Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Yesterday I went over to a friend's place to work dogs, spend some time, and play with my new puppy. Yep, you heard it, new puppy. Except... she won't be coming home for a few weeks yet. All of the puppies are freaking adorable... and at this point it really doesn't matter so much which one, because I love them all.
At any rate, on to revelations. I was out there working Linc on the whole flock. I'd had this little idea that we'd go out, work for about five easy minutes, switch dogs, repeat, and then be done with the dog working portion of the show. Unfortunately Linc needed something else.
He started blowing off my lie downs. Started getting a little tense. Normally this is where I get frustrated. Ok, mad. Add in PMS and it's not always the prettiest picture ever. But instead of getting mad I started thinking. Why is he refusing to lie down? Is he just being a jerk? Wait a minute! The sheep are getting unsettled. They're starting to run. Why are they starting to run? Because he's cranking in on the backside of his flanks. He's getting tighter in general, but he's also giving them a fair nudge between 10 and 11 o'clock. Duh, Laura.
So I went to my sheep, and quietly started to remind him to stay out on his flanks.
Lo' and behold, he started taking my lie downs again, even from a distance. He started taking appropriate flanks, and the sheep settled back down.
Score one for me for thinking like someone who occasionally actually manages to train her own dogs!
So we went back to the barn to cool off, and the sheep headed up the field to hang in the woods. After cooling down some, we thought it might be a good idea to see how he might do going out to pick them up. We estimated they were about 200 yards out. He's not gone out much further than that, and certainly not to pick up the sheep in the woods.
I sent him, and he pulled up about 50 yards later because he didn't see them. But as he was sort of sweeping he saw them. In subsequent attempts he was DETERMINED to cross over. He was right - the pressure was to the right, but because of the setup of the field and fence there wasn't sufficient room for him to go right without upsetting the sheep.
I finally let him cross over just to get out there, but in the next attempts he STILL was just bound and determined to cross. Nothing was working. He would either go out and forget what he was doing, or try to cross.
OK, FINE, I thought. I walked him up there until we were about, I dunno, 50 yards out, and sent him. Beautiful. Insert huge sigh here.
After another break for cooling down, I went back out to send him again. He went out about 50 yards, and again pulled up like he didn't know where he was going. I recalled him, and sling-shotted him. Darned if he didn't finally just run out. Not only did he run out, but he ran out BEAUTIFULLY, and with authority. Nice fetch, bu the failed to cover half of the flock and they broke off. I sent him back to pick them up, before gathering everyone to put them back in the trees again.
I set him up for one more outrun, and he went. This time not only did he go out right, but he also had learned the time before and actually covered his sheep. This is what I love about this part of the process - seeing them learn from the sheep. Anyway, not only was it a million degrees outside, but it seemed the perfect point to just... stop.
This is one of the holes I was afraid he'd have - not looking for sheep further out, not looking for sheep in different fields and so on. I'm not even sure this was the right method, basically just sending his royal fluffiness out there until he did it right. We were sort of laughing about it, but it was obvious he had a huge AHA! moment, and it was really, really exciting to see. It worked. Way back in another life I was once told, "Sometimes you have to find out who is more stubborn - you, or the horse" and I think this was one of those times.