I got to Bill's yesterday and found out that Larry had already been there earlier in the day and he had sorted off the lambs from the older ewes. I was a little disappointed to hear this, because I kind of wanted to mimic yesterday's conditions as much as possible. Jack, one of Bill's guard dogs, joined us as we brought the sheep down the field. Jack is still kind of a puppy, sweet as pie, but he can be kind of a nuisance to the dogs when they're trying to work. I tied him up as soon as we got to the other side of the field. Instead of going to the northern pen, I had Craig put them in the southwest pen because that was where the water was and it was still pretty warm.
Unfortunately, there wasn't as much grass for the sheep to eat on this end of the field, and this part of the field didn't benefit from the hill at the top of the field blocking the sounds and sight of the pens by the barn. The lambs were bleating their little hearts out for their mamas, and the ewes were much less content to hang out and wait for the dog to pick them up or set their course. I knew today would be more difficult than yesterday was.
I decided to begin with Craig. That was when I realized I'd forgotten my whistle. Rats! All those times I wore my whistle and it never made it to my mouth, and now when I was here specifically to work on my whistling with Craig . . . oh well, we could always practice driving. I wanted to improve my timing, of course, but also try to lie him down long enough to use the draw to my advantage and let the sheep drift back on line, rather than get into the familiar flank-counterflank routine.
We did all right, I guess. I tried to lie him down to take advantage of the draw, and it did work a lot of the time, but he fought me a little on some of the stops. I know he was just wanting to cover in case they broke. He also still had some trouble with the transition from drive away to cross drive. I tried to do the flank around to one side and then the quick flank around to the other to show the sheep the dog on both sides, but Craig didn't seem to understand what I was doing. We were driving in a triangle, so there were no panels or anything; I just switched directions when we came up to a landscape feature I'd spotted earlier or a black barrel lying on the field. Thus, he didn't have any real external cues for when we were switching to a cross drive or the drive back toward me. It's in these situations that I think he doesn't entirely trust me. I think he wants to do the right thing, but if he doesn't really understand why I'm asking him to do something it does seem to me that he thinks I might be making a mistake. So he doesn't always react immediately to my requests, which then creates situations where the sheep move a bit out of position, and then it no longer makes a lot of sense to do what I asked. It's frustrating to me, but I know I need to work with him more so I can improve my timing, so I'm wrong less often and thus build that trust.
Okay, onto Taz. I had a harder time with him than I did yesterday. It was harder to set the sheep up so that they weren't moving, and he was keyed up about that. He kept checking back to see if the sheep were moving back toward the barn when we walked away from them to set up for an outrun, and a few times he took a few steps to anticipate covering a break, should it happen. I admit I often stopped far shorter than I'd planned to send him because I wasn't sure if they would stop moving or they really would eventually break. I set him up wherever he wanted to go (usually about five or six feet from my side and about a foot ahead of me). This made me stepping off in the opposite direction a bit less dramatic for him, I think, and he seemed to begin hesitating just a teeny bit again sometimes. But he did leave my side when I sent him with the "ch-ch-ch" sound. I can't really put my finger on how it was different. It just sort of seemed like he was all over the place yesterday, and I couldn't seem to isolate the circumstances that made him, say, leave my side slower or run tighter. Maybe it was that he was taking off a little slower when the sheep were still, and a bit tighter when they were moving. But I don't think that was always the case. We actually didn't really have a bad day, though I think I'm making it sound that way. I just wish I understood more about what I was seeing when things didn't go perfectly right.
This is where I need someone more experienced to help me understand why things are happening. It's often just so difficult for me to interpret what exactly is going on and what might be motivating the dog to respond the way he does. It seems like Taz should have been wider if he set himself up, since it is his pattern to feel his sheep more when he can make certain decisions, but perhaps the threat of breaking sheep overrode this. Or maybe I have not guided his instincts properly and I've sufficiently screwed up his natural sense of that bubble that he now needs more direction when I send him. (Just to be clear, I'm not beating myself up for that; I am just wondering how to help him now.) I'll try to go out tomorrow, one last time before I leave for four days, to see if things become a little more clear . . .
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