(Written off-line while on the road, then posted and back dated…)
Kess got to try her paw at sheep this morning. My hostess had someone coming for a lesson, so she put a few “knee-knocker” sheep in their small winter training corral. These sheep just want to stay glued to the person, but in such a small arena that’s probably the best type of sheep as otherwise they’d be trying to jump out to get away from the dog. Kess got to watch the other dog train from outside. It didn’t take much of moving the sheep around for her to start racing around the corral, trying to head the sheep. After a few minutes of her getting really silly, I caught her, put her on a lead and stood on it, forcing her to sit quietly. I just don’t think letting them run willy nilly around stock without having a person in the picture is a good idea, especially for a a young dog who is not yet started. I let Hannah do what she pleased, which was watch through the fence and move around it as the sheep moved from end to end. She was not getting silly and crazy, but was watching intently and quietly. Mira – when she wasn’t alarm barking at them – mostly ignored them.
When we finally brought Kess in, she was wired for sound. That probably wasn’t ideal. Next time I’ll keep her put up until it is her turn. She busted up the sheep and pulled wool and otherwise acted like a 7 month old puppy. She was so fast it was hard to get on the far side of them. She did go around them once, but really didn’t try to keep them together. She was only on the stock for a couple of minute, five at the most. We will try again later, and hopefully give her several short sessions over the course of the weekend to see what she displays.
I think it would be better to start a dog like this on a large group, but again, winter constraints of a small arena (the rest of the farm is under two feet of snow) and a lambing flock (so many cute babies!) made this the best scenario. I’m just thrilled to be able to put her on stock at all, considering we haven’t seen sheep since October. At least I know she’s extremely keen. Indeed, she was so keen that she no longer recalled off the flock after having been in with them. And when I did finally get her off them, she ran to another group being housed a little ways away! This pup certainly wants SHEEP.
Hannah is doing quite well with all of this moving around and travel, but poor Mira is showing me just how reactive she still can be. She nearly turned herself inside out when we first let her into the house and she ran into a Giant Schnauzer, which looks much like a grey bear. All the dogs were a little intimidated by this dog (who is very gentle, and completely ignored them), but Mira turned around and ran head first into the door, knocked it open, and bolted out of the house. Poor thing.
I hate to see her so scared, but Mira’s a spooky one and despite all my efforts, I can’t seem to be able to fix this. She does settle down fairly quickly, thank goodness. Talking this over with the couple I’m staying with – both very experience dog trainers and stock hands – reminded me that working stock does a lot to make quirky behaviours go away. Clearly it suppresses it, and doesn’t cure it. They said they have a dog who is like Mira, and I know of others as well. Dogs who get pretty squirrely over the winter, then once they are working and trialing again, having to focus their brains with purpose, plus being exposed to lots of new things and situations, they improve dramatically. Then, over the winter, it all comes back.
Hopefully that’s what’s going on with Mira and as we get back into training, she’ll settle down again. This morning, after running around quite a bit and also sort of “working” the sheep through the fence (I know, not ideal), Mira met horses for the first time. I expected her to bolt to the next county, but she didn’t. She alarm barked, tucked her tail, and ran out of their way, but that was it. She got over it very quickly and decided to ignore them and watch the sheep instead. And she even went over and hung out with the guardian dog that last night she thought was a monster.