After the first failed attempt, which I described earlier, I decided to take a different approach in trying to get Mira to turn onto the sheep. My instructor had left some netting set up in a large circle out on one of the small fields. The circle is around 40-50 feet in diameter, so an area big enough for the sheep to move around, but small enough to keep them close and contained. I put 5 sheep in the netting and brought Mira out to see what she would do. I should add that the dog stays on the outside of the netting, and the sheep stay inside. The idea is to get her to go around them and stop at 12 o’clock. Once she is able to do that, you take the sheep out of the netting and try things again in an open field.
Of course this didn’t happen the first time out. Mira ran and ran and ran, around and around and around. Every time she would get near the sheep, she’d dive in barking with her tail flying. Eventually she started to get tired and began to take my body pressure to flip back and forth around the group, instead of just running in one direction the whole time. But still, it wasn’t pretty!
Then the farmer who owns the sheep came by. I was a little worried that he might be upset with me for using his sheep to experiment with my crazy dog, but he was actually quite pleased and also offered to help. That was great because I would never have had the confidence to let the sheep out of the net and Mira on the directly. They are not my sheep and I didn’t want to find out the hard way that she would harm them or drive them through fences with her craziness. He rigged up a long line and we clipped it on her, then he took her out to the sheep, which were now in the open part of the field.
I have to say I was surprised that Mira went with him as she can be a little weary of strangers and he is a big, gruff man. But she was ok with him and he was very gentle with her. He took her out to the sheep and let her go. What followed sure wasn’t pretty, but it was fun and Mira had a blast. She chased after the sheep, occasionally barking, but that soon subsided. She also started going around them, trying to bring them back. Because she stays so close, they run at top speed and things get pretty wild and wooly. But I soon discovered that Mira will not harm the sheep, that she won’t drive them through fences, and that even when in a crazed chase, will call off nicely.
This gave me the confidence to keep working with her even on my own. I took her out every few days, starting with the sheep in the round pen. She quickly started to flank automatically and stay behind them, and even stop at 12 o’clock (more or less – she doesn’t have very good natural balance). Out of the pen things stayed ugly because we just didn’t have enough room to work properly and the sheep kept ending up in a corner (this is where you need another dog to help), but Mira showed me a wonderful tenacity that if she ever does start working well, should come in very handy. For example, one of the ram took off and she went after him to try and bring him back. When he wouldn’t turn, she nipped him. He jumped in the air clear over her and landed on top of her (without actually touching her). Now this would probably freak out a lot of young dogs, but Mira was not deterred. She actually came up from under him and nipped him again. He jumped, again landing on her, and she stayed under him and kept at trying to turn him around. Not wanting anyone to get hurt, I called her back, at which point she left him and returned to me. When I described the incident to my instructor (she got back last night) she seemed pleased and said that perhaps Mira will surprise us and start to work after all!
What is particularly interesting is that Hannah can barely move these same rams. Now of course sheep are smart and they will run from a dog who is obviously wild (i.e. Mira). But earlier that day one of the rams actually charged and rammed Hannah while she was trying to herd them. Hannah then backed off and wouldn’t go near him for the rest of the evening. I had to get behind the sheep with her to get him going to keep her confidence up. Hannah doesn’t have a lot of presence, and her confidence is still somewhat lacking. Mira, on the other hand, had no problem moving that ram! When he didn’t listen, she gave him a good chomp (without hurting him I should add). Hannah has never bitten the sheep – she walks right up to them then pokes them with her nose if they don’t move. That’s what she did when the ram charged and head butted her, much to her shock. She is going to have to learn when to use her teeth. Mira, on the other hand, is going to have to learn when not to!