After a mad scramble to get out of the house this morning, I finally got packed up, loaded the dogs and Liam cat, and headed out. I usually bring both cats with me, but today Evie took one look at the cat carrier I pulled out of the closet and promptly disappeared. I spent nearly an hour looking for her, wondering how on earth a cat can hide so well in such a small, relatively tidy house. There was no finding her. I called to her, tried to tempt her with food, went about my business for nearly an hour hoping she’d come out. All to no avail. Evie was not showing herself.
So I left. Am I a terrible person? I feel kind of bad now. I didn’t at the time. At the time I was mad and very irritated. I don’t get along with that cat very well. I never have. She’s the one everyone else loves, but we’ve butted heads from day one. She does what she pleases, when she pleases, and refuses to cooperate unless she’s in the mood to do so. Evie is essentially a roommate, sharing a living space, occasionally wanting to chat, and otherwise living a pretty independent life. So I figured she’d be fine fending for herself for three days. Tonight is nasty but it is supposed to be nice for the next three days, and it’s not going to freeze. She can get into the enclosed shed which has a cat bed, so will be dry and safe. And maybe she’ll finally get hungry enough to eat the mice she loves to bring home and leave on the doorstep.
I arrived at the farm in a strong drizzle. My friend was already there, and the owner of the farm was home early from work. The three of us sat in the barn and chatted. I let Ross out, who sniffed around and then settled at my feet in the straw. He seemed very at home there in the barn. I felt at home too. It was a very pleasant way to spend time, despite the rain and overcast.
After gabbing for about half an hour, the rain didn’t show any sign of letting up so we decided to just get out and work dogs in the wet. We decided to do outrun relays, where one person holds the sheep and the second one sends their dog on an outrun to pick up the sheep and bring them to the other side of the field. Then the first person sends her dog and brings the sheep back. Seeing as there were three of us, we made a triangle and sent the sheep around and around, first one way, and then the other.
I worked Hannah because she’s the only one who can do outruns of any significant distance. At one point I sent her about 350 yards to pick up the sheep. She has no trouble at all with that. What she does have trouble with is pace, and with listening to me at that distance. While she can do open outruns, she is not ready to work a quarter of a mile away from me yet. Putting it in those terms makes me feel less frustrated.
All things considering, she did do a fairly good job. She always got her sheep, and always brought them back to me. She simply brought them too quickly, and in a crooked line. I’ve been reading up on this problem, and after training the three of us had a little debriefing session. They had very supportive and constructive feedback. The other two trainers are both more experienced than I am, so it was fun to get their input.
When discussing how to get Hannah to bring the sheep at a steady pace, I commented that I was also struggling with her bringing them in a straight line. She gets them going straight, then flanks to one side, pushing them off course. Then she flanks to the other side, pushing them the other way. In this way the sheep zigzag down the field towards me. It’s not pretty.
One of my friends explained that the problem with pace and the zigzagging line are one and the same. Hannah pushes hard on the sheep because she wants to move them quickly. She can run faster than they do, but of course is not going to run past them. What she should do is slow down and walk steadily behind them. But she doesn’t. Instead of slowing down she zigzags back and forth. Maybe she feels like she’s bringing the sheep more quickly this way, I don’t know. The good news is that if I can get her to develop a better pace, the zigzagging should stop and her line should straighten out on its own. The trick, of course, is getting pace.
Mira has terrible pace as well, so clearly this is a problem in my training, and not in my dogs. I have some ideas and had found a couple of things that were working for Hannah, so we’ll keep working at it.
By the time we had each done about half a dozen outruns, I was completely frozen. My teeth were chattering, I could barely move my fingers and I was shivering all over. I was not dressed properly for the weather! My coat is no longer waterproof and I can’t find my rain pants. I also can’t find the liners for my rubber boots. Time to get some better wet weather gear.
I was too cold to work the other dogs, or even take them for a hike. I had Mira help me put the sheep away, and we called it a day. I drove home with the heat on high and my hands hovering over the vent. We are hoping to get together again on Monday and train some more. Hopefully the weather will improve by then!