Monday, August 10, 2009
Herding...learning how to move those sheep!
Yesterday Lizzie got to go herding again. This was her third week. She is coming along. The first week she was unsure and a little worried about chasing something, the second week she was showing a little more confidence and this week she was getting the hang of it.
This week our lesson started off with a little lesson in how stock react. This is my interpretation of what I got out of the lesson, so if I got something wrong....well, I am a newbie, LOL, but it seemed to make sense. So sheep are prey animals and they like to stay with the safety of the flock. The only time they will split up is if they feel it is necessary for their protection, say a dog/wolf running into the middle of the flock so they all go different directions. When you are taking a flock somewhere, say if you were taking them to market, or to the barn you want the sheep to stay non stressed, and happy, so they do not lose weight from running too much, or get stressed and unhappy. Your stock should move around at a nice pace, comfy and happy and all together. When the sheep are all standing together there is a invisible bubble around them, the size of the bubble is different for any group of animals. This is the area that is around them, so if they are standing and nothing is around them in this bubble of space they feel safe. So for some wild sheep the bubble might be huge and any time someone enters that imaginary bubble or circle they will feel threatened and move to stay safe. On the school sheep we are working with their bubble is relatively small and you can get pretty close before they feel threatened and need to move. You can also see with different dogs the bubble can be different, with a dog they might know and trust they might react differently then they would to say Lizzie because they were much more wary of her because they do not know her and how she is going to react.
So how this affects sheep herding is that to move your sheep around you want to be aware of how big their bubble is and when they will start moving. You want to say come up behind them very slowly and move to the edge of your bubble and then walk straight into them calmly and quietly if you are trying to move them straight ahead. If you need to move say from the side of the herd to behind the herd because of the direction you want to move them you need to back up and go around the outside of the imaginary circle, and not through the sides of the circle so that the stock stays still until you get into position to move them.
Another complication of all this is when the stock are moving you need to watch their heads. If the sheep turn and look to a direction- they are going to move that way in the next step or two so if you are watching you can adjust your position so that you can keep them moving the way you want them to.
Our lesson yesterday started with me walking into the big field with Lizzie on leash. I had to walk with Lizzie on leash and get the sheep into the corner of the yard, sort of by the fence which was a good place to pick them up and start working. So I had to remember the bubble and watching how they were going to move and Liz and I moved the sheep all around the yard in a pattern, which was actually way cool when I could see how to predict how to move them. I thought we did pretty good. I was also supposed to practice telling Lizzie things like walk up when we were going straight at the sheep in a straight line to move them slowly ahead, and slow....when I was making her walk up on the sheep slowly to get her used to some of those commands she might need some day.
Next it was Liz turn to be let go. She was really working nice, I think she has a fairly big bubble of working, so she stays fairly far from the sheep and she works sort of slow and controlled which I am told is a good thing. Guess that goes back to not getting the sheep stressed and keeping them happy and feeling safe. The amazing thing was that Lizzie kept checking on me every few minutes and leaving the sheep to make sure of what I was doing, what a sweetie. The next run I got to work Lizzie and she did not leave me and the sheep once. The amazing thing was like Lizzie ran to get water, I walked quickly away from the sheep and Lizzie got her water, went and got the sheep together and brought them back. She already knows we keep the sheep together and we make sure the sheep stay with mom. Awwwwwwww..... Just so cool to see how dogs that have been bred for this have the instinct and know what to do.
I had a great time herding, except when I was out working Liz there were a few times I thought I was going to die. Four 150 lb sheep running full force at a person can be a bit scary. I am also not good yet at figuring out how to get out of the middle of the sheep-all going different directions. I am ready to take bets on how long it will be until my first time I fall on my butt, or get my knees smashed, LOL.