Today it was warm enough to make the ice and snow soft enough to train. So I found myself out on the herding field for the first time in three weeks. Hannah was full of beans, and just delighted to be there. I was too – after a prolonged cold snap, above freezing temperatures, blue sky and sun were more than a welcome change!
The day started out well enough. One of our problems is that Hannah sometimes gets very reved up, blows me off, and starts zooming and splitting the sheep. This is entirely my handling because she NEVER does this when my trainer works her. Recognizing that she was full of beans, we went straight to some wearing and working on her sides. Hannah is very good when I am close, and doing close work to start I think was a very smart way to shake out a few beans while keeping everything calm and steady.
Next we did a Novice-Novice course. My trainer decided she was going to judge me and tell me how many points I would get this had been a competition. I sent Hannah away, which was away from pressure – this helps her go to 12 o’clock as she comes up short on the pressure side. She put in an incredible outrun (this dog has amazing outruns when the sheep are set), and came in perfectly at the top. I gave her a lie down, which she ignored, but as she was walking calmly up to the sheep, I let it slide.
Knowing when to let the lie down slide is something I have a really hard time with. Based on my dog-sport training, I should NEVER let it slide. Ever. But in herding, you have to go with the flow, and if the moment is lost, you have to move on. My instructor has made it clear that you need to get the lie down on the first try, and if you don’t, well that’s your fault and move on. I catch heck when I keep trying to get my dog to lie down whilst the sheep are taking off willy nilly. So more often than not these days I am letting the lie down slide. With predictable results (more on that in a minute).
Back to our run. It went very, very well. Our fetch was almost perfectly straight, the turn around the post a lovely, calm circle. The wear to the fetch gates under control, and so on. It was really a beautiful run. Except that I turned the wrong way around the post and lost all my points. My trainer made it very clear how important it is to remember which way to turn around the post.
There is so much to think about when herding, that I find it impossible to keep even very simple things straight, like which way is counter-clockwise. I am still very mechanical in my herding and have a long way to go before it will feel natural. A bit rattled after the let down of the first run, I focused hard on which way I needed to turn as I sent my dog a second time. This time it was come-bye, which is on pressure and she predictably came up short. I tried to get her to go further around, but she ignored me. Apparently she was right – coming in right on pressure – and I was wrong. But what’s new.
I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but things went south in a hurry. First I tried to get a lie-down, which she ignored and I let slide. The sheep came thundering down the field, and I struggled to get control of my dog. She finally lay down, but just as I was about to release her, two people and another dog walked onto the field and started calling to us. That has never happened before so I was momentarily distracted. By then my dog was off contact. When I released her, she was so wound up that she galloped after the sheep taking them off course, running right up their butts and splitting them. Sheep went everywhere and there I was chasing after my dog to get her to listen. When I finally got everything under control, my dog wouldn’t come off the sheep. I had to go catch her and leash her to walk off the field.
The two people who had walked onto the field were visiting open handlers, and their first impression of me and my dog was at our worst. I was rather embarassed but what can you do? I made a few jokes to make it clear that the mess was 100% my fault and had nothing to do with my dog.
The rest of the lesson was pretty much a bust. Hannah wouldn’t listen to me after that; she lost her lie down and forgot her flanks. I forgot my flanks and couldn’t remember which way to turn around the post to save my life. We tried a few more outruns but it was just a mess. My trainer finally took over and worked her for a while to get her to refocus. I then got a lecture on everything I am doing wrong, and how by now I should be much better than I am. I was also warned I am going to have to ‘get tough on my dog’ because she clearly doesn’t respect me.
I have developed a pretty thick skin over the past couple of years of training in this sport. I really respect my trainer and admire her accomplishments. I appreciate her critiques and know they are given in the spirit of being constructive and with a desire to see us succeed. But there are some days when I’m more sensitive than others. Today was one of those days, and I left feeling frustrated and defeated. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last. My entire first year of training with Hannah was like this, and it was only because I had been wanting to herd for nearly 20 years that I didn’t quit.The last few months things have been going really well, but I think we’ve reached another plateau. Hopefully next week will be better.