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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The sheep have the program down pat

I believe the sheep are ready.

The dogs aren't. It's too early for them to know just what to do, when, and why. They are still learning why we were frowning and why going away (left) is not what we asked when we said go bye (right). They are trying, but sometimes it looks like they are having more fun than we ourselves would like them to be having, at that moment anyways.

The people, well we're all a mess right now. I don't think 26 owners/handlers are sleeping well. Too many go byes and aways stored up perhaps, or too many nightmares of sheep going off in all directions.

That's the problem with, and the joy of, herding. You are never ready. Your dog is never ready. The sheep are sheep - they are always ready.

It's just about that time. This weekend, 26 dogs have entered 27 runs. There's one dog entered on both sheep and ducks. Several of the dogs will not be running tho, one is too sore, another won't leave her handlers side reliably - not yet. There may be one or two more who's owners or handlers have decided are not ready. I'm not so sure about that approach to trialing, I believe every opportunity to take your dog and stock through a course is something learned and if things fall apart, then quietly ask your dog to come with you to exit the arena, but we should always at least try. It is very humbling to say the least, and like no other dog sport or dog activity on earth. It's foundation is, to me, what is most important. To be able to have a dog help you take your livestock from Point A to Point B in a quiet, efficient manner. The sheep really like that. They look forward to grazing, to going for a walk in a new or even old place, as long as they can eat more. More of something, anything, just more. Done properly, done nicely, done with consideration and respect for the sheep or whatever livestock you prefer - that is the ultimate goal. A happy dog. A happy handler. And happy livestock.

2 more days of practice time left, then the sheep get a day off while the humans get everything ready. The sheep got extra hay tonight, they've been getting extra hay for 2 weeks now. It takes food to build muscle, and we don't want tired sheep out there this weekend - we want strong sheep.

Did you know sheep flex their muscles? I've seen 3 sheep line up 3 across, much like linebackers in a football game, and face the dog. They put their heads down and stare at the dog, as if to say "make me!"...after all, they ARE Shetland sheep. It's a curious situation to get into. Young dogs or inexperienced dogs get into this pickle. The dogs in the know, don't. Some dogs have an innate ability to turn their power on and off, but young or inexperienced dogs often don't know that they 'have' any power other than by trying to touch the sheep or stare them down, so when there's a face-down, they don't know what to do. If that happens during a trial, you can usually hear a pin drop in the crowd of observers. They are holding their breath...they have all 'been there'. Will the dog take a step forward? Will it nip a nose, not too hard tho? Will the dog try going to the back side of the linebackers instead? Will the sheep give up, turn, and move for the dog? It's always a moment of truth. At that moment, it is all up to the dog and the sheep... and the handler can say all it wants to, but it's not the handler's moment. No, not at all. Whatever the outcome, everyone hopes that they don't hear the words "Thank you!". That's the death knell, time to exit the arena before you'd planned or hoped on exiting.

At every trial, there is a moment etched in your brain, or many moments if it was a good trial. Those etchings are invaluable. I can catch sheep better than most people. The more you use a dog to help you work sheep, the more you understand about sheep, and dogs, and yourself. The better you can catch sheep, even as you get older and move slower. The moments are a good thing. Good trials are full of good moments. And now, the sheep have the program down pat. It will be an interesting, and humbling, weekend.

1 comment:

Jen and Rich Johnson said...

Hi - I like your blog, just wanted to let you know. I heartily agree with your philosophy of just getting out there whether you feel you are ready or not, just do it and get the experience. Applies to so many things in life.

keep up the good work - Jen