Wheeeeee, what a wonderful training session we had today. It was cold and windy. There were storm clouds overhead. There was someone working in the front pasture. The rest of the flock was in the big pasture. Usually we would separate out a group of a half dozen or so and go to one of the round pens or wait our turn in the front pasture. Today Tsuki got to work the big flock. He was a very good boy.
His first outrun was bad. He wasn't paying any attention at all to the sheep he just made a half circle. From where we were standing that put him smack in the middle. Yup he split the stock. From then on, though, everything just got better. He was called off and ended up on a lie down far from the flock. He wasn't allowed, for a minute, to fetch any sheep at all to us. I watched his brows furrow and the wrinkles dance on his forehead. That's Tsuki thinking. He was released on an away (counter clock wise) to the sheep. As he was headed down hill toward them he was ordered to "get out" or make his out run wider so he would go AROUND the sheep. "Ding" the light went on. Yeah, he's done plenty of small outruns before but I don't think he'd ever gotten the idea that the outrun itself was in any way related to the
sheep. Usually he just goes out because we're telling him to, then he goes and gets the sheep. This time he looked up, looked for the end of the sheep, adjusted his position, went out and gathered them all very
We walked with him trailing behind the sheep. He didn't need many reminders not to push the sheep, he WALKED behind them, he did NOT try to circle. We'd leave the sheep behind and practiced those outruns. He remembered his lesson with those 30 sheep before and he did not try to bounce them off the fence - he scooted right along the fence and peeled them off just like he should.
At one point the sheep went back down to the barn. Since the area isn't open its a little tougher challenge for a green dog. My instructor told me to down him, but she wasn't looking at where he was when she said that so Tsuki ended up right on the edge of a pen. She had been planning on sending him away which would prevent the sheep from going around behind the barn. The pen was on his away side. Asking him to away from there would probably result in too small an arc. She looked, she shrugged, she told him "come bye" (clockwise). He went as far out as the fence would allow. As expected the sheep began to move off behind the barn. Tsuki kept moving on his come bye. I lost sight of him - I knew something was going right when the mass of sheep came our way. My instructor had a view of him for slightly longer but even so eventually he disappeared behind the barn after the rest of the flock. We held our breath -would he end up chasing some stray around to the other side? Nope - a second later he's following the rest of the flock and he's walking. Good Dog!
There is a lot of discussion on the herding lists about the order in which you teach things to a dog. If the dog is a natural fetcher (brings sheep to people) is it better to work on what is natural to the dog first - or do you teach the dog to drive (move the sheep away from the person) first? One argument for teaching the weaker behavior first is that in any case you will have to overcome a natural tendency - why wait until you have strengthened that tendency still more? I'm too new to it to have an opinion but I did find it interesting to watch the effect on Tsuki as we introduced him to driving. I think driving was, in a way, a great relief to him. His natural tendency relative to the sheep has been to fetch - but his natural tendency as to me has been to want to be with me. This conflict keeps him from maintaining good position.
In this introduction to driving he didn't have to actually take the sheep away - just walk in front of us with the sheep in front of him. On his own he picked an appropriate pace - whereas when he is fetching he tends to come up too close and too fast (trying to get closer to me). Watching this stuff is one of the things I like about dog training. It is so interesting to me to try to mold or guide innate behavior without deforming or corrupting it.
Now for all this we are still very green. After all we only get one practice session a week. It is really NOT adequate. I'm proud of my pup's ability to progress in spite of that obstacle. But we have both made a breakthrough. We are both getting a better feel for the sheep.
I nudged my instructor - Tsuki's tail was down indicating he was working, but he had the biggest grin, he was having a very good time. And I admit it, so was I.
The training site is a sheep co-op on the grounds of Forest Home Farm in San Ramon, California.
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