24 February, 2008

26 April 07 - Herding tale

So this is the run-down of my weekend as sent to our herding students' list. For those of you who need a little more background, here is the cast of characters:

Me - novice herding student on a STEEP learning curve
Diane - my herding instructor
Magick - my very novice herding dog
Lucy - Diane's 2-year-old Border collie who is my current trial dog
Dolly and Ray - 2 of Diane's other young Border collies who I don't know very well

This Saturday was Lucy's and my first try at a Nursery USBCHA sheep course. The course is comprised of an outrun (300yds), lift, fetch through panels, drive, crossdrive and pen. If you're that much of a herding nerd, check out www.usbcha.org

Overall the run went well. We finished under time, successfully completed all the obstacles and did not retire or get dq'd, so we made it through a Nursery course on our first try!! Lucy worked her heart out for me. She and I had a few small differences of opinion but with a young dog, strange sheep and a very very green handler this is not unusual at all. We earned 5th place with a score of 64 points. Not stellar, but still pretty darn good.

The rest of my weekend wasn't exactly uneventful either. Following is the story of the "other" herding activities this weekend:

Well, I went out to work dogs on Friday. I planned on working Magick and Lucy, which evolved into working Magick, Lucy, Dolly and Ray.

All was well, I used Lucy to bring the sheep into the round pen from the lower pasture. Sorted out a couple of unlikely candidates which left like 5 sheep and a goat. I decided to work Magick first to take the edge off - put her in the round pen and had a very nice session.

Next was Dolly - she was quite the little lady. Very polite, rating nicely, moving freely around the stock and lying down swiftly and quietly. Had a nice session - calm dog, calm handler, calm sheep.

Then Ray had a turn. (Mind you, Lucy and Magick are NOT pleased that they are not the only dogs working with me and the woolies). All was well. He decided not to lie down once... but only once.

Back to Magick again. She had another nice short session balancing well. We are working on changing directions without slicing into the stock. She was being very good, so at the end I took her with me to the gate, opened the gate and sent her back into the pen on her own to bring the sheep out. She did this very nicely.

She was a hot and dirty little dog by now, so she went for a swim in the ditch. The cow had been watching all of this from afar and seemed quite interested in the dog swimming up and down the ditch. When Magick climbed out, the cow just walked right up to her and gave her a good sniff. She did the same to him, then gave him a swift, hard head-butt right on the
nose. No teeth, just a hard smack. The cow was quite shocked by this and took off at a quick trot away from the weird little
head-butting-swimming-dog-thing. I was curious to see what would happen, so took a few steps toward the cow just watching Magick. Lo and behold, she trotted right up behind that cow as calm as could be and marched him right into the round pen!!! I couldn't believe my eyes.

At this point I couldn't help myself. Grabbed Lu to put 3 sheep and a goat in with the cow and took Magick back into the round pen. Little miss Magick was more than happy to work the cow and goat along with her sheep like a champ. After a few gathers, we quit while we were ahead and moved off to the big field to practice some driving with Lucy. (If you want to practice starting the drive, just put some grain in a bucket under the orange cone marking the post... Lucy had to work pretty hard to push those woolies off of me)

Fast forward through Saturday (trial) to Sunday. Again I'm working all 4 dogs. Magick and Lucy both worked very nicely for me again. Ray's turn came and he was working very nicely and politely in the round pen so I decided (wisely or unwisely? one never knows) to take him out into the lower pasture.

The sheep are standing around the big stump and there is a group of sheep across the ditch (which I hadn't really paid attention to) grazing as well. I am standing near the round pen and send Ray left... next thing I know he has launched himself completely airborne, clears the ditch in a single leap and is halfway to the sheep I hadn't even seen.

While I have visions of dragging sheep out of the ditch by myself with no backup and getting soaked and grouchy it finally occurs to me to call the dog... Just 2 "Ray, That'll do!!" and he came running right back. The second time I was smart enough to send him right and he picked up the sheep on my side of the ditch...

But the real fun was yet to come. Dolly was worked last. This may have been a problem. She was pretty amped but working well in the round pen. She had been downing nicely and calling off the sheep to reset up nicely as well. When I decided we were done and called her off the sheep to the gate she decided not to come. I called her a few more times and tried to get between her and the sheep to collect her and she just put on the gas and kept pushing the sheep right onto me. So I have the bright idea: Let her fetch the sheep to me at the gate, let the sheep out of the round pen, then I'll be alone with the dog in the pen and she'll be more likely to come.

The sheep are right around my legs, Dolly is lying down on the opposite side of the pen grinning at the sheep. I open the gate and the sheep squirt out. I close the gate and turn around to call the dog when out of the corner of my eye I see a red and white flash... running across the pen... and then AIRBORNE... She sails right over the round pen fence and there I am, locked in the round pen with no dog and no sheep and she is off and running toward the pond...

&*#$^ is about all I'm capable of at this point. I finally made my way out of the round pen. I figured I'd just let her bring me the sheep and go from there but Dolly wasn't convinced that bringing me the sheep was in her best interest. So then it was convince Dolly to bring me the sheep... pressure, release, pressure, release. Eventually she did fetch the sheep to me and lie down long enough to be caught. Boy did she look pleased with herself. Taught me a lesson thinking I could outsmart a border collie who didn't think she was done working!!

So apparently, Lucy can do a Nursery course, Magick can work the cow, and both Ray and Dolly are FLYING sheep dogs.

All is well... I went home after that and sat on the back deck and had a cocktail.

Monique and Magick
(and Lucy's Auntie)

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