This last weekend before the trial my friend Cindy invited me over to her house to work on a few things, mainly penning. Only after the time I spent with Cindy did I even begin to understand the relationship & teamwork involved in achieving a successful pen.
Cindy has been blessed with endless patience and an incredible gift for teaching.
While Cindy did not have a free standing pen, she did have a few gates we were able to work with that allowed me to begin to understand the process of getting the sheep through the gate.
I learned that you cannot 'put' sheep in the pen. They need to chose to go in it. I need to work together with my dog to accomplish this. Finesse them together into choosing the pen as the best means of escape.
Beth has a habit (that I taught her) of watching only my body language. Cindy helped me to reinforce that Beth needs to listen to my words. I need to be able to communicate to the sheep by tapping my crook or acting 'threatening' to them in order to complete my side of things - with out Beth taking that as a signal to flank. When I tap the crook on the ground we kept repeating the verbal command for Beth.
Tap tap..."go by".
This is one of the places where a solid DOWN comes into play. While Beth has a down - she doesn't believe she needs to stay there and pops up like a jack-rabbit on crack.
This exercise was VERY frustrating for Beth....she sat down a few times and looked at us like we were crazy.
...and took her frustration out on the sheep. Frustration is the first step in learning....
To break things up a bit we practiced a few OLF's, focusing on the pace of the fetch.
With Cindy's help I am finally seeing the different aspects of each element. The outrun, the lift, the fetch and pace.
I am the type of person that needs things broken up so I can clearly see how each piece fits together. Without that I see this big insurmountable task - and don't know how to fix it as a whole. It is much simpler to address each element separately - then combine them. Gosh I hope this makes sense.
I also learned that not only do I need to give my dog a break - but I need to give MY brain a break too. I expect too much from myself. Perhaps it is a sign of getting older, or hormones from peri-menopause messing with grey mattter - but I seem less and less able to learn the older I get. *sigh*
I need time to digest the things we learn - I am not a robot but I tend to expect myself to learn like one - then get frustrated when I do not. When I get frustrated - it worries Beth and she quits. Vicious cycle there.
For a change of pace Cindy had us do some work with her small group of rams.
Beth has never seen a ram without a fence between them, let alone had to move any. This was VERY COOL! I have learned so much about sheep behavior and this was another aspect.
From the first moment Beth was in pen with the rams she knew something was different. She was slower, more deliberate in her movements & her eye was different.
I could see that she was unsure of herself and thinking things through very carefully. Trying to rate these guys ...
We helped her take the rams out of the shed (in the pouring rain).
Cindy took her gently into the shed and gave her the support to successfully move them into the alley way where we were going to do another exercise to build her confidence.
After they were moved into the alley Cindy had me use her crook to hook through Beth's collar. We then followed the rams down the alley way to the far gate. Keeping Beth against the fence (repeating the flank command quietly) we pushed them back from the gate and opened it.
Then we turned around and went back down the alley to push the rams back up to the other end again. The whole time Beth and I were watching their behavior.
Once when we got very close the larger ram stomped his foot at Beth...she hesitated. Then he looked at me and stomped his foot at ME! I stomped my foot right back at him and growled. Then Beth and I walked at him...giving him room to run around us. He did...I could almost see Beth's confidence grow. Mine too.
We repeated the action of opening and closing gates a couple of times. Cindy stayed very close for support and direction.
The quarters were closer and closer....
Finally they were free! Dashing through the opening like their arses were on fire. (Click on the next picture for a larger view).
To wrap it all up we had Beth gather the rams out of the larger field and put them back into their pen.
Beth was much more delicate in her lift. The rams were looking at her as she approached - versus running like heck in the other direction like the ewes do.
She turned them nicely - and gave me a polite lie down when I asked. Not pushing them to hard.
Then came the fun part and where I learned a couple valuable lessons. Penning rams is different than penning ewes.
They were not quite so willing to go where she wanted them too.
She needed to show more oomph or push. Less wearing, darting around - be more deliberate in her movements.
Then I made a big mistake, but one that showed me that Beth really does trust me. I asked her to lie down off balance - when she tried to get up - I snarked at her and she stayed. Then the rams started approaching her, walking at her. Still, she stayed ....Cindy wisely released her and explained to me what I had done wrong & how I put my dog at a disadvantage. Oops...
Slowly but surely we worked with Beth to put them back in their pen.
She worked on gently turning them
We had our issues with body language - vs verbal commands again. Cindy said next time she is going to wrap a whole role of duct tape around my arms to keep them in place.
We made it work eventually...
My brain was about to explode - I can only imagine Beth's.
What a good girl.
Thank you Cindy for all your help and generous gift of your time and sheep!
9 hours ago