Today I got out and worked the dogs for the first time since New Year’s day. It was great to be back at the farm with the sheep and cows, and of course with my herding friends. When I arrived, there were a couple of other people already there doing some training. Considering that it was 27C (81F) and only April 02 – all time record breaking weather – I think just about everyone in the nation was out and about today. The roads were packed with motorcycles and convertibles of every shape and vintage, and the few patios that were open on Good Friday were bursting at the seams. I shouldn’t have been surprised that there was also a line-up to work sheep!
So I hung around and chatted while watching one handler work cows with her Belgian sheepdogs. That was pretty cool to see. The dogs were doing a good job, even though their style is drastically different from that of a border collie. The Belgians are upright with tail up (and wagging) and are a lot less intense, yet the cows went where they needed to go. To be honest, I think this type of herding dog is probably better for most people. A border collie is a lot more dog than most people need on a farm, and they can end up being quite a nuisance if they don’t get enough work.
A dog like Kestrel, for example, would get into all kinds of trouble quick as lightening. You should have seen her today! She was completely over the top while working, even though I had first taken her for a good hike around the property in hopes of taking the edge off. She was a downright heat seeking missile on those poor sheep. It didn’t help that I don’t think they’d been worked for a while. I used a group of 6-8 ram lambs (now about a year old) and they were like hares. They either galloped back towards either one of the two gates, or straight at me. On more than one occasion I had to run and jump out the way to avoid getting plowed down by the group of them, galloping at full speed with an out of control Kess on their heels. I wanted to throttle her!
After a few rounds of bowling (with me being the bowling pin), I managed to get some pace on my dog. I still had very little control over her. She wouldn’t take any commands except (thank goodness) for the down and any type outrunning she was doing was so tight it was almost a straight line. This is the one thing I worry about with her. It’s in her lines to have very tight outruns, and if I am going to trial her, that needs to be addressed. So far I feel that I’ve made very little progress in widening things out. She seeks sheep and just wants to go straight at them like an arrow. Mira used to be like that, but now has pretty consistently nice outruns that just developed on their own. However I knew that is what I could expect from Mira’s lines. With Kess, I was told I would have to mechanically push her out. I’m going to give it more time to see what develops, but right now I couldn’t compete with her because I’d send her for the sheep, and she’d just drive them down to the far end of the field and that would be that! That said, we were making some progress when I stopped training for the winter, so I’m sure thing will improve after a few more times out.
Hannah was also somewhat of a heat seeking missile today. She was so, so, so, so, SO happy to be working. I felt bad that she only got about 10 minutes of training. I worked her last and used her to switch the sheep around, which required driving one group to the far corner of the big field, then coming part-way back, doing a ‘look-back’ to another corner, then a big outrun to pick up this second group and bring them back to me. Once they were put up, I sent her to get the first group and we did some work with them. She did all of this very well. However, once we started doing a bit of driving with the fresh group, I discovered that Hannah had gone selectively deaf. She ignored my flanks and acted like she had no idea what I meant when I asked her to ‘Take Time!’
I didn’t want to get angry with her, so after she ignored me for the third time, I just called her off the sheep and was going to call it quits. Then I decided to just do a little wearing to try and get her head back in gear. I think that did settle her a little, and if we go again on Monday (which hopefully we will do), I’ll be sure to mix more wearing in to keep her head cool.
Mira was actually my most impressive dog today. After being a little over stimulated for the first few minutes, she settled in very nicely to her task. She took her flanks very well, did decent outruns, and took every stop. Good girl! I was very proud of her! She was doing so well that I decided to try penning with her. That was a mistake. I shouldn’t have gone to something that difficult (with sheep that had zero interest in going into the pen), on our first day back. We tried for several minutes, and then I realized my error and decided to quit while we were ahead. The sheep were only interested in being glued to my knees and Mira kept slicing her flanks, getting closer and closer until she’d just push them right over me. I don’t know how to square her off more (i.e. make her turn at 90 degrees so that she stays the same distance from the sheep while going left or right around them). This is something I need to work on.
I wanted to do a little wearing with her at this point, but I noticed that she was not wanting to get up when I asked her to. I figured she was tired and that we should call it quits. I think we’d been out for about 15 minutes. Not more, I’m pretty sure. I let her jump in the pond, where she flopped in the water and cooled off. Then I called her to me and we walked back towards the car. By the time I got close to the barn, however, I noticed that her hind end seemed to be stiff. She was walking funny, after a few more steps, I was sure something was wrong. I called to the others and we all agreed that she was staggering. I quickly brought her over to the tub and put her back in the water. Heat stress. Oh dear! Poor Mira.
This is not the first time she has had this happen and she is clearly now very susceptible to it. We kept her in the tub for a few minutes, then took her out, emptied the tub and refilled it with clean and colder water. That was probably not ideal, as the water was really, really cold. You don’t want to shock the body! But Mira was smart and refused to lie down in it. Instead she stood there while we splashed cold water over her for a while. I took her in and out of the tub for the next 20 minutes then just stood with her for a while to make sure she was ok.
I need to consult with my homeopath to see what can be done to help in this kind of a situation. As I said, this has happened with Mira before, so I expect it will happen again. I didn’t think I had pushed her very hard, but I remember thinking the same thing last time. Clearly it doesn’t take much to push her past her threshold. Even though she runs hard for 1.5 hours at least five times a week, the change of weather combined with doing something intense like herding, leave her vulnerable to heat exhaustion. Fortunately she seems totally fine now. And once she adjusts to the heat, she should have much better endurance.
I am hoping to get out at least twice a week to train from now until the clinics I have signed up for at the end of May. I would like to get the dogs tuned up as much as possible, and see how far I can get them on my own. This way I should have a pretty good idea of what I need to work on with each dog, and what I am not able to fix myself. Now that things are starting to slow down – at long last!!! – at work, I should be able to get back to a regular training routine. We’re starting back at agility this week as well, although I’m really wondering if I am going to have the time and money (and quite frankly, the desire) to work on both. I guess time will tell…