I took the dogs out to the farm this morning to work the sheep.  It was a beautiful morning, sunny but cool, perfect for training.  I always start every training session with a good hike around the biggest field to let the dogs potty & shake out their beans.  This also gives Ross a nice leg stretch because he doesn’t get to work at all while we’re out there.  He just sits in his crate the whole time, but enjoys the hike at the beginning and end of training time.

I also always start with Hannah, mainly because I need her to get sheep for Mira.  Mira is not yet up to the task of gathering and shedding sheep, or even of gathering the whole flock and bringing it through the gate so I can separate off a few myself.  So Hannah works first.  

Today we went out into the field where the sheep are currently being pastured and I sent her to pick up the flock.  I was undecided which way to send her, and invariably picked the wrong way (wrong as in she ended up being flat and tight).  But really either way would have been the wrong way as the sheep wanted to come into the barnyard and so would have rushed her from either side.  Tomorrow I will walk around to the back of the field and have her bring them to me there.  Of course that may be problematic because she will have to push 70 sheep away from pressure.  Oh well…

Despite my error in judgement, Hannah brought me the flock.  She’s really getting good at rounding them up and getting them moving, and seems to really enjoy it.  We split the flock in two and drove one half across the field.  I then gave her a “look back!” and then sent her to bring the rest of the flock.  We did that several times.  Then a small group broke off near the gate and I took that opportunity to collect them and push them out of that field and into another so we could just work with them.  

Having done some shedding and driving with the whole flock, I decided it was time to do some driving with the small group.  Hannah did quite well.  In fact, I was amazed by how freely she moved on the sheep today.  She took my flanks without hesitation and was driving quite nicely at first.  I kept it extremely quiet and calm and everything went quite well.  At least for the first little while.  I’m not sure if the improvement was because we had been working big groups prior to this, or if it is because I’m getting better at working ‘with’ her instead of getting in her way, thus allowing her to be more relaxed and thus responsive to my requests.

Unfortunately two of the sheep (we had 6) kept splitting off.  Trying to keep the group together was tricky, and as I was in teaching mode I really wanted to have ‘perfect’ sheep to work with.  So we shed those two (a ewe and her lamb) off and popped them into the holding corral.  Unfortunately the ewe we got rid of was the leader, and without her, the remaining four were pretty flighty.  Oh well, we still did some decent driving.  Also, the light, spooky group was very good for practicing penning.  We have two consistent downfalls at trials.  The first is that it takes us half a run to adjust to working really light sheep, and the second is the pen.  We’ve been used to sheep who like going into the pen, while at trials they tend not to be so cooperative!  Well the sheep today were more like trial sheep, so we had some fun working on the pen.

Next, we picked up the extra two sheep from the holding corral and put the whole group out to a big field that has been recently mowed.  There we did some fairly big outruns.  Hannah hasn’t done that in a while and she clearly enjoys it.  She has beautiful, big, deep outruns and loves lifting and fetching the sheep.  Unfortunately her first lift was horrible, bowing way off to the right and looking far more like a big banana in shape than a straight line!  I really need to get going on my whistles, and we probably shouldn’t have done such a big outrun after not having done any in so long.  As always, live and learn!

After that, I put Hannah (and the annoying ewe & lamb) away and brought out Mira.  I was a bit worried that Mira would be turned off sheep after having been run over last week, but she was back to her feisty little self.  I don’t think I mentioned that the night before the last time we trained, I gave Mira a dose of Lyssin.  The last time I did this she was also very weak on sheep the next day, so I think that may have had a lot to do with why the sheep gave her such a hard time.  They certainly didn’t today!  Mind you it was a light group, but they definitely moved from her.  And she was full of beans!  She’s become quite good, however, at collecting the sheep and bringing them to me without banging them or splitting and so on.  She was pushing them past me, however, during wearing and I had trouble figuring out how to get her to back off.  I worry about putting too much pressure on her, at the same time, if we want to start to progress (it’s time!), she needs to develop some discipline.

So I decided to push her a bit and start to back her off, make her develop some pace, and also learn to lie down.  Mira is an interesting dog to work in that she isn’t ‘natural’ like Hannah.  She didn’t balance until I taught her where I wanted her, she didn’t gather until I explained that to her either.  Interestingly, once she gets what I want, it’s there.  She now balances nicely and gathers nicely.  So she has the instinct and talent, I just have to point it out to her!  Weird, but that’s been the name of the game with this dog since day one.  I’m used to it!

One other thing that hasn’t come naturally with her is the lie down.  Today I fixed that.  I hate raising my voice, chasing my dog or touching them in anyway while training, except to pet them in praise.  But seeing as the hours and hours of “lie down” training she’s had off sheep was not translating to field, even after all this time, I felt I had to resort to compulsion (compulsion training means to compel or to force).  I’m sure there’s a better way, but today this is what I did: I used my body position to block her from the sheep, walked over, and pushed her into a down.  Then I blocked her again, walked backwards to the sheep, and released.  

It actually only took a few times of doing this for her to start lying down when I asked for it.  She does know what it means, I just had to make it clear that ‘lie down’ means the same thing around sheep as it does elsewhere.  So, while I’m not proud of my method, it was successful.

It was so successful, in fact, that I was able to wear back to the barn and have Mira lie down behind the sheep, with the sheep walking into pressure!   That’s tough to accomplish in a green dog, so I’m pleased that she did it.  Of course she and the sheep were pretty tired at that point, so it wasn’t that much of a struggle.  As I understand it, it’s best to only to ask for things (with a green dog) when they are about to happen anyway.  You only ask for a lie down on balance, and you don’t try and wear calmly 30 seconds after you come out on the field!  You let the dog tire itself out circling the sheep and doing little gathers, then start to do the more precise stuff when everyone’s a bit tired.  

We finished the morning with another good hike and a “swim” in the tub.  Mental note, when I have my own farm, I’m going to have to get a bigger tub…