Thursday, March 12, 2015

Herding Instinct Test

On the weekend, Rundle had an opportunity to go to a herding instinct test. All of my Berners have been tried on sheep but this is the first time I have done an actual instinct test.  I wasn't sure what to expect of Rundle. I know he has a strong chase/prey drive so I was a bit worried that he would try to run down the sheep and bite them. At the same time he is quite sensitive so I didn't know how he would take to a stranger (the evaluator) working with him while I was outside the pen. It turned out that I didn't need to worry at all. The evaluator came to get Rundle and take him in the round pen with the sheep. He followed her without hesitation and listened to her when she called him or tried to help him out.  He was confident with the sheep (until one turned to stare at him, then he wasn't sure what he should do) and he got them moving and seemed to have fun.  He did not try to chase down the sheep or bite them, thankfully.

Since I know very little about herding, I do not know exactly what the evaluator was looking for during the test. I know she looked for sustained interest in the sheep and she looked for herding behavior as opposed to strictly prey drive behaviour. This particular evaluator had strict criteria about what she was looking for and very few dogs passed the test. I think there were over 30 dogs tested and only 5 or 6 passed. Rundle had enough interest in the sheep that day to earn himself one of those passes.  

Herding is an interesting dog activity but one that is difficult to pursue unless you have regular access to stock and a trainer.  Although this was fun to try out and Rundle showed some interest, it is likely not anything I will continue with. Unless you are working with sheep often, the dog is not really going to learn what is expected of them.  Although herding does have a natural instinct component, there are also rules that a dog must learn, and that doesn't always just involves chasing sheep in a round pen.  So, it was something fun to try and a new experience for Rundle. 

My friend Jo took some video of Rundle with the sheep. This clip as near the end of our test and you can see Rundle start to get a bit distracted - maybe from the pressure of "rules" (you can see that with the use of the flag) or not knowing what was expected of him, or maybe he was just getting tired. It's hard work trying out new things.  

Friday, January 30, 2015

Learning To Weave

One of my goals for this winter was to teach Rundle to do the weave poles. If you have the room, they are a perfect activity to teach indoors, and since I have made my basement livingroom into a training room, we have been using that nice space to learn the weaves. I already had decided to use the 2X2 method to teach Rundle. There are a few different methods to teach the weaves and each have their own strengths and weakness but I like 2x2s for the reason that they really break down the behavior and they emphasis weave entrances.  I am using a modified version of Susan Garrett's method that I find is working well for us.  Here is a link to the method I am using:

So far the weaves are going well and Rundle is really starting to understand the whole behaviour. We have been working on the weaves for about 3 or 4 weeks now and he can do 6 poles with very few errors. He rarely misses an entrance and we work on challenging entrances every training session. Where his mistakes happen are usually towards the end, and right now I am chalking that up to him still working to find his rhythm in the poles. If he enters smoothly, he usually finishes them accurately. He will get there - he is a big dog and really needs to use to learn his body to get going through.  This past week we have been working on adding more speed to the poles, now that he is understanding the mechanics of going through them. I have been running with him more and recalling him through the poles more - just to build some excitement and speed. Once he is finding a nice rhythm and weaving the 6 poles with confidence and speed, I will add another set of 6. Hopefully by the end of winter he will be weaving a full set of 12 poles happily and accurately.  

Here is a video I took last week. At the time of the video, Rundle had been doing 6 poles for just 2 days. He has improved a lot even since I took this video. He is also very excited when it is weave training time. For the last couple weeks, we have been training the weaves right before supper time.  Today as I was getting Rundle's supper ready, he kept running to the gate at the top of the basement stairs and looking down into the training room. He wasn't going to let me forget that we needed to practice :) So cute!

Just as an aside, weave poles are quite hard on a dog's body, especially a young dog that is still growing. I waited this long to teach the weaves for that reason. I am quite certain that Rundle's growth plates are now closed as he has not grown for quite some time now (he is almost 2). Even so, our sessions are quick and short. I count out about 6 cookies and when they are gone, the session is over. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


IN dog training circles you hear a lot of talk about "motivation". How to motivate your dog, what reinforcers to use and when, how to keep your dog "up" and happy and wanting to play these silly games that we ask them to do. There is never any shortage of advise for those dogs who seem to lack motivation in whatever training we are doing at the moment. Motivation, drives, reinforcers, control - these are all topics that can keep dog trainers talking for a long time.

What if the motivation and drive has less to do with the dog and more to do with the handler? We never seem to have discussions about handler motivation. I think people, other dog trainers included, just assume that if you are actively training your dog in some sport, you must have the motivation do to so. Or else, why do it?  Motivation for training in a dog sport comes in all sorts of ways. Usually having a specific, time related related goal, such as an upcoming trial you want to be ready for or a certain title you want to reach, is a hug motivator.  This gives you something to aim for and a deadline (as well as some pressure and excitement) to get training. But what if you have no trial coming up?  No deadline? Nothing to really motivate you and give you that push to be excited to train?  That is where I feel I am at right now. 

I have always said I would not trial Rundle until he was really ready and that has not changed. The problem is that I don't even have a glimmer of when that might be.  No, trialing is not everything, but it is kind of the point when you are training specifically for a trialing sport like obedience or agility. The thing is that I really like training - it is fun and rewarding but that alone is not always enough to keep my motivation up.  So, as a result, I have not been doing much in the way of training lately. I know I should sit down and make smaller, more attainable goals to keep me going, but I don't even really have the motivation to do to that. Sometimes when you get discouraged, you just need to let it pass and hopefully something happens to inspire you again.  At least that is what I am waiting for :)