Question: My current border collie has bite and uses it too aggressively at times. She bites and hangs on to my sheep and goats instead of just nipping them when needed. She will run alongside an animal to turn it and grab its front leg. Sometimes dragging it down. She also “cheap shots” the stock by running in and biting when she doesn’t need to. The stock then want to turn and face her to make sure they are not snuck up on again and maliciously attacked. Of course, I reprimand her when she hangs on but I don’t want to take the bite out of her completely.
She is just now 2 years old. I am wondering if she does this because she is unsure of herself and knows she can control them with brute force but not sure she can stop and turn them by going out and around them.
Greg Christiansen – Kansas
Answer: Your dog just needs to learn patience and that it’s not necessary to be creating something exciting all the time. The best way to do that is to take her out on a fairly large group of stock in a fairly large pasture. Just like starting a pup, keep “pushing” her around the stock. When she is quietly bringing them along behind you, leave her alone and just go for a walk, the instant she gives them a “cheap-shot” walk towards her, forcing her to move around the group, changing directions and walk the other way. Never scold her for this or indicate she has done something wrong, just show her with your position to “go work somewhere else.”
She needs to learn to relax. It’s important that you stay with it long enough that she settles down and starts to think. If she is sensing that you are unhappy with what she is doing, she will stay keyed up and keep trying to do something to alleviate her anxiety, which in her case is to overwork. It’s also important that you stay relaxed and enjoy your time with her.
When dogs are worked this way they learn themselves to not use anymore force than is necessary to get the job done, but since you have never scolded them for biting they are willing to use what force is necessary when the situation warrants it. In the video that came with the Stockdog book do you remember seeing the three dogs on the one lamb? They were all good cow-dogs and have enough force to handle dog-fighting cows and calves, but they knew it wasn’t necessary to put any more pressure on that lamb than just their presence.
Comment a few days later: My dog is settling down and working more without biting when she doesn’t need to. She still does it some at the first as we start moving the stock but the more we work the less she does it. She does seem to get mad at one sometimes when she lets one get by her or sometimes leaves one straggler behind then goes back to get it and is harder on it than need be. When she does get overaggressive it takes me a while to walk back through the larger group of livestock to push her around as she will be so focused and sometimes abusive on one on the other side and not pay attention to my position until I am closer to her. Then she sees me and swings around the stock and we go again. As we keep doing this she does settle down and work calmly. I believe you hit the nail on the head and I believe that with more work she will soon stop overworking and settle down.
As I have been rereading the website articles after I read “Smile and Mean It”, I am understanding more of the attitude that it takes when handling stock. As I study it this way, instead of just a “method”, I am realizing that this same attitude helps my daily mental outlook. Running a livestock business as probably any business is a much more mental game than physical. There are so many decisions to make it is mentally exhausting at times and the consequences of these decisions can have a huge impact on your bottom line and also mental attitude. I have 2 employees and sometimes I would just like to trade places with them. Doing the work is the easy part. Deciding what to do is very hard and more stressful.
I am learning from the literature of you and Bud, that my attitude changes the way the livestock handle for me and the way my stock dog handles. You told me not to act like I am displeased or my dog will feel anxious and overwork to settle her anxiety, “If she is sensing that you are unhappy with what she is doing, she will stay keyed up and keep trying to do something to alleviate her anxiety, which in her case is to overwork. It’s also important that you stay relaxed and enjoy your time with her.”
This hit me hard between the eyes. I have two very good employees and one will someday take over this operation. I have been guilty of them sensing that I am unhappy with them, or with the circumstance or a decision I have made that turned out wrong, or whatever fire needs put out at the moment, or the weather or markets, or a death loss, you name it, and they feel anxious and not able to do their best work. They work hard trying to please me and like my Border Collie, they will overwork physically and not settle down and think. They walk on eggshells much of the time hoping I am pleased and not unhappy. I have caused this. I have put pressure on them just like I do Autumn and their response is very much like hers. It has been a while since I stayed relaxed and enjoyed my time with them working in a business I love, letting them relax and enjoy it too.
It would not surprise me if others in the livestock business need this same awakening. We deal with death and disappointment more than we want to that is for sure.
Strange, I was asking about how to handle my dog and make her more productive, a simple dog question, and received a life lesson.
Thanks for this insight and glimpse of myself. I am sure I have done this same thing with more than just these two employees but also with the people I love and hold dear. I look forward to having more of the attitude of you and Bud. I am beginning to understand the term, “Smile and Mean It”!
Greg Christiansen – Kansas