Last weekend while farm sitting, I brought the dogs out three days in a row to train. Gosh, I wish I could work my dogs daily all the time. What a difference that would make!
I started each visit with a big long hike in the hay field. It’s about 40 acres and almost square so a walk around it gives the dogs quite a good leg stretch. Once back to the car, they each get some water and back into their crates. I had planned not to use Hannah and leave her up for a few weeks, and have Mira help me with gathering and sorting sheep instead. Mira is quite capable of doing some basic farm chores and I thought the work would do her some good. But one look at the barnyard and the location of the sheep, and I thought better of my plan.
The sheep were all in a field one pasture over from the side of the bar. There is a short, narrow corridor (about 100 feet long) between the baryard and the field that held the sheep. The corridor is about as wide as a single lane road. The gate to the field where I wanted to work was in the middle of that corridor. To get the sheep, the dog would have to get behind them in the field where they were grazing, push them down the corridor, then some how or other get around them again and stop them before they blasted back to the barn, and push them through the gate into the field where I wanted to train. Furthermore, I didn’t need all 150+ sheep, but rather wanted a group of around 20-30, and the best place to split those off was in the pasture where they were grazing. So we would have to start this whole exercise with a shed (since there are no working gates to help with sorting, just a big cattle pannel held in place with twine).
This would be way too much for Mira to do, who has not started shedding, and is still prone to ignoring my flanks when things get exciting. I could only imagine the disaster of having to have her flank around running sheep in that 20 foot wide corridor. It would be mayhem. So I brought out Hannah, fully prepared to just call it quits and train no-0ne should things get stressful.
I worried for nothing. Hannah was a superstar. She shed off the sheep beautifully, walked our group quietly to the mouth of the corridor, then – as they started running – squeezed past them, beat them to the other end, and stopped them. She then calmly put them through the gap in the fence I had created by removing the cattle panel.
From there I had her do some driving and even ventured a couple of outruns. Before doing the outruns I wanted to remove a ewe who was limping. When gathering the sheep from a distance, they usually end up doing a fair bit of running so I wanted this ewe out of the group. Splitting off a single ewe is VERY hard, let me tell you! Now I know why they use that as a test at the highest level of trialing. I ended up splitting off two, including the one who was limping, and decided that was close enough and let them go. Then we took our healthy group out to the back of the pasture to do an outrun.
This is where things nearly fell apart. I sent Hannah and she brought the sheep but refused to take any of my flanks or lie-downs until she was closer. I was upset, mostly with having ruined such a good session by asking her to do something I knew we were going to have trouble with. I decided to try a smaller outrun so I would be closer and see if that made a difference. The trouble we are having is with pace – Hannah simply brings the sheep far too quickly. She gallops down the field with the sheep racing ahead of her. By the time they get to me, they are so riled up there’s no stopping them for a nice turn or quiet drive.
When I tell Hannah to ‘take time’ she does one of two things: she ignores me and keeps galloping along, or (after I’ve hollered at her again) she lies down. She clearly does not know what the term means. I have been struggling for two years now to figure out how to teach her that ‘take time’ simply means slow down, not lie down. Then, quite by accident, I figured out how to do so.
As Hannah blasted the sheep towards me, in frustration I yelled ‘take your time!!!’. She hit the deck, which is not what I wanted. I immediately told her to get up and walk. She got up and galloped. I told her to take time; she lay down. I told her to get up and walk. This time she did. I soon figured out that if she lay down when said ‘take time’ I should instantly tell her to get up and walk. Pretty soon she started equating ‘take time’ with walk. HURRRAAAAYYYYYY!!!!
I should have thought of this sooner, and I think someone once actually told me to do this but I had forgotten, or perhaps didn’t understand what they were saying until I stumbled upon it by accident. This is a tremendous breakthrough for us as a team, and for me as a trainer in general.
I did one more small outrun with her and called it quits. I then trained Mira, who presented me with a different problem. She started slicing in on her outruns, and hitting the sheep hard at the top, often coming right into the group and leaving some behind. I don’t understand why she does this and when I tried to replicate it when we took our lesson with Kevin Evans, she didn’t do it (probably had something to do with him standing there with a whip). When I have the whip she stays out as well, but I don’t like using the whip on a regular basis.
I tried a couple of little outruns, running up the field at her to try and push her out. It failed every time. Then I remembered seeing a video a couple of weeks ago about putting the pressure away from the dog. The woman demonstrated how putting pressure on the dog caused it to dive in and grip the sheep. But putting pressure away from the dog had the dog move out. I don’t understand why this works, but I thought I’d try it with Mira and… Bingo. Nice wide outruns at the top. Amazing.
Kestrel is wearing nicely. She’s still very pushy but I don’t mind that. She has a fantastic lie down, and pops out of it instantly when asked. Nothing sticky about this dog. I’m now working on putting her sides on, and also letting her do little gathers. I can’t be more than about 50 feet away or she’ll just circle the sheep or drive them away to the fence and hold them there. Another natural driving dog, go figure.
I trained each dog all three days and the progress was really wonderful. They all loosened up, while also becoming sharper and more responsive to me. I haven’t been back out all week as I had to work nearly every day (and worked each day on the weekend, making for 3-4 hours a day in my car!) and just didn’t have the energy. I now have 4 days off in a row but the weather is horrible and I don’t feel like training just yet. Still tired from all that work. Today I just hiked the dogs in pairs and got soaked to the skin because my gortex jacket is no longer water-proof. One more big ticket item that needs to be replaced, and soon. Oh joy! Thank goodness I finally have a decent pay cheque coming in, even if it will only be for a few months.