|Close and Personal|
We were blessed with another of those perfect days. One in which the sun was shining, a Fall crisp in the air, gentle breeze, blue skies, and...and...and FRESH SHEEP!! Did I mention how much I am enjoying the kittehs? I mean Cheviots? Well, I am...immensely, and more importantly, so are the dogs. Wish I had 300...no, 350 of them. Over to the big field today, and Price got the call to load the kittehs, because it had only been done once before, when I bought them. That time it took 2 of us with handy little panels and 1 useful dog to get 'er done. No panels today, and only me with my trusty right hand man, Price. Sure wish he could breathe, and so must he have by the time we were finished. They're a flighty bunch, my little kittehs.
The goat guy has 300hd of Dorper cross goats grazing on my (she writes wishfully) big field with 2 guardian dogs outside the hot wire, so we had to be careful. With a hundred acres or so, you would think there is enough room for all, but the situation limited my much loved, HUGE outruns. I carried a big stick just in case, but the LGDs settled down quickly enough and ignored us. Still, we kept our distance. I had a run in a few years back with one when Price was lifted off all 4 feet, then shaken, not stirred, so I am mindful always.
I spent much time with Mirk today perfecting the square flank. I doubt there will ever be a day when he won't need reminding, but he is much quicker on the uptake than ever before. I know he knows. He loved the Chevies and we practiced being precise. That is as unnatural for Mirk as it is EZ for Kensmuir Star, and the contrast is striking. It's good to have 2 completely different dogs to work. Keeps me on my game. The good news is that what frustrates me about one, is easy for the other. The bad news is that both frustrate in some way.
I found a way to keen Star up on the sheds today, and used the technique liberally. I simply put him on one side of the sheep, jazzed him up by spooking the sheep, then called him through whatever hole appeared, regardless of which sheep went where. Ah Ha! Another club in the golf bag, another tool in the box, another spice in the cabinet. I do not play golf, repair, or cook, but I can train a sheepdog, and shooting Star (oy!) found an edginess I have not witnessed in him previously. He lost his nerve a bit driving the shed sheep away, but I stayed with him, and made him stay with the sheep. You can almost see his relief when, at last, he is allowed to put them all back together. Double-edged sword that togetherness instinct.
Today didn't start out all that well, but if I could go through something like we experienced and then have the day out working that we did, I would take it gladly. I was using Star to separate the Dorpers and lambs from the Cheviots with the intention of moving the Dorpers to the small field by my house and loading the Cheviots into the trailer.
Taking the Dorpers out of the overnight pen, Star took the wrong flank and left a ewe and lamb behind. Meanwhile the others had toddled all the way down to the field. Those sheep knew full well it was field time and after walking down to bring them all back, put them together and try again, we had a hard time. I tried to stay in my happy place, but I was frustrated with Star and he reads me quite well. I stayed with it. Without too much more fuss, we got all the Dorpers moved, and then it was time to get the Chevies out of the overnight pen, and load them. They know the way to the small field and the trailer was between the overnight pen and that field. If I held my side, and Star did his, it would work. But, he was going to have to do what I said while I was holding my side, which involved a bit of flapping. Star didn't like it, slowed down and overflanked with his head down, tail tucked and ears drooped. No good. We were getting nowhere. I got Price, and Star ducked into his dog house. I'm thinking; "he's young, Amelia, he's young, and look how long it took you to learn to rope!"
Once over at the big field, we put it out of mind. I was happy and Star was as keen as ever. It you can't be happy on 140 acres of 6" volunteer rye grass with the sun shining on you, fresh sheep and good dogs, then you need to find something else to do. My dogs worked great, my heart was soaring, and it was a gorgeous day.
I've been busy this week training almost every day. Tomorrow I have a lesson, so that means I will be back at it again. A good thing. The more I work, the more fun we have, and the closer we become, me and my dogs. They become comfortable in a routine, and because they are improving all the time, it is more enjoyable for all of us.
I feel like I've turned a corner with Mirk, and we are hitting a groove. He has some idiosyncrasies, that dog, but I am learning to work with them, and he is trusting me more and more. All I can tell you for sure is that it feels really good, and I am getting some lovely work out of him. I just did not know what we were missing until the trials last summer, and once I did, I got to work on him. It has been 3 solid months of ironing out, but now were smooth. My whistles are soft now, because he is listening, and I am not speaking to him much at all. He was really good for me at Porterville in September under uncommonly challenging conditions. I look forward to seeing how he handles at Snowbirds on the Border coming up.
Working Star today on the Chevies was all about precision tuning. With sheep that move when he flanks, he is learning to come forward all the time. On the Dorpers, he could square off, over-flank, and still have plenty of time to get to the top. Not so with the kittehs, and I encouraged him to pick up the pace on every flank. He had to lose them a time or two after they squirted while he was dawdling around them before he understood what I was saying, and I am not altogether sure he believes me entirely. We'll see.
I gave a lesson in the big field today, and the weather was postcard perfect for it. I find it really hard to get down to business in that situation of striking green grass contrasted against bright blue skies, fresh sheep and warm sun. Who wants to practice on a day like that? We eventually settled in for some really nice work after overcoming early challenges that involved extracting the kittehs from the goats after the Chevies ran head long inside a hot-mesh enclosure that thankfully was not hot, guarded by an ancient livestock guardian dog that was decidedly off duty. Oh well, those situations just build character as far as I am concerned. My dogs waited patiently back at the truck while I eased the kittehs back outside the pen.
Today I reinforced the fact that the kittehs will not wait while Star dawdles. After sending him on a little gather, I allowed him to pick up the pace behind them on the fetch to the point where they were squirting well ahead. Then I flanked him to come between me and the sheep on an inside flank, and drive them away. He took his time at first and the sheep got all the way to me and beyond before Star caught them. I set it up again, and this time gave much encouragement to cover all the way around before they got to me. Lots of voice and whistle encouragement, hand clapping and shushing. He still doesn't like the come-bye inside flank at distance, so that is the way I made him come around. Star found success, and then he had it. "Oh, they will get away if I over flank slowly. I get it now!" It felt like Star was encased in cement and I chipped it away. Slowly it cracked and big chunks fell away with Star in motion. Then all of a sudden he is running like the wind with small bits of the material stuck on here and there, but mortally flying now. That is what it looked and felt like. Hope the lesson holds, and I will know more tomorrow.
Another glorious day today, and I mixed it up a bit. Instead of working on the idle hay field, I went to the other end of the field, which is never planted. With the goats in the way at the other end, I felt the need for some bigger outwork today. The cover grew quite high last year making the field eventually unusable, but that growth has been beaten back by time and weather, so it is mostly passable now. Still pretty thick in some places, it is certainly no worse than UK bracken, and I thought it would be good for my dogs to persevere in spite of it. Coming from Wales, of course Mirk would have no trouble, and didn't, finishing up with bits of vegetation stuck all over his tongue, and panting happily. More precision, and attentiveness from him today, she writes smiling. There was the odd bobble here and there, but not much.
For the first gather, I sent Star right, which took him through the thickest brush. He had seen the sheep at blast off, but lost them soon enough once engulfed. It had the effect of pushing him to the outside edge of the field, and it occurred to me that he might be running terrain. In other words, remembering the lay of the land, and heading to where the sheep are normally set. This time, however, they were closer than that, but soon enough he came right, and made a nice job of the lift and fetch. I recalled him and sent him again to my left, and took time to notice something about my dog that I am just very excited about.
Star loves to run out. He comes off his chain as keen as can be and looking, looking, looking for sheep. It is so easy to set him up, because all I have to do is wait until his nose is pointed in the right direction, say the flank, and stand back, because he is off and I don't mean maybe. I can give him a walk up first if he is looking too wide, or I can stand him beside of me and a little behind to widen him. And I know that no matter what happens, I can always guide him to his sheep, because no matter what he is doing, I always get an immediate response to a re-direct. I think it goes back to his early days when I hid sheep from him. He learned to listen and to trust, but none of that would have been possible if he hadn't been determined to find his sheep in the first place, and that was all natural in Star man.
Yesterday's lesson did hold, and Star was much keener to complete inside flanks at distance and prevent the sheep from escaping. That was nice to see, and I really appreciated my fresh sheep today. We finished up with splitting. It started off with Star failing to break through quick enough, but he rose to the challenge on the second pass. After the first ragged attempt, I simply gave him a flank, shushed him and said "get 'em, get 'em." That bought us new found enthusiasm, I set up the split again, and this time Star shot through and carried the split off sheep away crisply.
I let Star gather and load the sheep for me today, and had him complete a silent gather in the process. Star has a tendency to wear a bit behind his sheep, and I have a feeling that comes from shoving stony Dorpers around for so long. The kittehs won't tolerate it, zigging and zagging, causing Star man to always play catch up. I thought the best way for him to learn was to teach himself, so I simply stood on a boulder, sent him and watched. Sure enough, he wore, and the sheep zigged, but sooner than later Star realized the error of his ways, and settled in nicely behind them. He brought them a bit fast, not too bad, but it was nice to see his enthusiasm, and I left it alone. It caused him trouble at the trailer with the sheep a bit buggerd, and again he had to work a little harder than he should have to get them loaded. More youthful exuberance is just what Star needs, and I drove away thinking; "good day."