Thursday, May 19, 2011

Herding, a perspective from a person with 4 left feet

Last night the dogs, Grace and Magic and I had a herding lesson.

Grace. Anyone who knows Grace, knows that she is a pretty confident self assured dog. She is pushy and can be hard headed. But I think she has met her match in Kim. Kim, while soft spoken and easy going is the one in charge. And that has Grace a bit concerned. Grace is very interested in the sheep, and quite willing to chase after them, but not so sure about what exactly Kim is asking of her. She is not comfortable with Kim not letting her do just as she wants, and does show signs of stress. She often gives up instead of giving in, by wondering off. I am grateful that Kim is working her at this point as I do not know enough about what to do to be effective with her and most likely would allow her to get away with naughty behaviors. Because yes, she has me wrapped around her little paw. However, last night I could see where she was starting to understand where Kim wanted her to give, and she did grudgingly give her a few stops.

Grace worked hard in her lesson last night, but more than the physical work, she was mentally fatigued. Quite significantly in fact. Unlike last week where she barked her fool head off during Magic’s lesson, last night she was quiet in her crate in the car. She rested on the way home, but when we got home, she climbed into my lap and cuddled. Not that she never cuddles, she does, but not in the same way. It almost seemed like she wanted reassurance. So I gave her some, and told her how wonderful she really is.

It will be interesting to see how she acts tonight and see what the level of delayed stress is for her.

Then we had Magic’s lesson. Magic is not nearly as sure of himself overall as Grace is, and last week he was reluctant to work with Kim, constantly coming over to me at ringside for assurance. So Kim felt that he would be more comfortable working with me. So, Magic and I are going to learn to herd together. I took him out and we muddled through together. He has a tendency to go through his flock, so I have to be better at reading what he is going to do to try to be out there to stop him. Of course, since I am learning it wasn’t pretty last night, but we did OK I thought for our first time. I was able to send him successfully a couple of times, where he didn’t break the flock. I was able to down him and pull him off the sheep fairly easily, although a couple of times he did break away and go on his own. He seemed much less stressed and didn't wonder off except once to poop.  And he was really happy seeming, no stressed body language, and he was very willing to re-engage unlike last week.

The hardest thing for me is simultaneously listening and understanding the directions from Kim, watching what the dog is doing and where the sheep are, all while holding a stick and moving myself. Way too much for this uncoordinated old lady! At times I felt like I had 1 leg and four arms and 3 feet and none of it knew how to work together, and here comes 4 800 pound sheep running full speed at me! It didn’t help that one of the sheep kept bopping me in the butt to tell me to move along.  No video this time as we forgot the camera. Probably a good thing.

But honestly I had a GREAT time and I can’t wait to do it again.


Jules said...

Sounds like great lessons! I am so glad for you.

Taryn said...

Your description made me smile! I am at about the exact same place you are. Tomorrow will be my third lesson.

I have been working them from the start with Susan stepping in to demo where I go wrong. Both my guys are gung-ho, so it is a battle to keep them from circling in front of the sheep and me. I can get sits or downs but not from much of a distance and it takes my screechiest/sternest voice, esp. for Jimmy. I am constantly stuck behind/tripping over the sheep in my effort to cut off the circling. By the end of a turn, the dog is usually tiring enough that I get in one good pass on the cones. Wilson is older and calmer so he is doing better and is easier to train. Both boys already love it so much I have to drag them back to the car to go home. And the one stuck in the car, while the other works, screams and paws to get out. It's definitely bedlam but also so very fun!

penni said...

There is nothing better than herding (when you have herding dogs). Chase has the best of this because the pro is training and handling him. Holmes and I begin our lessons the Sunday after Memorial Day weekend. Poor Holmes. I wonder if he'll still love me after the lesson.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

I know nothing about herding but it sounds like such a wonderful experience. REally puts you out of your comfort zone! I'm sure the dogs will get more confident soon.

mary said...

Enjoyed this post. It's herding the most humbling and the most rewarding and certainly the most difficult activity? Hope you'll keep updating your progress.