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There are a lot of sports crossover people who want to try this approach for herding. When they have dogs with lots of natural talent, what ends up happening is that they totally shortchange the dog.

Melanie,
I don't know anything about herding training so I hope this isn't too stupid, but how do shepherds train the dogs beyond instinct? Is it a case of teaching the directional commands and things like the lie down and then putting it together with the instinct?
I've seen herding trials, but not having a border collie I've never really thought about how it is taught.
Thanks.
Beth
Now, I need to go start cooking! I'll be back later!

Boy, do you start cooking early!
I may be eating Honey Nut Cheerios today if this
storm doesn't let up a bit with the skymonsters
and all.
Mojo hasn't left the knee well in the desk since
it started.
Terri
But here's the rub. How many people have tried retriever training with "positive" methods (and, for that matter, what positive methods)?

I was wondering the same thing.

I think we get into trouble when we try to equate goals that really aren't equal, like retrieves in competitive obedience and field work. Inducive retrieves are absolutely appropriate for the kind of retrieving done in the Open ring, but I'm not sure that they are sufficient for field work (which I don't do, so that's an uninformed opinion). I do know that the holds seen in obedience are definately not solid enough for running distances over broken ground & saw that with bringsel alerts in SAR. Just doing more practice to increase distance and environment differences would not be likely to compensate for a method that doesn't really make the dog accountable for never dropping something once it is taken, I don't think.
Unfortunatly she fits right in at the place where I take agility lessons since most of them are stuck on being "purely positive."

Again, that definition of "purely positive" seems to vary with venue. In agility it often translates to motivational emphasis and re-trying instead of correcting. In obedience it gets expanded to include things like gently physically coercing a position if you don't get it on 1st command and verbal negative cues to indicate errors. In ScH., the range of proofing techniques expands it further. No wonder people get confused!
Lynn K.
But here's the rub. How many people have tried retriever training with "positive" methods (and, for that matter, what positive methods)?

I saw someone swim out to her dog to show him where the bird was. Disrupted and delayed the whole training session and the old guard was really *** at her for being that way. I'm sure she isn't doing field training anymore, although I don't know for sure.
I don't know anything about herding training so I hope this isn't too stupid, but how do shepherds train the dogs beyond instinct? Is it a case of teaching the directional commands and things like the lie down and then putting it together with the instinct?
I don't know if I'm qualified to answer this question and I don't know if I can answer it in a way that is concise and makes sense, but I'll try.

There isn't anything in practical stock work that doesn't involve instinct. That isn't the same thing as saying the dog is never asked to do things that it doesn't find natural. In these situations, the dog is asked to apply instinctive principles in counter-intuitive ways.
Starting a dog is about allowing him to put something that is inherent within him into practice, to gain experience and get better at it. A good Border Collie has a natural desire to go around the stock, control it, and bring it back to the handler. Sometimes it takes a bit to show the dog that the handler is part of the equation, but once you give the dog somewhere to take the sheep (i.e., to you) he will normally do small outruns and hold sheep to you naturally.

It isn't always pretty to begin with, but that's what the gaining experience and getting better part is about. The dog is learning about a number of principles here. Some of the most important ones are balance (where he needs to be to make the sheep move in the direction they need to go and it isn't always directly opposite the handler), and something else I don't know what to call, "control" maybe. The dog needs to learn how he affects the sheep, how sheep react, and what he needs to do to get them to do what he wants, how he should move, how much eye he should apply, when he should lie down and when he should stand up.
Training the dog at this stage isn't about teaching him to obey commands, although he must be taught to always be working with the handler. It's about helping him understand where he needs to be. With Solo, we did a whole lot of walking backward in a smaller field. Stopping, starting, changing direction to change the balance point. He would change direction and pace himself purely on the basis of handler position, and there's a lot of work you can get done using just this. You want to do a lot of this before you start adding more handler control, so the dog learns to feel and not just obey.Solo didn't have flank commands for over a year. When we taught him "come bye" and "away to me," it was simply by naming the flanks as he did them naturally. Then you start proofing. First you give flank commands when you aren't moving, so the dog can't cue off your movement. Then you give flank commands that are "wrong" for the way you are moving (off-balance flanks) and this is when you start overriding and putting obedience on the dog (well, before this a certain percentage of lie downs are also artificial, but if you lie your dog down too much you usually end up with problems).

But the difference between this and strict obedience is that the dog KNOWS what you're doing is "wrong," but for some reason you want him to do it that way. This is an understanding that a dog who is not natural or who is subjected to too much control at the beginning has a much harder time learning, if he can learn it at all.

As you move forward in training, the dog is subjected to many more "unnatural" situations, but his usefulness as a stock dog is still dependent on how much inherent understanding he has. For example, driving (taking the stock away from the handler instead of toward the handler) is not natural for most Border Collies. The dog must be taught something that feels "wrong." But, the natural principles of balance and control still apply. A driving dog must understand that for some reason, you want him to take the sheep to a point that is not you, and that he must balance the sheep toward that point and control them with less help from you.
Similarly, with the shed (splitting sheep). Some dogs like to split sheep, some really really really hate it (like Fly) because it feels really really wrong. But you make them understand that for some reason, it's what you want them to do and that the other part of their task is to control some of the sheep and to let the other ones get away. That part feels a little more natural.I think clicker training methods are useful for training a dog who has little or not instinct to do things that look like herding but aren't really herding because the dog probably doesn't inherently understand the principles that underlie what he is doing. "Traditional" herding training is commonly misunderstood as being primarily punitive, but this is not at all the case. It relies on manipulating the reward (control of sheep) using methods including ways that look P+ but that I feel are actually P-.

For example, if you step in front of the dog and shout or bang your stick on the ground, it looks like P+. But for a dog in drive and excited about working his stock, it doesn't register as an aversive even if it would in other situations. The more important thing, to the dog, is that you're interrupting the dog's contact with his sheep and "taking them away" from him when he does something that is wrong or not what you wanted. And then there's a whole lot of R+ when you give the sheep back again by getting out of the way.

I'm not saying that there is no P+ in herding, but I think good trainers tend not to go into that territory very often and that if a trainer does it tends to be counter-productive.
A friend of mine has a clicker friend who brings her Sheltie over to work sheep. The dog has a good deal of instinct and desire. The clicker friend trains him by clicking and flinging little meaty ravioli treats at him for rewards. He totally ignores these most of the time (unless she physically stuffs them in his mouth) and they lay scattered all over the field until the Maremmas eat them. I feel like a dog who will work stock for treats isn't really working the stock.

Being a good working dog necessitates that the sheep are the reward. I think many clicker principles can be applied when training a sheepdog, but that sheep are a difficult reward to manipulate in traditional clicker fashion and that the whole enterprise tends to fall apart if you try to work the dog at any sort of distance. The people who tend to like clicker herding the most are people who have dogs that may not have as much natural ability, and who always work their dogs in small arenas.
That wasn't very concise, but there you go. Keep in mind that I've helped start exactly one dog and didn't understand a lot of what was going on when we started, so disclaimers apply.

Melanie Lee Chang > Form ever follows function. Departments of Anthropology and Biology >
University of Pennsylvania > Louis Sullivan (Email Removed) >
Melanie,
Thanks for explaining the herding training. It clears up some stuff for me, like why the shed is considered such a big deal at the herding trials I've been to. That, and why the old Scot was trying to convince me that the driving competition at the ISDS championships all those years ago was the really neat thing, not the other part of the trial.
Beth
I saw someone swim out to her dog to show him where the bird was. Disrupted and delayed the whole ... at her for being that way. I'm sure she isn't doing field training anymore, although I don't know for sure.

What's funny is that I remember talking to CTM about her doing that when her 2nd lab, Angel, refused a duck in the ocean. But she wasn't showing Angel the duck, she was compelling her to take it. And certainly got praise instead of criticism for doing so.

It strikes me that maybe the real difference between the way field dogs are taught to retrieve and positive obedience retrieve training is in the proofing, not the teaching. Field trainers use a method that combines proofing with the initial training instead of teaching the behavior and then spending a lot of effort in proofing it.

Lynn K.
Thanks for explaining the herding training. It clears up some stuff for me, like why the shed is considered such a big deal at the herding trials I've been to. That, and why the old Scot was trying to convince me that the driving competition at the ISDS championships all those years ago was the really neat thing, not the other part of the trial.Shedding is a big deal even if the dog likes to do it, because the sheep really don't want to do it. When you see a good shed it's like magic to watch. One of the best ones I've seen happened at the end of a run where the handler knew he had plenty of time left, and simply stood on one side of the sheep, his dog on the other, neither moving, for a couple of long minutes.

This allowed the sheep to relax enough so that they stopped packing so tightly together, and they drifted apart just a little. At that moment the handler called his dog through the tiny hole that had opened up, and the shed was over before the sheep even realized it the dog had come through, turned, and backed the shed sheep away from the others.

I am very jealous that you have been to the ISDS Supreme championship. What does the driving competition consist of, do you remember? We don't have a specific driving competition here. Another thing they do over there that rarely happens here is brace competition.

Melanie Lee Chang > Form ever follows function. Departments of Anthropology and Biology >
University of Pennsylvania > Louis Sullivan (Email Removed) >
I am very jealous that you have been to the ISDS Supreme championship. What does the driving competition consist of, do you remember?

There was a course that had some panels on it and the dogs had to drive the sheep away from the shepherd and through the panels in a certain order. Now that I know more about fetching vs. driving herding I can see why the Scot was so impressed by it. The shepherd stood at the post for the driving too. I would love to see another ISDS championship if I get the chance. Now if my sister marries the Brit she's dating and moves there instead of him moving here...
Beth
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