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Article Published in 2010
A Precis of Hooligan Hound to Duck Herder

A brief history

Izzi is a long haired German Shepherd Dog , she came into my life as a result of meeting her owner Pat  as a client on a one to one training basis .

At the first interview Pat  described Izzie as an out of control hooligan of a dog , she showed bruises on her arms from heavy mouthing, tears in her clothing  and she told me Izzie also fights other dogs  chases sheep cars children and any moving target and is  very destructive in the house.

Aged about nine months Izzie had been obtained from a private rescue, she had been to several different owners prior to being adopted by Pat and was in a very poor physical and emotional state at the time of adoption. 

Pat  had adopted Izzie out of pity, and a desire to get her out of the environment in which she lived.

Working with Pat and Izzie

Pat and I worked together with Izzie on a one to one training basis ,this training was preceded by improving the relationship and building up trust  and focus between dog and owner . We  did basic obedience, working walks, and I attempted to instil in Pat  a change of attitude from despair and frustration to one of noticing and rewarding  the occasional incidence of  good behaviour .

In the meantime the dog was continuing to chew her way through the kitchen cabinets , chase sheep and lunge on her front legs every time she saw another dog or in fact  anything that moved. Despair and frustration were building up faster than the training was kicking in.


Pat  like  lots of kind people had taken on a very difficult and unhappy dog out of pity, she had gone to the rescue kennels to find a dog to enhance her life , to be a good companion and have fun and games with, and she  had come back with a dog which from day one caused mayhem.

The reality is most busy owners just want an easy happy dog that does what its  told most of the time  and fits quickly and effortlessly into their daily lives.

My mistakes.

I made mistakes in planning the training and behaviour programme with Pat.
If I had considered her personal circumstances more thoroughly I would have realised that what she needed was guidance on managing situations and the environment in order to immediately improve her life. Managing the environment includes, stair gates, outdoor exercise runs, fencing the property, and or blocking views of dogs going past the property, things like that.

 Other forms of management include head collars , activity toys, food treats. On top of all this  of course one  can engage support staff including dog walkers , behaviourists, dog sitters, vets , canine dieticians, homeopaths, massage and  hydrotherapy practitioners, groomers who are experts at teaching dogs to accept being handled,  even humble dog kennels so the owner  just gets a break!

Trouble was Pat hadn’t got any money, Pat at that stage was in fact stretched too tight to do anything but struggle  with trying to fulfil  conflicting requirements of sick husband demanding children financial hardship and her own career, and that was without the dog!

At this busy busy stage in her life Pat was levering the cupboard doors open with a screwdriver as the dog had chewed off every single handle. She asked me to take Izzie.  It was  a case of me or a fatal last trip to the vets.  I took Izzie.

Izzie becomes my dog

I immediately put Izzie on a programme of learning that she had to earn everything that she wanted in life, if she wanted to go in the garden she had to sit first, to get  her food she had to do a down stay first, to go forward on the lead , the lead must go loose first, in short her obtaining anything she wanted was contingent upon me getting what I wanted.  

This programme or method does not work for all dog and it takes time and effort but it worked for Izzie, I had the right environment  the time and  the skill and we clicked, we understood each other.

Izzie and sheep

Just prior to adopting Izzie my old dog had died, and I had intended that my next dog would be a working sheep dog puppy to train up to help me with my work teaching dogs not to chase sheep and other livestock without a dog I spend all my time yelling at participants on the course trying to get them to act like sheep dogs which they understandably  do with staggering  slowness ineptitude  and lack of inherited skills!  

Izzie showed huge interest in chasing sheep for fun with a bit of biting thrown in, what I had to do was  control and direct that chasing .Izzie needed  an acceptable outlet for her desire to chase.

The assessment with sheep

I found a very good local sheep dog  trainer and breeder  called Alison Smith who agreed to help me to train Izzie if her assessment showed she had potential as a sheep dog. I  have trained my own working sheep  dogs but not nearly as well as Alison and I knew Izzie would not be easy.

The first day with Alison on the assessment was chaotic.

Izzie ran nicely behind  the flock but then straight through them , tail high, and bounding with joy an out of control stone deaf dog, a complete hooligan hound.
Alison rescued the situation using  her superbly trained sheep dog , and then she said she was prepared to take Izzie on.

Training Izzie with sheep

Izzie spent  most of the first session running full speed around the outside of a round sheep pen containing six sheep she neither stopped running for a full thirty minutes  nor jumped in the pen. When she was too tired to run fast and slowed down I quietly used the word steady , (simply naming the slower speed as steady)

During the following six  once weekly sessions, Izzie calmed more quickly each time.

At each session as she calmed we gradually introduced further cues for the behaviour we wanted, this was achieved by  quietly naming what she was doing at the precise time she was doing it, so an association formed in her brain . Once an association is firmly planted in the dogs brain the word gradually comes before the appropriate action in order to actually get the action. In this way by the end of six weekly sessions  Izzie was responding to  verbal direction changes, speed changes the command down and  the command to walk on.

The part of the training izzie  found most difficult was slowing down  and lying down, the penalty for failing to lie down quickly was to leave her in the down for longer than usual, but if she dropped down fast she  was rewarded by being allowed to start working  again quickly.

Without doubt if we had been in a position to practise sessions daily her level of excitement around sheep would have diminished much more quickly.

By the session eight I decided I needed to find a way of practising her new skills on a daily basis, and hit upon the idea of nice placid hens, so I bought three Buff Orpingtons. 

Izzie and chickens

A breakthrough

Hens allowed us to practise sheep dog skills without the excitement engendered by sheep, plus the bonus that they live on the doorstep ready for daily use, and unlike sheep they lay eggs.

Izzie works hens around raised beds ,sheds, trees , and  an agility course using her brain to move them without causing  a flutter .

I was delighted by Izzies proficiency with hens, she even coped with them squatting and pecking her on the nose instead of obediently moving smartly along,  she overcame this  squatting behaviour by getting behind the offending hen and shoving it forward  with her nose.

Back to sheep

A  chicken herder  however good was not going to be a lot of  help to me on my dog training courses , so encouraged by success with hens I asked Alison if I could start again, this time with free sheep, that is sheep outside the pen, not inside the pen as we were doing previously Alison thought this  was not a good idea, but I got my way.

Izzie started well under control but her excitement grew and on a very tight circle and at great speed she rushed the sheep from the rear and, closely bunched, they ran straight into me bowling me off my feet, some of them jumped over me as I rolled down the bank , others ran  me over.Igot up sore.
I decided to try ducks

Izzie and the ducks
I bought five Indian Runner ducks at The Monmouth Show, four ducks and a drake . These very upright  comical ducks are far more exciting to izzie than hens and far less exciting than sheep.

The ducks  waddle faster than hens, are easier to keep together in a bunch, and  they have an inclination to seek refuge in  a pen, which makes penning them in lots of different places easy for Izzie  and gives her confidence.

 The drake sometimes argues  with Izzie, his method is to cling to Izzies leg encircling it with  his beak and only releasing the leg to  peck when and where  he can.  Izzie handles this by patting him on the head with her free foot, or sometimes, she  picks him up and off by the neck and drops him gently on the ground. Amazingly  she has even  been known to actually deposit him  in line with the ducks where he should be.

Izzie uses her best sheep dog skills with the ducks she is calm, slow, controllable, and thoughtful.  Alison came to help me, made some useful  suggestions  and was quietly impressed.


Training Izzie as working sheepdog has not so far been a success, and may never be.   Border collies are easy they have an inherited tendency to go around sheep keeping a distance as they approach from behind the flock, it’s called the outrun if a collies  outrun  is weak it is easy enough to train an improved outrun, not so with Izzie. German Shepherd Dogs work in a different way to collies  and although they have the idea of  keeping a  flock of sheep together they are drivers rather than gatherers, and they have not inherited a natural outrun.  If the dog runs close to the sheep it panics the sheep and this can lead to injury and  stress in sheep, and anyway wastes time .

However Izzie is now a very well mannered sociable happy and  confident dog, she  gets on well with all other dogs, she is  no longer a hooligan hound, and she is a very competent dedicated duck herder.

The article was written  by Sue Harper FETC. MIACE . KCAI (pending)

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Contact Sue Harper, Dog Trainer on: Malvern 01684 568067 or Abergavenny 01873 890675 or email: back email Sue Harper Dog Trainer