|Balancing the kittehs|
It's been 3 weeks since I've done any real training, and I went back to it in very modest style today. First off, I stayed home, worked in the small field, and used the Dorper mamas and babes together. The lambs are almost as docile as their mothers and worked very well. They simply stayed in the middle somewhere and did what mama did.
At the barn, Star focuses on the lambs while I am feeding, and it was interesting to see him working with them in the mix. Excited by their presence, I caught him once or twice staying with one and begin to leave the others behind on the drive. Each time his good breeding took over, and he balanced the drive to take them all. Very tempting, the little ones, but great instinct prevailed, and I was very happy to see it.
|Setting up to split the kittehs|
That was so much fun! I worked Star on the Cheviots by themselves, sort of, and without a doubt it is just what he needed. They had the same effect on Star that the Scottish Blackface sheep had on Price when we were in Scotland. Star had to become deliberate, thoughtful, and oh-so-careful. In both cases, it was a beautiful sight to see.
I used Star to move all the ewes and lambs down to the little pasture by my house. Then we shed the Dorpers and lambs from the Chevies, and drove them to the bottom end of the field. I called Star off, flanked him around the Chevies, at which they ran like scalded kittehs, and I witnessed Star's light come on. They juked, he jived. They skittered, he found appropriate pressure and pace and exquisite balance. Star's expression became more intense, he dropped his head, and went to work for about the third time in his life. 1 and 2 being at the Meeker practice field, and exhausting on the Meeker trial field. But that was different. This was fun! With the sheep constantly trying to go back to the others, Star drove them to the top of the field, and learned in the process to be mindful. Instead of shoving plodding Dorpers, Star was catching and guiding little kittehs who moved in front of him like a school of fish. Star was enthralled.
Once at the top of the field, I flanked my dog all the way around, and the little ewes shot back towards the others. Star picked up the pace, but was aimed at covering them all. When he got just past the fleeing Cheviots, I gave him a steady, said his name, then "here, here," causing him to look at them. Then a walk up to bring him on, and he had them. The Cheviots stopped in their tracks before turning back towards me. This is where it got pretty. Every step of the short fetch those ewes tried him, and he rose beautifully to the challenge. He became deliberate, precisely attentive to his sheep, and very, very careful not to lose them. Instinctively, he found just the right amount of pressure and pace to bring them quietly, simultaneously raising his approval rating measurably. It was just so pretty to see that I repeated the exercise with Star who understood the task perfectly on the very next pass. I quit when the sheep also figured it out after 2 or 3 repetitions. Then we set up the split.
I only have 4 head, so I intended to split them 2 - 2. At first it was hard enough just to get on opposites, and I used the top fence as an aid. Again, picture a school of fish moving from the wave of a hand, and you have a pretty good idea of what this looked like. It wasn't going to be easy, and the first attempt brought us a single that by itself proved to be too much for my youngster. Confused, he lost her. Another try, this time with more patience on my part. If I could just catch their eye, they would fly apart like a muffled explosion, and that's exactly what happened. Star worked with me brilliantly. He knew exactly what was what, and came right through on the back 2. Managing to hold them for a bit, he eventually lost them, but it was a lot to ask, and I had nothing but praise for my good, young dog. My appreciation for Star swelled today. On the right sheep, he might just be hard to beat.
|Trying to keep kittehs in the same frame as the dog|
Oh boy, another glorious, sunny southern California day out working dogs. Sorry all ya'all in the colder climes, it's sunny, breeze-less and about 70 outside right now. Oh, and the grass is green, the stock are all slick and fat, and the dogs are happy to be back to work. There are so very many things that frustrate me about living here, but the weather is decidedly not one of them.
Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I now have an eye towards Snowbirds on the Border trial over new year's eve. Training-wise, I am gearing up and my little Cheviot/kittehs are just perfect for the task. Usually at that trial, we have growthy, freshly shorn lambs that are a commercial cross of merino and suffolk. Not much fight in them to speak of, but leaderless and smart enough to rapidly internalize the draw. Even without good practice on my own sheep, they are Star's kind of sheep. That is, the kind that move easily off the dog and require precision.
We worked the ewe flock as a whole today, then practiced shedding the Dorpers from the kittehs, which is no mean feat, but still requires some effort. There are a couple Dorpers who are quite comfortable with the kittehs, so I ended up with a Dorper ewe and lamb or two that needed to be extracted each time. Very good for little Star man, but there were more challenges to come.
I sent him on little gathers for the all the sheep, then shed off the Dorpers, worked the kittehs at one end of the small field, then split them a time or two. Repeating the exercise from 193, I flanked him around, made him cover just the escaping kittehs before they re-joined the Dorpers, and then split them. That exercise is good for him, because, unlike the Dorpers, the kittehs are fleet a-foot and there is no time to dawdle on the flank. Accustomed to the lumbering Dorpers, Star would just lope around them. Another level of intensity is required on these fresh sheep, and he has keened up. The first time on the split, Star man did a masterful job, but lost his nerve when the split off kittehs tried him fairly hard as they got closer to joining the others. Star second guessed, and all was lost, so he flanked, and covered them all. I do wish this insecurity would pass and we could get on with it. I set up another split, and this time it held. Good boy.