One thing that I think really helps a lot with training Hannah is to have a purpose to what we are doing. I get bored doing the novice-novice pattern over and over, and so does she (maybe she’s getting that from me, or perhaps vise versa). I’m also sick to death of wearing. Hannah seems to know when we have a purpose to what we are doing, that is when it’s for a reason instead of just for practice. She just loves doing farm chores and it shows. She works better, listens better and is just more keen and enthusiastic all round.
At the end of this week, the owner of the farm wanted to mow down a large patch of thistles in the pasture holding the working flock. Happy to help out, Hannah and I moved the sheep into the large cattle field and then assisted with gates as she brought the tractor in and out. By the time she was done, the sheep had moved to the far side of the field.
As I took Hannah through the gate to the cattle field, she was clearly focused on the sheep. So I sent her to pick them up. The moment I sent her, I kicked myself. Sure she could see the sheep, but they were close to an open outrun away. She’s never done such a large outrun – what was I thinking sending her from this distance? My trainer always stands at the gate to send for the flock, so I just did it out of habit. But her dogs are much more experienced! Too late, I figured, so let’s just see what happens.
I had nothing to worry about. Hannah put in a HUGE outrun, easily covering the entire field and still coming up perfectly to balance above them. On a whim, I blew my whistle (I’ve started her on whistles) and then hollered – not knowing if she could even hear me – LIE DOWN! To my amazement and delight, she did. She then took my walk up and lifted the sheep beautifully. I only flanked her a couple of times to keep them on line, and she brought the whole flock up straight down the field. We brought them through the gates and back into their own pasture, and were done for the day.
Now why will she take a lie down and flanks at an open distance, but not from a novice-novice distance? I think it’s because she knew were doing something with purpose. She was bringing the sheep down the field in a straight line to the gate to get them home. She was not – as we do when practicing for trials – bringing them through some randomly set pylons that simulate a gate. Sure she should listen either way, but she’s a young dog and a little hard headed at times. Doing things with a purpose may very well be the way to get her to listen better. It certainly worked this time!
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a dog look so proud of herself. Even the day of our first trial when we had a stellar second run. We were both bursting with pride then, but we had just done something well that we should be able to do well. Fetching the flock from an open outrun distance away was a bigger challenge for her, and she clearly knew it and was pleased as punch with herself.
The icing on the cake was that I had invited a friend out to watch me train (a cute guy I have a secret crush on no less!) and Hannah couldn’t have picked a better day to be such a star. Watching her put in that huge outrun, and subsequently bring the flock of bobbing and weaving sheep down the field was hypnotic and breathtaking. I think he was duly impressed. I know I sure was.