This morning I took the dogs to the farm for the first time in I think close to two weeks. Well, Hannah and I had been there for a couple of lessons right before the trial but I left Mira and Ross at home. Hannah had not trained in over a week (the total of 6 minutes we spent on the field at the trial really doesn’t count), and Mira had not trained in two weeks. So today’s training was a bit wild and wooly -literally!
First, Hannah and I had to separate sheep out to work with. This used to be not much of a problem, but now it is much more challenging as the sheep are being kept in a different paddock. A very small paddock with tons of pressure, a big hill, a nook they can hide in, quite a few trees and a big pile of logs and old farming equipment including several large spiral blades of some sort. In other words, tons of places for the sheep to go that the dog has trouble following, and must do so very gingerly. When we did finally manage to separate off some sheep, we kept losing them back to the main flock – only a few feet away – before I could get the gate open and push them out of the paddock. So by the time we got them over to where we were going to train, both Hannah and I had had quite a workout!
I figured I’d give her a break (it was hot) and let Mira work for a while before training with Hannah. That might have been a bit of a mistake. It was good in that the sheep were very tired by the time I brought Hannah back out, which is what I wanted: calm, slow sheep to practice driving with. But they were pretty fast and flighty with Mira!
At first I thought she’d taken a step back and forgotten some of the things we’d learned as it had been two weeks since we last worked. But after much chasing (Mira chasing the sheep, me chasing Mira) it dawned on me what the problem was. The field we were in has a lot of pressure back to the barn and it was our first time working together in it. I forgot about the pressure lines and had been acting as if they weren’t there. That meant I was sending Mira into the sheep up the pressure line. In other words, they wanted to come towards us anyway, so when I sent her she’d go straight at them instead of around them. She is very green and doesn’t get that I will stop them (as long as she doesn’t chase), so was worried the sheep would blast down the field.
I had also noticed that she was not keeping me in the picture. For example, when we finally did get going, she didn’t hold the sheep to me or try and balance. She just pushed them up the pressure line like she was driving (well, I guess she was driving) as I walked along side. I’ve heard some dogs are natural gathers, and others are natural drivers. Perhaps Mira’s a drivin’ dog. We’ll see… Anyway, I did realize that she wasn’t keeping me in the picture and attributed that to her feeling I was not in control. Which was true as I had made so many mistakes to that point, and even hollered at her when she was right. Stupid handler!
Once I realized my mistakes, I moved the sheep farther down the field and around the other side. That way she wanted to go around and gather, and then she brought them back to me nicely. I also kept things under control (including myself) and she immediately started to wear nicely, hold the sheep to me, stay back off them, and take lie downs. It’s really amazing to see the difference when you get things set up properly. Of course this shouldn’t make a difference in a trained dog, but we’ve only just started and she doesn’t even have any commands yet (other than lie down and shhhhhh). So pressure, body language and setting are all very important right now.
Once things were going well at last, I did some wearing then told her “That’ll do” and ended the session. You’re only supposed to train a young dog for 10-20 minutes and I’m sure we’d been out there for an hour. I forget when I get focused, but she didn’t seem to want to quit either. Mind you, the second I said ‘that’ll do’ and walked away from the sheep, she turned on a dime and came with me without a single glance back. Funny how different she is from Hannah. She’s so much calmer that way, even though she’s more intense in other ways. Hannah leaves stock as if there’s an elastic band attached between her and them, always pulling her back.
Hannah and I did a bunch of square driving. I think we are finally getting it. She still wants to go to their heads and drive in a circle instead of a square, but she’s now taking inside flanks very well. I gave her a dose of Sepia, a homeopathic remedy that seems to really clear her mind, a few days before the trial. I noticed at the trial that she took every single flank I gave her (except for a few seconds at the pen) and she was doing the same today. She was not doing that during our last training session, so I wonder if the Sepia helped. I do think that a lot of this ‘eye’ stickiness and zoning out is the dog’s mind being foggy (when people talk about a dog being sticky, they explain it that the dog is working in it’s head, without moving it’s body). So clear the mind and some of the stickiness should go away. That seems to work with Hannah so far!
After training I took the dogs for a nice hike in the big pasture field. It adjoins another field where the main flock is being held. For some reason, Ross decided he wanted to chase the sheep. He’s never actually paid any real attention to them before. So after dealing with wild sheep, wild Mira and then wild Hannah, I had to chase down wild Ross. What a morning! The dogs slept well all day while I worked, however, so I can’t complain.