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on Livestock Guardian Dogs and small farm life…

Training tools for independent dogs

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If there is one thing that unites our various hard working LGDs, it’s their ability and desire to work independently.  Upon maturity, they ought to be able to work without direct, constant supervision and still make appropriate decisions.  It is my firm belief that training ought to begin early, be consistent and fair, and utilize appropriate but heightening expectations throughout the maturation process.  Many producers will find that they need a little help in terms of training tools, especially during the fairly long adolescent period.  We’ll go over these tools more in depth in future posts, but here’s a quick overview for reference.  ALL of these tools are meant to be used in conjunction with training and under some supervision.

1. Dangle Stick

young kuv learning to herd sheep 3 of 3

Young Kuvaszok with the Nagyragadozók Természetvédelmi Program

Dangle sticks are used the world over to impede young LGDs from chasing stock.  They are a stick, metal or PVC tube that hang across the chest from a chain attached to the dog’s collar.  When the dog begins to run, the rod bangs against their chest and makes the movement uncomfortable.  Some producers have had success with graduating to a small dangling flap or hunting dog bell attached to the collar as a reminder to the LGD not to chase.  As the desire to chase their charges should be short lived in LGDs (especially if caught early enough), these tools should only need to be used for a limited time.

2. Yoke

Our own Anneke modelling a PVC version

Our own Anneke modelling a PVC version

An innovative yoke using smaller pipe

An innovative yoke using smaller pipe

A training yoke is a temporarily worn by LGDs who need to be prevented from escaping through fences and/or kept out of certain areas (a creep feeder, for example).  It can be made from sticks, pieces of wood, or PVC/rubber pipes.  The yoke should be inspected regularly for wear and tear and should allow for full expression by the wearer.  This means that they should be able to lie down, eat, drink and otherwise live their life comfortably.  It should be lightweight and is often attached to the regular, flat collar so that it cannot be easily removed.

3. Prong Collar

Herm Sprenger prong collar

Herm Sprenger prong collar

Plastic version

Plastic version

Prong with rubber tips on points

Prong with rubber tips on points

A prong collar is used strictly for correction and prevention training purposes and should only be worn under direct supervision.  It should never be left on the dog when in the pasture alone, and the dog should never be tethered by it.  Here is some good information on the prong collar from LGD.org.

Any prong used should be of good quality in order to prevent failure and to ensure that it releases quickly and consistently.  As this collar has a high risk of improper usage resulting in over correction and pain for the dog, it should only be used when the mechanics are well and properly understood.  This can mean under the supervision of a trainer.

4. Electronic Collar (E-Collar)

E Collar Technologies Mini Educator

E Collar Technologies Mini Educator

An E-Collar is a remote collar that delivers a stim or electronic “shock” to the wearer.  Many, such as the one pictured above, also have an option to use a vibrate.  Depending on the dog, the vibrate may be more useful as a signalling tool than the electronic stimulation.  Old school E-Collars had only a few settings and were often too harsh and inconsistent for successful training; the new generation of collars are much more flexible and reliable, often with 100 levels to choose from.  I recommend testing the collar on yourself first (the back of your hand is a good spot) with the lower levels to get a feeling for the stimulation.  As with the prong collar, always buy the best quality collar that you can afford.  Its longevity and reliability will more than pay for itself in time.

The mechanics of some forms of E-Collar training are complex and need more indepth discussion, but the collar can also be used in a simple way to correct serious unwanted behavior such as chasing, grabbing, rough play, stock food nabbing and fence breaching.  When your dog is doing little and in a space with few distractions, test the level at which your dog responds to the stimulation by starting very low and going up 2 or 3 levels at a time.  If you are getting no response for some time, go up at a higher rate of 5 or 10 levels.  When you find the level where there is a small response (ie. ear twitch, small movement), make a mental note of it.  This will be your working level or starting point.  Next, hang back and wait for the LGD to do something undesired.  Catch them early in the behavior, as waiting for the behavior to be in full swing will require a much higher level of stimulation to correct and may not be well understood in the dog’s mind.  Pair your verbal correction with the stimulation: say “No” or “Leave It” or whichever term you’ve previously chosen just before activating the stimulation.  Eventually, this will mean that the dog connects the memory of the correction with your verbal correction which means that you won’t need the collar anymore.  If the behavior doesn’t diminish, go up levels again until you get the desired response.  Call the dog to you, comfort them and praise them.  Never correct the dog on the collar after the behavior is completed and never when they come to you.  In this way you will also be encouraging the dog to see you as a safe place, and their previous behavior as the sole reason why the stimulation occurred.

5. Tether

Our Ivy on a tether; fences under snow

Our Ivy on a tether; fences under snow

 

A tether, or tie, can be useful for times when a LGD needs to be restrained, kept in one area, or prevented from following predators for a short period of time.  All LGDs should be trained to accept tethering as young pups. No dog or growing pup should be left on a tether for an extended period of time, and should be allowed off for free exercise daily.  Some LGDs much prefer a tether to a pen, given that they can access the stock and bond better with a tether, and it helps to prevent barrier frustration.  It also can allow for better free movement for the dog if the tether is of a sufficient length and kept away from areas where the dog could become entangled.  If stock is in the area where the dog is tethered, place it along the ground and use a swivel clip on both ends.  The dog should have easy access to shelter, shade and water in the area where they are tethered.  Tethering highly territorial LGDs can lead to guarding that area from the stock and their owners, so moving the tether to a different area periodically is highly recommended.

The tether should be lightweight, but strong.  If you choose a chain, use the “passing link” variety like this one. Ensure that it is only attached to a flat collar with a strong “O” or “D” ring.  An alternative to a full tether is a “drag”; a chain or cable attached to something heavy or cumbersome such as a small log.  The drag is a controversial training tool and if chosen, should only be used under supervision and for very short periods.

7. Horse Whip & Bucket

whip  I’ll spare you a picture of a bucket, as I’m sure you can conjure up one on your own.  The bucket is used to make a big, booming noise by holding it in one hand and banging on the bottom of it with the other.  It helps as a “back up” or as a primary corrector.  It makes a good seat in the pasture as well for prolonged times of supervision.

The whip is used as an extension of your hand and is especially useful when training young pups with stock.  It helps to guide them away or to tap them on the shoulder or bum and encourage them to leave something alone.  It should never be used to hit the dog, except perhaps in life or death situations.  A lunge whip, with the loose end wrapped around the stick or removed entirely can be used as well.

7. Long Line

Bevis_09_04 The long line or tracking line is one of the most useful training tools for LGDs.  You can purchase them already made, or make one easily yourself.  It allows for space for the dog to behave and move freely, while still allowing for control by the owner/producer.

Strength and length and the two important factors when buying or designing a long line.  In general, you want a longer one (20+ ft) rather than a shorter one; adding knots at various spots along the length of the line will allow you to hold on or stop movement short.  If the line is rope, wearing gloves will help prevent burns.

Hold the unused portion of the line in folds in your non dominant hand.  Do not wrap the line around your hand or loop over your hand.  Hold the rest of the line loosely in your dominant hand.  When the dog is very young, or behaving more reliably around the stock, you can drop the line and allow them to drag it.  Step on or pick up the line when you want more control of the dog.  If you attach the long line to anything other than a flat collar, be careful of stopping the dog short too quickly or harshly.

8.  Clicker

clicker Clickers are, as well, one of the more useful training tools for LGDs.  It allows for precise marking of desired behavior and can be followed by a chosen reinforcement such as food, affection, play or praise.  It is especially useful for training obedience behaviors (manners) such as “Sit”, “Off”, “Come”.  Try to stay away from long sessions or repetitive ones, as LGDs can lose interest quickly.

The chosen reinforcement must be rewarding to the dog, not just what the owner finds rewarding.  It is not advised to use food rewards in the pasture with the stock, except when the LGD is a very young pup.  It can lead to resource guarding and/or mobbing by the stock.

 

As in all list posts, this is not an exhaustive one.   What are some training tools that I haven’t thought of here?  Feel free to add them in the comments.

 

 

 

Author: offleash

Small farmer, student of canine life, advocate, animal rehab and behavior specialist.

4 thoughts on “Training tools for independent dogs

  1. There’s the hot potato which is popular with Slavs. Basically, it’s a nail embedded inside a potato, and to halt the prey-drive of some dogs, they would throw it in front of the dog. Theoretically if the dog bites down, it won’t try to grab livestock or furbearers anymore. It won’t eliminate the action of chasing, but merely biting the stock or game.

  2. Electric collars? Tethering? Pronged collars? No no no. Obviously your “background” in dogs, is not in LGDs, so stop trying to pretend like you are an expert!

    • I’m sorry that you feel the need to comment in this way. Perhaps if I knew who you were, I could address your concerns in a better way, but as it is, I’ll just have to let my work speak for itself.

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