An ES farmdog’s motivation to work is based in his bond to and desire to help his master, so I’ve found what works best in the very beginning is to “be the dog” or do whatever it is I would like the pup to do with the stock myself, and afford him the opportunity to step in and assist more and more as he feels comfortable. More specific commands, directionals, etc, can be added later, AFTER the pup has an idea of his place in the pack (beta enforcer) and what is expected of him. It is also a good explanation of why a multi-purpose, pack-drive farmdog may not seem “keen” to work strange stock in a strange place (like at a herding clinic) for the first time, unless he or perceives a need to do control or something with them on his owner’s behalf.
The prey-drive herders (Border Collies, kelpies) approach all stock to be herded as tho they are hunting them for food; They crouch, eye, slink around the stock and make it repel from them in fear and bunch up together for safety, just as they would in response to an actual predator in the paddock. With a dog “stuck” in obsessive prey drive, all that needs to be done is some directional commands put on the dog so he can be guided around by the handler like a remote control device.
An upright, bossy herder approaches stock as he would another canine; Standing tall with his tail held high in a display of dominance, positioning himself in an imposing way, and his attitude toward the stock is that of a superior pack member enforcing rules on an underling. Canines do not *hunt* other pack members, so if the stock isn’t doing anything wrong based on his knowledge of the rules (or lack of it 😉 the pack-drive dog will not automatically perceive a need to move or otherwise enforce on them (unless he has been *taught* to do so, we’ll get to that later on).
This difference in motivation is a good illustration of the difference between a multi-purpose farmdog’s character and that of a prey-driven herding dog, and a good explanation of why the prey-driven dog is less likely to be trustworthy loose on the farm.
Working multi-purpose farmdogs, if expected to move freely among the stock and not need confinement when the master is away, should be taught very early on that the stock is “pack”, and is to be treated respectfully and allowed to go about its business in peace unless there is a rule being broken or the master asks for him to herd them. Pack members stand together against threats, and especially in the case of young animals, will nurture and protect one another. Isolating a pup away from the stock and only taking him to the stock for herding chores or lessons is not a good way to bring out his pack or nurturing, protective nature, because the pup is never afforded the opportunity to form the necessary pack bond. So making sure the pup has the opportunity to spend plenty of time “just hanging out” and getting comfortable and familiar with the stock is extremely important… As intelligent as these dogs are, they simply cannot be expected to be trustworthy loose around stock if they are allowed to get the impression that anytime and every time they are allowed access to the stock it is for the sole purpose of herding them.
This is why, if we are to maintain this multi-purpose working nature, it is of ultimate importance that breeding and puppy placement decisions be made based on the breeder’s intimate knowledge of the parent dogs… The offspring cannot be expected to naturally possess the necessary balance of instincts and character needed in a multi-purpose, loose-on-the-farm farmdog if the parents themselves are not known to reliably possess this balance.
The Blacksheep Homestead
Blacksheep English Shepherds
Rock Stream, NY