American Working Farmcollie Association

Rules and Order

The Rules and Pack Order

Pack Order and Dominance:

Hello everyone,

I’ve been meaning to send an update on Berger for a while but there’s been so much information given in the last few weeks I had a hard time keeping up.  The nice thing is most of my questions I’ve been answered and it’s been so helpful in training Berger.  I’ve been keeping my husband Erik updated so that we are both on the same page with him.

I have to say I LOVE my Berger.  He is the best companion I could wish for.  The chores are so much more fun with him around.  I love our routine and he seems to really enjoy himself.  I have a chicken story and his last performance yesterday with a ewe.  I will tell later on.

He is listening pretty well but he has started to test the rules lately so we’ve been into enforcing mode and it seems to work.  I am glad to say that he is fully accepted by my Great Pyr who absolutely adore him.  They are so cute to watch.  They are so big compare to him but still very gentle in their play.  I’d say Berger is the rough one with them!  It is so funny to watch my big Patou (the male) trying to keep up with Berger’s biting his nose, ears, legs (not hard though) and being fascinated by this little fluff ball.  Marie my girl, loves him too.  They spend a lot of time together and Berger has started smelling her butt and humping her at the shoulders (she’s spayed).  She lets him get away with it.  Also he’s got a new trend: he steals their bones and is so sneaky about it.  Patou is extremely dominant over food but he seems to think it is cute enough and won’t go after him.  Berger has plenty of food but he seems to get naughty that way.  So I am relieved that they love each other so much because they are all entertained with each other throughout the day.  Also by hanging out with them he is around the cashmere goats as well and he is very comfortable with them now.

Berger’s got a lot more confident around the livestock.  When I go in the sheep pasture he wants to come in and pester them some.  He knows the one that don’t like to be pester and enjoys fending their charges.  At first I called him back but then I read that he was showing them he was dominant over them so I should leave it alone as long as they don’t go crazy on either side (sheep or dog).  Am I doing the right thing here?

Chickens and Berger.  It’s been interesting.  He was definitely into chasing them and it was work everyday to make him not do it but I was dedicated to have him with me every day in their pasture.  Then my 6 year old son thought it would be fun to chase the chickens with him while I was attending to my baby girl inside.  By the time I got there both brats were having a grand time and the chickens were in panic mode.  That kind of screwed up things for a while until Berger managed to go after one of the chicken (he had already figured out how to jump (high that is) over the fence by putting a paw to lower it down and then jump (so smart that boy!).  My son screamed and reported to me that Berger had a chicken in his mouth (by that time my son Ryan knew better NOT to chase chickens anymore).  I ran to the chicken pasture and found a completely drenched chicken on the ground shaking and obviously in shock.  I took the poor hen in my arms into my home and wrapped her in a blanket.  Berger got curious and asked to come in so I let him in front of the door behind the gate (which is to prevent my 13 months old to get out the door.  She is a smart one too!).  He watched me care for the hen.  I had to keep her in front of the heat and since she could not shake off that cold in her body I took my hair dryer and blew it on her.  She really enjoyed it (really she did) and Berger just couldn’t believe his eyes.  By that time the whole Trigger thread was going on and I got a few ideas on how to handle it. First I brought back the hen in her coop who thought she was moving into a spa and the next day I took a random chicken in my arms and showed it to Berger.  I told him this was MINE and made him SiT while I pet the hen.  He has not gone after my chickens since then!  I’ve been able to make him sit and stay behind me while I put feed in their feeders which are in the middle of the pasture under a shed.  He didn’t bother any of the chickens who were hurrying to eat the fresh food and I told him good boy once the job was done.  I was really proud of him for that.  He was pleased to see how happy I was too (he had that big smile on his face).  I do that every time I fill up on feed.  Every day though I love our new routine at the chicken pasture.  Instead of letting him jump up the fence I lower the fence for him and then I come in.  When I leave I call him, lower the fence he jumps again and then I leave.  I love doing it and he loves it too.  He waits excitedly before we come in and it seems he understand that he is only allowed when I lower the fence for him.  He is such a jumper.

The sheep story: One of my ewe got stuck in a hay bale string somehow.  Must not have seen it when I grabbed the hay and of course she got tangled in it.  When I noticed I tried to take it off but Berger kept pestering her while I was trying to grab it.  I was in a hurry and gave up and felt the string would just fall off her by the next day.  Well next day the string was in a way that made me nervous and I decided that Berger was not going to help with this.  So I got him out of the pen and thought he would go his own way as he doesn’t always like to be in the sheep pasture.  As soon as he was out I tried to go after the ewe and next thing I know Berger is behind me (he never gets in the pasture on his own).  The ground is icy but I’ve got crampons so I’m thinking I can handle this.  I finally grab that string even though Berger is persisting in avoiding me doing this (I’m fairly annoyed at him by that time I won’t lie) and all the sudden I lost my foot because my ewe is starting to run.  In a second I can see myself getting ready to take a sleigh ride with a string wrapped in my hand (the dumb things I do sometimes).  At that moment Berger steps right in front of her, stops her, she tries to go around him but he doesn’t let her.  Just that enabled me to get up in a flash and untangle the string from the ewe while Berger is “holding” her.  Oh my, was I PROUD of my BOY!  I was beside myself and he was super happy to see me so happy with him.  The thing is the next time I went to the pasture he didn’t go on his own again.  So I have no idea how he got there in the first place but he knew something was going to happen if he didn’t show up so he managed somehow.  That was so exciting.  He’s just awesome.

In the house:  Anila my baby is crazy about him and also his bones.  It’s been good training because he doesn’t get growly or anything when she does it.  He stopped going after her feet now that she’s walking but he still gets mouthy at times and also pushy so she falls a lot.  Same with my son, when they play with a toy, Berger still tries to get Ryan’s hands.  I told my son to say “ouch” everytime he does that and I tell Berger “no mouth”.  Any more suggestions?

He started being very protective of us to the point that he “held down” the guys who are building our strawbale house in front of my door.  I was telling them to come in but they felt too scared that Berger may bite them.  Same with my neighbor.  Next day there were many suggestions about how to handle that on this list so I’ve been working on it with him and it seems to work.  No more barking at the UPS guy, propane guy or the builders.  Same with the neighbors.  And when he goes back to bark I put him in the next room where he can see everybody but we ignore him while he barks.  The other day he growled at my son who came to hug him (gently no play) and Erik immediately put him on his back.  He hasn’t done it again so far.  Sometimes I don’t know how to handle the play between him and my son.  When they are outside it’s a no brainer.  Ryan sleigh ride and Berger runs along.  But inside, Berger jumps on him a lot and tries to bite my son’s fingers.  It drives Ryan’s crazy and the more he complains or say no the more Berger gets excited.  Any advice???

He’s growing fast and he really is beautiful.  5 months already.  He’s bonded with all of us, but I have a question regarding Alpha.  Since ES have one alpha they will follow how do you do when there is 2 alpha in the house (Me and my husband!)  I do the same amount of work with the livestock as my husband does if not more but Erik has a bigger voice and discipline Berger in a more domineering way than I do.  Berger follows me everywhere when I do the chores unless he’s with the Great Pyr and same when Erik does it, so does this mean he will respond to the both of us always or will he choose to work with just one person at some point?

I think that’s it for now.  I will download a pix soon on the group list.  Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

Answer 1:
Thanks for writing Cecile, your post made my day, and the sun is just about to peek over the horizon in the east!  This is exactly what we created this list for!

Your pup is learning a lot of pack issues right now.  English Shepherds and other farmcollies don’t traditionally  just have one alpha, these are farm family dogs (faRmily dogs) and traditionally in their function on family farms they have learned that they are beneath the people and above the livestock in pack rank.

Berger will learn to interact with you all, hopefully protecting your kids should the ram charge them, and having your back as you do chores, even if he spends more time with your husband.  Even though you are smaller and more soft spoken than your husband, he might learn to mind you even better- it depends on which of you interacts with him more and communicates more readily and consistently.  Social isolation doesn’t require much strength or a loud voice.  I bet he will learn to do different things for both of you.

It is absolutely imperative that Berger learns that he is below your children in pack rank, although now that he is entering adolescence, he perceives them as younger than he is.  When you accomplish this, and Berger understands his pack position he will become content and most of the unwanted behaviors between Berger and your son will disappear.  Teaching a pup that he must never put his paws on people or furniture from day one makes this lesson much easier to teach!

Let’s play GONG show! “AANNGHKK!”

The play between your son and Berger. As Berger enters Adolescence, he is realizing that he is actually a more mature pack member than your child.  Think about this- these dogs are REAL SMART.  They are training us as much as we are training them, and this is a good thing in general as it is a basis for communication.  It sounds like Berger has this thing he has taught you to do.  he mouths your son your son makes whining noise that indicates that the pup is now his pack superior, and you say “no mouth”.  I think there is a good chance he is playing you like a jack in the box, thinking ‘if I do this I show everyone what a BIG MATURE boy I am now and I get mom’s attention”.  Lets change this behavior!

Take some time to quietly observe this.  If Berger either becomes too rough or mouths your son, SAY “AANNGHKK!” very loudly and look sternly at him.  I think the first time you do this, Berger will look at you and cock his head to the side.  Then he will return to what he was doing, when he repeats any unwanted behavior say “AANNGHKK!” again.  Then he will try it a few more times each time getting the “AANNGHKK!” from you, just to be sure he knows how to use this new toy.  When you are sure he knows what behavior gets AANNGHKKed start saying “AANNGHKK!” when he does it, and then throw him out the door.  Leave him out while you get some household chore done and let him in again to play with your son when you have time to observe them again.

Do not leave a pup this age that is obviously challenging your child for pack position alone with your child unless you can watch them interact.  You must be absolutely sure that the pup understands that the child has a higher pack status.  Keep their interaction under your watchful eye,  and teach your son to stand very tall and quietly walk away and refuse to play with  the dog  if he gets too rough with him.  You can probably teach this to your child along with the gong show sound – when you say “AAANGHK”–  that means that your son is to stand up and quietly walk away.

Answer 2:
Hi Cecile!

You’ve gotten some very good advice so far, and it sounds like you’re doing well.

The only thing I’d add, I think, is that the key to neutralizing the overly rough play behaviors is to make these kinds of games *NOT FUN* for Berger anymore. When my children were younger and not sure what to do about an older pup nipping/mouthing/herding them, the thing that helped most was for me to teach them not to give in to their instinct to squeal/flap/run away in response because this just encourages the pup to “play” more or harder. Instead, my children now know to freeze, tell the pup “NO” in a deep growly voice (what we call THE VOICE OF DOOM, lol) and then turn and calmly walk away, ignoring the pup. Once your pup learns your son is in control of whether they will play together or not, and that the response to rude mouthing/roughness is always *not fun*, he should quickly lose interest in playing with your son this way.

If Berger does not get the message that this behavior is inappropriate and persists in disrespecting your son and trying to assume a superior pack position, do not hesitate to step in between the two immediately, back him off your son by stepping into his space with tall,  dominant posture, using the VOICE OF DOOM (deep growly correction), and convince him that you are an indignant grizzly bear mama who will not hesitate to *EAT HIM* if he doesn’t stop bothering your baby *RIGHT NOW*. A time-out in a crate or on a leash after your performance, ideally where he can see you nurturing/giving attention to your son while you pointedly ignore him, will help drive the message home.

Be convincing and consistent, and, smart boy that he is, Berger will catch on quickly. FWIW, I’ve never had a bratty pup persist in rude/inappropriate/chewing-on-a-kid behaviors after being convinced this way that the children (all children, visitors included) are my babies FIRST and he is *just the dog* after all. Hope this helps 🙂


The Blacksheep Homestead

(PS- My chickens are jealous and would like to know what your “spa” rates are, please… 😉


Teaching gentle mouth habits:

After you have extinguished the undesirable behavior in the play with your son, you probably want to teach your dog to be more gentle in mouthing behaviors.  You can teach him to take treats gently from your hand using  the “Nothing in Life is Free” principle.   Hold a treat in your fist and holding your fist over your pup’s head, say “sit”.  The pup’s nose gets his attention  an raising his head makes sitting the easiest thing for him to do so he sits.  You say “good boy!”.  Now move your fist to his muzzle and if he gently nudges or licks your fist,  open your hand and offer it to him.  If his teeth make contact with your skin, break eye contact with the pup, stand up straight with your chest out and turn and walk away, ignore the pup for ten minutes and then try the procedure again.

Livestock and pack order:

It sounds as though your pup is coming into his own with the livestock. At the same time you are enforcing the rule that your children are higher members in pack position, you must allow your pup to enforce his dominant pack position on the livestock.  Your treatment of the hen seems to have gotten through to the pup that this is a pack member and we love her and must be gentle.  You are right to closely observe this interaction and make sure that it does not escalate on either side.

Keep us up to date with his future interaction with the chicken and other livestock, and do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any more problems with Berger being confused in the idea that he is higher pack status than your children!


Berger’s follow up

Jan 22, 2009

Hello everyone,

Thank you for the feedback about Berger. It was all so helpful. Since then I’ve been tightening up discipline some and I am happy to say that Berger is not bugging Ryan any longer and same with baby. Strangely, since I’ve been doing this Berger seems even closer to me. The other day I found him wrapped in my chore pants (so cute) and he has been listening to me even more.

He is still doing well around the chickens. If I see him getting the idea that he could possibly chase one, I get really proactive and I just have to call his name and he knows right away what I’m talking about :-). He also sits and stay when I ask him to around the chickens.

Erik my husband has noticed that since I’ve been disciplining Berger more, he listens to me better than he does to him. For instance the goats were out again and Berger was on the way of Erik not knowing how to handle the situation. The more Erik asked him to stop the more Berger got obnoxious. I decided to try it myself and asked Berger to stay close to me at first. Then when I started going after the goats I let him do his thing and tried to show him what I wanted to accomplish. Even though we weren’t successful in our attempts, he was trying to help in a less “messy” way than when he was w/Erik. He got the fact that I was trying to avoid running in a circle around a shed by staying on the opposite end of where I was to attempt stopping the goats. This tells me that the closer the bond with him the easier it will be to work with him. I thanked him for his help and finally the goats got on the other side of the fence w/out Berger scaring them away.

The “voice of doom” works great! Of course my son loves the idea and he feels more empowered in his ability to stop Berger. It worked and I also “help” when Berger is too excited. He also responded really well to the Aink sound, almost immediately actually. It got his attention no doubt!

Berger has been very gentle to baby although I’m trying to quit the french kiss behavior that my baby is enjoying from Berger. She goes at him with a wide open mouth to his face so he can’t help it to just do it. I told them she’s too young for this yet! I’ve been impressed though bce a few times I didn’t notice her going right to BErger’s face on her own (she’s a fast one!) and he was submissive to her. I praised him for it.

The visitor issue is still ongoing. I am consistent however and I trust that he’ll get it soon. I put him aside each time he does it to someone and I find there are some people he’s just not comfortable with. He got better with certain people though, so there is some improvement.

That’s it for now, thank you again for your help. As soon as I download my pix I’ll post one of Berger’s.



Photos of a pup returning an escapee to his pen.


Most importantly, ENJOY your pup! Training is FUN!

Life is a game with RULES!

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