Sunday, July 20, 2008

Field work—thank doG!

When I drove up to Bill's this morning, all of the sheep were out of their pens and way on the other side of the field. You know, the field full of foxtails. What to do...what to do...

You guessed it. I bagged the boring arena and worked the dogs in the field today! Woo hoo! I originally thought I'd just have Craig round them up into the arena, but once we were out in the field, I thought the foxtails didn't actually look all that bad anymore, and besides—we were already out there. We were going to deal with foxtails anyway, we may as well take advantage of the space. Craig is entered in a trial in two weeks, and we haven't done any driving at a distance in a long time. We do need the practice of working together as a team pretty desperately.

So I started with a couple of outruns, which Craig loves to do. The group was bigger than I liked working (Bill has maybe 25 sheep these days), but I didn't want to take the time to put some of them away. It was already pretty hot—it is supposed to get to 100 degrees today—and I wanted to work before it became unbearable for the dogs. So we got down to the real work of the day. I did some driving with Craig around the makeshift course set up on the west end of the field. I started with the whistles, but abandoned them along the way. We did have enough to deal with getting back into the swing of working together in the field. It started out fine—Craig did a nice drive away, and we transitioned to a decent cross drive. But when I asked Craig for a come bye to start bringing the sheep back to me, he wouldn't take it. He kept starting to go around, but then would stop short and just sort of follow them further down the field before swinging back behind them and pushing them down the field. I ended up running up to him and yelling at him to come bye and he finally did, once I was practically on top of them. What the heck was that about? We repeated the "course," and this time his drive away and cross drive were even better, but he did the same thing on the turn back toward me—he wouldn't really take a true come bye. I started up to him again, and this time he did go around before I reached him, but he clearly did not want to do this for some reason. I don't have any idea what that reason could be, since the sheep were headed back toward the barn, so I'd have thought he'd want to cover them and bring them back to me. He was pretty hot after this, so I decided to stop things there and check him out for foxtails and let him get a drink. He didn't look bad at all, as far as the foxtails went, and I decided to put him up. Craig had a seizure last week, and I didn't really want to push him too hard right now. Besides, since he didn't pick up too many foxtails, it seems like maybe we can work more regularly in the field again (YAY!), so no need to overdo it today.

I got Tazzy out, eager to see how he'd do driving in the field. We began with an outrun. I sent him on an away, his "good" side, and he took a few steps and paused. Oh no. "Shhh!" I said to egg him on. And on he went, straight toward the group! What the...? He ignored my commands to lie down as he split the group in two. Wow, was this not a good start! I ran up to him and asked him just what the heck he thought he was doing. Fortunately, that seemed to bring him back to Earth, and when we tried again, his outrun was better, though still a bit tighter and slicier than I'd like to see. The sheep didn't move until he reached them, but he overflanked as a result. He regained control quickly and brought them to my feet. I knew I could, and probably should, do a few Derek-style circles to remind him where he should be, but I was impatient to move on to driving. My bad. Next time we'll work more on mechanics.

I started by having him just drive the sheep forward wherever he wanted to take them. He loves this, and he moved them more or less straight ahead for about a hundred yards. I called him back to me and sent him on another outrun (this was better than the earlier ones; he was wide enough but a little slicy). He brought them back to me and around an imaginary post before driving them forward toward a set of panels. I asked for inside flanks and outside flanks, and he did really well again. He was lying down exactly where I asked him to and when I gave him a flank, he got up slowly and took calm, deliberate steps to move the sheep gently. His walk ups were not always quite as calm, but he moved them very smoothly. As the session went on, he did lose a little of this—he no longer stopped immediately if I told him to lie down after he reached the 9:00/3:00 point and he stopped taking his inside flanks immediately and often needed a "here" first. This happens with Taz a lot, I think—he starts out really well and then seems to get a little less responsive—so I think I need to do some shorter sessions with him before he starts overthinking things. So we called it a day. Once again, I thought he did really, really well, and I am excited to continue working on driving with him. He seems to do this much more naturally than he does his outruns, and it's a whole lot more fun to work on.

I am beyond ecstatic that we can work in the field again. I did pick about 30 foxtails off Taz (only a few off Craig) when we got home, but I will just be sure to be meticulous in checking the dogs after we get back from Bill's. Also, Anna Guthrie recommended a product called Show Sheen, which is a conditioner meant to make the fur a bit more glossy and slick, to help deter the foxtails. I'll pick some up today, so I can try it out next time :-)


H.B. Moy said...

Hey Taz,

It's me, the Sheep King. We did a new exercise yesterday and I think you should tell your person about it. It kinda blew my mind, but it really, really made me think.

When I started to come in tight on my outrun, I got lied down like usual--but then, instead of the person walking up and correcting me--she called out "that'll do." and I had to go back to her--even though I thought she was nuts. After about three times of being called back, I figured out that if I went deeper, I got my sheep. She said it was "cool". I thought it was annoying, but it seemed to work.

Samantha said...

Hey Laura i am glad that you get to work in the field again.

I have given you an Award but you have to drop by my blog to collect it. :-)

Rafe said...

"Show Sheen"? Already got lots of yucks from the T-shirts. Next it'll be neon-pink neoprene booties...

Well, don't like Foxtails either. Heard they are Evil.


Laura said...

Thanks guys. As far as Taz's slicing goes, tomorrow we'll be back on the program of keeping a comfortable distance off the sheep and not being allowed to slice. I did let him get away with poor work last time. I was just so darn excited to be working on driving in the field again with him—it's been so long since we did that, and it's so much fun to drive with Taz. But tomorrow it's back to accepting nothing less than solid outwork before we can move on to the fun stuff.

As to the Show Sheen, I'm having a hard time finding it. I clearly don't know where the pampered pooches in town shop! I guess I'll have to find it online. And the neoprene booties ain't sounding so bad, to be honest. About half of the foxtails I pulled off Taz last time were up between his toes :(