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How to train your dog with a dead lamb - a very sad story

I've just come back from walking Buddy, and I'd like five minutes of
your time to get something off my chest.  Buddy is a wonderful
companion, and although I am sure he would be as outraged as I am if he
understood the situation, all he knows is that he met a friendly,
energetic dog and a man who petted him a little on his morning walk. I
am left to fume alone - but feel free to join me.

We encountered a man with a four year old Springer Spaniel, who was as
full of the joys of life as that happy breed can be, and who danced
around both me and Buddy cheerfully. Buddy is ten now, so he watched
the other dog's dancing, and did a lot of wagging and sniffing. The man
and I chatted. As you do.

We were on National Trust land where there are sheep freely roaming,
and we started to talk about the need to keep your dog under control,
and to leave the sheep in peace. The man uttered the comment that has
left me so angry, he said, "She once ran out of the undergrowth with
half a dead lamb in her mouth, so of course I had to beat her with it,
and since then she's never looked at another sheep."

I was very taken aback. Not only did this man think that hitting his
dog was acceptable, he considered it a suitable thing to tell a
complete stranger. He also appeared to think that he had followed the
only course of action open to him to deter his dog from being
interested in sheep. I brought the conversation to a close, and Buddy
and I moved on.

I am often struck by the thought that some dogs are better at being
dogs than their owners are at being owners, and I fear this is the case
here. There are so many things wrong: why had the man allowed his dog
to run off out of sight in the undergrowth? If there were sheep - and
lambs - in the area why was she off lead at all? How much does part of
a dead lamb look or smell like a fully grown live sheep anyway (not
that I am crediting that kind of treatment)? Has the poor dog really
learned anything except, "Sometimes when I run back to my person he
does horrible things to me."?

(I haven't even touched on the subject of how disrespectful it was to
the poor dead lamb to have used it as a weapon.)

Dogs don't understand "beatings", and I certainly don't think a dog
would make any association between a decaying lamb and a live sheep.
There are dog trainers and behaviourists more qualified than me who
would be able to shed more light on the subject, but wasn't this dog
just following her gun dog instincts, and the man has completely
misunderstood or never learned the better ways to train a dog, and
punished her for doing what comes naturally. In letting her run free in
an area with sheep, he also put her life at risk; in the UK if a dog is
worrying livestock, it can be shot. Running towards sheep can
constitute worrying.

Why on earth didn't the man simply take the lamb body off his dog,
dispose of it appropriately, and then teach his dog a reliable recall
using reward based training methods?

I'm sorry to have shared such an upsetting experience with you, but
thank you for listening. Writing about it has lowered my blood pressure
a little, I only hope reading about it has not sent yours too high.

Take care,

Julie xx


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