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TRIALING AND TRAINING
DOG FIRST AID
MADE IN THE USA
SHEEPDOG HERDING LESSONS
Today, I am getting ready for an upcoming trial at the end of the week. I, as much as the dogs, need to practice on my sheepdog herding skills and especially my timing. Timing is critical in herding, and the hardest to learn. Depth perception is also hard to judge, but does not take as long to learn or excel at, than timing does. If the timing is not right, all kinds of things can happen. Usually over flanking is seen and occasionally under flanking. Under flanking is a lot easier to correct, just give another little flank and the dog gets into the position originally needed.
Over flanking looks and feels terrible. The dogs will zig and zag the sheep all over the place. Part of that can be reduced by getting more distance between the dogs and the sheep. Dogs that are right up the sheep’s butts, that's when over flanking is most exaggerated, and really looks amateurish.
When sheep get really dog broke, the same thing can be triggered. The sheep get heavy and a lot harder to move. Then the dogs will work harder to get them to move, and the result is dogs that are on top of the sheep- and zig zags occur.
My sheep are getting heavy and harder to move. That is why I like to breed them, and get fresh sheep every year with a new crop of lambs. Lambs are very hard to work. They don't have a leader in their early months, thus are all over the place. The result of being all over the place, is it is very difficult to drive or fetch straight lines with lambs. And straight lines are what competition is all about. This teaches the dogs a lot about sheep. Dogs that work all different types of sheep and terrains are the most well rounded types of dogs. Just like when we go to college. They won't let us just take our core classes; we have to take all of the other support classes too. Once we are through with college, we usually have learned how to think critically, and know more about the world, because we have been forced to take classes other that just what our major is.
The same is with the sheepdog. The more exposure a dog has to different sheep and terrains, the more he learns, and becomes seasoned. The better seasoned, the better thinker and problem solver they are. And in case a problem might arise on the trial field, hopefully the dog can handle it and not shut down, because he can't think for himself. We want our dogs thinking and not to be robots responding to our every word.
This seasoning is why I strive to work different sheep on different fields. The more the better. I have even driven some distances to work on different fields, just because of how valuable it is for our dogs. I remember Kate's first ProNovice trial. It was a flat field. She had never worked on a flat field before. I had to hold her up and show her where the sheep were and tell her to "look". Her first run was terrible as she couldn't find them, but buy the next day rolled around, she was on to it and had no trouble finding her sheep.
Working the dogs on sheep today, Kate was pretty good. I practiced on my shedding the most, as that is where I need the most work. Kate's weak point is the shed. All dogs have strong and weak points, as none of them are perfect.
Tam's weak point is her lift. She has a lot of eye, and not as much push as Kate has, so in the past I have had a little trouble with her lifting the sheep. About a year and a half ago, Tam could not lift my lambs off of hay. She was very young, but did not like working the lambs at that point in her life. I just let her age a bit, and kept her on older sheep for several months, gradually mixing in lambs until she was able to handle them. Today, I practiced the shed with her as well, but concentrated on her lifting and driving smoothly.
Decker was pretty good with his sheepdog herding today. He was especially anxious about working, and even wanted to keep going when it was time to stop. I do like to see that. He sure likes his sheep. I worked him out in the field again. He was a little bit of a handful at first, splitting them up and singling out one to chase. But after getting corrected firmly for this bad behavior, his second go was nice. He is coming right along in his learning. And he really gives the sheep lots of room. He still has a flat outrun, but I see him thinking and starting to make sure that he includes all of the sheep when he gathers them.
I was able to get him to fetch several times for quite a distance. He has almost completely stopped his wearing and almost walks up straight. He really has some instinct. He should make someone a fine sheep-herding dog.
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