Adventures in Herding #2: Moving Sheep without a Dog

Today, I learned that sheep are incredibly hard to move. You know the saying “It’s like herding cats”? Well, maybe it should just be “It’s like herding sheep”! Today, I tried to move 3 of my 6 sheep into their round pen – without grabbing them, without luring them, and without the help of a dog.

I just used my own body to put pressure on the sheep … And while that gave me some control over their movement, they also had a strong will of their own, and and no interest whatsoever in going through the dark, narrow corridor between two buildings that would lead them to the round pen! I did feel the bubble though and could push them around the field – just not where I wanted them to go, because the narrow, dark opening they had never before moved through wasn’t at all inviting to them.

I did end up catching the three and moving them through the corridor and into the round pen against their will. Now I’ve got a new appreciation for why a dog might want to bite an unwilling sheep: grabbing them did feel a bit like I was biting them, and the reason I ended up doing this was that by merely playing with the bubble, I didn’t get them where I wanted them to go. By means of grabbing them, I did get them where I wanted them – so my grabbing behavior was reinforced. I imagine the same happens to a dog who bites sheep out of insecurity or because he doesn’t know how else to control them: biting will work, i.e. be reinforced by its consequences, and the biting behavior will get stronger. Note to self: unless truly warranted, biting should never result in success for Mick.

Chrissi runs Chrissi’s Dog Training in Antigua, Guatemala. She also teaches online at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, and for the Pet Professionals Program. Her September workshop Walk with Me! Leash Skills for Pet Dogs is currently open for registration.

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