Shelby and I recently began working on the herding behavior “walk up”. I admit I have been seriously lax on writing about herding recently, mostly because we haven’t been herding! First, Carolyn was in Australia (that jerk!) and then we were doing Panzer’s six week crash course in obedience (i.e. please don’t eat the teacher) and then when I was ready to go back, Shelby started acting funny, and I was convinced she was going into heat (again). She didn’t. And she’s still acting funny. Whatever could it be?
I think Shelby is sheep deprived. Yep, I definitely do. So we’re headed back to herding on Saturday and let the season begin!
In the meantime, I decided I wanted to try and begin to teach her my all-time favorite herding behavior ever: “walk up”. I have gazed enviously after Carolyn’s border collies performing this maneuver for months now, and I wanted to try my hand.
For those of you who may not know, the behavior “walk up” is a lot like what it sounds. Imagine there’s a herd of sheep in front of you, the dog is behind the sheep. You are somewhere else. The dog is in a lie down, and you want to move the sheep forward but only a little, so you tell the dog “walk up”. The dog does just that, walks up. The dog, by invading the flock’s flight zone, pushes the sheep forward, but only just a little (handy for tight corners, narrow spaces or getting them into a pen). When the sheep are where you want them to be, you cue the dog to lie down again. Then walk up a little more, then down, so on and so forth.
So what’s the big deal? Well, that’s the exciting part. The big deal is that “walk up” takes the most impressive self-control known to man or beast. Imagine your all-time favorite celebrity (and I mean favorite in the inappropriate sense) is standing right in front of you, beckoning you forward, saying to you, “I want you to come to me now.” Are you picturing it? Blushing? Excited? Heart beating faster? Now, imagine saying, “I’m going to take two steps and then I’m going to stop.” Mmhmm. It’s you in a Ferrari 458 on the Autobahn saying, “You know, I think I’m going to keep it at a reasonable 45 mph.” Not going to happen right? Well, that’s what “walk up” is asking our dogs to do. And the amazing thing is that they do it.
Granted, Shelby isn’t there yet, not even close. We are just now starting to work on it (you’ll note if you watch the video below that I use “stand” instead of “lie down”, German shepherds, as an upright dog, are supposed to perform a stand stay over a lie down, which may actually be harder and take more control). I honestly don’t even know if Shelby will ever need to use this behavior in her herding career (remember tending requires a different skill set than driving), but I think it’s a great skill to teach her for several reasons.
The first reason I’m teaching Shelby to “walk up” is because it does require a lot of self-control which is something I think she would benefit from. Shelby isn’t really impulsive (she’s not a counter surfer or a trash picker or a biter of hands for treats or toys), but I think learning to control her emotions (including the excitement she gets from her drive) would help her with her reactivity, maybe. I don’t know, that’s really just a theory, but I know it certainly couldn’t hurt.
The second reason I’m teaching Shelby to “walk up” is because it’s far past time that she learned not to yank my arm off at 6:30 in the morning when we are taking a nice walk, and she sees a bunny. As you may recall, Shelby and I partake in bunny chasing practice, which is going swimmingly well, except that when we are no longer conducting bunny chasing practice, Shelby still thinks we are. There are two elements to “walk up”, the walking up part and the stopping part. They are actually two separate behaviors in a behavior sequence, both of which are heavily reinforced. Sometimes you walk up, which has been separately taught and heavily reinforced and sometimes you stand. The standing part is actually the more important of the two in our bunny chasing scenario. If I can get “walk up” reliable enough for the heavy distraction of bunny chasing practice, then when we’re walking, and she sees a bunny the scenario should look something like this:
Grumpy me strolling along with Shelby at 6 something in the morning -> Shelby sees a bunny (I most likely do not) -> Shelby lies down (her already trained cue that she has spotted a bunny and would like to chase it) -> I cue “walk up” so Shelby approaches the bunny slowly -> The bunny moves forward (perhaps slowly, perhaps quickly as bunnies often do) -> I cue Shelby to stand (i.e. stop) -> The bunny runs away -> I do not have a dislocated shoulder. Sometimes we’ll throw in a “go get the bunny” after Shelby stands to reward her standing behavior.
Seems like a picture perfect scenario, in my mind that is. We’re a long way away from that though, but the only way to get there is to take the first step right?