Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shedding and Penning, and Fun

Rodeo seems to have regained his verve, and I think I may be regaining some of mine, too.

On Tuesday, we did some outrun work, and Rodeo took off like a shot each from the outset, bounding along and giving every indication that he was having a great time. There was no need to jazz him up or get him excited.

Brian continues to insist that I need to be more firm with him, and a couple of times I was: He was so intent on the sheep that he didn’t come to me when I called. I got fed up with it and walked over to him, grabbed him by the collar, and literally dragged him to where I had been standing.

I’ve always been afraid that handling him like that would make him sulky or cower away from me. In fact, it was just the opposite. When I sent him, he went just as enthusiastically, and when I called him to me later he came much more readily. It’s becoming evident that he likes it when I assert a lot of control over him – Brian refers to it as making things “black and white.” It sure doesn’t come naturally to me because I’m anything but domineering by nature, but I was very pleased with the results.

We did a little bit of work on penning, and Rodeo accounted well for himself. There were about 8 sheep, and one of Brian’s other students stood just inside the round pen with her dog, which made it very hard to convince the sheep to go in there. It took us 2 or 3 minutes right at the gate of the pen because the sheep stood and faced him. But with a minimum of commands from me he stared them down. On a couple of occasions, one or two of the sheep tried to make a break for the open field, but he flashed to cut them off and then returned right back to the pressure point in front, until finally they were convinced and turned to go into the pen.

“He’s going to be a good penning dog,” Brian said, then added: “He’s going to be a really good penning dog.”

We finished with some shedding – something we hadn’t done for quite awhile. The objective in shedding is to split one group of sheep into two. You have to lay the dog down on the opposite side of the sheep and then carefully move into the sheep to create a gap, and then call the dog into it. It’s challenging for the handler because you have to read the direction of the sheep and drift along with them until a natural opening begins to appear, all the while watching the dog and moving it so that it will be in position when the gap opens.

At that point, you have to call the dog to you. That’s a challenge because Rodeo frantically looks from one group of sheep to the other, wondering which one he should fetch to me, and ignores my pleas to come directly to me. After the 3rd or 4th command he took it, though. I turned to face the group that I wanted to split off, then had him walk towards them to move them away from the others. After that we did played a bit of a game, walking around with one group of sheep and preventing them from rejoining the other group. Then we worked on the “look back” command, which means to find another group of sheep other than the one that’s being worked.

With the split off group in hand, I called out “look back” until he turned his head to see the other group of sheep, and then I gave him encouragement to fetch them and re-form the original flock.

We repeated the procedure a couple of times, and Rodeo really seemed to enjoy it. Brian said that most dogs do, and it’s a good training tool because it helps teach the drive (moving one group of sheep away from the other) and the look back. It’s also a good exercise to keep one group from rejoining the others, because it forces him to handle them delicately. If he gives them the slightest opening, they can easily beat him to join their compatriots.

Perhaps most importantly, shedding is fun, for both of us. Getting the sheep lined up to create an opening is a little like a moving, three-dimensional puzzle, and keeping the sheep separated is also an entertaining challenge. 

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