Sheep Herding Lessons

Today we went to sheep herding lessons. Bandit and Chase both got to work sheep. They have such different styles; it’s interesting working with one, then the other. I had to work hard to manage Bandit to move the sheep around the field. Especially after working cattle with him, he seemed like overkill on sheep. After working with the cattle yesterday, I have a much more visceral understanding of why he is that way and what he was bred to do. Still, I had to push back on him while working sheep. Kim had an ASCA course set up, so we moved the sheep through panels and a middle-of-the course Y-chute. That was a bit tricky since we had been used to the AKC Y-chute, which has a fence along one side. Chase did a fantastic job working the sheep today. You may recall that he was rescued in 2006 (by my friend Sarah in Virginia) from a man who was going to shoot him for chasing sheep. The man had stuffed him in a tiny chicken crate and was very violent with him. Sarah said that she held Chase on her lap and he shook and shook for a long time after the man left. Chase knew that his life was in danger and he was terrified.

Sarah guessed that Chase was a sheltie-ACD mix. He was a little guy, about 35 lbs when he came to me in 2006. But he has grown a lot since then. He’s much longer and has a collie-like shrieky bark. So I think he is an ACD-smooth coated collie X. Although Sarah called him “Fred”, I renamed him “Chase” once I saw how much he loved chase games. Last fall I began working Chase on sheep. Knowing now what a sensitive and soulful dog he is, I love to see him do what his genes tell him to do. Chase and I developed a trusting relationship long before I tried him on sheep. He doesn’t seem to have any residual issues with being punished for chasing them, and he sure learned a lot during his freelancing days, or else he had plenty of natural ability. Today we worked the sheep through some panels and Chase put them in a free-standing holding pen in the middle of the field a few times. We had a tough time taking them out of the pen without them escaping across the field, but when they took off, Chase went and got them and brought them back to me. For a dog who just started working sheep with me last fall, he does an amazing job. He can get much closer to the sheep than Bandit without putting too much pressure on them and doesn’t try to take cheap shots or grip them like Bandit used to do. He’s skilled at moving them along at a good pace. I think that Chase is much more naturally a “sheep” dog as Bandit is much more naturally a “cattle” dog. It’s fun to see these guys do what their ancestors were bred for. Likewise, I can see how many people’s house dogs get very frustrated because they don’t have this type of outlet and regular exercise for the mind and body.

Cay went along to the sheep herding lessons and got to see the horse, ducks, and sheep. She walked on the leash with Kim and met some new people. She went over to Kim’s husband Joe for petting and he commented that she came over even though he wasn’t “a Pez dispenser” with treats this time. Cay has become much more outgoing and likes visiting Kim and Joe’s farm. She seems a bit intimidated by the sheep, but maybe some day she’ll be interested in herding too. Before our lessons, all three dogs get to run in a large fenced field, and they have a great time.

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