Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Teaching dogs to herd chickens

Last weekend was just so absolutely beautiful and fun.  Everything is green and flowers are blooming and some of us don't even have sleeves.
Truly, honestly, the only thing I wanted for Mother's Day was to spend a lazy day at home, soaking up the sun, not doing any chores, and drinking a beer whenever I pleased.  And guess what, friendy friends?  No, not "I have a drinking problem" (although sure, that might be an answer...but focus).  My wish came true!  And it was everything I hoped it could be (read: spectacular).

Of course, as you may have gathered or known already, relaxing is not relaxing for me.  Doing something interesting is relaxing for me (it's an illness, I know).  So on Sunday, because the chickens have just now started spending all their waking hours outdoors...
and the dogs have been behaving like this:
we decided it was high-time for our very first doggy herding lesson.

You see, we can't make three Australian Shepherds not interested in a flock of living creatures.  We just can't.  That would be like telling your brain not to say "collaborate and listen" every time someone hollers "stop!".  Just not gonna happen.  Instead, we're going to (please say a prayer) channel that energy into something that's useful for us: the dogs doing the work of moving the chickens so we can continue to do the not-work of drinking.  In the sun.  Leaning against things.
please note beer can in left hand
First of all, know that Tommy has been doing his due diligence.  Months ago he started reading Herding Dogs: Progressive Training and has since been obsessed with training our pups (all of them, including the old one that's not really a pup) to herd things (ideally sheep, but we make do sometimes).  I've humored this whole idea with the consolation that we might be able to put them work on the kids someday, which would be highly useful for me.  So with knowledge in brain and staff in hand, he got to work with dog number one.

Here's Chevy, a 10 month old Aussie shepherd/cattle dog cross.  This is her very first time working a herd of anything.  Notice her intense gaze but respectful distance off the birds.  (Does it make you feel uncomfortable when I talk fancy like that?) Alternate commentary: Notice how she and Tommy are perfecting their remarkable tandem dancing technique.  They're a shoe-in for first place in the Daddy/doggy Ballroom competition.
Most importantly, look at the birds.  They're in a group!  They're not scared!
 "Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt. It is so big"
I mean, really.  You don't have to know much about dogs or chickens to see what a good girl she is.  Technically she was even a little too submissive in terms of herding, but are we really trying to compete with this dog?  No.  We just want her to not eat our flock.  Success!

p.s. This was Cecilia's self-appointed chair during these shenanigans.  I swear, she is the quirkiest, most entertaining baby you will ever meet.  She's wearing a jacket because it had started raining earlier but she refused to come inside.  "A-side!  A-side!" she insisted.  Love...

After Chevy, it was Tuff's turn.  Now, Tuff is six years old and was not raised by us.  You know that thing about not teaching old dogs new tricks?  Well, we just got him back in August and although he is a "good" dog, he pretty much doesn't give a crap what we say if he has his eye on something.  Usually it's deer.  Sometimes it's a bagel.  On Sunday, it was these chickens.
Keep in mind that I'm not a very skilled photographer and I also spent a good portion of this segment running around the perimeter hollering (sounds attractive, huh?), but I'd just like you to note the state of the chickens.  Are they in a group?  Do they look calm and relaxed?  Does the dog look like he's "working"?  Correct, correct, and correct.  That's a big fat negatory on all three of those.
Here is an insider tip for all you herding dogs out there reading this: if your human has to physically carry your 55 lb. self back into the house after you try to make a snack out of one of their precious Barred Rock pullets whilst completely ignoring any and all commands from said handler, then you have received an F on your assignment.  No "Good Noodle" stars for you, mister!

Finally, it was time for Ranger to give it a try.  He's a full brother from the same litter as our female, Chevy and is a cuddly love-bug of a dog.  Again, it's a little hard to tell what's going on from the photos, but I can promise you that when this lesson was over, Ranger received no fewer than six thousand puppy treats, a fully body massage and a special love song composed and sung by my dear husband.
He was incredible.  Super-star dog.  Not only did he not try to eat the birds (and this dog is a HUGE fan of food, so this was a feat in and of itself), he actually moved them in a group around the yard as per Tommy's direction.
Of course, this is their first day ever, so Tommy is right there with him the whole time, but can you believe how cute that stocky little guy is?  And how he righted all the wrongs performed by Tuff?  He is the world's best dog.  Moments like this make me just a little sad that we did away with his pesky testicles.

So there it is folks- the most super countrified Mother's Day a person could possibly imagine.  And I loved every minute of it!

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  1. Ok, your husband is really cool. Training the dogs to herd the chickens. That is totally awesome.

  2. Our bestest bestie couple friends have two Aussie shepherds. They're the best dogs ever! One of them is purebred and his previous owner wanted to breed him..but alas, his balls didn't ever drop...so our friends got him for a song. The other's a bit of a mix, don't know with what though.

    I don't really know why I shared this with you.

  3. I love that shot of the dogs in a row staring at the chickens! And you have a keeper in Tommy! Such patience!

    And your baby girl! Gah, pinch those cheeks.

    Glad you had the Mother's Day you wanted, Dweej!

  4. Hey, two out of three isn't bad, right? I love that you're training your dogs to herd the chickens. Very fun. Hooray for just the Mother's Day you wanted!

  5. Loved the kid in the tree and the kid in the planter. Also, can my Corgi Henry come up there for the summer? Could yall whip him into shape for me?

  6. My hubby is the dog whisperer, it's true. But do you see what happened with Tuff? Muy escary!

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  8. You had me right up until "...we did away with his pesky testicles." *shiver*

    ;) :)

  9. Wow... just... wow! I can't even imagine trying to teach my old dogs such a new trick. They'd make quick work of eating all of said chickens and that'd be the end of it.

  10. You are such a hick. (And I mean that in the best possible way.)

    I love the three dogs staring at the chickens. Too bad you couldn't put thought bubbles above their heads with different chicken dishes in them.

  11. Dude...I can't believe you cut your dog's balls off.
    The picture of the chickens hauling ass away from Tuff is priceless. They look terrified. My grand plan for chickens is likely on the back burner since our spaz Jack Russell will probably rip their little heads off. Stupid dog.

  12. What a fun way to spend a Sunday. Go Tommy Go! I love the little one in a pot. Our cat likes to do the same thing.

    We have a Catahoula, which is known for herding. Alas, all we have to herd are cats. So our dog will try to herd our 12 year old toothless cat into the bedroom. If the younger two try to play she herds the heck out of them as well. One the rare occasion we have an actual human child at the house, she tries to herd them as well.

    I sound like the crazy cat/dog lady. I think I'm done for today.

  13. We're so mean, aren't we?

    He was being SUCH A TURD! My Lizzy almost fell out of that tree bawling when he finally got his paws on one. Crisis averted though. Whew!

    Yeah, terriers are probably not going to be be good chicken dogs. You know, what with them being made to lay waste to any and all small creatures and all that. They're great with horses, though! You should just get some horses instead ;)

  14. Bernie, if there is anyone who loves herself a crazy cat/dog lady, it's me. You come over here and say crazy stuff whenever you want!

  15. See? My brain is wired a little differently.

    If you yell "Stop" I think "...Hammertime!"

    And then I bust out the bad white-boy dancing. You think Hammer was a cheezeball dancer? You ain't seen nothin yet!

  16. Love the pic of all 3 dogs at the fence. We also have an aussie.....having a difficult time channeling her energy though. I will NOT tell my husband that chickens may do the trick....I'm not as adventurous as you!

  17. That is so awesome. When I have kids, I want a kid herding dog. My boyfriend better start reading the herding book now so he'll have plenty of time to perfect his technique.

  18. @Cathy- I have three words for you "The Dog Wisperer". No joke...it works! Especially because Australian shepherds are basically mexican farm dogs, so he knows what's up :)

  19. Can you train them to herd my 4 kids? Now, that would be fun!

  20. Glad you had a good day for yourself, Dweej! A friend had an Aussie Shepherd that herded HER everywhere, nothing else. She couldn't walk across a room without him pushing her into a corner.

    Left a little award for you on my blog cuz I thinks ya'll are so speshul...:)))


  21. that really is too cool!!! But I think the real money is in the daddy/doggie ballroom competition. I can just see both of them in bright red, sequined vests right now. Stylin! haha.

  22. This is so hilarious! All of it! I love the pic of your girl in the pot :) And next time you get the dogs herding the chickens (which sounds soooo funny) grab the video camera! I want to see it in action and hear the commotion too :)

  23. This is just too funny (and the photo commentary) And the baby in the flower pot and and and... You should definitely record your chicken herding dogs. Glad you had a happy day.

  24. New fan from The Blog Entourage :) What an adventure! Can't wait to read more- that picture of the 3 dogs at the fence (being a little psycho) had me LOLing!
    Enjoy the day :)

  25. Your girls find the neatest places to sit. A tree and a planter. Cannot beat that. Not that husband, dogs and chickens are not cool...

  26. "That would be like telling your brain not to say "collaborate and listen" every time someone hollers "stop!"." <--- So very true!

    Love the pic of Cecilia in the planter! So adorably cute beyond words. :)

  27. I'm in love with your dogs...and your baby in that planter. Adorable. You just have the best family...furry members included. Oh, and go Ranger! He's obviously a prodigy!

  28. This post makes me want dogs, and chickens, and babies. All on the to-do list after moving out of our apartment!

  29. I remember those days...when I didn't know if we'd EVER have just a bit of land for ourselves. It'll happen! :D

  30. Awesome Mother's Day!! You are blessed Girl!

  31. Aww, love the pictures! Looks like it was a fun time!Your girl in the planter is adorable.

  32. How are they doing now? Has Tuff gotten any better? Could you post an update?


    1. Ooooh, okay, I will. Check back on Wednesday!

  33. Ha ha. So here I am, trying to locate training tips for my GSD mix to NOT herd my herd and here was this post!

  34. Did the older dog ever get the hang of it?


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