After a two-day break due to some writing deadlines at work, I took the four youngsters out early this morning and worked them. For my own ease, I just worked everyone on the hair sheep (the "Holsteins"), starting with Lark. I had left the sheep in the dog lot yesterday since there is a tiny bit of grass in there, so Lark had to bring them out of there, and then drive them through the gate into their paddock, through the bottom gate into the alley paddock and then out of the gate at one end of that paddock into the unfenced field. I went ahead and had her drive them all the way to the top of the field. I haven't been doing much driving with her lately because of her apparent confusion over when to drive and when to gather, as I've decribed earlier in this blog. I worked her for about 10 minutes or so, just doing basic stuff, stopping her on a circle around the sheep and pushing them off in various directions. She did everything I asked very nicely, so we called it a day. (I don't enjoy drilling anyway, so that guarantees short work sessions.)
Next I brought out Phoebe. I have been working with both her and Pip on looking for the sheep in the direction I'm walking. Both of them want to just take off and look for sheep as they go out (which just doesn't work if they happen to decide to run out in a wrong direction) instead of just looking for them in the direction I'm walking. I had finished up my session with Lark by leaving the sheep over in a little grassy area in the middle of some cedar trees where they wouldn't be obvious to spot. Then I walked out with Phoebe, asking her to look. Every time she just tried to take off blindly I'd stop her and ask her to look. After about the fifth stop and request to look, I could see her hone in on the sheep while she was just standing still. At that point I "shushed" her and let her bring them back to me. I then just had her drive them all over the field with minimal commands, occasionally flanking her around to take them off in a different direction, and sometimes letting her fetch them back to me. On a whim toward the end of our session I decided to see if I could call her through the sheep on a shed. That girl is going to be a shedding dog like her mama! I was using just the six hair sheep, a rather small number for early shedding training. But Phoebe was very obedient about stopping where I asked her to and then flying through when I called on her, which is really all I want at this stage--enthusiasm and speed coming through. The first couple of times, she was confused about which sheep to turn on, but then she figured out to cue off my position and drive off the sheep I was facing. Then I'd walk away and get her to bring those sheep to me and practiced sending her back for the other set of sheep. She had a blast! She clearly enjoyed coming through and after the first couple of tries, had figured out what we were doing and was even helping me some. I stopped on that nice note and pulled Pip out.
Again I did a lot of driving with Pip, using minimal commands. I had him set the sheep on a line and just keep pushing them in that direction. As they neared the limits of the field or where I could no longer see them because of the terrrain, I would give him a short flank and set them off driving in another direction. He looked back at me only a few times and mostly just happily pushed them along. I did the same basic exercises I did with Phoebe, including a few fetches, where I encouraged him to really bring them on per Jack Knox's suggestion when he was here for the clinic in January. I had such great fun shedding with Phoebe (and the sheep were being reasonably cooperative) that I decided to try it with Pip too. He was a little more "gee'd up" by the whole thing, and as he's also a bit worse about taking a stop, I had to get on him a bit before we could set up a few sheds. Like Phoebe, he was quite happy to come flying through a pretty small hole. Unlike Phoebe, he was much more concerned about the sheep we were "leaving behind," glancing back at them more than I'd like. I think part of that is the result of his habit early on of leaving sheep behind on the fetch, just pushing what was directly in front of him and ignoring those who peeled off from the sides, and I'd stop him and send him back for whatever he left behind. Interestingly, though, I managed to take a single with him and got him to push it all the way down the field away from her friends. He looked really happy driving her along and flanked himself repeatedly to correct the line (actually to prevent her from turning back, but the ultimate effect was a nice straight line). I then let him flank around and start her back and then make a really big, sweeping flank to gather them all back together before ending our session. Happy dog!
Wow, three youngsters, and three really good work sessions! I guess I'm going to be forced to go ahead and put the hair sheep in with the rest of the flock so everyone can get practice sorting sheep before we work in the mornings. No more being lazy!
Last, but not least, I got Raven out. I also grabbed some corn because the sheep have been a bit bad about leaving early when they see the Raven coming (partly because she's still a bit tight on her outruns yet), and that's going to encourage her to be tight at the top too. So I figured a little corn would inspire them to stay in place longer and give Raven a chance to do it right. She did some nice little outruns and then on the uphill fetch (ugh!) she was actually pacing herself a bit instead of pushing to fast and then having to weave behind the sheep as a result. Whenever she picked up speed and started to weave, I found that just using her name would get her to line up back behind the sheep and even check her pace just the tiniest bit. She still had a couple of "yeeha!" moments on her outruns to the right, but overall she looked pretty good. So we took the sheep back to their paddock and since I had Raven at hand, I decided to go ahead and use her to move the rams out of their paddock and into that same side field for grazing.
I don't know exactly what vibe she was getting from the rams (one mature ram and three lambs), but she did not want to gather them. She reverted back to her old behavior of lying down and refusing to move. So now there was nothing to do but work through it. The rams are usually pretty light for the dogs, so I was quite surprised that they didn't excite Raven into going after them in some form. Finally I got her to get around them enough to head them in the direction of the gates to the side pasture. She wasn't happy about it, though, and I didn't think I could end there, so we followed them out.
I felt like I was back at the beginning with a little dog who was refusing to leave my feet. She didn't even want to get up when I went out to the rams and started moving them myself. Finally I took her by the collar and got her started, and then she went on around. At that point I started moving quickly to encourage her to speed up and have a good time. The rams would try to "escape" and I encouraged her to take off after them. She always stayed on the correct side (no crossing over), caught them, and brought them back. She was clearly figuring out that she could work these sheep and have fun doing it. I let her catch them and bring them back a couple more times and then called it a day. There's nothing like having a mature ram and his little lamb buddies heading for you at a good clip, but in the end I think it was what Raven needed to give her a confidence boost. I'll try using her for the same chore again tomorrow, before we do any other work and see if our little lesson stuck.
The Idiot Department
Yesterday evening we were invited to Mary and Tony's for leg of lamb. Henry K. and Mike were going to be there, too, and so I offered to bring the Heartland Creamery ice cream to go with the cake Mary was making for dessert. There's a little store about four miles away that sells beef off their property and homemade foods, canned goods, etc. I went there first because I thought they sold ice cream in pints. While there I discussed the price of a half beef, which was a bit dear, but as the owner pointed out, the $2.75 liveweight price meant that the filets I got from that half would be cheap! That's when I said I was pricing for dog food, and filet mignon wasn't on their menu. And that prompted the owner to ask me about my dogs.
She then proceeded to tell me that they had a new dog, and Australian shepherd pup that they had bought to be the "girlfriend" of their current dog, a border collie/Australian shepherd mix. I asked if they used the older dog on the farm and she replied that he was the best cattle dog they'd ever had.
Me: Is the pup working bred?
Her: Well, no she's more show bred. We found one [working bred] out in Texas, but it would have cost as much to ship her here as it would to buy her, so we decided to look closer to home. We got this one from Ruffin, and she's mostly show bred.
Me: Are you planning to breed her to "Max" (not his real name) in order to get a new working dog for yourself?
Her: Oh, we have a hundred people who want pups off Max because he's such an amazing cow dog. The best we've ever had.
Me: Well, let's hope the pups inherit his working genes then.
The poor woman hadn't a clue. She's certainly not making the best breeding choice to insure that those hundreds of folks wanting Max "the world's best cow dog" puppies will get pups that work as well as their sire. They'll probably churn out multiple litters to satisfy the great demand for Max pups. Sad for the bitch, and sad for any owners who really are expecting the resulting pups to be "world's best" in their own right. It will be pure luck if they get it.