Oops! I just noticed that I am running up against a scheduled Blogger outage. But I wanted to mention Darci's pups because last Saturday when she came up so I could work with Chris, we tried them in the round pen and they turned on! (Up till then, they would just wander the pen and ignore the sheep.)
Rose went first, and I have to say she reminded me a lot of Twist at that age. As soon as she decided she wanted to work, she started flanking around them, serious as could be, fetching them to Darci as she backed across the pen. Of course you can't make judgments about how a 12-week-old puppy will turn out, but I have to say Rose looked mighty sharp in there last week! I wish I had grabbed the camera and gotten a video of her, but I'll definitely do it the next time we let them see sheep.
Hank was a bit different. He was your more classic hold against the fence and head any that tried to break away type. Still Darci got him to go around a few times as well. It should be fun for her to start two pups who are--at least at this early stage--showing two very different working styles. Lucky for me, I'll probably get to see them progress on a regular basis, once they're started on sheep for real, which of course won't happen for another good six months or so at the earliest.
And while speaking of youngsters, as I worked Pip on the main flock this past weekend, I was once again reminded of “one step forward, two steps back” as he decided he could no longer fetch or balance to me properly. I was a bit frustrated with him as he’s been working really well on chores and the like, so it made no sense that he would suddenly backslide. But then Lark did something very similar and at about the same age—right around when she turned two. As with Lark, I just started doing silent “walkabouts” with Pip, letting him fetch and wear the sheep to me without speaking to him. On Monday he was much improved over Saturday, so I’m guessing this is just a little bump in the road. I’ve been mainly doing chores with him up till now and he’s been doing that work well. His driving is much improved, and it could be that the driving we’ve been doing has gotten him confused on the other stuff. I’m sure that was the case with Lark since I had used her to push sheep off of feed bunks all winter and so she got the idea that she needed to circle between me and the sheep and then push them away—no matter what. Fortunately, Phoebe has not gone through this stage, but then maybe she’s decided to spare me after the eight weeks of hell she put me through after her last heat….
A note on Chris: Having worked with her half a dozen times or so now, I can say that she's a dog I'd be happy to have for my own. I don't have a past "history" with her and so when I take her into work I'm not expecting the worst, and so she's been living up to my expectations. She's been working very well for me in tight spaces, and I am succeeding in getting her default to be to slow down and think in those tight spaces rather than panic and grab. Last weekend, I "upped the ante" a bit to increase the pressure on her, the idea being that in tense situations she'll be more likely to fall back on the previous unacceptable behavior. So instead of just having her balance the sheep and circle through the tight spaces between the sheep and the fence, which she's doing quite well with no trace of discomfort, I had her driving the sheep toward the fence and then as they reached the fence, asked her to flank on around, stopping her between the sheep and the fence. Adding the drive into pressure presented Chris with another level of difficulty--one deliberately designed to see if she'd fall back into old behaviors or reset her default to "thinking before acting," which is our goal. Overall, she did a fantastic job. Not as pretty as the work she's used to me doing with her, but certainly not switching to panic-and-grab mode either. I think with time we'll be able to work her past all that bad history, and then all we'll need to do is work Darci past it too!
Crazy Lambs, or How to Find Out if Your Dog is Sound
So what it about lambs (and sheep in general) that they’ll find a way out of a place but then can’t find their way back in? The pasture I call the “unfenced pasture” is actually fenced—but considering it’s three strands of high-tensile and not hotwire, it may as well be unfenced. The horse pasture that borders one side is also fenced in high-tensile, but their side is hot. And of course the wires on one side don't match up with those on the other, so it looks like seven strands. One of the horses in that pasture is said to go after dogs with intent to kill, though I have yet to see any sign of that (maybe it’s gone after dogs that have harassed it, but the few times my sheep have gotten over there and I’ve needed to send a dog in, the horse has left my dog alone).
So I’m getting ready to feed the dogs and look out the kitchen window to see that the karakul lambs have gotten themselves over into the horse pasture. This wouldn't be a huge concern except that something abot sheep tends to set the three horses to ripping and snorting, and I didn't want pancake lambs as a result. There’s no easy way to go around to the gate to get them back out, and even if I did get around to the gate, I’d either have to drive them up the busy (at that time of the morning) road around two blind curves or all the way around the perimeter of the neighbor’s property to get them back on our property, neither a particularly good choice when dealing with relatively undogged lambs. So I decided I’d send a dog and try to push them back through the fence. After all, they went through in one direction so surely they could figure out how to come back, especially when being pressured by a dog.
Well, it took a good half hour of hard work on Twist’s part to convince those lambs (pretty much one at a time) to get themselves back through the fence. Twist is good for stuff like this because she’s patient. She won’t bite lambs or be rough on them unnecessarily, but she also won’t let them get away with being stupid. And she’s worked around horses before, so I knew I could trust her to beware of the supposed killer horse as well. The “bad rep” horse was near the fence to begin with, but I chased him away from the fenceline and he didn’t come back to bother us. As it’s been quite hot these past few days, I was worried that Twist would give out from the heat, but she held in there till we got the job done. (To be honest, I pretty much just directed her--she had to do all the work because I couldn't get through to help at all because of the hot wire, to which of course wool sheep are practically impervious.)
The best part of this whole story is that Twist remained sound after what has to have been the most work she’s done in months, thanks to the unexplained intermittent lameness she’s had. When I spoke to the vet today about Elvis the cat (who was having his teeth cleaned), he asked about Twist and I told him what I had done with her. He said that if she stayed completely sound over the next couple of days that he would go ahead and release her for full work and to start trialing again. So those bad little lambs at least showed me that Twist might just be back to her old self again!