Over the years we have been training and trialing Tsuki and I have had multiple challenges. I have learned much as a handler but I still have much more to learn. Tsuki, for his part, learned early on that half the time I have no idea what I'm doing so listening to me can often lose him his sheep. But no small part in this challenge is that Tsuki scares the heck out of a lot of sheep. Probably if there was one single thing I might do differently if I were to start over again with this dog knowing what I know now - I'd get him out in a big field and keep him out there.
I've spent years trailing him in arena trials and he just isn't an arena dog. It is very common for us to do no more than enter the arena and have the sheep start running, or trying to climb the walls. A couple of weeks ago the person I rent sheep from for training was actually watching while Tsuki was lying down, not moving and her sheep started to run, then jumped over a barrier into their pen. She stood there for a moment, then instucted me on getting the sheep out. This was as much for training the sheep at that moment (that their move would't work) as it was for me and my dog. It went smoothly enough.
Anyway all this is a preamble to describing a recently very successful trial. We got 3rd place out of 8 dogs in AHBAs HTAD I. It was course 3 and it started with a take pen. Several people ahead of us had tried to remove the sheep from the take pen by sending their dog around the outside but the sheep wouldn't budge and the dogs had to go in.
When I entered the arena I could see that the sheep were already nervous. No way was I going to send Tsuki into a pen full of flighty nervous sheep. So I left him near where I entered and walked 30 feet or so to the take pen gate. The sheep shifted their feet as I opened the gate wide. Tsuki was a good dog and stayed where I had left him. "Go Bye" I called and Tsuki took off swinging away from me and toward the back of the pen. Tension in the sheep pen mounted but no one moved until Tsuki had drawn about even with the open gate. He paused briefly and I reminded him "Go bye" and he went around the outside of the pen stopping neatly in the corner. The sheep decided to leave the pen. Tsuki (good boy!) held his position, and I closed the gate.
Now here is where half the time it falls apart. The sheep start to run, Tsuki tries stopping them, the sheep are sure a wolf is after them and .... But this time that didn't happen. Although the sheep came shooting out of the pen they only went 15-20 feet or so before deciding them that the dog in the corner wasn't coming to eat them. So they stopped. Good sheepies.
Now the exact position they were in was not the best for the next part of the course. It all depended on continuing to persuade the sheep that Tsuki didn't want to eat them. And that meant Tsuki had to stay back from them when I told him to. And he did. Points deducted for the take pen 0.
I moved my position a bit, Tsuki started to move up. I told him to stay, and he held his position. The sheep started to drift to the first obstacle, the Y-chute. We moved that way, then let Tsuki move up and out a bit so they crossed the arena to the chute. It was a bit ragged, but we got there. Points deducted for the drive 3.
The sheep moved smoothly through the Y-chute. Now the direction they were going has a very strong draw. What we needed to do was have Tsuki move out in front of them to push them back my way but without pushing them back through the Y-chute. I flanked Tsuki with a "get back - away" and (good boy!) he did it without deciding he had to come all the way to the sheep. The sheep looked at him a bit nervously but he was just standing there, and he was in their way to where they really wanted to go, so they decided to mosey on down my direction. Points deducted for the Y-chute 0.
At this point I could hardly believe it was going this smoothly. There I was, right where I needed to be to get the sheep through the panels. Um well, hot dog. If I can keep everything calm. I started down toward the panels. The sheep drifted a bit, I told Tsuki to "go bye" (note the lower case -quietly) and he did, and the sheep changed their mind and continued straight through the panels. Then I flanked Tsuki "away" to turn them back toward me and to the pen. Points deducted for the panels 0.
OK - so now I have a bit of a problem. I (a) didn't expect it to get this far and (b) didn't expect it to have gone this smoothly. So I wasn't mentally ready for the pen, and we haven't done a lot of practice on the pen. And - OK so here is my whiner excuses mode - everyone was having trouble with the pen. But I gave it a good shot. And damn I was happy with my dog. He went where he was told and he stopped where he was told.
And the sheep, well they were behaving like good sheep. Which is not to say they were cooperating by marching into the pen, they weren't. They were being little stinkers and not going into the pen. But still they were acting like nice reasonable sheepies and not freaking out over my dog who has not so much as pulled wool. We did a couple circuits of the pen but the sheep never took off for home. I did get them nicely settled. I talked sweetly to them. Tsuki held his down (good dog). The sheep followed me to the mouth of the pen .... then I realized I was in the wrong place. How was I going to move so I could get the sheep on the inside with me on the outside?
The answer was ... I wasn't. The second I tried to gently move my position the sheep decided that if I wasn't going in then neither were they! I decided that I had asked enough of my dog. I closed the gate. The sheep ran off for home. Points deducted for the pen 8.
I sent Tsuki away to pick the sheep up and bring them back. Good sheepies they settled pretty quickly. They did not take off like the big bad wolf was after them. We got them settled for the hold. Points deducted for the hold 2.
And now for the home stretch, putting the sheep away. You'd think that since the sheep want to go home that this would be a slam dunk but often people lose points here because the sheep want to go home so badly they say heck with the dog and they run over the dog and handler. I always like this part because, well heck, Tsuki is good at it. For all his goofiness out on the course he takes his pens and gates seriously. I rarely have trouble moving him at the pace I want him or to the place I want him.
Usually I just have to have Tsuki somewhere and the sheep won't come any where near the gate. But as I mentioned these sheep weren't all that upset by him. So when I walked to the gate to open it they thought they'd come running. I walked Tsuki up a few feet. They thought about it, backed off, then as I opened the gate they thought they'd make another run for it. I walked Tsuki darned near all the way to the gate. The sheep decided they'd wait. I opened the gate, had Tsuki step back, and hold your hat, here they come. Points deducted for the Repen 0.
It was a wonderful feeling to have a good run, with a good dog who was listening. Not to mention good sheepies who at least gave us a fair shot at it. Thanks sheepies.
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Copyright © 22 July 2006, Diane Blackman
Created: 22 July 2006