Yesterday I took the dogs out to train. I was pleased to see that there are still plenty of sheep for us to work, at least for now. I think there were about 30 ewes left. There are also quite a few rams in another paddock, but I don’t like working them. The ram lambs are silly and pokey, they don’t flock properly and they don’t move off the dogs well. I don’t mind one or two in the mix, but to work exclusively rams will make my dogs have to really, really push. I already have enough trouble going to trials with light sheep when my dogs are used to these heavy ones. As it is, they work about 3-4 feet behind the sheep a lot of the time, and then we go elsewhere they need to stay back 20-30 feet! The last thing I need is for them to get used to pushing more than they already do.
The other thing is that the adult rams will charge – and ram – the dogs if they don’t to go where they are being directed. Both my girls are still quite green and I don’t need them being rammed. It happened to Hannah once and she was quite upset by it. She fortunately didn’t stop working, but she wouldn’t go near that ram again. I watched two of them gang up on my trainer’s dog a few weeks ago. They simultaneously rammed him from either side. He’s a big, powerful dog and stood is ground, but it would be game over if that happened to either of my girls!
Anyway, I took Mira out to the ewe flock and did some work with the whole gang. I want to do some ‘big’ flock work with her while we can. I also decided to work Mira first because I want to use her for “chores” -i.e. gathering the flock, shedding off sheep to work, driving them through some gates, and o on.
Shortly after we started working I noticed that one of the lambs had a lot of bright red blood on her ‘skirt’ (fringe of wool around her hind end and back legs). I had been watching Mira the whole time and she never gripped any of them. She’s never tried to hurt a sheep ever, and certainly not to draw blood like that. So I figured perhaps the lamb had either been kicked by another, or injured prior to us getting there and moving about opened up the wound. Since the old guardian dog died this winter, I’ve been wondering when coyotes would find the flock. I thought perhaps that might have been the time.
So I had Mira help separate a small group out that contained the injured lamb, and put them in a corner so I could catch her. Mira did quite well, considering she doesn’t know her flanks yet. But I couldn’t get her to just hold them – she kept walking up on them in the corner and making them panic. So I had to put them in a corner near a gate that I could swing all the way back and make a triangle to pin them in. Then I caught the lamb and checked her over.
I checked and checked and couldn’t find the source of her blood, despite fresh blood dripping all over my feet and the ground around them. Then I figured it out – it was her tail. Horror struck, I realized it had been cut off. I know the practice of docking tails is common, but it should be done when the lambs are first born, not when they are 8 months old with fully developed central nervous systems! I almost vomited. Poor little lamb. I really don’t understand why people cut parts off animals to begin with – be it tails or ears or whatnot. It just makes me sick. Sheep are supposed to have tails. If they didn’t, they would be born without them.
I put the poor little lamb back in with flock and kept the rest of the group to work. I have decided to push Mira ahead quickly and see if I can start her driving. I am still struggling with Hannah wanting to head all the time while she drives, and I’m not sure if that’s because I did so much wearing, or if it is because she’s such a strong heading dog. Regardless, Mira has been showing me the desire to drive pretty much since day one and it’s time to see if we can get that going.
My concern has been that it will ruin her outrun, but hopefully I can avoid that. I have been doing what they call ‘slingshot’ outruns, where I call the dog back to me off the sheep, and when she gets to my feet, I have her circle around behind me and out the other side to go gather the sheep. This creates a lot of momentum and kicks the dog out. What seems to be happening with Mira is that since she’s already moving, she just keeps going and gets the sheep. When sending her from a standstill she can be sticky and just want to walk up on them.
My approach was as follows: I would send her on an outrun and have her bring the sheep to me. Then I’d have her circle around until she was on the same side as me, and lay her down. Then, facing the sheep, I would tell her to ‘walk up’ and I would start walking towards the sheep. The plan was to get her to drive a few feet, then call her back, walk away from the sheep, and start over.
Well, Mira definitely seems to be a driving dog. There was no need to just have her walk a few feet. Right from the start she had no problem driving 50+ yards. I let the sheep move in a big arc as precision is not the issue here. I just wanted her to drive. Amazingly, she took inside flanks (even though she doesn’t know her flanks) and was very precise on the “there” – a command I use to indicate where I want her to stop flanking and start walking straight towards the sheep again. I have never used “there” with her before, but she did it as if she understood perfectly.
When the sheep would get far enough away that she’d start showing signs of wanting to gather, I’d lie her down, call her back, walk away for a bit, and send her to gather. She loved it and did very well. I was mighty pleased. I tried calling her off the sheep to end our training session, but she clearly wanted to keep working. So I let her put them away, figuring Hannah could use the practice shedding off her own sheep.
When I got back to my car to put Mira up, I discovered that we had been training for a solid 1.5 hours. The endurance in this dog is unbelievable. Poor Hannah was toast after 20 minutes when she first started driving – her little brain would just burn out. Not Mira – she’s a working machine! (this translates to a pain in the ass to live with though…!)
I brought Hannah out for some work next and I have to say, it was like suddenly having a luxury car with power steering and cruise control after driving a tractor. She really does know her stuff and we are working fairly effortlessly together. That said, she was full of beans and raring to go!
I decided to do some really big outruns to try and put some legs under her, so I set the sheep in one place and hiked down the field to the far end. When I turned around, the sheep had run back to the barn gate. Hannah could clearly see them, so I figured I’d send her anyway. She took off like a shot and went wide. Too wide. She really is getting way too big in her outruns and I don’t know what to do about that. She went so wide that when she went into a little gully, she lots sight of the sheep. She then came across the gully towards the center line and came up facing me. She looked around for sheep but couldn’t find them. She obviously thought she had already gone past them, but they were still half a field away behind her.
To be fair, I have never sent her on such a big outrun and she came up exactly where she should have in previous training. So maybe that’s all this is. But I worry because I’ve seen her mother do the same thing at trials and end up being called off the field because she just can’t find the sheep. Being too wide is very hard to fix, and I worry that this may be a continuing problem with Hannah.
Once she found her sheep, she worked well and we finished up the day doing figure-8s around some pilons set very near the barn gate to make it challenging (the sheep really wanted to go to that gate!). Then we called it a day and came home.