getting tired. She seemed less than enthusiastic about the task, so each time, I’d bend down and give her some serious Dog-Mom loving. I whispered in her ear that she is the most beautiful and brilliant dog in the world. I told her that she was doing a great job. I tried to convey that I really, really, really needed her to go get me those goats.

Trying to pair what we call FETCH at home (GET IT!) with the actual clue for fetching livestock, I’d say to Lilly, “GET IT” then “AWAY TO ME.”

Many times, Lilly would trot off, circle behind the goats and bring them to me. Often, she’d go a few steps, then look back at me like, “Do I have to?”

Oh, she did what I asked, but with only 20% of the enthusiasm she showed the goats in her herding instinct test.

Because of past failures where I tried to cheer a slow, reluctant Lilly around the agility course, I hesitated to be overly dramatic in my praise, but I used our marker word (YES!) and other kinds of praise and encouragement.

I even tried the agility cue OUT, which once saved Lilly’s life, to get her to move around the goats.

Quitting On a Better Note

At one point, Lilly just stood there when I asked her to get me the goats. I was going to let her stop because she seemed so tired, but Cathy didn’t want me to quit on a bad note.

So, I walked with Lilly toward the goats and asked her to circle OUT and around them and walk with me to the gate. We were done.

Parting Words

I knew it had been a long hour. I believed (at least in my mind) it hadn’t gone as well as her herding instinct test, so when Cathy said, “Let’s not give up on her yet.” … I felt a little crestfallen.

We will indeed try 1-2 more herding lessons to see if we can get Lilly’s drive to work livestock to click on and stay on. Clearly, she has the instinct, but we need her to have the drive too. Some dogs have it. Some dogs don’t.

Honestly, I’m fine either way, but this really did seem like a place where Lilly could shine and be happy and do work she loved.

Heck, as several of you noted, after seeing the videos of Lilly’s herding instinct test, it finally felt like we were seeing the REAL Lilly in action.

I thought I could wrap up everything this week, but I still have much more I want to share and … that poll. So, have a great weekend, and we’ll resume our herding discussion on Monday.


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

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.

didi wright - February 7, 2011

Hiya, I’ve just discovered your website and read it with interest. Lily is a wonderful dog and a champion indeed. I have a soft spot for collies anyway, and almost got one of our own a few years ago when we were looking for a family pet. In the end we opened our hearts to a little whippet boy whom we fell in love instantly. Just like your Lily, he is our champion and changed our lives forever (if you’d like to meet him, you’ll find him on his new blog: Although I like pretty much all dogs, I guess the reason why I love working dogs is their healthy, sporty built and the array of possible activities that you could do with them.
I’ve really enjoyed reading about Lily’s lessons.

KenzoHW - February 6, 2011

I am sure Cathy didn’t mean it that way!

One of the most difficult things with these “instinct-based” sports is learning them something without obedience cues. I think wait, sit are ok. Using fetch to get a sheep could be to difficult, it can confuse her. Could you not put a different cue on it: like everytime you see her fetch a goat use something different like “get it” and praise? And when she seems to recognize it try the new command?

That is also how I teached Kenzo to stop and mark objects he found on the track. We first start training that after a lot of hours of normal tracking. This is only Lilly’s second herding hour, it could be this is moving to fast for her. She should first be fully confident with the work she is doing now keeping the goats together without coming to close or to far away. What do you think?

    Roxanne Hawn - February 7, 2011

    Kenzo … we will morph the “go get the livestock” cue to AWAY TO ME over time. I’d always learned that you use the word she knows first, paired with the new word, and then eventually you drop the old cue entirely. Hence, the GET IT + AWAY TO ME. But, since she really doesn’t know AWAY TO ME yet, maybe that was confusing her … even though she did actually GO get the goats for me … just not enthusiastically.

    Cathy thought Lilly might need more of a challenge because just keeping them together and following her didn’t seem to be enough. Lilly looked bored, for lack of another word … or maybe even frustrated, like “I already KNOW this.”

Pamela - February 5, 2011

It can be so hard to figure out what our dogs are trying to tell us. Don’t you wish she could just say something like, “I really like this but I’m just a little tired right now.” Or “Why are you making me do this, I just want to go home?” Or “Can we go get a cheeseburger?”

It’s great that you’re trying this with Lilly. I hope you really learn new things about her in the process.

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