I test the pups one at a time using the PAT test, or some variant. I'm working on tailoring the PAT test, because it really doesn't show the subtlety that is there that makes a big difference to me ( where is the tail on the elevation test? HOW does the puppy come to you on the recall test? Is there eye contact on the reclining test, and does the pup try to make up with you afterward or not?)
After I run through the whole litter, I know more about each pup. I'll note on the PAT tests if I think a particular pup needs back up when herding, or something specific. That's why I do the PAT tests first - lowers the risk of trauma to a sensitive pup, and I can see if they need more distance to start from the flock, or quieter flock, or more animals in the flock, or less, or need the handler to talk to them, etc.
I have a pen, about 25" x 15" (might be bigger), with all slightly rounded corners. It also has an ajoining pen that is a little tiny dog run, maybe 5" x 5" square.
Generally, I'll start with 3 DRAKES for the average pup - drakes don't vocalize much, are less aggressive to weak or unsure dogs, and just don't get as flustered as the females do. I start with a medium bodied duck - something that is slow enough for the pups to get around.
I have both females, more drakes, and chickens handy if I need them.
I usually, depending on what I expect, also have a large plastic garden rake handy for blocking and directing the pups. At their age, it just makes a nice wall in their path, which they go around, and I can angle it to let them see the ducks up against the fence, making a kind of chute so they move them along the fence, rather than flank back and forth controlling them on the fence without moving them. Also helps them get between the fence and the ducks sucessfully, for those pups wanting to do so.
I move the ducks to the far end of the pen, while the handler brings in the pup to be tested. They set the pup down, give it a minute to realize this is where they'd been before for PAT testing, and start to investigate. I slowly move the ducks into the pups range (which will vary according to the pup - a confident pup with a large investigation range may already be heading for them, or a confident pup can handle me bringing them right up to them, a worried pup needs a medium distance because they will freak out if the ducks come too close initially, but they won't go out and investigate the far end of the pen either themselves.)
Once the pup sees them I stop moving the ducks, and wait and see what the pup does. Does it look at them, get drawn to them? Does it wait and look? Does it come right up and start sniffing? Pawing? Does it start moving them right away?
I'm also paying a lot of attention to the stock. They'll tell you what they think of the dog. Are the ducks moving for the pup? How far does the pup have to be away from then for them to react to the pup? Do they bolt from the pup, or just calmly start moving away? Do they stay grouped on their own, or does it become every duck for himself?
Once the pup starts advancing on the ducks, I'll help him guide them down the fenceline until they start to come off the fence, or the pup indicates it would like to take them off the fence, whereupon I step back and let the pup go around the ducks, if it will. Does the pup go around the ducks to keep them together, or does it run through them, or does it just stop dead in its tracks lacking either confidence to work alone, or desire to group them.
Will the pup circle the ducks? Is the pup changing directions? If so, how much help does it need to change directions in reaction to me blocking or the stock changing direction, and how far away from the stock does it do this?
This gives you a read on reactions to you if you block, naturalness of reaction to the stock changing direction - the farther out the dog is when it changes direction in response to the stock the earlier it is reading the situation, if the dog is mentally capable of changing directions (yes, there are some that are complete right hand or left hand dogs that really can't change direction this first exposure), and how agile is the dog - is it physically capable of changing directions? It can also give you a read on intensity of drive combined with independence - does the pup just go up and over the rake, or under the rake to get to the ducks? If so, you've got a quick thinking very intense hard head on your hands (Brick, ahem).
Let the pup get them over to the fence, and down into a corner, where you can block him. Pick up a duck, and gently chuck it out into the center of the pen. Does the pup notice? Does the flapping and airborne duck worry the pup? Excite it? Does the pup attempt to bring it back, or does the pup get it to the fence and hold it there, needing help to get it back? When you get it back, allow another duck to slip out of the flock behind your legs and down the fenceline. Does the pup notice that one? Bring it back? Does the pup get all grippy? If so, where is it gripping? Head, neck? Wing? Tail? Legs? Wings and tails are the most common, although if you have a definite header or heeler, those will show up on neck/head and leg grips. I've only had one pup ever go for a leg grip. On a duck - well, he had a challenge! When the pup gets the duck turned towards you and the rest of the flock, does it let go of the duck, either physically or mentally? Or does it ride it right back into the flock? If they ride it back into the flock you'll have to work on biddability and personal space respect for you, and it can also be an indication of strong desire to control and be intense.
At this point, with the average pup, you should have seen what you need to see. When the pup brings the duck back, or is interested in the ducks, pick them up, praise them, give them a little treat, and go for the next one! Stop them when they are interested, not when they are distracted.
For the shy pups, I might wait to last, and put them with a moderately interested one ( a intense pup willrun a scared pup over with the ducks - bad bad bad), until it gains some confidence,then test it. For a disinterested pup, I might go grab a chicken or two, and gently throw them into the center of the ring - their additional flappiness and jerkiness can sometimes get that prey drive kicked in, once the pup is interested I get the ducks back out,and they kick into herding. Or I might use way more ducks - say, 7 instead of 3. This can be a breed difference too - some breeds just don't register 3 being any problem to bother with, 12 is something to herd. GSDs for example, can be like this.
In some cases, I'll let the whole litter out to start with , then when they all are kinda interested, i'll put them up and test individually. Or I'll end the test by putting them all out there to work the ducks. This is especially the case with younger pups, or pups that aren't showing me what I need to see by themselves. Prettyfunny to see 3 ducks surrounded by puppies, all standing so they can't get away.
Hope this helps.
Claire Apple CPDT and the Golem Kennels Crew
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