Winter of Herding Continues

OMG, the dogs are so skinny! Whoops, I should have upped their food when we started winter break. We’ve been a lot more active than we are when I’m teaching throughout the week. Extra rations for everyone, and especially Navarre – intact boys suck at holding weight. He’s also rather naked, none of the dogs felt the need to grow any coat this winter. Unlike Marvin, who is the world’s most adorable puffball at the moment. Hard to believe we’ve had him for a year! He really is the most ridiculously adorable cat, and so soft and fluffy and I just adore him. I’m so happy to be a crazy middle aged cat lady these days.

Dogs are enjoying our break, getting lots of action but probably getting hosed off more than they’d like. Herding is dirty business, all that lying down in mud. Hiking isn’t clean these days either, we are officially in winter. Which includes no more swimming for the dogs, as the river is too fast, so that means no more ‘washing’ the dogs before we go home. Alas.

Also been WAY more people out at our hiking area this winter compared to the last two winters. Unfortunately, shooting off mass amounts of guns. Sigh. Navarre does not appreciate it, and it was stressing us both out as when the guns would go off Navarre wants to run back to the car – which I don’t appreciate mid-hike. However, we seem to have found a good solution. Whenever the shooting starts, I throw a stick way into the underbrush and Navarre is totally focused on searching for the stick and appears to completely ignore the noise as long as he’s in ‘search mode’ – and his little tail is wagging the whole time. So we have been doing that whenever there are gun shots, and not throwing it when there isn’t. Today there were no gun shots, yet Navarre spent the whole hike playing ‘Stick’ with the other dogs – which he’s never done before. It was very cute how whenever there was a stump he would jump up on it and hold his stick as he gazed at me very hopefully. Love that boy!

Winter of Herding: Day Six

I’m feeling a little bit more confident with Haku and sheep. As expected, doing something every day makes a big difference. Haku remains very enthusiastic, but we did cut his lesson with Dave short – he was a bit mentally tired. Before that he was more confident with his driving than he had been, Dave put out a heavier sheep with the others to make it easier to drive and I think Haku felt much more in control. And, well, practice does make a difference. The good news, he was fairly confidently driving past what Dave said was Pro-Novice distance with minimal corrections from me. You know, in a somewhat narrow field. With a fence. One step at a time here.

What we worked on mostly was specific herding, as opposed to approximate herding. It didn’t go super well. We need a lot more specific herding practice.  And apparently most people have bad depth perception. Which is worse with astigmatism. So, hey, not alone. I still very much struggle with the inside flanks, calling those on the fly – not so good. I am doing better at using our cues a little more consistently overall though. Hoping we’ll be better with all of that by the end of our herding adventure.

As Haku was starting not to respond to cues as well as we was at the beginning of the lesson, we put him up and Navarre and Dave worked a little longer than normal. It’s very cute to see Navarre work on his baby driving, he’s so uncharacteristically uncertain about it. When in doubt he’ll try to come back to Dave, so Dave has to stop and redirect him back out again. For a dog that shoves sheep continuously on the fetch it’s funny to see him to so tentative on the longer drives.

Watching them work together I still feel like Navarre finds people to be just an obnoxious impediment to him getting to the sheep. Dave says that I’m being unfair and that Haku was probably the same when he was younger – but Haku always wanted to do everything together. Navarre continues to be quite certain that he doesn’t need people where sheep are involved. So he complies to all these stupid rules, but you can tell he just doesn’t think of this as a team sport. Which is really not like him in any other place in his life, he really is SUCH a good dog – and very willing and biddable. He’s become my ‘class dog’, he runs with all sorts of people from complete novices to more experienced and he’s so willing, patient and cooperative no matter how confusing their handling may be. Agility is something that is done TOGETHER, but herding isn’t for him.

Navarre still gets to go herding, but, yes, he has to actually listen in order to have access to the sheep. I wonder if it will ever be anything but a battle with him. The herding people he’s worked with don’t see him that way at all, so maybe it’s all just me. I get accused of unfairly comparing him to Haku quite a bit. It may be true. But, in herding, I have always felt like Haku was working WITH me from day one, I have yet to feel that with Navarre. At all. But that’s the goal with Navarre this year, to get him to the point where I actually find it pleasant to work him on sheep. Because I would, if I didn’t feel like I was just constantly correcting him the whole time. He sure does love it though, corrections be damned.

Winter of Herding: Day Seven

Seven days of herding – one week down, 22 days to go. Assuming we actually get to sheep every day. We, uh, both might need to start taking some breaks. But we’re still having fun and making progress, the weather continues to hold for us – it’s been a very warm winter. I don’t think we’ve really had a real frost yet.

Back to Scio, we started in the small field trying to look at driving with a destination. It didn’t go super well. Back out to the big field, we did more assisted driving straight ahead for long distances. So not many commands, just ‘here’ or ‘hey’ if the sheep started to go offline. The goal is for Haku to know how to fix it himself – and all evidence points to Haku not actually having the faintest clue that driving means going in a straight line. It was a good long practice of just driving, which settles him down. Ian’s more flighty sheep get him kind of worked up. Still did his share of looking back at me, even when I was basically just to the side and behind walking with him. Not sure why he keeps giving me this incredulous look all the time, even when he seems to be doing quite well.

We also did some long distance fetches, which he mostly did really well with. Once again, when the sheep were WAY out there, he saw them, I sent him, he was going great and then he just … loses them, like they’re invisible, and he stops and comes in looking confused like he has no idea where they went. But, the good news, when he came in he then redirected back out (you know, eventually). We might not be able to do it the first time, but we’re getting better at fixing things that go wrong! Progress? Still too fast on his lift, and he’s too far away to really hear me, or perhaps just too far away to feel confident enough to respond. So something else on the list that we haven’t really worked on. He didn’t leave any sheep behind today, nor did they escape to one of the gates. I’m calling it forward progress. Haku was, as always, super happy to be there and trying so hard. Love that boy.

It kind of cracks me up how herding people just like Navarre. Well, other than that first lady we went to – she did not like Dove and Navarre at all. Her loss. Today Ian gave Navarre a compliment. Sort of. He said he has the most raw talent that he’s ever seen in a merle. So a bit of a backhanded compliment, but he also said he could have Navarre ready for Pro-Novice in a month, which is a more of a compliment than being good … for a merle. 😉 So, yes, for the second time this week people are telling me that Navarre has just as good of a feel for sheep than Haku and I need to stop disparaging him. Though I have to wonder if Ian would have felt the same way if Dave hadn’t been working with Navarre this year, baby Navarre was REALLY annoying, I think. He’s less annoying now, thankfully. Still, I find it funny that all the herding people like Navarre better than Haku, yet Haku is actually useful.

So, yeah, Ian and Navarre seem to do well together, Navarre is getting more confident with what Ian wants and doesn’t get at all upset with the yelling. I think it’s helpful for Navarre to work with two people that both know what they’re doing, but work in very different ways. I think it’s helping him generalize and figure out what exactly he’s supposed to be doing. Ian worked with Navarre driving today, and Navarre did better. And, for whatever reason, Navarre seems to not run Ian over with sheep as much as he does Dave. I can’t explain that one. On Monday Ian wants to take Navarre out to the big field. I’m sure he knows what he’s doing …

Winter of Herding: Day Eight

Back to practice after a night of heavy rain – once again, the weather was lovely when we were out there. I can’t complain, but I also kind of feel like the universe is trying to tell me something as this has just been a little suspiciously easy. Hm.

The goal was to look at driving without fixing with flanks and driving with specific destinations and landmarks. About as expected, driving without flanks in a GENERAL manner went pretty well. Attempting to do any sort of driving with landmarks was frustratingly unsuccessful. Hmph. And the weather was so lovely I just was not in the mood to yell at my dog, which made me cranky when I had to yell at my dog to get him to stop overflanking and running me over with sheep. Hmph.

Still, practice makes perfect, even when it doesn’t go well … right? We did have some good stuff, but not being able to anything ‘for real’ is somewhat discouraging. 21 days left though, I can only be optimistic. And tomorrow … we herd.


2 thoughts on “Winter of Herding Continues

  1. You may have already been thinking about this, but I thought I’d share my experience of working my dog who had ETOs in agility on sheep, because the vision deficit that causes the ETOs in agility doesn’t magically go away when working sheep. 🙂 I have no idea if Steam or Haku have similar vision issues, but in my experience with Steam on sheep, it became clear to me that he cannot see the sheep well enough to read them, so if the sheep don’t move off of him easily, he is less confident about walking in on them. He had a particularly hard time learning to drive and driving heavy sheep that don’t move off of him as easily. He is happiest to get everyone moving and keep them moving. Oddly enough, he was great at spotting sheep at a distance and long outruns were not a problem. But at the lift, if they didn’t move off easily, he would always bump them hard because he can’t see well enough to read them. He had trouble holding any kind of line on the fetch or driving because of his vision issues. Steam has a lot of natural talent and he is very useful for me and he tries really hard to do what I ask him to, but there are jobs I know he can’t do. Anyway, it sounds like you are doing great with both Haku and Navarre! I am excited about your sheepdog journey!

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    1. Thanks Jo, it’s hard to say how much Haku is influenced by his lack of depth perception with herding. I must say, everyone should start herding with an old dog, it makes every thing much more relaxing as you don’t have any grand ambitions to do anything other than have a good time 😉 You should come down for the February trial!


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