I took the dogs to the farm this morning to do some training and let them run in the fields.  I have fields around my house, but they are open to the public and in this lovely fall weather, often are fairly busy.  My dogs are fine with people, and even other dogs (I still have to watch Ross), but unlike most people’s dogs who may trot along side their owners, when my guys are off leash, they cover every inch of the field – and then some – several times every couple of minutes.  This is especially true if they haven’t had a good run in a couple of days, which was the case today.  So I figured I’d let them be crazy maniacs out at the farm where they won’t freak out any passing joggers.

Now that the sheep are separated, the set-up at the farm is a bit different.  The rams are now in the small paddock where the pen is set up (hey…I should try penning with some of the ram lambs…) and the ewes are still in the cattle field with the cows.  The field we have been training in is between these two fields, so should have interesting pressure now that there are sheep on both sides.  I was going to put that to the test, but decided to train in yet another field, one Mira has never been in before.  I noticed last week when we trained in the little field that now holds the rams that she regressed quite a bit in terms of keeping me in the picture (and just sat on pressure), so wanted to push that again.  This field is much bigger, but the pressure is different and pulls in several directions.

True to form, Mira sat on pressure and I had a heck of a time getting her to stay on the far side of the sheep when moving in that direction.  When I started getting after her, she started just lying down and refusing to get up.  I could do a completely u-turn and nearly walk on top of her and she wouldn’t get up and swing around the sheep.  Grrrr…. I really don’t know how to fix this.  I have tried a number of things and am finding myself getting frustrated.  I ended up just getting her to circle the sheep over and over, and switch directions frequently.  That at least unstuck her and by the end of our session, she would turn both ways around the sheep while wearing.  Today was one of those days that I felt I was waging a battle against my dog, a battle I needed to win before we could quit.  I’m sure someone more knowledgable would have been able to fix this easily, but I really struggled and struggled with trying to figure out how to get her to move off pressure.  She did finally do it, and I immediately called it a day.

I have been watching training videos on u-tube a bit today and am trying to figure out just how quickly I should expect Mira to be progressing.  I think I may be expecting change too quickly and need to be more patient.  We have been working (i.e. not just chasing sheep) for about 2 months now, and she has a stop and one flank (away), a lie down, and can wear calmly when I am not trying break her right-handedness.  She is also doing nice little outruns, getting wider by the day, and peeling sheep easily off the fences or out of corners.  She no longer grips and dive-bombs the sheep, nor does she split them and lose some anymore.  And rest assured, those sheep do not get away, regardless of how things fall apart in our training.  So overall I think we’ve come a long, long way.  Especially considering I’ve only ever worked one other dog before, and Mira’s the first I’ve started.

Still, I feel we should be making better progress with this one-sided business.  I feel I can’t move on until we do.  But maybe that’s not the case…

I spoke with her breeder who said that I need to prevent her from being in the wrong place and forcing her to be where she needs to be.  That way it will become default.  I have been letting Mira be almost totally natural, but perhaps it is time for me to be a bit mechanical for a few days.  I am gathering that there is a fine balance between bringing out the natural talent, and instilling some mechanics to shape it to be what is needed.  The next couple of times we go out, I am going to insist she be where she needs to be and not give her any choice.  In the past, when I have shown Mira what I want her to do, she has immediately picked up the habbit and never looked back.  So perhaps that’s what I need to do now.  I guess we’ll soon find out!

Hannah, on the other hand, worked very, very nicely today.  She clearly gets driving now and has no problem pushing the sheep along in straight lines.  I am hoping to take a lesson this week with her to get some feedback on how we are doing.  I think we’ve come a long way, but I’m sure we still need some polish.

One problem I’m encountering with Hannah is that she is starting to anticipate things.  I need to mix up our routine!  The first thing we do is gather the flock, then split some off and drive them away.  I often regroup several times to practice the shed, then take our small group to another field to drive and do outruns etc.  This has never been a problem before, but now that we are training in a field adjacent to the main flock, Hannah seemed to expect to be sent for the flock each time we did some driving.  In fact she started eyeing the main flock more than the working group, which started to get annoying.  I had to tell her to ‘get out of that!’ several times, then point at our working group and inisit “THIS!”  She would always refocus and work properly, but after a few seconds start looking longingly at the flock in the next field.

This may have more to do with either boredom or stress than it does routine.  Hannah LOVES to do outruns, but she’s still not keen on driving.  At last not without a purpose.  Driving around the field, in circles or squares, is about as exciting for her as wearing those patterns.  I’m really not sure how to make that more exciting.  I tried doing what one trainer suggested: drive the sheep to a point out in the field, then call the dog back, then send it on an outruna as a reward.  I did this with Hannah (quite successfully) but after only a few times she started turning around and coming back to me as soon as she felt the sheep were far enough away to be sent for!

So still a lot to figure out, and a lot to fix.  The challenges of herding I think are never ending and I look forward to being on this learning curve for many, many years to come.