Nell’s decided it’s time she had some status in the pack
When Nell arrived, last July, she was pretty mixed up, and very nervous of us. She was anxious about life in general, spending much of her spare time pacing in tight anti-clockwise circles, but dashing to the back of her bedroom whenever anything happened in the yard, or to her, that would potentially break the secure monotony.
By August, we could see a big improvement in Nell’s confidence and since then there have been incremental improvements in her behaviour and state of mind. We’re convinced that if training hadn’t been on hold for the last couple of months the improvement would have been greater.
Despite her anxiety, Nell has responded well to training and is an effective sheepdog. We often find that an anxious dog improves in leaps and bounds once it begins to work well. By giving a dog the opportunity to be praised and approved of, or perhaps putting it into a situation where, for once, the dog feels it has some influence over what happens to it, it seems to feel happier in other situations too.
However, after months, if not years, of effectively reinforcing the Away flank with her constant anti-clockwise pacing, the muscles on that side must be considerably stronger than those on her Come By, and Nell is seriously one-sided. On the occasions when she’s persuaded to flank Come By, Nell looks awkward and uncoordinated, and it obviously feels unnatural to her.
I’ve never known a dog so adept at finding an excuse for running in a preferred direction. Nell loves to run with everyone else when we’re out for walks, or playing in the field, but however ingenious I think I’ve been – quickly dodging in one direction or another to throw her and the other dogs into a Come By gallop – Nell nearly always contrives it so she’s running Away.
Nell came into season during January. She took the temporary restriction to her lifestyle extremely well, with very little carping and complaining, but since she “came back” as it were, she’s a changed dog. I have no idea if the two events are connected, but it’s as if she feels she has added status, and after 7 months on the fringes of the pack Nell is definitely on her way UP.
Nell’s become a fixture in the Audrey/Meg/Carew sub-pack. Jan has her sights on that group too. Nell’s quite determined that if Jan joins at all, it’ll be below her, but her real aim is to push Meg away from Carew’s side and be Carew’s official sidekick. Lord knows why. Carew doesn’t treat her sidekicks terribly well, but of course, Nell may not be intending to stop there for long.
Nell’s behaviour with us is different too. Instead of actively avoiding attention, and only grudgingly accepting it when she feels she can’t escape, she’s seeking it out. When I sit down in the field or the yard, Nell’s among the first dogs to bustle up and squeeze herself against my side or my legs, and has even been known to climb (it’s unfamiliar and cumbersome work for her, but she does it) onto my lap (though I won’t pretend she looks at ease).
She’ll even jump up to stop me in my tracks if I haven’t spoken to her for a while, and stands patiently when I bend down to give her a very firm, all-enveloping hug. Only a few weeks ago I would never have dreamed that Nell would allow herself to be so restricted. One on occasion I complained that she wasn’t wagging her tail, and wagged it for her. Next day, when she came for her hug, Nell wagged the caudal appendage for herself.
Of course, jumping up and climbing onto laps can be interpreted as resource guarding and dominance actions, and I’m not denying any of it. In a few more weeks Nell might overstep the mark, in which case we’ll need to correct her to be fair on everyone else, but for now her new confidence, in us and in herself, and her new interest in life are a joy.
Read more about our nervous sheepdog Nell.