Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Meet Mattie

Meet Mattie...

Mattie is my Smithfield Sheepdog, an old-school type working bearded collie. We adopted Mattie from the Seattle Animal Shelter on April Fool's Day 2007; she was 11 months old then and will be turning 4 this May.

Mattie is my first herding dog and exhibits all the traits, good and bad, of such. In the beginning, we had some big problems with Mattie, many of which were attributed to having a handler (me) who had no clue about how to handle a working dog. It was never an option to return or rehome Mattie although we will occasionally tell her that we're leaving her at my mom's house, or a cattle ranch. Honestly, behind the snarling-biting furball monster is a sweet, loving, mindful little dog who will fight to the death for you.

To put it bluntly, like her handler (me), Mattie is a social-retard. Now, I realize that she emulates my own behaviors as to her reactions with strangers and other dogs (peers). She is, at first, quite stand-offish/reactive with new people/dogs, just like me. But, once you gain her trust, you will be loved dearly as a member of the pack (just like me I guess!).

Mattie's way of saying "Don't get any closer dumb ass"

A couple years ago, I decided to find an outlet for Mattie to channel all of her energy - she is really the kind of dog that will literally bounce off walls. We tried Lucky's sport, Flyball, first. Lucky, my Shih Tzu mix, is a titled Flyball Dog (FD Ch.) and I was already established with a local flyball club. Mattie learned how to run a flyball race in just 3 hours of training, including doing a proper box-turn. However, her fear that another dog was going to steal her tennis ball was too overwhelming for her. It was obvious Mattie wasn't going be a team player on a flyball team, so we decided early on that flyball was not going to be her thing.

We tried agility classes next. We managed to get through 5 beginner classes - Mattie figured out all of the equipment early, sans the weave poles. However, Melt-Down-Mattie would rear her ugly face anytime a new dog came to class that she hadn't met. Although the agility instructor was willing to continue working with us, I was the one who called it quits; I was truly embarrased by my dog, and my handling (or lack thereof) at this time.

About the time we ended agility I began to take Mattie to Diane Pagel and try out sheep herding. Although there were other dogs around, there weren't really any dogs out in the field that Mattie might feel threatened by - this is a good thing! We had our first lesson in the round pen.

Some of the descriptors Diane used for Mattie in the beginning included "sporty," "tight," and "barracuda" as well as exclaiming "you couldn't have started with a much more difficult dog!" Ahhhh, beginners in sheep herding.

One of our round-pen sessions...

Mattie had a reliable "lie down" from the beginning and we utilized that to our advantage in the round pen, week after week, after week. It was a long process but I don't blame my dog for it taking so long - again, the handler was the thing holding this team back!

Sometimes, you have to live and learn things on your own and sheep herding is definitely one of those things. "Bubble" - What the heck are talking about? "Pressure" - From me? Her? Them? "Timing" - What do you mean I'm 2 seconds too late? "Lie her down" - Will this really stop me from getting knocked down by sheep?

More Round Pen...

Mattie was such a good dog through all of this early trial and error with the sheep. During these roundpen lessons, I learned that Mattie is truly a forgiving partner and will always try her best - she simply wants to please her handler. Mattie takes correction quite well, doesn't hold grudges, and learns from her mistakes.

In February, after many months in the round pen, Diane felt it was time to take Mattie out of the round pen and work in the larger pasture area. This was a day of joy for me and my dog! In training, moving out of the round pen is viewed as a graduation to "the next level" of sheepdog training. I was so happy that my little dog and I were at the next level!

So far, working in the larger pasture area has been, thankfully, non-eventful. With the extra space, Mattie is able to keep off her sheep more - she is getting a feel for them in fact, and even feeling and reacting to the draws in the field. She is becoming more mindful and independent with the sheep; however, I am still in the picture. This is a good thing! As we put more hours and miles in the new pasture, I am certain Mattie and I will progress to the next level of training; that would be training on the skills necessary to trial. For this year, my goals with Mattie is to stretch her outrun to 100 yards and begin driving.

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