|Nice tongue, Star|
Reflecting back on Star’s melt down at the pen in Sonoma on the flat field, I was taking steps today to eliminate the problem going forward. We were working against the fence. With my back to the fence and the sheep between me and my dog, I shushed and choused the sheep to keep them moving away, which caused the dog to flank back and forth of his own accord to hold sheep to me that were attempting to flee in either direction. It is a fun exercise that most dogs like and Star was no exception today. The idea is to create excitement and keen the dog up, then allow him to teach himself how to stop fleeing sheep, and enjoy the process.
It worked for Star to a certain degree. He was definitely having fun, but I would like to have seen him come forward more towards his sheep whenever he successfully stopped them. In other words, he would flank quickly enough without direction from me to keep his sheep from getting away, but gave ground, moving away from them on his flank, which caused the sheep to stop incrementally farther and farther away from me, instead of continually closer as you need at the pen.
Even on the days we didn’t actually work this week, I used Star to put out the sheep and took a few minutes to repeat this exercise against the fence. With much “shush, shush,” and lot’s of happy “walk up” and “come on’s,” I was finally able to encourage him enough that he was able to hold sheep tighter to my body.
The unexpected residual benefit of all Star’s work against the fence was in his shedding. He internalized his lessons about putting more pressure on the stock, and today when I practiced shedding, he came through with more intensity, and more determination to keep them apart. He surprised me, and it was surely nice to see.
|Hot two-beat trot|
Today involved a couple of bigger outruns, which left my dogs panting and showing me just how quickly stamina dissipates in the absence of conditioning. It has only been 2 weeks after all, and it was certainly not hot. With now 2 other dogs to work, I was able to rest Star liberally in between his turns, but decided to practice close work after just 2 outruns so as not to overdo it. That is where the stellar shedding became apparent, and Star’s driving, as always was precise, smooth and efficient.
A most unexpected event came when I sent, Buff, my in-training dog on little gather. I had worked him in a small pen at home 1 time previously and understood immediately that he was exceptionally well trained. He had only been in my possession for few hours before we went to the big field, and that time was spent in the company of all the dogs together, so we could establish our pecking order, and get to know each other. Buff fit like a pair of favorite jeans, intuitive, unafraid, attentive to me, and willing, so we headed out.
I walked him up until he could clearly see his sheep about 50 yards away. I knew by his speed and body position, creeping forward, low to the ground, that he saw his sheep, so gave a quiet “away-to-me,” taken brilliantly at great speed. Wonderful, I thought, then he widened. Then he widened more, then he widened alarmingly, was completely out of contact and heading to God-knew-where 500 yards away before I could react. My heart rate and my pace picked up immediately as I tried to at least stay in visual contact with him, calling his name, and blowing his stop whistle with as little panic in it as possible. Now down at the very bottom of the field, he was becoming obscured in the knee-high grass, and then he popped up…on the other side of the creek! Remember this is a 140 acre field and he was a good 500 yards away, ignoring me, heading away. I started running, never my strong suit, and continued to blow a stop. Well, at least I thought it was his stop, but it seemed to have no effect. I had listened to his whistles once on a tape recorder, but all of a sudden, I was beginning to doubt my powers of recollection.