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Instinct Testing


In an instinct test, I will take your dog in with 3 or 4 sheep.  Primarily, at this point, I am looking for sustained interest in the stock.  What the dog does that first time on stock depends on a number of factors - the dog’s breeding, age, maturity, temperament, and upbringing, to name a few.  Some dogs are immediately drawn to the stock, and begin moving them about; others may eye them curiously and take some tentative steps toward them; still others may spend their time sniffing the ground, seemingly unaware of the stock.  I will keep the sheep moving, for it is the movement of the sheep that draws the dog in; I will encourage the dog each time it does go to the stock.

Often, I find that dogs need “permission” to work livestock.  In their daily lives, they have lots of rules: don’t chase the kitty, don’t get on the furniture, don’t harass the goats, horses, or other livestock you may have on the property, and so on.  They have learned that those things which are the most fun for them are the ones that get them into the most trouble.  So here, a stranger takes them into a pen with livestock, and they figure this must be a set-up - if they act on the urges they have inside of them, that is, to go get the sheep, they know they’ll get into big trouble.  I have a number of ways of working with this type of dog to reassure it that it’s really alright.  Most of the time, dogs who need permission do come to understand that they will not get into trouble for following their instincts, and begin working.

I take the dog in with the stock for only a few minutes, followed by a break so they can get some water and also to think about what has just occurred.  I generally take the dog in with the stock a total of 3 times that first day.  The majority of the time, with each subsequent time I go in, the dog’s interest and intensity grow. 

The expression that is used when a dog becomes aware of the stock and shows an interest in them is that s/he “turns on.”  This describes it well, for it is very much like turning on a light switch - one minute, you may have nothing, then suddenly the dog seems to understand why s/he is on the planet.  Livestock!  They have no conscious understanding of why that is, but the draw of the livestock is so great that they are willing to do just about anything to be allowed to continue.  I have indeed created a monster.

I may or may not see anything that first day; however, that does not necessarily mean that I do not have a herding dog.  It means I do not have a herding dog that day.  I may tell you to bring the dog back in a week or two, or, if it is very young, in a month.  I will try again.  Often the dog will have more interest on a subsequent visit.  I have had some pups, even those from the best working lines, come out every week, month after month, and show no interest.  Finally, at a year old, they turned on.  Others may show strong instinct as early as 8 or 9 weeks old.  I also do see dogs who, frankly, just have no desire to do this; I can’t force it to happen.  And I never know until I put the dog in with stock.  But when your dog does turn on, and you decide that this is an activity that you’d like to pursue, then you’re ready for lessons.


Home   How & Why "Herding" Works   Instinct Testing   Lessons   Finding The Right Dog   Working Cattle   Links   Terminology   Gallery   Contact Me & Directions

Anna Guthrie




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