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Celebration of the 500th dog taught to ignore livestock!

I have just finished a workshop on the training farm in South Wales where I teach owners to teach their dogs to ignore livestock, using the livestock that are on the farm, mostly sheep.

I have been teaching this aspect of training as a speciality for the past fifteen years and looking back at my booking forms and notes I realised that I have now trained 500 dog owners how to teach their dogs to ignore livestock!  So I thought I could usefully mark this achievement by reviewing my experience with these 500 dogs.

The following are the most commonly repeated opening remark from clients:

“The sheep (cow horse etc) just jumped out of a hedge!”(Fast movement triggers chase)
“I didn’t know he chased sheep!”   (Possibly the first time he has seen sheep!)
“He has never chased sheep before!” (A huge number of variables operate influencing chase probability!) and
“He took no noticed when I called him” (undertrained to recall with distractions)
The most common explanation given for why the dog chased are:
“He just wanted to look, sniff, race or play with the sheep.”(sheep chasing is fun for dogs)
“He started off after a rabbit then he saw the sheep.” (changed target preference)
“I didn’t know there were any sheep in that field” (?)

My experience during twenty years working with dogs and livestock confirms what clients are telling me, their dogs are chasing for fun . A few dogs are chasing to make the chased animal just go away either because it is near their home boundary or because it is afraid of the animal it is chasing away. A very, very few dogs are chasing to catch the prey animal in order to eat it. Chasing is a hard wired instinctive behaviour, just one part of the eye stalk chase and kill sequence of food acquisition. During this sequence the predatory dog looks just like a lion hunting a zebra, but more than 90% of the dogs I see are dogs chasing for fun.

Unfortunately all categories kill sheep, one way or another, not just the rare predatory chasers.

Reading my case notes, I see that I have focused my training more and more over the years on a series of twenty exercises which target 100% impulse control and off lead distance controI.  I have created lots of distraction training games using fast moving targets, and I have acquired selected sheep, that allow dogs to get a good look at them.  I have learnt not to be the “expert” but to listen to what the owners tell me about their own dog,  after all they are the experts on their dog not me.

I always ask for and receive feedback from clients and I have learnt from them all one way or another. I don’t always necessarily get it perfect, but I am looking forward to passing on my skills, techniques, games, ideas and specialist knowledge, to the next 500 lucky clients!

In the meantime if in doubt keep your dog on the lead!

Written by Sue Harper

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