I am the queen of obscure commands. I have a terrible memory, and make odd associations… and thus bizarre commands are born. Mix that with being exposed to five of six different languages before middle school, and my poor dogs don’t stand a chance. Elsie told me once that the actual words don’t matter to the dog, just that the words are consistent with an action.
On Sunday, we did a little Farm Trial prep. Just to shake the dust off of old skills. We took the adult part of the flock (less than 1/2, but still 15 or so sheep) down from the round pen with their buddies to a free standing sorting box.
The first problem was removing the sheep from a convex surface, with livestock guardian dogs on one side and forest on the other. That required a little handler help to move them away from the LGD’s and off to a place where she could get around and get a lift going. As we headed down the field she did a decent job of pacing, more importantly she took her Downs. I flanked her out a few times and she got the drift that her job was to cover. At that point they couldn’t get away, she flipped the cover-monster switch.
Upon approaching the sorting box, I had a little laugh as it is tucked in such a way that the gate opens into the pasture and the rest is hidden in the treeline. A while back Cheryl and I had a great discussion about trees in farm and ranch trials. Anyhow, the first time i flipped Molly out to put the sheep in the sorting box i over flanked. I was really late. It was an interesting little blessing though as she’s not done a lot of work in the trees and it does require her to stop and let the sheep move a bit. Instead of micromanaging her, tried to follow the ‘less is more’ line. She knows to fetch to me, she sees the pen, she knows the job. My job was only to stop her from over-doing it. I sent her wideish out into the trees and she did a nice job of making sure she had everyone, but i was standing too close to the mouth and they sheep squished back into the trees again. drat. At this point i’d love to say i was smart enough to send her the other direction, but i was watching the sheep and completely lost track of my dog. She went out wide the other direction and then brought them back around again. I was ready this time, standing further off the mouth and stopped her way earlier. It’s not like the sheep were going to get the chance to go anywhere. She did a nice job of flanking out wide and making sure all the little sheepy eyeballs were focused on going into that pen – and away from that dog. LOL
When penned in a small space, the smart handler does not put their dog in with Scottish Blackface sheep unless there is an obvious exit. Mostly because trying to force them to do anything is a pointless endeavor, but also because they will fight back if they feel over-pressured. None of that squirrely sheep BS either. They are big, with a large set of conical horns and heads that are built for ramming things. Like dogs. I decided that it would be easier to use Molly to apply pressure through the fence and tied her up to one of the nearest trees. Her pressure made my sorting box smaller and easier to manage. This was a great opportunity for me to use hand sorting skills that are terribly rusty.
After all of this we held our smaller group of sheep out on the little plateau while Erin put her group and her young dog in the smaller two acre field. I fussed around a little doing some of the things the set out dogs do at the Border Collie trials. All the sudden, i saw the little creepy bitch that Molly sometimes becomes almost at random. It’s a bit Superman and Clark Kent, but i don’t always notice when she throws the cape on. But there she was in all her creepy glory; ears up, head a little low taking a one count in between each front pawstep. Not a superstylish BC, she doesn’t skitter off to one side or the other. Just a solid, powerful, high pressure walk up.
“Are you creepin, Molly?”
(the sheep are starting to unsettle so i bodyblocked her a little and she pawstepped around me, tipping the noses away from the field for them to bolt into and pointing toward the fence)
“Molly, Creep, shh” Shhing has always been how i indicated to her to do what came natural. Usually it is to cover or to speed up, but she was SO tuned in.
This went on for about 2 or 3 minutes and then i totally lost her and the sheep to the big field. I didn’t shut it down while i was ahead, but the whole exercise just cracked me up. She’s normally so upright that if we can put that on a cue it will be an awesome tool. I just need to keep shaping it when she presents that behavior.
**Whistle update – i’ve almost got the first few bars of the Star Wars theme down. It’s pretty awesome.