Song and the Sheep

Jul 20, 2020 | Talking About Dogs

“I don’t have the patience for that”. Sure, people have the patience to spend YEARS being frustrated about a behaviour, but don’t have the patience to spend three hours fixing it. If something your dog is doing doesn’t bother you, there’s nothing to fix. If something he’s doing DOES bother you, quit complaining. Sit down, write up a plan starting from what you’re starting with, what you want, what you’re going to do to explain to the dog what you want and why he should give it to you. Do it.

Let me tell you the story of Song And The Sheep. Song is a Giant Schnauzer, and Giant Schnauzers are generally relatively calm and reasonable creatures, but they do have Passions about some things, and one of Song’s Passions is Sheep. She would start screaming in the car when we were a quarter of a mile from the sheep pasture, and keep it up until she was running around sheep, where she wouldn’t listen worth a darn, being too busy running around sheep to bother with me. The herding people around here basically told me to let her go, let her run around sheep, use a bag on a stick in her face to keep her from dive-bombing them, and after ten or fifteen minutes she would start to slow down and listen to me. My response to that was not to do herding any more, because a Giant Schnauzer having a heart attack on the floor could still be screaming about sheep. I whined about this on a list one day, and got several helpful answers, resulting in the flat-forehead DUH.

I took a paperback book, a lawn chair, a sturdy leash, a clicker, and Song, and drove to the pasture. I got her screaming out of the car, put down my chair, sat in it, and read my book, holding the leash of the screaming, lunging, jumping Giant Schnauzer for over an hour. Note I did NOTHING but read my book and sit on the leash. When she finally shut up and looked back at me (“Did you die? Why aren’t we in with the sheep?”), I clicked and started to stand up. Of course, she screamed and jumped back at the sheep, so I sat down again immediately. About twenty minutes later, she shut up and looked at me again, click. This time I got to stand up and almost take a step before she started screaming and I had to sit down again. That day, it took me three hours to get approximately 20 feet into the pasture. When we were in there, I had a responsive, quiet, pleasant herding dog working sheep.

The next day, it took me twenty minutes to get into the pasture, and once in, I once again found myself working a responsive, quiet, pleasant dog.

The third day, it took five minutes.

The fourth day, she bounced eagerly out of the car and strut-step heeled with eye contact into the sheep pasture, without me asking her to, and then went to work.

It works. Stop jumping around. Stop trying to DO something to get the behaviour, simply decide that you don’t go that way until you have contact.

Sue eh?

NOTE: Further down the experience road, I’d start much farther away from the pasture, back where Song could still concentrate on me. Then I’d move closer and closer… and farther away again when she went over her threshold of concentration. The training would be easier for me, less noisy, easier on the dog, and wouldn’t take any longer. I didn’t know that at the time – but at least I knew that beating on her wasn’t going to accomplish what I wanted!