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Training Client: Bella & Livestock Selection

Updated: Jan 22, 2023

In this video, you are watching Bella's first moments around a cow. I'd like to point out a few things:

Notice that Bella is not afraid of the cow and in fact, barely notices the cow. Bella is all about movement and ownership of property; the cow is just extra here and of little interest to her. Part of the reason for this is that the cow did not move when Bella arrived; Bella likes movement.

Bella showed no interest in creating conflict with any of the three dogs. The pup she is with she spent a day with, so he isn't new to her. His name is Lupine. When they were together in a smaller area, he couldn't wait to get rid of her. Their dynamic in this field is different. I think I know why but I will continue to watch and learn.

As you watch Bella move, notice that she is fast. She is busy!!! For as quickly as her body moves, her brain is even faster than that. She had never been in this field before or been around adult Maremmas to my knowledge. She shows no fear of them, and indeed, they are wallpaper to her just as much as the cow is - because Bella loves to guard property. Loves it. She also owns everything she can see, hear, and smell around her. She misses nothing, ever. The presence of the other dogs is quickly old news, investigated and handled in her brain.

Look at her stand and intently size up the goat population. Again, she shows no fear. She has three goats as neighbors, or has for the last few days, but she has never seen a big group of goats OR goats on a table, on stumps, moving, etc. That is a ton of stimulus for a young dog.

She might have chosen to charge the fence and barked at them - offense is the best defense. She didn't do that, in part, I think, because she is pretty fearless. I have only seen her show concern when meeting other dogs one-on-one. Her fearless nature may be genetic programming or how she has been raised thus far. Who knows; I would only be guessing. But I don't need to know as it is my job to train the dog in front of me. Easy.

Now, can you imagine what the goat herd's response to Bella's speed would be? If I allowed her to work in that field as I am in the field we are in, her lesson would be entirely different. Instead of learning that she can easily work around a calm cow, she would learn that being near goats can become very dynamic. She would likely match her speed to their speed. Maybe she would chase them, or maybe she'd just blow by, and they would be wallpaper to her as Strawberry is, but I would be taking a big chance in finding that out AND it would be a big training mistake for my goats. I have carefully, over time, taught the goat herd that they are safe around all white dogs so I can count on them to be calm puppy trainers for me.

The livestock MUST be trained before LGDs are introduced.

In the video below, watch Thor's speed as he approaches this flock, or the lack thereof. I could probably take him out in the goat field Bella is watching, and the goats would stay steady because nothing about him is threatening. However, I would be taking a big gamble with Thor because this young fellow isn't up for this big a challenge just yet. Livestock/pup interactions are all about balance and respect - for the dogs as well as the livestock.

The goats in this next video belong to Amber. She has a pair of our pups that are about a year old. She is doing careful long-line introductions with her dogs and these goats for obvious reasons! And she's doing a great job - blog coming soon!

The selection of livestock for young dogs to work with, and training the livestock before asking them to share a pasture with the dogs, can be critical to their success. Many dogs like Bella "fail" when placed in situations they are not well suited to and many pay with their lives because of the learned behaviors that are a result of the owner's decisions.

Bella is fortunate. her owner recognized that things weren't going well for Bella and his sheep. Instead of blaming Bella, he reached out for help. Because Bella will always be speedy, Barbados sheep are known to be flighty, and Bella now has a learned behavior of chasing sheep it is not known at this point if she will ever become trustworthy around them.

However, Bella appears to be an instant rock star with a small cow. Are cows the perfect answer for Bella? Not all cows...again, check out the challenge Amber is presently working with in introducing her dogs to Huckleberry. By the way, she has been successful at it - blog coming soon!

This is what Amber has now....she worked hard for this! So did her dogs.

Strawberry is a half-grown, well-trained, bottle calf. She was started as a single cow with dogs, so I suspect she thinks she is a dog. When given the choice of spending time with dogs or another cow, she chooses dogs. She is also bossy. If a dog becomes disrespectful with her she'll back them off with a toss of her head. This cute little cow is worth her weight in gold to me as a puppy trainer!

Adolescent LGDs often go through a bouncy period at some point in their lives. When they do this they require careful intervention and management from the owner - they do NOT need "correction"! They can be successfully brought through these periods through the use of long-line introductions and being housed near the livestock when not on long-lines. The other, easy option for me is to simply give them cows. Oh, how I appreciate my cows!

In the video below Bella had only been in with Strawberry and Lupine for about ten minutes. Superstar.

The video below was taken several hours later. Lupine and Bella spent the day with Strawberry. They romped and played, took naps, played some more, checked in with Strawberry, and on it went.

One of the times dogs can get in trouble with livestock is during feeding, of the livestock or the dogs. In the video below you see me add something new to the environment. This is added stimulus. It is also quickly evident that the hay is a valued resource to the cow; in some cases, this is enough to make it a valued resource to the dog, particularly a young dog.

One this day, at this time, Bella's behavior around Strawberry and the hay is spot-on perfect. It is unlikely to stay that way because as Bella feels increasing ownership of this field, and becomes more familiar with Strawberry, she may decide to have a conversation with Strawberry, or Lupine, about the hay. When she does this, if she does this, I will be ready.

Will she be scolded? Never. Why? Because that won't work, long-term, and has long-term training and relationship consequences for me with Bella. She may learn a negative association with the arrival of hay; her response to this could be fear or aggression - aggression is generally based in fear. She may turn the arrival of hay into a game. LOTS of LGDs do this, and it drives their owners crazy.

For me, I have two choices. I can go into the field with the dogs, interrupt behaviors I don't want, create a likelihood that I will get behaviors I do want, and then pay for those. Now, that is MUCH easier than it sounds! If I walk into that field and become a happy party the dogs will leave the cow because I am now more interesting than hay. Yea dogs, thank you! Let's go for a walk! Yea dogs, thank you! Yep, it is that easy. Usually, the arrival of hay as a trigger to dogs only lasts for a few minutes so I don't need to keep the dogs busy for very long. Usually.

The lazy man way, which is my usual choice with dogs that have enough training to be left with food of their own around livestock that I absolutely know will leave the dogs alone is to feed the livestock far from the dogs, and then immediately feed the dogs. To the dogs, this means that the arrival of hay signals the soon to come arrival of a resource they care about more than hay and cow harassing.

Dogs are never "wrong". Dogs do what is immediately reinforcing to them. In my world dogs don't make mistakes - but I make mistakes. In every circumstance I can think of if a dog is doing something in front of me that I don't like I played a part in setting that up. My job is to figure out why what the dog is doing is reinforcing to him and then change the situation so that something else is more reinforcing to him; this may include moving the dog to a field with no animals in it while I figure out what is going on.

Yes. You can yell at a dog that is chasing a chicken. He may stop chasing the chicken. But two things just happened: He learned not to chase chickens while you are there, so look forward to finding chickens killed in your absence, and he didn't learn what you would like him to do instead.

Dogs that are "corrected" become fearful and unpredictable. I prefer to live with dogs that are softly successful in their environment and happy to be around me. Again, this really is pretty easy to create for dogs, and it is fun because dogs love it.

Now, at the end of this day with Bella and Strawberry I put them back to their separate housing because her early success needs to be protected. Learned behavior is behavior that is repeated. Bella had one day of success. I will want to see MANY days of success before I will allow her to spend several hours with this cow when I can't see her. Carefully, mindfully going forward....

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