Sunday, August 02, 2009

Round 'em Up Cheerio!

"You want me to what?"

My English Shepherd intense, somewhat high-strung, bossy, territorial, prey-driven not chasing the chickens. She's not eating the chickens. Okay, she's not even herding the chickens.
When they were baby chicks in the brooder, she nearly put one in her mouth. I was convinced these chickens would be coop bound. No free-range chickens for us...we have a dog that goes at about 100 miles an hour after a squirrel. And though I have put a lot of time into obedience training, and her basic commands are well-mastered, I thought there was no way she was going to come to me when there was a chicken dinner strutting across the lawn.

So I invested a hundred bucks in an electronic training collar. There are a few behaviors other than chicken chasing that I needed to nip in the bud. Barking at the lawnmower, for instance...when you're in the driver's set of a roaring Cub Cadet, it's hard to train your dog. Chasing cars up the driveway is one, although she has gotten much better about that lately. Circling the inflatable pool and barking at us while we splashed around in it was another behavior that I figured I could zap away.
The lawnmower and the swimming pool barking each took two electronic corrections. She has not committed either one of these misdeads since. And she hasn't chased a car while I've had the training collar on, either.

So, now I thought I'd try it out with the chickens. The first day we let the hens out of the run a couple of hours before sunset, so they could explore and stay pretty close to the coop and want to go back in on their own. I kept Cheerio in the house, just to give the hens a easy introduction to the wide outdoors.

The second day, when it was time to put them back in the coop, I put on Cheerio's electronic collar, and her regular collar with a long lead--a horse lunge line, so that I could remain at a distance and see how she would do. She trotted right up and investigated the chickens, never barked, never chased. I asked her to help me "round 'em up" thinking, here now she finally has a chance to use those herding instincts. All that practice in trying to herd the family together on walks could now be put to use for an actual job. My dog is approaching three years old, and it's time for some gainful employment. I demonstrated to the best of my ability what I wanted her to do, but the blank look she gave me said it all. She ran in circles, but not in circles around the chickens.

A week later, the chickens are still fully enjoying the great outdoors, and Cheerio is a contented observer. Chicken wrangling just might not be her thing. They just may not be challenging enough. The horses, however, now there is an animal worth herding.
"I think I'll go bark at the horses" Cheerio says. "Hey, you there! You're not supposed to lie down. Get up right now! Right now, I say! Horses are not allowed to lie down around here!"