Fate’s report to the International Border Collie Human Training Program: Training Jon
Dear Fellow Border Collies,
I am happy to report that I am working successfully to teach Jon how to herd sheep with me, and overcome some of the many bad habits he revealed at the beginning of our work. He has a very long way to go, but he is game and determined. Out there on the pasture, that goes a long way.
And he is no puppy. He doesn’t have any hair on the top of his head.
Jon and I are in our sixth month of training together, we are working with seven ewes and wethers, mostly Border-Leicesters, we work on six acres of pasture on a 17-acre farm in Eastern New York State. There is a big pony and two donkeys and a second dog, a Red-coated border collie from Northern Ireland named Red.
There’s a human woman running around with the pony, she doesn’t bother us out in the field much. She has a high pitched voice, wears bright colored clothes, she loves the sheep and brings them treats, which irks me. They don’t need treats, they need to move when told. She gives Jon a lot of commands, and he obeys them instantly. Hmmm…..
Things are going well. Jon is large and slow and loud and every now and then, I get him to yell a lot and wave his arms, but the truth is, I can take 50 steps for every one of his. He can’t keep up with us. I try to slow things down so he can participate. He is good walking up to the sheep, he usually has good manner with dogs, he is not fast enough to get around the flock. I am learning to be patient with him.
I try and praise him whenever I can, I want to be positive. I want him to think he’s in charge, and teaching me. My family has been herding sheep for generations. His family was running Mom and Pop and hardware stories in cities.
Jon can be frustrating he is willful and seems to have his own agenda, I needed to convince him that we herd the sheep together, he is sometime off in his own world. Jon is easily distracted, and doesn’t remember things. I have him do simple and repetitive tasks like walking straight to the sheep and standing still, and hope it sticks. He likes to wave his arms around, and fiddle with his camera. Sometimes, he even takes calls on is Iphone or checks his many messages. He is always clicking and beeping and buzzing, he sounds like a pinball machine sometimes.
I need to get him to focus more on the work, less on his fans.
At first, Jon brought a big walking stick with him and was waving it around all the time. I didn’t like it, and it made the sheep nervous. Now, he just comes by himself.
I have learned that in order to have a better human, I need to be a better border collie. That means I have to slow Jon down, teach him to be calm and quiet, and to speak slowly and clearly. The man spews words like a lawn sprinkler sometimes, I don’t always know what he’s talking about. Last night, he slipped in a big pile of manure and went down on his big butt. He sure had a lot of words after that, but none of them can be repeated here.
One problem: He always has a camera hanging off of his neck, he is always stopping to take pictures. This throws off his focus and concentration. We are working on getting him to concentrate on one thing at a time. Humans like Jon can be obsessive and even addictive. If they do something one time, they want to do it every time, and all day. It can drive you nuts. I should never have let him bring the camera the first time.
Jon is trying to adapt to my herding style. He keeps wanting me to slow down and walk slowly. A young woman visiting her yesterday called me the Tasmanian Devil Dog. I like it, Jon seems to really like it. What I love to do is race up to the sheep as fast as I can and run in rapidly expanding circles around them. I run and run until I drop. There is some method to my madness, when I circle around them, they stop and stand still, it is just like herding. I love it, I run faster and faster, I’ve even made a big mud track by the feeder.
So that’s where we are. I should say that having a human like Jon is not for everyone. Humans are among the most clever of species, which means they get the good, the bad, and the ugly in equal proportions. Take no behavior lightly! When a human does something one time, it’s a behavior, and the second time it’s a habit, and third time it’s an obsession.
Jon often does things that are funny the first time, but not the fifth or sixth time – like spitting, cursing, taking photos, reaching for his Iphone, or waving his arms around. Sometimes he even spits gum and cough drops around the pasture. He has no attention span and has trouble handling heat, flies, ticks and groundhog holes. Really, Jon is a pussy man, although I do love him, and enjoy stealing his socks and hiding them.
We should never accept or encourage negative behaviors.
Having a human like Jon requires a lifelong commitment of time and energy and patience. I’m sticking with it.
Thanks, Fate, Tasmanian Devil Herding Dog
(Thanks To Karen Thompson of Thompson’s Border Collies for the inspirational caution on her website.)