Yesterday, since I had to drive in to Winnipeg to pick up dog food for work, I decided to bring Bear with me and go herding for the first time this year. We have not been out since our first trial in September but we are attending a clinic next month so I figured it could not hurt to get Bear out to see sheep – especially if it might prevent a meltdown in a few weeks.
I still have a lot of things as a handler to figure out including, staying out of Bear’s way when he’s doing what he should, walking in a straight line and staying on my feet!
As usual, Bear was his whiny, groan-y bark-y self (boy can a bark echo in an indoor arena!) but I was nicely surprised by two things.
First he was able to work with one of the resident border collies in the ring. The dog was occasionally ‘helping’ because in his eyes, I’m sure it was clear we had no clue what was going on. Typically bad things happen when Bear gets this close to a dog while he is so amped up. Yesterday, he looked at the dog – and if dogs could shrug, that’s what he did then he continued working the sheep. It may be because the dog does not even seem to register that Bear exists or maybe he’s just one of those dogs that never sends one confrontational ‘vibe’ to other dogs. Bear is the king of picking up on such things and dealing with them in an equally confrontational way. I don’t think he would be ok working with just any dog but this one, named Pistol, is now in the ‘tolerable dog’ category.
The second thing that surprised me was that Bear was able to work close to the sheep without having to use his mouth (for biting). There were a few times he would use his shoulder to move a sheep or a nose poke – but very little nipping and certainly no grabbing and holding. If we can keep this up and build on it then maybe, just maybe, there’s hope that I can teach him to drive sheep away from me which is something we’d have to do at the next level – if we ever get there!
We’ve got some excellent opportunities coming up this year in herding that include two clinics and a trial this spring and two trial weekends in the fall. For the spring trial my goal is to finish our Herding Started Title, we need one more leg. I think we will also give the Stock Dog trials a try. I’ve had to check out the rulebook because I don’t think I saw any Stock Dog runs last year and they look really fun. The Stock Dog classes are designed to simulate common farm chores. Dogs are moving stock over larger spaces than the arena trials and the obstacles are actually farm fields, pens, stalls and trailers, not simple 4×8 panels. It sounds interesting but not like something we would have been able to accomplish without any previous trial experience – I am looking forward to the extra challenge!