Last night I took the dogs to the sheep farm to train. Usually the owners are out training in the evening, working their dogs on either sheep or cows. But last night there was no-one in sight when I arrived. I got myself organized then headed over to the barn with Hannah to get a group of sheep to work. Once there, I discovered the owner inside, trimming and treating the feet of some of his lambs. Apparently several of them were suffering from foot-rot and needed tending.
I put Hannah up and went back to the barn to watch and assist where I could. I didn’t really do much other than push lambs through the shoot system to help keep things moving. However I did learn a fair bit, watching him clean and trim feet. At the farm where I used to train we never trimmed or treated feet. Apparently this is because those sheep were Scottish Blackface, which have black feet. Black footed animals for some reason have fewer problems with their feet (apparently true in horses and cows as well).
Once finished treating the marked lambs, he put the rest of the group out into a small corral and asked me to bring Hannah over to move them around. This way we could see if any of them were limping. Sure enough one was a little lame, so he asked me to have Hannah bring the lams up to him and hold them while he caught the lamb that needed treating.
This kind of work is very good for Hannah as it is real work. She really seems to know the difference, as I’ve noted many times now. The lambs had almost never been moved by a dog and gave her a hard time, but she didn’t back down. She pushed them into the corner and held them there, despite their stomping and threats to head butt her. She even snapped at a couple to put them in their place (but still didn’t grip).
At one point she did something that really impressed me. She had been holding the lambs against the fence for several minutes and they were starting to get restless. A couple started to turn to the left to break away. I flanked her (come by). She was lying down at the time and I expected her to get up and flank. Instead, she turned her head to the left, but didn’t move. I was about to tell her more sternly to ‘come-by’, but the lambs quickly tucked back in. All she had needed to do was turn her head, and she knew it.
I have seen Hannah do this really subtle management of sheep several times the last couple of times we’ve been out. As I mentioned we’ve been doing work in the barn, where things are tight and pressure is high. Hannah had never done this before but is showing tremendous instinct in this kind of work. I’ve seen her move sheep perfectly by taking a single step to the side, move two inches forward on her belly, or just breaking eye contact for a second or two. And she really, really loves it. Given the chance now she heads right into the barn, running through shoots and down the tight alleys, and into pens full of sheep without causing stampedes. Where her lack of power might be a bit of a problem against tough sheep on a trial field, her subtle ways certainly work like a charm in these tight spaces.
Speaking of fields, by the time the lambs were done it was almost sunset. So rather than bring sheep up to train, I decided to take Hannah down to the main flock in the big field and practice some shedding. I am reading through my training books to figure out a way to improve our shedding (Kevin Evans showed me a trick that makes a lot of sense but I can’t for the life of me make it happen!). Derek Scrimgerour recommends starting by just calling the dog through the gap to you feet and building from there. To do this I need sheep that will string out and form natural gaps. The easiest way to get this is to work with a lot of sheep, so off we went to the main field.
Once there I sent Hannah to get the sheep. She did a beautiful outrun, then suddenly hit the breaks and started alarm barking and lunging and retreating. What the??? Oh! The llama! They use a llama as a guardian animal for the flock, and Hannah has never encountered one before. And that llama clearly knew Hannah was a strange dog and stood blocking her from the sheep. When Hannah lunged, the llama lunged back. I had to call Hannah back quickly to avoid any direct confrontation (thank goodness she recalls without question).
Once back at my feet, Hannah was not going back. I tried sending her the other way, and even going up to the sheep with her. She was afraid of that llama and was not about to challenge it. Very interesting. She is the same way with cows, only she rolls over submissively to them instead of alarm barking at them. Either way, Hannah is clearly not going to be a large animal stockdog!
Fortunately the owner’s dog was able to scoop the sheep away from the llama and Hannah and I finished our training session without any further trouble. She came through the sheep a bunch of times, I had her keep the two groups separate and did some driving of the whole flock (around 80 ewes + lambs) around the field. Then we called it quits and headed in to do a little work with the young dogs in the round pen.
At this point I feel I still am making progress with Hannah and also with Mira, but I’m not sure with Kestrel. She’s going nicely around the sheep in the pen, and peeling them easily off the fence. I even managed to get a liedown on her (of her own choosing) after about 10 minutes of non-stop running. She sure is keen! But I am not at all in the picture with her. I wasn’t sure if she was holding the sheep to me or if the sheep were just coming to me for protection and she was staying behind them. So at one point I stepped out of the picture and sure enough she kept moving sheep around and then pushed them against the wall and held them there (then moved in and started nipping their heels – brat!).
I’m not quite sure how to put myself in the picture for her, other than snapping my whip from time to time to get her attention (I bought a lunge whip after the clinic and WOW do I love it!). I suspect that this will come with time and what I’m seeing is just a puppy thing (both my other dogs were the same way at the start). So I’ll keep working at what we are doing and hopefully move her out to the larger field just as soon as I get her to listen a little better. But I do think I could use a lesson with her soon. Fortunately here breeder invited me to come up in August, and I hope to be able to do so.
Mira is doing very well and I am going to stop putting her in the round pen for a while and just work in the larger field. The next time we train is Monday.