Thursday 9 March 2017

Part 2: Looking for the good signs

In last month’s article, I wrote about the behaviour of a “naughty” dog, I touched on what motivates the dog and listed some warning signs to watch out for. 

Remember, a warning sign is indicative to what is going on in his mind, sometimes a sharp “no” is enough to convince the dog that he should change his behaviour. To be successful in correcting a dog, the dog must be caught “in the act” but preferably, a warning before he acts. The signs are subtle, it could be the start of a “play bow”, or a hard stare, or a short quick movement directed at the stock. Correcting at that moment, will do wonders in stopping the immature dog’s behaviour. He will think you are a mind reader, and that is exactly what you want him to think! 

To get that timely correction, you must be able to observe and supervise the young dog. If he is stuck on the “back forty” with no supervision, you will have no influence on his behaviour and will be unable to correct unwanted behaviour. Adolescent dogs are best kept in a pasture with livestock that can be seen and monitored by you. Remember, your stock will give you indications if the dog is being trustworthy or not. 

Every time the dog gets to play and chase, it reinforces his desire to do so, it becomes harder and harder to correct. If you come to the pasture and see that he has rough housed your stock, the first thing to do is to tether or place him on a zipline, kennel him or remove him from that pasture. He needs to be stopped immediately and prevented from reinforcing his own behaviour. By removing him from the livestock, you know that he cannot get into any more trouble and the stock is safe.  Once he is on lockdown, you can form a plan of action on how to move forward. Most young dogs can be corrected for naughty behaviour, and many go on to became fantastic guardian dogs. 

I like to “change things up” with a naughty adolescent dog. This means change the dog’s life completely; moving him to a different pasture, or give him a larger area to work in, or place him in with another type of livestock, place him with a grumpy older dog, or a bigger flock, or on a zipline, or even for a while in the barn.  This change in environment, will take him out of his comfort zone and will force a change of behaviour and attitude.  This change can be like a reset for him. We have multiple groups and livestock in various pastures. We have a bull pen, a draft horse pen, a ram pen, we have various pastures adjoining where the flock grazes, we can place a dog with the cows or even in the barn where we always have some livestock inside.

All these animals are used to dogs and not easily intimidated by them. My favorite spot for the adolescent dog who needs a lesson in humility, is in the bull, ram, and stud horse pasture.  These animals do not run, play, and bounce away from a dog, they do very little to encourage play behaviour and are big and strong enough to stand up to a young foolish dog.

As we are a “hands on” operation (meaning we touch and handle) our dogs, I will also expect/demand more compliance from a naughty dog. I will be stricter on everything I do with him. I require him to wait calmly while I set his food down, I will reinforce that more. If I need to open a gate, and do not want him to dive out of the gate, I will be strict on him backing off and only be allowed through the gate when invited. He will need to move around in calm manner. If he comes to greet me, he had better do it with respect and have a quiet approach. There will be no “holding” my hand in his mouth, or bumping into me, or super excited behaviour.  I normally reinforce this type of behaviour in a younger pup, but I will be stricter in enforcing calm and respectful behaviour with a naughty adolescent. 
So, being vigilant to warning signs, and acting directly, is perhaps the biggest factor to preventing unwanted behaviour. 

Changing things around, and preventing a continuation of bad behaviour for an extended time, supervision, demanding calm behaviour and, a timely correction do wonders to the attitude of a young naughty dog.

Looking for the good signs is also very important, they too reflect what is going on in the mind of the young dog. Good signs will tell you about the trustworthiness of the dog and its attentiveness to the livestock:

Some signs to watch out for are:
Calmness around the stock

A quiet demeanor, (head low, tail low)

Treading lightly around the stock (I wrote a blog about this and you can see it here:

Moving out of the way of the stock
soft eyes
Looking away ( so glancing away, to not intimidate the stock)

A lower tail carriage, with a soft slow wag when meeting or greeting a sheep
Ear carriage is relaxed
Laying next to the stock without being intrusive in the space of the stock

Butt sniffing and licking, 
some ear licking, as long as it is cleaning and not obsessive

Walking around the stock rather than barging through

Content and comfortable to hang out with the stock, stock is content and comfortable with the dog

“Reading stock”, if the sheep are uncomfortable with the dog too close, the dog will move away, or turn its back and give the sheep more space.

Following the stock out while grazing

Happy to return back to the stock, greets the sheep

 The dog and sheep have a trust relationship

Some dogs really value their own personal space and may not be super tight with the sheep and yet, are still attentive and trustworthy. Some sheep also prefer more space from the dog than others. All of them are individuals. A dog who has a bigger personal bubble, will simply give the sheep more space, he will still show all the good signs. A trustworthy and attentive dog does not necessarily have to be all cozy and snuggled up with the stock. 

The role the stock play in the development of the young dog, is also important to consider. I have seen rams trying to mount a dog, I have seen: some goats that will butt a young dog continuously, bouncy lambs and kids may encourage a dog who has more chase tendencies, flapping chickens are irresistible to some dogs and young dogs being bullied away from their food can all result in the dog showing inappropriate behaviour.
A young dog who is bullied away from his food might learn to lunge and bite the stock, a pup getting hurt by goats might become fearful and want to escape the pasture.  

Careful consideration of the age of the dog, its temperament and the type of livestock can play an important role in preventing problems. I am all for preventing potential problems before they start, and that requires me to be flexible in my approach and a willingness to facilitate the young livestock guardian dog during its journey to becoming a reliable adult.

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