I have been starting back into training, and am fortunate to have an opportunity to care for the sheep at the farm I train at for 10 days straight. This will give me a chance to work Hannah daily in preparation for our first trial, which is in just over three weeks (yikes!).
I started tonight; first I hiked my three dogs around the large hay field to let Hannah shake our her beans and give the other two a chance to stretch their legs prior to sitting in crates while I worked Hannah. Then I checked on the main flock, which is currently lambing. There are 14 lambs so far, with more on the way. I don’t bring a dog near this group of sheep as the ewes will charge them and that’s just not good for a young dog. So I just walked around the field and made sure everyone was fine.
Next I took Hannah into the small pasture where the working sheep are being kept. There are 9 Scottish Blackface Sheep that have been put aside for me to train with. Most are rams, which are very heavy (i.e. slow and hard to move). Then there are several yearling lambs that aren’t pregnant. They are much lighter (i.e. fast and easily scattered). I let them out into a larger field and then separated a few of them so I had a group of 5 to work. I ended up with 3 pokey rams and 2 flighty lambs, so an interesting mix to work. Hannah had to really push them around the field, which she is not used to having to do. This may not be good preparation for the trial as the sheep there are Katahdins, which I understand are very light.
Penning was interesting because the rams happily went right in and the ewes split off. One went off on her own and Hannah was very bothered by this. It took a fair amount of effort on my part to get her to ignore that one. My trainer warned me about one who wouldn’t pen and told me to just leave her out, pen the rest, then let her in with the main flock to get rid of her. I was going to do that, but thought I’d see if I could get her to pen. Working a single is very tricky, and I really have no idea what I’m doing, but Hannah and I managed to get her into the pen without losing the rest of the group. Mostly that is because the rams were so busy munching away on the grass in the pen that they could care less about where Hannah was – she had to walk almost right into their faces to get them to move – so I was able to flank her around the pen to get that last lamb in. I have no idea what others would have thought of how we did, but I was very proud of our work.
I was surprised by how calm I was without my instructor around. I thought I would be nervous working without her to back me up – I have never trained without her to clean up any mess I make. But we did just fine. Again in part that is because I had very heavy sheep to work, but also I have a very talented dog, and I’m getting the feel of this sport at long last. Or at least I think I am. I worked on driving (i.e. the dog is pushing the sheep away from me, instead of bringing them to me, which is what their natural instinct is) for the first time in months and that was tough as we’ve been practicing trial stuff and there’s no driving in novice novice. Hannah doesn’t like driving, and I had a hard time to get her to walk up on the sheep from behind. She kept trying to flank around to head them and bring them back to me. I had to give hare almost constant direction, which is probably bad. Again I really don’t know what I am doing, and I’m probably going to ruin my dog with no one around to tell me when I’m screwing up. But I also think this is good for both of us to work through things on our own, so we’ll see how it all turns out.