Introducing Meadow and Benson to Sheep and Baby Lambs Using a Safety Line - **Cues**
Meadow and Benson are sixteen month old siblings who share a fence line with this small flock of sheep. Both pups have lived with sheep most of their lives, but they have not shared a pasture with young lambs. The pups have been avid in their attention to the ewes as they have given birth to the lamb crop. Part of what has been provoking to the pups is the presence of afterbirth in the field, and probably the flopping around of newborn lambs. So, even though the pups have had quite a bit of training, I use a front attachment harness and a 20' safety line, as I introduce the pups to the flock. This allows me to let Meadow and Benson interact with the sheep and lambs with some freedom, in terms of their decision making, because I know that I can stop the pups if they get excited and need to take a break.
Karen Pryor Academy Foundations course - Cues
None of the cues used in the training sessions shown below are verbal. All behaviors were taught using capturing and shaping. Clicker training for our pups begins when they are four weeks old.
Situational cue - Our pups have been taught that being on leash means that they are connected to us, in that they are working in close partnership with us, but that I expect them to move freely in front of me and investigate everything. We begin to teach this to the pups when they are eight weeks of age. So, the use of a harness and long line is a situational cue to the pups.
Situational cue - I use the position of my body in relation to the sheep and the pup to create a likelihood of getting the behavior I want. If I step near Meadow she may come closer to me, which will slow her body down. If I step in front of her she is likely to give me eye contact; I can reinforce her for that, and it slows her body down. If I get eye contact and then move away from the pup, the pup is likely to follow me. In this way I can move the pup without using the safety line to do so. I am using my training history with the pup to move her.
Hand targeting cue - Our pups are taught that when we place a hand on them, usually on their back or shoulders, that it is a cue to slow down, be calm, and stay under our hand.
Hand targeting cue - Our pups are taught to target to our hand, with more than one body part. You will see me cue Meadow to put her nose on my fingertips, and to follow my hand. This brings her nearer to me, which allows me to place a calming hand on her back and keep her for just a little bit. But if you watch her response to my request for a nose target to my hand you will see her regain her confidence. (Note: The instance of my nose target cue is shown in the still YouTube scene below.) This is because the cue and behavior are familiar to her. She has a long reinforcement history with this cue. When she hit the end of the safety line it startled her. I cued her for the nose target, brought her right back to me, and used a hand target on her back briefly until I felt her relax. Then I sent her out to investigate again. This emotional re-set happened quickly, and this smooth conversation between us is possible because of the months of training preceding today's training session.
Our dogs are reinforced for offered behaviors we would like to see more of. We don't ask for these behaviors - we don't cue for them - but we thank the dogs when the behaviors happen. In the videos below you will see me reinforce for eye contact. I use our verbal marker word - Yes - and use my voice to praise the pup. If the pup checks in with me by coming near I stoke her gently and verbally praise her. This is not the same as hand targeting because my hand is moving and I am not asking her to stop. Through my touch and my verbal praise I am staying connected to the pup and the choices she is making.
In the video below at one point it becomes very important to Benson to put his nose on a lamb. He pursues the lamb, softly. Notice that he never opens his mouth. This is not chase behavior. Benson got the olfactory information he needed and then went back to work elsewhere.
Carefully managed interactions like this between LGDs and livestock, in any new situation, set the dogs up for success. It is always my choice to partner with my dogs.