I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but herding, especially tending, is not exactly a spectator sport. For the most part, when the dog is doing it right, it doesn’t seem all that exciting. It’s basically just a dog trotting around some livestock. There are no stunning athletic feats like you’ll find in disc or agility. There’s no on the edge of your seat suspense like in Schutzhund. There is no upbeat music or cute tricks like you’ll find in freestyle. Herding is a a feat of self control. And I don’t know about you, but watching someone stare at a cookie for ten minutes while they will themselves not to eat it is not all that exciting for a third party.
I’ve heard people say (people in my family, *coughJoecough* included) “Why is it taking so long, all she has to do is trot around some sheep? How hard can it be to train that?”
The answer is simple. Hard. Shelby isn’t just trotting around some sheep. She’s trotting around an animal that she’d much rather chase, or in some cases, eat. For anyone who lives with a high drive dog, how many times have you been grateful that that leash is there when your dog sees a squirrel or a bunny or a kid on a bike? Lots, I would imagine. Well, in herding you’re constantly surrounded by that level of distraction with no leashes. The only control you have over your dog is your voice and the training you’ve put in. So there’s a lot of training involved.
Carolyn jokes that when men come to her with their German shepherds, she tries to entice them into taking up tending by telling them that it’s a sport that only entails getting drunk in a field while your dog does the work. While that’s true (ideally), she fails to mention the three plus years of training that go into it beforehand.
Shelby started herding in April of 2012. She was just 7 months old. Her herding basically it involved a lot of helicopter tail, barking and over-enthusiasm. We slowly started chipping away at her, clicking and treating calm behavior, ignoring helicopter tail, removing her from the flock when she got over aroused. Then we started to click and treat when she covered the flock. Then we started to increase the distance, forcing her to recognize a tactile border instead of the fence. When we introduced a tactile border, we had to reset, lowering our criteria for calm behavior and covering and build it back up again. (side note: I had a video to include with this but Facebook and I are getting in a fight).
Of course, there were breaks in there. In November of 2012, Shelby was working on a long line with no fence. She charged to get to a sheep that was crossing the border (which is exactly what she was supposed to do) but the long line was wrapped around my hand, and I couldn’t get myself untangled in time. Shelby hit the end of the line like a 70 pound steam engine, taking me down ass over teakettle and breaking three of my fingers and one bone in my hand. We took the winter off.
When we came back, we had to start basically from scratch, but she started to pick it up quicker and quicker. Recently, due to some ongoing medical and personal problems of mine, we had to take another 3 month hiatus, but we are back at it and this time, Shelby doesn’t appear to have forgotten anything. Check her out now!
The orange stuff is the tactile border. I know, it’s not super interesting and doesn’t seem super impressive, but it is! It really is! Carolyn was so impressed by Shelby’s work on Saturday that she says it’s time to start opening up the fences again, so we can allow Shelby to push sheep back across the border.
In essence, we’re one step closer to trialing. Again.