Today, I happily loaded the dogs and drove out to Ken's place. I planned to work Reba on her flanks and drive and get his feedback. That way if I was making mistakes I could rectify the situation. I also brought Diva and Ryder because I wanted to have their first experience on stock at Ken's, where if necessary I had some help.
Reba went first. That dog is very motivated to learn and her progress was clear. Ken gave me trouble over some things I was doing that was causing her some confusion and we finished on a positive note. For both of us.
Next I grabbed Ryder. I was so proud and really looking forward to showing him off. How quickly the bubble burst. We walked out to where Ken was standing. He grabbed a cane off the fence and in a completely non-aggressive manner went to hand it to me. Ryder freaked. He darn near yanked me off my feet. Ken and I looked at each other. There is only one reason a stock dog will get upset when you have a cane near it, and it's not a good reason. Ken rested the cane across his knee and tried to get Ryder to approach him. Ryder made his best attempt at pulling his head off with his collar. Reaching into my pocket I gathered a handful of treats. Lying the cane on the ground, I led Ryder near it. Squatting down, I tried to feed him treats near the cane. He turned his head away and refused to interact with me. With persistence and bribing I was able to get him to eat a treat near the flat cane. If I made any attempt to pick it up, he flew backwards.
Moving onto the sheep - less a cane - we tried to get him interested. No go. With a lot of work, making the sheep move and exciting voices, we were able to get him to make a couple of circles. Stopping we pulled off. I'm not going to lie. I was pissed. This whole experience was wrong. Ryder, when he left my place was my most keen pup. And animals don't lie. He had one mother trucker of a negative experience to turn him off. And he was turned off. The current plan for him is to let him grow up some more, do lots and lots of positive reinforcement with the cane and treats, and try again. With work, kindness and patience I may be able to turn him around. The problem now being is that he obviously has some baggage. Whether or not that baggage is enough to impede his progress, or if it'll come back to haunt him, I don't know. I don't know if this is something he can move past. I certainly hope so. I think buried under the fear and lack of confidence is a talented dog. To hedge my bets, I'll be doing a lot of agility groundwork and foundation work, just in case he needs to move into a pet home.
Diva was a completely different story. She walked into that pen with baby Border Collie swagger. She owned it. Ken handed me a cane, she didn't bat an eyelash. We headed towards the sheep and she perked right up. She was confident and keen. It took a bit for her to figure out to circle, but once she did we were off and running. Literally. I managed to get a couple of circles in both directions around the sheep before calling her off. When the ram turned and faced her she showed no fear. She would have ate him if I had let her. (I positioned myself to help her and the ram turned around.) What a difference between pups! Ken loved her, especially the confidence. Diva was in her element. She shows the qualities that'll make a top working dog. Very exciting for me.
I won't work either pup now for a bit. I mostly wanted to see what they would do. They're only 7 months old right now and I'd like them to grow up a bit more. Develop some mental as well as physical maturity. Diva, if I wanted to, could go to work. She certainly showed me she's ready to work. A possible nursery prospect anyhow.
It blows me away that people think they can fudge things. I've enough experience with the dogs, and I've worked with enough rescues to know. Dog's will tell you. If you are willing to listen and watch, they will show you what training they've had. Did Ryder's old owner really think I wouldn't notice that the pup (who should still be pretty much a blank slate) lost his marbles every time a person went to pick up a stock stick? I know where I'd like to shove that stock stick right now... The contrast between the two litter mates was vivid. Nature vs Nurture?