I have been working Mira on sheep 2-3 times a week for the last few weeks. So she’s probably been out on them a good 15 times now at least. Unfortunately my trainer has not had time to help me with her, so I am on my own, and as you know I’m still quite a novice. This is what I have been doing:
First, I have been putting the sheep in a round pen made with electro-net (NOT turned on!!) so that I can keep the sheep together and get her used to moving around them. The circle is about 25feet across, so she can get quite close. I stay in the pen and move the sheep around and Mira stays on the outside. She is circling both ways, changing direction easily with my body language, and will stand at 12 o’clock (after a few minutes of running) when the sheep are settled. So in sum, she’s showing me balance, willingness to go both ways, keeping me in the picture and an ability to stay calm when I keep things quiet. Her tail is down when she works and she is finally developing some eye. She will, however try and dive at the sheep when she get close. The tail flies up and she barks at them.
Taking the sheep out of the pen is where I am running into problems. Mira is so far not showing any real sense of gather. I can get her to walk up quietly at my side, then stand (she will not lie down – she seems to not have a natural lie-down, at least not yet) while I move between her and the sheep. The sheep are very afraid of her so the closest I can get to send her is about 30-40 feet. I walk up most of the way between her and the sheep, then release her. She starts an outrun, but as she gets close to them, she zones in on one sheep and chases it. The others split and run away, and she chases down that one sheep. She will grip and hang on if she can catch it. If it outruns her, she gives up, ignores all the others and comes back to me, like she’s had a fun chase and that’s the end of the game.
I have tried working with 3 sheep, with 5-6 sheep, and with the whole working group (15) (the rest of the flock has lambs so are out of commission right now). We are having the same problem with every set-up. I have tried working her in a small square corral where the sheep can’t get away. That gets scary for the sheep as they slam into the fence trying to get away from her. She just picks one and goes after it obsessively. If she corners them she will stop and just hold them there. She is also very obedient and will call off easily, thank goodness!
I have also tried working her in the larger pasture fields but that’s just exhausting. Each time we have about 10 seconds of chasing, then the sheep out run her, go to the far end of the field and she comes back to me. We then have to walk all the way down the field, repeat, then back again. In 45 minutes we might get 5 minutes of work in. It’s very discouraging.
At this point I am out of ideas as to how to get her to actually go AROUND the sheep and bring them back to me. I cannot get between her and the sheep fast enough to push her off, although I try. I managed once and we were wearing for about 2 seconds, then she dove in and bit one, which caused us to lose them down the field again!
I know many dogs do this at the start and turn out just fine, but I’m at a loss as to where to go from here. I’m going to read as much as I can, but theory is only going to help me so much. Her breeder has offered to consult by phone, so that will be our next step. I know most people would have long given up by now, and I have to say that I am discouraged enough to not bother trying to take the sheep out of the pen anymore. But I keep telling myself that there is no reason this dog shouldn’t work. She’s quite well bred with her daddy being a former UK national champion and her mother is also a working dog. I suppose it’s possible that she’s one of those dogs who just didn’t inherit the herding gene, despite her lineage. I don’t know. I’m close to giving up and just doing agility with her, but I’m not quite ready to quit yet. Not until I feel I’ve exhausted every option. Call me stubborn!