I have some pretty darn amazing friends in my life.....right now, they are all off seizing the day and allowing me to live vicariously through them. I especially love the calls after a run....where they share their glories and disappointments and, together, we begin to sort out what might have happened. I LOVE that mental chess game! A common theme from the range ewe trials is that one ambitious ewe that appears to not want to flock and prefers to go off and do her own thing...testing the dog every step. "How to handle this?" being a common question being asked after a run with a rogue appearing ewe.
I remember back a few years...gah more like 7, when I went to a clinic with Nell. The clinician asked me what Nell had on her...and I said, "well, she knows everything." What I meant was.....she knows her commands....come bye, away to me, lie down (although one would never know this), walk on and steady. She absolutely knew those commands on dog broke sheep and, on said sheep, looked very shiny for the most part. With the patience of Job, this clinician stuck with me.....helping me to see that "knowing commands" and "knowing sheep" are two hugely separate skills for both me and my dog. Thus began my lifelong endeavor to know sheep, to allow my dog to know sheep through feel and lack of me telling them what to do every step of the way, to begin to really appreciate and respect that natural instinct that lies in my dog's DNA when it comes to sheep. Yes, the training of commands and the reciprocal allowing me to tell my dogs what to do is important. However, for me...... the ahhhh producing feel and understanding a dog has of sheep that have rarely seen a any dog besides a predator is what makes this journey magical.
I've been pondering sheep a lot this winter....because, heck what else did I have to ponder? Sheep, being a prey animal...and our dogs, being predators, brings a multitude of variable reactions to the field of sheep dogging and big gathers. What makes that one ewe go on a recon mission? Did she show any subtle signs she would be testing the dog? Did the dog give any feedback that they might allow the sheep to do whatever she wanted? I've been told about fight or flight.....and getting around the course is giving the sheep the option to flee the way we want them to in a walking fashion. I've also witnessed runs where the most belligerent sheep, sheep that had beat the set out dog and ran back to the pen a few times before being set, were settled down and trained around the course by a respected handler. I scratch my head and watch the video over and over and over. How did the dog and handler settle those sheep?
The idea of "bossing sheep around" is probably said tongue in cheek......I know I have felt like I wanted to boss sheep around many times. The idea of "I'll teach that ewe a lesson!" is so easy to fall into on a run going bad or when sheep do not want to go into the Pratley, cross the creek, or go through the footbath. Pulling the excuse out of my back pocket..."that is just a bad ewe"....makes life simple and yet top handlers rarely get bad ewes! How can that be? Sure, every now and then they do...but for the most part, top handlers end up at the top of the result list for a few reasons.....and most of the handlers KNOW sheep. I think back to that run in Virginia where Jack Knox drew up an recalcitrant ewe. Though his run did not get him through to Saturday......watching him work the sheep around the course was a clinic all in itself. I'm pretty sure he never had "we're going to boss these sheep around" in his mind ever. Perhaps there were a few times where Jack's dog told that one ewe what to do..but it always ended with the sheep being allowed to go. The run was all about pressure and the release of pressure....pressure corrects, the release of pressure trains.... together, Jack and his dog used this concept to get that packet of sheep around the course.
Studying sheep.....knowing what sheep are thinking before they actually think it.....understanding sheep behavior.......beginning to understand when to use pressure and when to allow escape......all the little fine details of just knowing sheep makes working sheep smoother. I'm not there yet! I sorted sheep with my sheep producing friend the other day. I used my dog, some shedding, and a gate to sort a few I was selling. I missed two so my friend sorted them out of the barn for me. She just used her body and her eyes. I seriously doubted her ability to get this done......wrong on my part! It was an international shed, allowing sheep to leave, while knowing exactly what to watch for and keeping the two back to the end. It didn't hurt that is still in her 20's! I think I need to do more of that.....moving and working sheep without my dog so I can understand them better.
I have a lot of respect for sheep.....we wouldn't have these dogs if it weren't for the sheep. My mentors have helped me learn that sheep are not stupid; like so many creatures, they do crazy things when they get scared. I'm beginning to learn that it is a life long endeavor to understand sheep. I love the never ending learning! That and the dogs are what keep me out of the bars at night LOL!
Seize the Day
Spot March 2017; Listening; Hearing
15 hours ago