Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Bonny has made steady progress over the past couple of months. I can call her off reliably, she has developed a nice pace behind the sheep, and I think we're starting to form a good partnership.

Last week, we moved to a different field, where the sheep are far less dog broke. That means that they'll tend to break and run more easily, so the dog must give out more on flanks.

Predictably, Bonny and I ran into trouble quickly. She is used to sheep that cling tightly to me, and as a result she flanked too closely and sent these flightier sheep moving past me. She wasn't feeling the bubble.

Brian had me do some walkabouts with her, lying her down behind the sheep as I backed up, letting the distance between her and the sheep widen so that she could begin to feel the bubble better. But she didn't want to take her lie downs. She would outright refuse to take them, or if she did, she hopped back up as soon as she could.

When we worked on outruns, she refused to take the flank I requested. I'd set her up to go on a come-by (clockwise) outrun by positioning myself between her and the sheep, offset a bit to the left as I faced her. The shortest route to the balance point (opposite the sheep from me) would therefore be on a clockwise flank. But she hopped up and went the opposite way, circling counter-clockwise.

Why? Because the sheep really wanted to move down the field, in her direction and past her, because there were other sheep that way. She knew that as soon as she vacated her spot, the sheep would be drawn her way. The clockwise flank took her out of position, unable to stop them. So she 'flipped,' moving counterclockwise to head them off before they could get anywhere.

This is a problem. We need her to take whatever flanks she is given, regardless of whether she thinks the sheep will get away. Otherwise, it's impossible to move the sheep in all possible directions, because there will always be a draw on any field. If this becomes a habit, she's likely to head off any sheep that I try to move towards the direction of a draw.

Her unwillingness to lie down on walkabouts is probably a similar problem. She's too anxious that the sheep will get away, so she doesn't want to lose contact with them. Bonny needs to learn that it's okay if the sheep get away, so she can be more relaxed. She also needs to trust me that the sheep won't get away if she follows my lead.

We worked on the problem by working the sheep up against the fence, which shortened the distance and allowed us to move close to the sheep to help her. Then we repeated the exercise, asking her to flank around the sheep in a direction that would release them in the direction of the draw. The first 5 or 6 times, she refused, flipping to reverse course and head off the sheep. But after some corrections and cajoling, she finally flanked around the sheep, passing between them and the fence, then circled around and brought them back around to us.

Lo and behold, the sheep did not escape as she had feared. Instead, as long as she flanked wide, they settled near me. We repeated the exercise until she would flank cleanly without flipping. Afterward, I sent her on an outrun in the center of the field, maybe 50 yards, in a clockwise direction that forced her to leave the draw open. This time she didn't flip. She completed a nice outrun, brought them to me, and we called it a day. It was clear she had learned quite a bit.