In the last session, Bonny began to lose her head more often, taking off after the sheep the moment I took my attention away from her. She seemed to be waiting for that moment when my attention was occupied and then off she went. I couldn’t trust her.
This session, we decided to correct the problem because it had already begun to be a habit in Brian’s opinion.
We started in the field, but she quickly repeated the same behavior and I wasn’t able to gain control of her, even with a long line on her. It’s so slick in the mud that it’s very hard to grab, and if I do the reward tends to be rope burns. Given that it could get her tangled up with the sheep, I opted to remove it and we headed to the round pen instead.
There, she took off a couple of times, but because the space was more constrained, I could run at her and block her from the sheep. In previous exercises I used my flag to do this, but it lay forgotten in the backseat of my car, so I had to rely on my body positioning. Fortunately she responded to my pressure and stopped when she saw me – a sign in itself of progress because in previous sessions I think she would have kept running past me, knowing I couldn’t block her without the flag.
But she stopped and I walked past her and away from the sheep, calling her off, and she followed. This repeated a couple of times in the first few minutes, and then her attitude seemed to change a bit.
Brian had me stand with her on the opposite side of the pen from the sheep. He asked me to walk a few yards away from her, parallel to the sheep, and then call her to me. She responded and then I repeated the exercise, keeping her in a lie down until I asked her to me. Once or twice, she took off after the sheep again, but I ran to block her and began again.
Eventually, I could move 10 or 15 yards away, forming a big triangle between me, her, and the sheep. “Give her a come by,” Brian said. I occupied the left hand point of the triangle, making it natural for her to move in a clockwise fashion. I did and she ran into the sheep, busting them up.
“Call her off, and then shorten it up.” So I did, forming a smaller triangle, with the sheep against the fence. This time she moved better, but still came in too tight. I had been anticipating that so I moved towards her, shaking a water bottle filled with rocks to get her to bend out. But it didn’t work and Brian said, “don’t move into her, move away from her.”
This is a problem I’ve been having, tending to move towards her, thinking that I can put pressure on her to bend her out. But it confuses her and doesn’t give her any place for her to bring the sheep:
The top row of pictures is a time sequence, beginning from the left. I would send Bonny but be standing still, waiting for her to go incorrectly so that I could move towards her and correct. The second and third pictures show the result.
Brian insisted that I move directly away from the sheep simultaneously to sending her. It took me awhile to realize what he was saying, but when I did, the second row of pictures was the result. Bonny didn’t go into the sheep, she flanked nicely around them, and there was no need to correct her. Brian did point out that even if I had needed to correct her, I didn’t need to move towards her – I could flap a jacket or a flag. But I think because I had to run at her to keep her off the sheep, I was instinctively doing the same thing to correct her flank.
When I relaxed and trusted her, things were suddenly smooth.
Afterward, Brian was encouraging. “You were fair to her. The only thing you insisted on was that she not go to the sheep until you told her to. And you helped her.”
As he was talking, Bonny was lying down at my side in the round pen, relaxed and watching the sheep. “Look,” Brian said. “Now you’ve got a buddy.”