I went herding today for the first time in about a month. We had to stop before Christmas because the snow got too deep, and then I was too busy for the past two weeks to go, despite the surprise January thaw. Usually I take a break this time of year, but since the ground was bare, and I don’t know when I’ll next get a chance to train (they are predicting snow later this week) I thought I’d take the dogs out and have some fun.
And a fun day it was! First I helped my instructor set up a round pen to start a new dog with. She had a new student coming with a young Kelpie she got from rescue. Since we were setting up the round pen, we figured we’d give the puppies a bit of a lesson on balancing. I also asked if I could give Mira another try as it has been at least 3 months since she had last been out with the sheep and I wanted to see if any of her new found calmness and confidence would translate to an interest in working.
Hannah and I did some outruns and then some wearing. It started to snow heavily and the new student showed up part way through my lesson, so my instructor had to leave the field and let us finish working on our own. I have to admit that I like having the chance to work unsupervised from time to time. I really like my instructor and value her guidance immensely, but at times I can be a little intimidated to try something, so to have a few minutes on my own can be fun.
Hannah and I wore around the field quite nicely until we went back to the barn. Hannah hates giving up pressure and she clearly does not fully trust me to stay in control of the sheep when they want to run past me. It’s fascinating to watch Hannah work when my instructor steps in, compared to how she is with me. With my instructor, Hannah is calm, big, steady, accurate and obedient. With me she is tight, fast and tries to take liberties. My instructor says it is because I am too much her buddy and that she doesn’t see me as the boss.
I think there’s a lot of truth in that, but I think there is also the fact that I am still very much a novice and Hannah knows I make mistakes, so she feels she needs be closer to compensate. I don’t always have the confidence that I’m right, so I don’t always give her instructions with enough authority. That makes her nervous so she starts to take charge. Or tries to anyway. As I am getting better, she is doing this much less often. In general we are working very well together and I am really having fun with herding at long last.
Because the other student showed up early, we didn’t have time to do any driving. That was fine as the field was icy and I didn’t want to do much in case one of us slipped and hurt ourselves. Wearing was the perfect thing to do on a day like today. It was really beautiful when the snow was falling thickly and I was happy to be out there despite how incredibly cold it was (at least -13 with the windchill, and it was indeed windy!)
Next I watched while she started training the Kelpie. I have never seen a Kepie work so found it quite interesting. He was a very nice dog with a lovely temperament and lots of natural ability. He was happy to go both ways around the sheep and by the end of the session was naturally balancing to 12 o’clock. This student plans to come regularly & I will enjoy watching her dog progress. It’s always fun to have others to train with!
After that we took out the puppies. My instructor has a puppy Finn’s age and he is starting to be a really nice little dog. He was quite feisty and saucy as a puppy, but has mellowed out and is very obedient and sweet now – not at all what I had expected! He’s grown up around the sheep although had never worked them in a round pen before. He showed tons of interest and circled the sheep both ways with tail tucked, good eye, and serious focus.
Finn was next. The last time we were out he had shown lots of interest in the sheep out in the field and had happily chased them around. It was hard to tell if he was herding or chasing but at that age, any interest is good. Today he also showed interest and pulled me right out to the pen. Once there, however, he started to alarm bark with his hackles up. He bounced stiff legged around the pen and didn’t really want to go around them. He mostly just wanted to go at them. I got into the pen (it is quite small, about 20-25 feet in diameter) and moved the sheep around to see if he would balance, circle or go to their heads. However all he did was whine and try to climb over the fencing to get to me.
We decided to try something different so brought him out to the big flock again. There he was more keen – he needs the sheep to move to be really interested. He was happy to chase the flock away, but didn’t try and go around them. His tail was up and he was doing a lot of barking, so it seemed more like chase than herding. She’s going to leave the pen set up, so we will continue to give him short lessons (5-10 minutes) every couple of weeks weather permitting. Hopefully his tail and hackles will soon come down and his barking will subside as he starts to figure out what he’s supposed to be doing. Finn is well working bred so I’m sure he’ll get the gist of things soon enough.
Finally I brought Mira out. She is also well bred but for some reason was quite afraid of sheep on previous attempts. She wouldn’t go near them and just followed me around, staying about 10 feet behind me and sniffing the ground, not looking at the sheep.
Today I saw quite a change, although still not the work interest I would like to see. But at least she was not afraid of the sheep. In the round pen she had little interest in them. She did run around the pen, both ways. But when I got in the pen to see if she’d head, she just started sniffing around, eating sheep cookies and visiting people. My instructor said she was showing no eye and no interest. We then took her out to the big flock. Well there was a surprise! Mira took off after the whole flock and circled around them several times. She brought them up and down the field, around and around. I was astounded that she was so bold. Her tail was mid-level and it was hard to tell if she was just chasing (most likely) or if she actually had any kind of light on. I will give her another chance in a few weeks and see if she actually learned anything.