Fido’s can be a busy place, which i normally find totally fascinating. However today was a busy day but not so great for people watching.
Today, was all about blowing up patterns. I tend to get into habits; what pen i work in, what sheep i use, what exercises i do… and my dog is quick to learn patterns. I started my day with my normal pattern – one nice big outrun to fetch up my sheep and then start inside flank work in the small pen. I tend to use take pen, walk about and then repen to break up any stress.
blah blah Blah.
Thankfully, today Fido’s was busy and Karen needed my normal field for a lesson. On to greener pastures. After hunting about and pondering where to go next, Chris suggested moving some of the sheep in the Cattle Pasture to one of the pens. Which was a great idea, but once i got out to the pasture i discovered a much more interesting setting: a field not too big and not too small with 15 or so two year old wethers who didn’t seem to get worked very often. Ohhhh! Fresh Meat.
Often when one works at a training facility, large groups can be hard to come by. Usually, there are very functional, utilitarian type reasons for that. I have been spoiled in that we’ve had to opportunity to work on private property where having fresh sheep for other people or having sheep that are too broke for trial or similar isn’t really an issue. With that experience, i *love* working larger groups than your average trial arena and take advantage of the opportunity every time i can.
Large groups provide a different kind of challenge. Think of sheep like grains of sand; each on it’s own is it’s own entity with it’s own albeit small, mass. Singularly, sand is annoying. As stated correctly by Aniken Skywalker: ” It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.” However physics teaches us that the more sand we pack together, with it’s singularly iddybitty mass… the more gravity that packed group exudes. A lone sheep has very little presence and a lot of flightzone, but a large group of sheep… those little presences packed together create a force that can intimidate a dog without even challenging it and often the flightzone contracts.
Taking this as on opportunity we worked on flightzones, directions, covering and rating. Which i didn’t really realize i needed to put so much effort into until i sent Molly on her outrun and realized that the sheep were coming to me at a speed less than a dead run and more than a walk – and it didn’t really look like they cared i was standing there. I could see the newspaper headline: Woman Trampled by Flock of Sheep Under the Direction of Dog. Because as the sheep passed by me, Molly was already truckin around to the other side to block them from taking off through the (closed) gate.
The flank work – tradition circle flank work as seen in Hitting for the Cycle. I’m finding that Molly is very clear what direction Come Bye is, but Away she’s not so sure on. The large group is helpful as they will hang out in the group and be harder to move when I move or when she moves. So when i step away from the group to redirect her, my sheep don’t freak out. They move, but they don’t send stress signals and try to take off somewhere. I also started moving my flanks closer to the fence. Molly likes to speed up at the top, which usually leads to her over flanking because she’s moving so fast she can’t feel the pressure of the sheep changing. Girls got wicked tunnel vision. She also speeds up along the fence on occasion. While speed is how she puts out power, i want to start putting her in situations where she’s going to have to problem solve some new ways to exude power. I want her to have lots of tools, and i want to learn how best set her (and future dogs) up to learn different instinctive tools. As she approached the top, or the fence i gave her a conversational Lie which seemed to hitch her up just long enough to realize that she was walking inbetween the sheep and the fence and neither the fence nor the sheep tried to eat her.
I also tried some of my superfancy inside flanks on the Bye side; so i stand against the fence, the sheep mob attempts to press me like paper and Molly comes clockwise around the sheep toward me, then inbetween me and the sheep and finally looping all the way around to cover. The first time, not so much in the covering. But by the third time she not only had it down, but was heading out wide along the fence so she’d not have to run allll the way around to stop them. Next weekend will be stopping her and walking her into the group. That should be interesting…