Sunday, November 23, 2008

Working Dogs

Reba loves to work, however she doesn't quite know what work is. All she knows is this compelling urge to chase things and run circles around them. In August Reba had her first taste of working sheep. She was so excited she grew a foamy saliva beard! She literally froths at the mouth when given the chance to work.

The trick with a young dog or puppy is to shape their behavior without turning them off the stock or putting so much pressure on them its no longer fun. A balancing act to be sure. Slowly and carefully I've been giving her opportunities to work. Short training sessions, always positive.

The goal is to let her learn about action - reaction, sheep behavior if you would, without her getting into a situation she can't handle or scares her. The hardest part of working with her is getting her stopped. A few weeks ago, while trying to get her stopped I ended up riding the sheep. The sheep clustered so hard around me my feet left the ground. Reba continued to run at them and as the sheep herd moved I was an unwilling passenger. Think body surfing. All I could hope to do was regain my feet. If I were to fall to the ground the sheep would trample me. Not fatal but painful. Adrenalin shooting through my body I twisted, used the sheep's backs for support and worked my way out of the herd. Shaken and with few minor sprains I survived.

The time had come to apply more pressure to the baby. I needed a stop. Cord in hand the lie down training came into effect. In working dog language Reba is biddable. This means she's highly trainable and wants to please. After four session I had a lie down that was mostly reliable. What more could a girl ask for?

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