Glossary of Terms:
Driving – The act of pushing the flock forward, typically involving the dogs getting behind the sheep, ankle biting, and moving the flock forward. Typical “driving” dogs include the Australian Shepherd, the English Shepherd, the Welsh Sheepdog, the Australian Kelpie and the Australian Collie.
Flock – The group of sheep.
Herding Instinct Test – The test performed on young herding breeds to see if they have the innate ability and desire to herd.
Stock – Short for livestock, in this case, sheep.
Part One – “Driving”
The closer and closer we got to Raspberry Ridge, the quicker and quicker I talked. You could set the odometer by the increasing rapidity in my voice. The nervousness only increased due to the fact that we were, as usual, running about fifteen minutes late. When I called Carolyn to tell her, she said not to worry, that they were running late too and to take my time and enjoy the ride.
It was hard not to enjoy the drive. I don’t spend much time in Northern Pennsylvania, but I should. Miles and miles of rolling pastures and cornfields with old stone barns attached, are separated only by quaint, brightly painted towns which haven’t been scourged by the small town’s plight of business yet. The whole landscape smelled like dirt and fresh hay and manure, a smell Shelby would have appreciated if I hadn’t forgotten her carsickness medicine, and she hadn’t thrown up twice. It’s a smell even my puny human nose appreciates, because it smells like horses and freedom and simplicity.
When we arrived, Carolyn’s helper Lisa came up to the field to wait with us while Carolyn ran the instinct test on another German shepherd, a big, dark, black and tan male who looked like he had to be at least a year old. Lisa explained to us what was happening, how Carolyn was seeing if the dog would “drive” the four sheep behind the fence in the middle of the field toward his owner, who had moved to the other side of the pen, which he did, eventually, but only after he ceased his excited barking and jumped up on the fence, scattering the sheep but sending them hightailing it to the other side of the pen.
While they reset, Lisa took Shelby and me to see the ducks, which I thought she would love, since she likes to chase birds in the backyard, but besides a passing glance, she wasn’t that interested. I told Lisa I thought the ducks didn’t move enough to catch Shelby’s eye, not like the flitting and diving birds in our backyard. As it turns out, this observation was incredibly accurate and extremely critical as to where Shelby “fits” in the herding world.
Shelby and Joe continued to investigate the ducks (Joe) and eat sheep poop (Shelby), while I talked with Lisa. I said to her that I was very thankful of the way she approached Shelby when she first came up, which was from the side, with her eyes averted, because Shelby and I have been working through her fear period for almost two months now, and strangers always seem to want to try something I feel is inappropriate with her. We talked about the dreaded alpha roll and the collar corrections, which Lisa rolled her eyes at, then she smiled and began tossing treats in Shelby’s direction. In less than five minutes, Lisa and Shelby were not only making eye contact, they were working together. Shelby was showing off her down, sit, stand, shake and all of their variations. I watched and knew that I was in love with Raspberry Ridge.
I didn’t see much of the tending test for the other dog, I was so focused on Shelby, but I did see him attempt to leap into the pen on several occasions, prompting some stories from Lisa about how she’d seen dogs jump in and seen others take sheep down. I tried not to gulp and think about that waiver I’d signed that laid out the cost of replacing sheep.
The other test ended, and Shelby, Joe and I entered the paddock. In front of us was that driving pen with the four sheep in it. I kept my eyes on the sheep, wondering, but Shelby just walked up to Carolyn’s golf cart and stuck her head in one of her pockets. How rude! I laughed; Carolyn laughed and tossed Shelby some treats. Some fear period.
“So this is Ms. Shelby.”
I smiled, “Yep, this is Shelby.”
“And what’s Shelby’s story?”
“Well, she came from a breeder in Ohio, Rhonda Sellers, Omorrow German Shepherds, and she has been clicker trained since 9 weeks when we got her off the plane. She’s been through eighteen weeks of basic obedience training, and she seems to have a pretty decent herding drive, or at least, it seems like it to me.”
Carolyn nodded, “Sounds good to me. So do you think that she will stay by you if you have her off leash?”
I hesitated, “I mean, she does at home and in training, and she has a pretty decent recall, but in a new place, with the sheep and everything, I dunno.”
“All right, so put her on this long line and head over to the sheep.”
I did as she asked and hooked Shelby up to the twenty-five foot orange lead, took a deep breath, and plunged into the vast unknown.
As soon as we walked up to the pen, Shelby looked at the sheep and cocked her head. I walked closer, letting her sniff and stop as she chose. Carolyn told me to walk around the pen slowly, which I did. At the far left-hand corner, Shelby stuck her whole head through the fence, straining to get a closer look.
“Tell her good!” Carolyn called, and I did. “Now, as an experiment, click.”
I clicked. Shelby didn’t look back, if anything, she stuck her head further through the fence, “I did, but she didn’t respond.”
“That’s okay, she did respond, she just didn’t look back. That’s great actually, she doesn’t need to turn back, the reinforcement is there. The click is just letting her know she’s doing the right thing, and it’s okay to keep doing it. You don’t actually want her to turn back, nothing should be more interesting than the stock, and you don’t want her to turn away and lose track of them. That’s very good. Okay, keep walking.”
We walked a little further, me clicking and tossing treats near the pen, while Carolyn yelled “good” whenever Shelby got near the sheep.
“Okay, now, I want you to drop the line and walk to the other side of the pen, see if you can sneak away from her.” I started to let the line out, a foot at a time, walking backwards. Shelby turned and trotted after me. “Drop the line on the ground! Release the line, and take a few breaths, she isn’t going to go anywhere, this dog adores you!”
I giggled, nervous, but did as Carolyn said, then tried to sneak away again. No good. Shelby followed me every time. Maybe she adored me a little too much.
Carolyn laughed and turned her golf court down to the tending pen, “All right, I’ll meet you down over there. Don’t pick up the leash, I want to see if she will follow you away from the sheep too.”
So off we went, and besides stopping to pick up a big chunk of sheep fur which had gotten stuck on a thorny weed, Shelby trotted at my left side the whole way, dragging the twenty-five foot lead behind her the whole time.