herding!

I took the dogs herding today at Lumen’s breeder’s place, who also does herding lessons.

After last time Loki herded and got very, very, VERY stuck, I was curious to see how he would go. It’s so weird, the first and second times he herded, he was BRILLIANT. Kept great distance from the sheep, was so easy and natural… then we did this ‘competition’ and he was doing fine until we turned around and then he couldn’t do clockwise circles, he just got stuck on their heads… so I took him in today and almost instantly the pressure was too much. He ran at them and got all frenzied and then just wanted to stare at their heads. When I tried to wait him out, he went to the corner, sat down and stressed… so I tried to encourage him, moved around, talked to him, called him to me… lots of things… and a couple of times he got behind me, found balance, made them walk up, and then he would stress out and go back to their heads – his safe place. If he can make them stop, he’s happy. It didn’t help that Lu’s breeder was outside the paddock telling off another dog, so of course Loki was worried about that, too…. But… well, maybe herding isn’t for him.

And then I got Lu. Lu, my dog who cares less even when the most exciting dogs are running agility… who doesn’t show much interest in dinner, and none in car rides… who had been yipping and trying to climb the fence to get to go play with the sheep… DRAGS me down to the paddock, comes in with me, sits at my side and stays, solid, ready. I send her around, she’s a little crazy but not bad… and then she’s doing it, beautifully. She’s learnt from last time – when was that? 6 months ago? She’s not coming in as close, she’s not weaving back and forth, she’s keeping her eye out and working beautifully. Her stops … well, they need a bit of work, but she was happy enough to call off the sheep and come out with me after her turn, and then DRAGGED me to the water trough. This girl knows what she wants.

And then Mal had a go!!!! 12 year old Mal! Who has a herding title but was never very good because he just wanted to sniff their butts. Omg he was so good! He’s ‘old school’ herding style, before they taught them to kick out and give more space, but he cantered around and around and around and had the best time. THE BEST. He was so stoked. He proved he could hear me before we started, turning when I called him to me but then became conveniently deaf when I tried to stop him once he was working. He was lovely. He didn’t bite them, even if he cut one out to chase it. And he was happy. And so good for 12. I’m so glad I took him with me, I wasn’t going to give him a go but we decided why not?
THEN, Lu got to go out in the big paddock! There were 3 sheep out there and they were flighty as… running like CRAZY when we got in, even with Lu on lead. So we had to walk back and forth trying to calm them (which was actually a good exercise for Lu too – YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO OBSESSIVELY STARE AT THEM)… and when they calmed a bit, we released her and um… sheep everywhere… She had the best time, getting to do these BIG FAST runs to fetch them. And they were being NAUGHTY, and she wasn’t having any of it! She was bumping them with her shoulder, barking at them. Kate (the breeder) was really impressed that she didn’t give up – I think her litter sister had a habit of giving up, but not Lu! Finally we got them to me and they calmed down a bit and Lu worked on doing big circles, and then we put them through the Y-chute which was a new skill, and she did really well for her first time.

So hey… my girl is a herding dog, that’s for sure. She can do agility, whatever, but herding is her thing. So… I have to try and find time to do it with her, cos it was pretty fun today, and she loved it so much. She was a different dog when herding… especially compared to my, “sigh, do I have to? FINE..” agility dog… I wouldn’t say she was necessarily more attentive, as such… but hmm… different. More present. Yes, that’s what I’d say. More present and more purposeful. I liked that. I really want to try her on cattle, too. Apparently her litter sister looooves working cows… I reckon Lu would too, to get all cocky and angry at them, and not back down even when they put pressure on her.

Now to find some free weekends from agility… HA.

a lazy weekend

I realised that I haven’t updated here for a little while, which I suppose is a good thing because it means that life is chugging along without too many major dramas.

Well… it hasn’t been that long, but it feels like a long time.

I’ve been very good this weekend – I decided that both Lu and Loki would have an agility-free weekend. I actually find itย much easier to take days off on weekends than on weekdays. Maybe because so much else happens on weekends – long walks, work around the place, visiting people, etc, that it’s easy to not use agility as a convenient way to work out Loki mentally and physically.

Saturday was almost a complete rest day for him, as in he did very little and basically slept all day. He’s a great little sleeper. Lumen went herding with me in the morning. I find herding really fascinating and really difficult. I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing or what I’m looking for, and how to refine the behaviours I want. I know some things (like we’re working on Lu giving the sheep more space and turning her eye out, I can see her eye turn out so I reward her by removing pressure and allowing her to work the sheep) but there’s a whole lot of mechanical stuff on my behalf that I just don’t get. Lumen does love it though. She loves it so much. In one video I have from the training, I’m asking her for a stop and a sit, and her tail is wagging so fast, I’ve never seen it wag like that before. She’s very very good, and once a sheep got brave and stared her down so she barked at it and got all brave back. It was really cool to watch. I told her she was good and then she got all silly and kept pushing the sheep up into my space so she got to come around front and turn their heads again – I let her know that that probably wasn’t ok.

So you know, my last post was on giving in on agility with Lu. In a way that’s sort of the plan. In a way. I think what I’d like would be to have a herding (and maybe one day tracking) focus with Lu, and agility on the side, and have an agility focus with Loki with herding on the side. Maybe Lu will get into Masters and do well because she won’t be blitzing the course so can pick up places where other faster dogs bomb out, but maybe not. And that’s ok – I have my agility dog, I have Loki. If Lu doesn’t want to love agility, that’s actually ok. I’ll focus on it with her for now until Loki is old enough and then y’know, if she doesn’t do every competition, or doesn’t do every run, then that’s ok too. And she can do herding.

I had a thought the other day on my two dogs – my do everything fast dog, and my take your time to think dog. And I wondered if it came down to genetic herding style. Think about your typical Aussie ranch dog – they’re working all day in the heat, trotting, working the stock, trotting along with the horses, etc. They need to conserve their energy and go steady. And I think Lu is like this – I’ve decided that she does enjoy her rewards, she actually seems to enjoy agility most of the time, she just doesn’t feel the need to go full speed. Full speed is hard, and doesn’t give you enough time to think and Lu loves thinking.

Border collies on the other hand do those massive, fast outruns. They get the sheep and then zip back and forth to bring them to the shepherd. Then, I assume, they lie down and watch the sheep, taking off very fast when needed before coming to rest again. A border collie strikes me more as a very-fast-on-and-off dog, and this is really typical of Loki – everything has to be done full speed, but as soon as he has his toy or reward he lies down with it to chew on it and play with it, ready to go again when it’s go time.

Polona thinks that you could train Lu to understand that in order to get her reward she needs to run fast, and I’ve seen a huge improvement in her speed over the last month or so as we’ve been doing really easy stuff, but is she ever going to throw 110% of herself into the job? I doubt it. And again, that’s ok – I’m actually not sad about this any more.

The last session of Loki’s dogwalk showed a great improvement after Polona suggested lowering one end of the dogwalk as he was making a big deal of the 2nd apex and it meant that he couldn’t hit. Since I made the apex less of an apex he was able to just run over it as normal and this meant heaps more hits than we had been getting. Still not perfect but better than what we had. I do think I rushed him along in the heights, in a way, but at the end of the day if he’s running full speed along the plank then that’s what we’re after – just possibly if I’d kept the height lower for longer maybe he wouldn’t have been getting weirded out by the apex… but then again, maybe he would have. So, we’ll keep going like this for a little while and see what happens. Who knows, next session could be a complete disaster.

So there you have it. Loki continues to be the best dog in the universe because he’s just amazing in so many ways, Lumen needs to practise her recall because she’s forgotten how to do it because she’s always on lead, and Mal is feeling old even though he’s only 11 which isn’t really old, old, so I’m trying to not call him old even though he acts old (but he isn’tย ancient old).

lu & the sheep

 

Somethingย really interesting happened today. I took Lu to her breeder’s place for some herding training. She’s a school teacher by day as well, so we’re both on holidays and since my October weekends are booked out, I figured I’d best get some training in now.

So we walked into the paddock next to the sheep training paddock. Lu had her halti on. The whole way walking up to the fence with the sheep milling around, she was walking at my side, looking up at me, glancing at the sheep, back to me. We came to a stop, she sat, looked at me.

She was ASKING me to work. Please, she said, look how good and attentive I am, please may I work the sheep?

It was so lovely. She rarely asks like that in agility, but I received this message loud and clear.

During her turn, she did fantastically. She was calm and only got silly twice. She’s moving the sheep really well and turning her eye out like she’s supposed to. She’s easy and gets around when she’s meant to. She needs to build up her distance from the sheep cos she’s crowding them at the moment, but that’s what we’ll work on next I think. She hasn’t given up (her full litter sister quit the other day, making her breeder very unhappy!) and, when I ask her to come away from the sheep, she comes with me!! Which I’ve been practising by then setting her up in a sit and letting her have sheep again as a reward for coming off them. Since that first time the other week when I tried to finish her on the sheep about 15 times, she hasn’t made the wrong choice. I saw her still thinking about the sheep today as we finished, but she came with me anyway.

Everybody seems to think she’ll be a great and fun little herding dog. She loves herding. She whines and gets worked up and can’t stay still, but when she’s in there, she’s calm and focused and WORKING. So, y’know, maybe I’ll do some herding with her. Maybe it will make our bond as a team stronger, build our relationship in a different way (not a master/worker relationship but I think there has to be something pretty special between a shepherd and his dog working the flock – a kind of trust in the dog, and a trust in her handler. I don’t think she has that trust in me yet, so she’s always on alert, always watching out, making her own decisions in agility.).

Tomorrow a lady who owns Lumen’s full brother is coming to play agility a little bit, and will do some tracking with Lu and Loki. That’s another thing I think Lu will be great at and in fact, I have a whole empty paddock to train in! I just need to know HOW. Maybe she will be good at everything except agility, just to spite me!

photo(s) of the week: herding

Below: A gallery of Lu’s herding photos taken by the wonderful Karen Edwards… After the herding the dogs all get to go crazy running around the dam at Rozate… Lu accidentally fell in straight away and despite the temperature being probably only 14C, she happily fetched clumps of dead grass and sticks in the water for the next hour, or ran around with her nephew and the other dogs. She had a great time and I LOVE being able to practise my “go go go!!!” command over and over again. ๐Ÿ˜‰