I realized that what with everything going on with Panzer and the madness of life that I never posted about Shelby’s recent herding lesson at Raspberry Ridge. Silly me.
The lesson wasn’t actually a “lesson”; it was a training day before a trial, which is more informal. Carolyn moves from group to group while her students work on fetching, gathering, driving and tending, working ducks and sheep in twos and threes and tens. Carolyn encouraged me to sign up to try Shelby for an IT to get her first title on her, but unfortunately, she isn’t registered with the AKC, and she went into heat that night, so that was out. Maybe next time!
Anyway, the most interesting thing I learned on that training day was not actually about herding, well, it was, but it wasn’t about dogs herding.
Because we were going to work the dogs on their respective courses, we didn’t use them to move the sheep and the ducks into their places. Brilliant, I know, but we’re all just learning, and Carolyn had an ailing dog inside she was tending to, so we were left to our own devices without the use of her highly skilled dogs. As it stands, moving livestock from their pasture, splitting them up into different sized groups and then moving those different sized groups to various other places is a difficult chore, that’s advanced herding right there, especially with only two tending dogs, one of whom had just started training and the other (Shelby) who had taken the entire winter off and was about to lose her puppy brain by going into heat. So that left…well, us.
How many people does it take to move 20 ducks up to a B Course and groups of sheep to different pens around the farm? A lot. And a lot more time than it would take a dog. I was so exhausted and dirty after the escapade that I felt like I needed a nap, not to begin tending practice.
I remember last fall, watching Carolyn’s lead dog Dean herding ducks into aircraft crates just by crouching his body, moving his eyes and slowly walking forward. Carolyn and I had five crates full of ducks in less than 10 minutes with no one having to move a muscle, well, except Dean, but even he didn’t have to move that much. That’s not exactly how it went for us humans.
Our “herding” of ducks basically consisted of three of us chasing them around their enclosure, cornering them, then grabbing them by the feet and lopping them into crates (very positive of us, I know). There were more than a few escapes. Ducks hopped over our arms and jumped into pools, jumped on top of one another and out of crates, dashed out of the enclosure and hid underneath the chicken coop and lodged themselves into the thorns of rosebushes, all while we dimwitted and slow footed humans rushed to collect them. And in case you didn’t know this – ducks really, really stink.
By the time we had the necessary crates loaded, my pants were covered in duck slime and my shoes were slippery on the road, covered in duck poop. The ducks, meanwhile, were loaded into the back of an SUV where they didn’t quite fit, so I held onto the crates to keep them from falling while running behind the truck, the driver telling me the car was not happy going zero miles an hour up a gravel hill.
The sheep were even worse.
Apparently, humans applying “pressure” to sheep is not the same thing as dogs applying pressure to sheep. Basically, sheep do not seem to care one iota if you are close to them, at least not Carolyn’s sheep. Because of this, they simply walked around us, instead of flocking in nice tight groups like they would have if any of our dogs were present.
After we got the sheep out of the chute to their pen where they’d gathered and onto the open grass, it was a free for all. The sheep ripped up the grass which they didn’t get to graze that often while we walked up to them, shooing them with our hands and trying to “simulate” our dogs by getting low to the ground and waving our arms. Did the sheep care? Well, a little, but not much. I’m glad Shelby was in the car taking a nap, because I think she would have been embarrassed or at least bemused by my performance (or more likely than not feel an emotion which dogs can most certainly feel – frustration).
When I almost fell down trying to push a sheep up to join the rest of the flock, somebody got the bright idea of luring the sheep up to their respective places by shaking a grain bucket. Brilliant, now we’re thinking like positive reinforcement trainers. We were cooking after that, well, at least until we got to the first pen.
The sheep were not having it; the grain was not worth going through that tiny door to enter the pen where they probably knew that dogs were going to chase them. Nuh uh, not today, the sheep said. Besides, the grass here was just fine, thank you. While they grazed, we proceeded to run at them, shaking our arms. One of the students decided to break the tension by running straight through the flock, splitting them in the exact way we don’t want our dogs to. We all laughed as she ran like a banshee through the white fluff and came out the other side, acting triumphant like she’d just parted the red sea. Well, that was fun; okay, we can all see why our dogs delight in doing it.
A few more rounds of concerted effort had exactly three sheep in the pen, but as soon as the three turned around and realized they were missing the rest of their flock, they ran out again.
Tada! Enter the adorable little Corgi to the rescue! This particular Corgi doesn’t have much of a drive to herd, but he can tear up an agility course. He will have a go or two at the sheep, but he just doesn’t have the spark that most of our dogs have. That being said, he enjoys being with his owner, who enjoys the farm, so they hang out and mess about and just have fun, which is what it is all about anyway. Because no one was worried about him getting worked up or ruining his form before the trial (what with this haphazard sheep gathering operation), his owner figured he would be the perfect solution.
And he was!
While he heeled neatly on his leash, we gave his owner directions on where to lead him, applying pressure where we would instruct our dogs to apply pressure. In under five minutes, all the sheep were in their pen and the little Corgi was sitting pretty by his mom’s side, begging for a cookie.
It took us over an hour to do what even our inexperienced dogs probably could have done in half the time. Carolyn’s dogs would have had the task completed in minutes. And there were at least ten of us working on different things at different times. As I walked back to the car to let Shelby out so we could go begin training, I thought to myself, wow, this dog is really something.
I opened the car door, and she popped out, grinning ear to ear, “We going to go get the sheep mom?”
“Yeah Doodle, you ready to go sheeping?”
We walked through the C course to the tending pen, and I unhooked Shelby’s leash. She took off toward the sheep, stopping short right before the fence. They all flocked in the corner where she’d pushed them with her very presence, and I sighed and threw her leash over my shoulder. Behind me I could hear “go byes” and “away to mes” being sung out on the C course. Shelby trotted along the fence line, and I sat down. “Just have it girl, you deserve it, you know what you’re doing more than I do anyway. Maybe I’ll take a nap.”