Bella and I Learning to Herd

Dan and Bella

I have been looking for a way to give Bella some extra enrichment to satisfy her instincts. When training a dog, we walk a fine line between suppressing their instincts and channelling them.

After seeing Kirsten do it with her dog, Rev, I was inspired to try out herding lessons. I respect Kirsten and know she would not put her dogs in a situation that was not purely positive. This is how I came to learn about Hooked on Hounds.

School holidays were the perfect chance to book Bella in and it was something fun for us to look forward to. I asked my good friend Corina to come along and take some photos. I am so glad I did because not only was it great to have a friend along, she took some amazing shots which I now can look back on and see the progress as we do more lessons.

As anyone who knows me will be aware, my mobility is still not as good as it was, but Dan was very patient with Bella and me. Today was about seeing if Bella would enjoy learning to herd and if she had the potential. We started off trying to encourage her drive to chase. In some ways, this felt wrong as I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to get her to control her impulses. But the long game here is to gain that control again under high arousal.

It took Bella a little while to catch on to what she was meant to do. Chase the sheep? But I get into trouble for chasing things. I could see her conflict and she kept coming back to heal. She seemed more confident when one sheep broke away from the rest rather than chasing the four of them. I was not much help here for her because she didn’t know what to do and neither did I. But we were learning together.

After Dan had a chance to gauge Bella’s natural drive, it was time for a rest for her and me to have a go leading Bonnie, who is a gorgeous, fully trained 3-year-old kelpie. It was fortunate that Bonnie knows what she is meant to do because I seriously have no natural ability for this. But it was fun, and you don’t need to be perfect as something to have fun. Life is about being open to learning new things.

Dan sent Bonnie back to his ute to wait and this time he got Moe to give Bella a hand. The idea was having an experienced dog-like Moe would hopefully show Bella what to do. She did get a little more involved and it was so satisfying to see her alongside another dog without having any sign of reactivity. I was confident that Dan had good control of his dog and so was relaxed which probably allowed Bella to relax. Also, Moe didn’t engage or interact with Bella at all, he just came in and did the job he was trained to do. I can’t thank Kirsten enough for her help with Bella’s dog reactivity.

Dan was very patient with me and with Bella which made us both feel very safe and unjudged. I will be taking Bella back for more lessons and hopefully, we can progress. But if not then we have had some fun together along the way.

Dan from Hooked on Hounds going through some herding theory with me

Dan was always careful to start each break for Bella after a positive interaction to ensure her last memory was positive. Thanks, Dan and Nat, for a fun, rewarding experience with my Bella. Thank you to Corina for coming with me and taking these beautiful photos.

Bella finishing the session on a positive note

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