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 French Trial - First Try

The French Trial is Nov 2 and 3rd in Wilton.

a "French-style Herding Trial" "The emphasis in the trial is on practical, efficient work in taking sheep from an enclosure, moving through the course and negotiating various obstacles (including a vehicle pass in the Level III class -- the small vehicle will be moving very slowly), gathering up the flock after a brief graze, catching and briefly holding a sheep, and returning the flock to the pen." I'm nervous, excited, and pleased all at once. The nervous is obvious. But I'm also pleased with the level of encouragment from my instructor. I have to say that if he works in trial like he does in training I agree. He just works better with a larger flock and this one is supposed to be at least 20. And he likes to be DOING something. Oddly I'm not concered about the graze. He is perfectly willing to lie quietly and calmly and watch, its the mid range dawdling that he tries to make more .. um ... interesting.

Here is some more of the course "The handler enters the pen with dog. The dog should walk in front of the handler around the pen, calmly and quietly clearing a path, "protecting" the handler from being jostled by the sheep. (The handler may be required to carry a feed bucket.) At the signal from the judge, the handler and dog return to the gate. The handler opens the gate, exits, then sends the dog around the sheep to bring them out"

"The sheep turn left and are taken through the runway. Level II -- Care must be taken that they don't go through the open gate into the large pen on the right. If they do go into the pen, simply go collect them, and proceed onto the z-chute. The gate will be closed for Level I."

I hope I get in. If not, well, it will come around again next year.

If you aren't familiar with herding it may not be obvious how different this is from the typical AKC herding trial. First sheep behave very differently depending upon the size of the flock (and its composition). And the graze can be very difficult. While Tsuki may not have a problem with it, it is possible the sheep will have a problem with Tsuki. He has BBDS - Big Black Dog Syndrome, in which some sheep flee merely for seeing the dog. Fortunately his case isn't as bad as some, so as long as he moves calmly it should be OK. For dogs with BBDS distance is also an issue. They need a lot of it. Tsuki has to be about twice the distance as the more typical Border Collie. That's fine if the space is available, but it isn't always. I watched one really good dog with BBDS work the sheep basically staying on the opposite side of the arena the entire time. It worked well for most of the trial, but the center panel was a real problem.

Anyway it should be interesting. I'll go watch even if I don't get in.

Mon Nov 4 02:18:23 2002

Anyone want a dog? No I love him but it is embarassing when he doesn't listen. Virtually all my points off were for commands that weren't obeyed. It was an interesting course which we should have done much better on.

One of the nice things about working Tsuki is that he doesn't grip (bite) and he doesn't run sheep into the fence. At some point in his training he learned to back off as the sheep approaches a fence, if he hasn't caught up yet. And even when he sets things up for a chase (I'm sorry to say he does do that) he doesn't run on their heels but runs wide and around to try to stop the sheep just by his presence. Both these factors were an immense relief because this trial was not an example of a well controlled dog.

It was a very nice course. I think one of the disappointing things to me was that it was the kind of course he should have done well one. And one of the most frustrating was that somehow his "stay" entirely disappeared. This is extremely rare.

Tsuki always starts calmly, and this trial was no exception. First was to walk into a packed pen. The dog is supposed to move the sheep out of the way. Well he tried. I knew that was going to be difficult for him. He did very well but they wanted to pile up instead of moving. Getting close to the sheep makes him nervous. When he gets nervous he quits thinking and starts bouncing and woofing. When he bounces and woofs the sheep will get nervous and flighty, which makes him more anxious to bring them under control. It's a vicious cycle.

My lack of experience caught up with me at the point I needed to get the sheep out. When Tsuki takes sheep from a pen they tend to explode out so I tried leaving him outside and pushing the sheep out myself. We done that quite a bit in practice. The sheep left - Tsuki put them back in. Oops that was not the way it was supposed to go. I tried a couple things, eventually I walked in and shoved the sheep out and managed to close the gate before they could get back in.

Then it was walk out to a cone and turn the sheep through some center panels. We were supposed to stop the sheep before going through the panels as if
checking for traffic on a road. I almost forgot the stop and even when I remembered it was sloppy. It went fast, not very well controlled, but done.

Then take the sheep along the fence line to a Z chute. This is a maybe two sheep wide fenced alleyway that zig zags. Tsuki hadn't done much chute work. The trick with the Z-chute is to get the sheep to string out a bit. If they bunch up they won't fit and you can end up with sheep everywhere. Well I got them in,
but I couldn't get them OUT.

Uh oh - as the sheep came out of the chute, Tsuk'd come bouncing over and push them right back again. . He had decided that the chute was a pen and the sheep weren't leaving. And nothing I could do would persuade him otherwise. This is where I got the big shock of the lost "stay." I put him on a "stay" near the back of the chute knowing that if I opened the gate the sheep would leave the chute and go out it. Unfortunately Tsuki also knew this and was not going to let it happen.

I have no idea how much time I spent on that obstacle. Too much time. I finally gave up, grabbed his collar and walked behind the chute pushing the sheep out. The next step was to open a gate so we could take them down the road. No problem, really. Next was to open a big gate and head for the graze. This was a really huge field. The "graze" is just an area where you let the sheep settle down and eat for a minute or so. A good sheep dog should be able to just lie down and quietly watch the sheep, while not letting them take off for parts unknown.

We got down to the flat area and I finally got a "down" and "stay" out of him. The sheep settled on the graze. At a signal from the judge I let Tsuki gather them. Next came a stop a sheep and hold it. No problem. Then back up the road, open the gate, close the gate. Back to the arena, open the gate, close the gate. And back to the small pen. Yes with much yelling of "down" "down" "down" from me we actually got the sheep re-penned.

We got tons of points off for "disobedience". We obviously didn't qualify but neither did the judge call us off.

I'm not used to disobedient dogs. And I wasn't prepared for him to turn into such a puppy brains when he had made such improvement in practice. I should know better, but it was still a surprise. Mostly I need to get out to other new places so he learns the same rules apply no matter where we are. And for a while I'll enjoy herding on home territory, or away as a visitor, but skip the competitions for a while.

One thing I really liked is how nice everyone was. It made me feel much better. And standing around listening to them they didn't make catty remarks about other people's runs, even those going very badly.






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