Maybe I’m a Herder-whisperer

It’s hard for me to stay silent when someone is mistreating a Herding dog.

I was in the feed store over the weekend, and a gal had a Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mix. She was yanking repeatedly on the nearly-full-grown puppy’s chain because the animal wouldn’t pay attention. All the feedback the puppy was getting was negative. I commented that she was a cute dog; only to have the gal say, “I can’t get her to come.” I mentioned that our two rescued guys had at one time had shock collars, and to my astonishment, the gal said, “Yeah, I’m considering that.”

I understand totally, but am saddened. Our two rescue Shetland Sheepdogs are very independent. They were even more so when we rescued them. The people had put shock collars on them in an effort to force obedience, and that had made them even more independent.

The problem is, THEY HAVE TO WANT TO COME to you. Herders were made to be an independent partner with their owner, not a mindless toy. Herders tend to respond strongly to praise, and seldom to punishment; especially if they are mindfully independent. Herders want to please, by their nature; they want to be a total partner in your life. But they are so intelligent that they can be destructive if they’re left without a job to do; without something to do to fulfill their half of the partnership. The sooner you realize that, the better things will be.

There’s sometimes a second and larger problem with the owner, especially if they don’t realize this. The cycle of negative reinforcement becomes self-reinforcing, and you can see that something bad will eventually occur. The animal becomes willful because they only get negative feedback, the owner gets more stubborn, and it goes on.

Okay, so that you don’t think this particular Herder-whisperer is perfect, it took us almost a year and a half to get our two guys to come to us when called. And if they’re off-leash, and think something’s real interesting, they still don’t come real well. Their noses still are number one; we’re still number two. So, yeah, you can reverse it, but only to a certain degree. Love them and accept it. Keep praising; they eventually get into the habit of general obedience, but again, as a part of partnership.

As for the incident in the feed store, the gal was trying to get the puppy to sit; The pup sat, and I praised her. You could see the animal just brighten up. Her ears lifted, she was paying attention, and she started to smile. Then her owner seemed to get the idea, and praised her also. You could just tell that the pup’s day had been made. And the owner quit yanking on the chain.

I hope it sticks. Lord, I hope the lesson sticks – I hope it turns out happily for both for the owner and the dog.

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