by Susan Sullivan
|Dallas winning the Herding Group at Westminster Kennel Club
photo by Ashby
As Dallas gaited his way to his last group win at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in February 2003, his owner, Colin Howells, waited outside the ring, ready to take his dog home. Dallas had been on the road for a long time and Colin was looking forward to having him around. But he was concerned about Dallas not having a job or work to do as so many GSDs are only happy when they are working. He wanted to get Dallas involved in an activity to keep him from becoming a bored couch potato. Colin was also hoping to earn an Award of Excellence from the German Shepherd Dog Club of America. This prestigious award requires the dog to not only be recognized as a select dog in the specials class at the National Specialty, they need to have OFA hips and elbows and earn a performance title.
After talking to Dallas daughter owner, Ronda Lynch, about her herding experiences, Colin decided to try Dallas at herding. Dallas had passed his instinct test easily several years earlier. He called me and we made arrangements to get together in the spring. In early May, I got to meet Dallas for the first time.
Our co-owned sheep flock was in the middle of lambing but I put down some plastic fencing in the corner of our barn yard. The plastic fencing would serve as temporary border. Dallas was going to learn how to tend sheep. Learning to hold and honor the border was the first step. We put the ewes and newborn lambs inside the fencing, anchoring them with some hay. Colin walked Dallas up and down the fencing, Colin on the inside with the sheep, and Dallas on the outside. Colin popped on Dallas’ leash when the big dog tried to cross in. Within minutes, Colin had dropped the line and let Dallas take responsibility for holding the border. At first Dallas just stared at the ewes and lambs that were quietly eating hay. Then one of the day-old lambs got a bit confused and decided to take a tour of the barn yard, coming out over the plastic fencing and wobbling along up toward the barn. I thought, “Oh no this could be very ugly.” Dallas fell in behind the lamb and started poking it with his nose to get it to go back into the graze. They made a complete circuit going about 100 feet from the graze when suddenly the lamb decided to high tail it back to mom at a dead run. Dallas picked up speed following close behind. As he approached the border both Colin and I reminded him, “Out, border.” As the lamb hoped over the fencing and butted its mother for a snack, Dallas slid to a stop and turned and started moving back and forth on the graze.
While we all breathed a sigh of relief, it was clear that Dallas had turned on and was demonstrating that he had the makings of an excellent tending dog. We spent another week working the ewes in the paddock area and using the plastic fencing as a border. At one point Dallas was trying to see just how this worked, testing to see exactly where he was allowed to be by trying to break the boundary. This is very normal and is part of the way a dog learns. Through this trial and error period everything must be very black and white to insure the dog understands that he does not belong inside the border. This means that we usually have to make some corrections that are going to leave an impression on the dog. I have found one good solid correction is much more useful than a lot of weak nagging corrections. It is critical that the dog really understand where he is allowed to be in relationship to the stock or he will not patrol but will just build up drive. Once the understanding is there the dog will begin to move and will lower the drive, becoming much more comfortable. But here I was with this valuable Best in Show dog, I was really concerned about making that really good clear correction. I kept taping his feet, telling him, “No! Out border!” as he came across. I was bothering him but not making it very clear that he was not to cross in. It wasn’t clear to the dog at all and he was confused spending a great deal of time off eating sheep poop. Finally Colin got after Dallas. Dallas folded his ears and looked at us like we were nuts, I thought, “Uh oh, he’s going to quit and not want to work.” As many of the dogs do just that while they go think things over, but I was wrong about Dallas. He shook his head and started to patrol with more enthusiasm and understanding, it was like he said, “Oh is that what you want, well why didn’t you just say so?” Dallas got Colin back on the way home by throwing up all over the leather interior of the green Expedition. But the next lesson, Dallas started barking excitedly at the town before the farm. He wanted to do sheep.
By the third lesson, the lambs and ewes were out of the paddock and in our regular field. We have a 100 X 200 arena on that side with the borders marked for PT boundary. There is a small three sided graze on one of the long sides of the arena and I felt that that would be a good place to start him. The plastic fencing was gone and the boundaries were clearly marked dirt paths. We had had a good deal of rain and the grass was pretty high. As you can see from the picture below Dallas had no problems adjusting to a new type of border. He was working his little graze beautifully and with great independence and intensity.