Over the years i’ve done a fair number of experiments with my own handler stress. I’ve tried everything from St. Johns Wort to meditation and found music to be a particularly powerful tool for me. When i woke up this morning, I found my sinus’ were indicating that the barometric pressure was doing summer-salts. Thud thud thud in my sinus cavity. EW. In this condition i don’t focus well; mostly i’m distracted with by plotting ways to temporarily remove my eye balls.
I had plans though. No rest for the wicked. Even though for the last week, all i’ve wanted to do is sleep… gotta keep moving. To keep my mind frame going, i thought about what had worked in the past to keep me focused and in check. I found Yogurt using the way back machine and realized it was worth a shot. I’ve been doing a better job of keeping my voice and my demeanor in check the last few years, but if some music would work to keep the general brain-fuzz away… then that would be something!
The moment Molly got to the gate, i realized that my sheep were in ‘drive’ mode. They weren’t hugging on to me, or really even looking back at me. Right from the start, they moved off the gate and Molly started walking them up the fence and across the pasture. They started to stray off line and she eased across and tucked them in. I was about 20 feet behind her when the sheep ended up in good place to do a few fetches. I like to keep her training time like work. Job 1: get them off the gate. Job 2: push them out into the field to set up for outrun practice. I called her off and with all the normal Good Girl’s and started in on some really nice outruns on both sides. We did a little practice about which was Away and Go Bye – she’s getting better at taking the command even when she thinks i’m being daft.
As we were walking out away from the trees and into the open field, i turned a few times and she was doing a unusually good job of covering the draw without getting too close to her stock. I thought about her wide little flanks and how she covered the draw naturally and how the back fence ran perfectly parallel to the draw. Elsie always told me the best way to teach something new was to change one variable or skill at a time. In theory, starting some cross drive excercises would be more about getting her to stop exactly when she’s supposed to. Stop sooner then the stock escapes. Stop late, the stock turns and goes a different direction. What i didn’t want was for her to get used to using the fence as a crutch. Some people have luck using that as part of their training tool box, but Molly is a first time learner – the unteaching process is a total nightmare.
I decided to plugin and tune out, so i was focused only on what the sheep were doing and not distracted with the airplane & neighbor noises. i started her on the far corner of the field so she would be walking toward where the draw sucks in. Walked her up to get the sheep moving and downed intermittently when a pace was established. Normally i’m not a fan of the drag & drop method, but i wanted to be able to down her before sending her on a flank to tuck the nose in. I was about 25′ off the fenceline and the sheep walked about 10-15′ off generally inbetween me and the fence, but after a few reps i let them start to get a little ahead of me. I could send her on little flanks to ‘steer’ the sheep – keep them going in the prescribed direction without turning around in circles. The draw makes them want to go a particular direction… sheep move into the draw. Using her natural desire to not loose them to the draw, i shape her little obsession into a cute little fence assisted drive and start installing the steering we’ll need later in open field drives.
After 2 repetitions each way – feeling a bit like a carnival duck in a shooting gallery, i whipped her back into outruns. Then back to our little cross drives, but with less downing and more running flanks. I kept moving us further from the fence, by the end of our sessions, i went both ways without watching her at all. I just had to give her minimal direction, using sheep noses as my guide.
Sorry no video, but the music really helped. Even though things were not serene every time, i don’t think my heart went up hardly at all.
Here are two of the songs i listened to: