On Saturday our judge almost didn't get there due to the flooding - she lives three hours north of the trial. A very nice person with experience in many breeds (and non-breeds).
I had Freeway entered in "Junior Herding Dog", an AHBA title. The JHD is a "test" which means it is pass / fail. The dog isn't scored but instead is rated (good, fair, insufficient, not accomplished) on various skills (pause, collect and control, movement through course, obstacles, reliable stop, repen). To pass you have to get either good or fair on each skill. It takes two "legs" (passes) to get a JHD title. Think of it as graduating from kindergarten.
For the JHD the team walks into the arena and "sets up". The sheep are then set out. The "Pause" is the dog waiting until it is released to pick up the sheep. Despite the mud Freeway willingly stayed down and waited calmly while I got a little closer to the sheep before sending him.
Let me digress ...
Different herding dogs have different styles. Freeway is very different from Tsuki. Tsuki is much more intense, but more natural. Freeway sometimes can't decide whether he wants to work, or to explore the interesting scents in the arena. Still, even though he sometimes doesn't look it, Freeway does have some good balance (the ability to adjust his position relative to the sheep to keep them to an intended goal). Also, unlike Tsuki, Freeway does find it acceptable to simply walk behind the sheep and not stir them up.
So to continue .... Freeway came in like a freight train. He does that a lot. A better style would be to arc out away from the sheep, then turn in when he is "behind" them relative to me. These sheep aren't much concerned about the dog. They also know they can count on the person for protection. So they tend to go right to the person if the dog lets them. Once Freeway saw the sheep were with me he decided it was a good time to go explore the arena.
Sigh, I called him in and he went back to work. First "obstacle" is a corner panel, just bring the sheep through the panel in the correct direction. On Saturday I kind of lost track of where I was and ended up too far to the side. I had to back up to correct. On Sunday I was pretty much spot on. Freeway did a very nice job of stopping and switching directions on command. Next walk down the fence line to another corner panel. On Saturday we got about halfway there when Freeway decided that he could stop sniffing and come play with the sheep. I turned quickly to have him go around the sheep and whoops slipped in the mud. No harm, got up and continued. On Sunday at this point Freeway thought a corner of the arena deserved extra sniff inspection, so I had to stop and call him to come back to work. The second panel was negotiated uneventfully. Now scoop the sheep off the fence and proceed to the center panels. Both days we managed to go around the panels instead of through them. On Saturday I didn't notice but at this level the Judge is allowed to help and she told me so I went back and did them properly. On Sunday it was an easy fix. Get Freeway's attention (again!) a couple easy changes of direction, and we are through.
The last thing is to put the sheep away. Now the sheep really would like to be put away. So the trick is to have the dog keep a position that keeps the sheep away from the gate until it is safely open. Then open the gate and have the dog move so the sheep go through the gate - without the dog following!
I must be doing at least one thing right. Both my dogs do excellent gate work. They are both good at subtle repositioning to put just enough presence that the sheep back off - but not so much that they leave. And neither move when the sheep go through the gate.
One of the things I was looking forward to at this trial was the fact that Sunday's judge was also the judge for the first try at the second leg of Freeway's HCT. And in that one Freeway flunked. Not for lack of interest, but for lack of control. Interest he had in bucketloads. So it was nice to be able to show that, yes, my dog can move the sheep with control.
Ultimately I think Freeway is going to be a decent sheepdog. I didn't get him to be a sheepdog. I got him to be a companion, and a friend to Tsuki, and to do therapy dog visits. But if he enjoys herding, and he really seems to, and agility, ditto, well why not.
Among most herding people that sniffing thing is taken as a sign of disinterest. But people who have trained in many things will usually recognize it as stress related displacement. He really wants to do what I want him to do. And all this is new to him. So he is still trying to figure it out. And when his little brain gets confused, well a good sniff is a way to relieve the pressure.
It was a nice way to welcome in the new year.
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Updated: July 9, 2005