Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pics and a herding report...

This one is from Gembrook Market today! Miss Hope came with and had a lady fall in love with her, asking my name and details so she could get a pup when I bred her. PMSL! I pointed out I'm not breeding for at LEAST another two years and she said she didn't care - she was EXACTLY the kind of Aussie look and temper she'd been looking for 2 years ago but couldn't find, so got a little black tri BC. (Who was very cute!) Also saw Bailey and his mum and dad who live nearby!

After heaps of trying, I finally got a couple decent shots of the little black Noir kitten!


Sitting on the sheepskin rug, looking far more innocent than he is.

After getting ducks, despite wanting to work the dogs right away, I let them settle in. The idea being they'd get used to me, the dog (who helps me pen them at night) and come to identify this as their new home before we'd break them in. The goal was 1.) not to having birds succumb to illnesses due to stress and 2.) once they knew where home was they'd be less inclined to bugger off to the neighbors and regulate me to crawling in with the really-not-tame cows!

Well today I decided they'd been eating free meals long enough *G* and it was time for them to get out of their pen and start working.

The first thing that became obvious is that I'd perhaps let them "settle in" a bit too long. They were exceedingly pen sour and first wouldn't go through the door, then wouldn't stop coming back through it. Once I finally got them OUT they just nipped under the fence and back to their pen. I told them Hope and I were taking them out where there is a nice big dam to swim in, lots of grass to nibble on and plenty of fat juicy bugs for easy pickings and after they've had a good time free ranging we'll bring them back... but alas, they just look at me muttering, "Qwok qwok, buggering crazy two-legger we've got FOOD and WATER right here! QWOK!"

Okay, so Plan B is we drive them through the first pasture and into the second where they can't see their pen and hopefully will actually cooperate instead of just dashing back. This brings us to the second thing we learned today: doing nothing but eating apparently means ducks get rather f a t and out of shape. Halfway across the paddock they were slowing down. They need to get out and exercise more.

At any rate, we did get them down into the second paddock and convince them to quit hugging the fence. At that point, I decided to settle the dog for a few and let them browse, rest, get a sip from the water trough and assess what Hope had done.

Hope's homework will start with teaching her to go out from both sides on cue (starting with her near me, go out from whatever side I cast her off of around the head of the flock and then wait to either be sent back or whatnot), teaching her to turn on cue (she'll do it moving off the stick but that's using pressure and I'd rather just teach it as a cue) and to go around to the outside off my right hand or around on the inside of my left. Currently she's favoring going off my left side and doesn't care to cast from the right or if she does she cuts across my front and then goes around clockwise as if she'd been cast off my left.

After they'd rested a bit I took Hope back and got Sierra. Now Sierra had done okay at the herding instinct tests and herding days, she wants to go after them and is keen on them but the chief problem we had with her was that she didn't have a need to reach the point of balance nor to maintain it.

For those who have no idea what I'm jibbering about... what we've been instructed to do is to have the dog start with the handler, both facing the sheep. At a signal, the dog runs out toward the sheep, curving around the outside of them so that you have the handler at 6 o'clock, the sheep in the middle facing the handler and the dog at 12 o'clock facing the sheepie bums and the handler. The handler walks backward, the dog circles around one way and then the other pushing the sheep toward the handler. (This is WHY the handler walks backwards, so they don't get trampled by oncoming sheep and the sheep have somewhere to move forward to.) The handler walks backwards towards wherever he wants the sheep to end up with the dog constantly maintaining the 12 o'clock point of balance.)

Sierra just chases them away from me, then goes to head. No point of balance whatsoever. Trying to make her hold a point of balance when she has no idea what it is hasn’t been fun. When we get her to the position, trying then to get her to turn and wear back and forth makes no sense either, so she just gets frustrated and stressed because she didn't get what I wanted and hates to not please me. (I'm not scolding btw just not praising, the lack of 'getting it right' time after time stresses her.)

What she DID want to do naturally was go to head. A LOT. We got a few comments on needing to get her to quit doing it! Try as we might, we just couldn't explain to her the point of the exercise was to stay in the 12 o’clock gathering position and push them towards me - she just wanted to push them away! I reckon she figures her clutzy mum it less likely to get mowed down if she moves them away from me! ;-)

Despite the non-success of getting her to balance, she did do things I'd seen good dogs do and thought I could work with - she likes to keep control, will go after a stray and bring it back to the group, will deal with challenges, will use some eye, feint and hit a head or heel (okay, hock... she's higher than I like...) and use necessary power to deal with a challenge without going over the top etc. At Paul's we got to see very little because after a 3 hr car trip, the noise and ruckus of a bunch of excited Kelpies and a bunch of people surrounding the pen she did a few circles and said, "Nope, too much!" But I know her and I've always sort of believed that what we saw with a crowd of people and dogs would be different to what I'd see if I did the training on her myself alone, so I decided to try my luck with her on the ducks, crossing fingers she didn't eat one. Aussies have been bred to work everything from little lambs to feral range cattle, so they can "a bit strong" on ducks. (Read: they cannonball into them with all the grace and finese of a semi-truck.)

Instead of trying to get her to gather and hold them to me, which is what we'd always tried to get her to do before and had a lot of frustration from, I decided just to let her do what I'd seen her naturally do. A bit different but hey... trying to get her to go against her instinct sure wasn't working! My idea might work, it might not but if I didn't try it, the sure thing was that nothing would change!

What I found, is that what I'd seen is actually not "bad herding" but pretty decent DRIVING. She gets behind them but in front of me and we push them forward. She wears back and forth pretty well, moving up to head if one starts to stray away or we want to turn them such as to get them to go right to go through a gate, then circling around back of me and coming back into position. The ducks move forward, I walk forward (which incidentally is MUCH easier than running backwards!) If I need to, I can get her to drop back behind me and cross to the other side or send her around to manoeuver them through a gate.

The result of this is that my "not going to work out as a herding dog" dog and I managed to move those ducks from the far end of the second pasture to the gate, through the gate, up the diagonal of the first pasture, through the gate, hang a hard right and then a hard left into their pen. She did it at a good steady clip, without scattering them, with only a few little deviations, with her keeping anyone who wanted to straggle in the group and when I finally got them to their pen door and two split right a bit, she held the one against the fence until I dealt with the second using just eye and positioning *uninstructed*. Huh. Not the most elegant but sure a lot better than I'd have figured she could do!!!

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