Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Old Bat and the Newby

This a story of an Old Bat and a Newby. It also could have been called "the day Tess saved Janet's butt."

Well, it wasn't THAT eventful, but having Tess to help me today was a blessing.

Tess is owned and loved by Diane Pagel, my herding instructor and friend. Tess is nearly 12 years old. She is an accomplished stockdog, having run in and placing highly in the USBCHA Sheepdog National Finals among running in and winning other big trials. She is one of the best duck and goose dogs I have ever seen and she is also quite good at moving cattle, turkeys and the occasional guinea fowl. Tess is also a "mom" and "grandma" of some great working dogs and in her retirement from trialing in Open with Diane, she will help with chores at the farm in addition to helping Diane's student's dogs find their way. This picture is of Tess this past Autumn; she was helping my Mattie with herding ducks. This was Mattie's first time with ducks, so when the ducks would cluster up on the fence, we used Tess to push them off the fence (a novice dog typically finds it difficult to get stock off a fenceline; there's a lot of "pressure" and excitement can happen which is not a good thing). Anyway, here's Tess (aka "the Old Bat", aka "Monkey", aka "Atta Girl, Good Girl."

Today's story begins with me taking Mattie and Scott to the farm. Niether Diane nor Monique were there but I felt I had the confidence to work Mattie on my own in the lower pasture. When I'm working Mattie alone, because she is a bit more squirrely/hyper with me than she is with Diane or Monique (or anyone else for that matter), I have her wear a basket muzzle because that assures me that I won't have to worry about stitching anyone up (talking the sheep here) after the lesson. I think wearing it also shows Mattie that she can move the stock without having to bite the dickens out of the stock.

Moving on...

I used Tess to sort out five sheep. I made sure that I put the expensive Ram and the still-very-pregnant ewe into a safe place. Basically, Tess and I had sorted out 1 Katahdin ewe, 1 old Clun ewe (#7), 2 yearling Clun ewes, and, as I figured out at the end of the session, I believe the 5th sheep was a 3 month old Clun lamb named Patsy (she's a BIG girl, first born of the lot this year).

I had Tess put the the sheep into a corner area of the pasture and then left with Tess to get Mattie out of the car. I put Tess and Scott in the barn. With Mattie, I use a training flag and neither of the old dogs care for the flag and neither would have stuck around to help me be back up dog if I was using the flag. It is what it is.

So, I come through the main pasture gate with Mattie, and as I'm closing it, the sheep look at Mattie and then take off running full speed to the other end of the pasture, and race around the path that goes to the top of a big pond.


I should have put Tess or Scott at the escape area. I start to talk to Mattie, "Okay, let's get them out of there." Mattie is on leash and we walk calmly and obediently to the top of the pasture. As we get about 50 yards from the sheep who had cornered themselves at the top of the pond, they see Mattie approaching and, as a cohesive group, run swiftly by us and head back into the main pasture, all the way to the opposite corner, where the horse is, at full speed, of course.

Insert heavy 'sigh' here.

I proceed to walk Mattie, on leash, to the other end of the pasture. I'm feeling more confident now. Mattie has worked around the horse before, so I was comfortable with this situation. I look for the sheep and see that three are up against the barn and about 35 yards away are the other two next to the horse. Seriously, these sheep are turning out to be pains. I set Mattie up to fetch the three against the barn. I unhook her leash. I send her.

It's clear that Mattie has an Obessive Compulsive Disorder that goes beyond just being a hyperactive collie-dog. Mattie gets a bit panicked when her sheep are not flocking together in one sheep-unit. In her world, all sheep must be together and any rogue ones MUST be brought in at all costs.

Mattie raced, tightly and not-prettily, behind the three ewes at the barn and then raced over to the two rogues by the horse. She was gravely concerned about the two ewes by the horse more than she was by the three at the barn which, I assume, she felt those three sheep were in their "proper" place.

Sheep were running and she was flanking very ugly and tight and I was trying to flick the flag at her eye to keep her out. Then, when I felt it was the right time (that is, when Mattie appeared comfortable with the "gather" and I felt I could get her attention) I layed her down with a firm "Lie Down." She took it.

I should have quit on that.

The sheep were flocked together now, but were moving north, to the pond, at a fast rate. I figured that since this was an area I'd worked Mattie in before though, it would be okay and that the sheep would likely settle a bit. I tried to get into position, ahead of Mattie, but when she realized the sheep were moving away, she got up to start her gather.

Those two dang rogue sheep took off from the three - the two rogues were again #7 and Patsy. Mattie was able to turn #7 at the start of the pipeline where the main pasture narrows to a pathway that winds behind the pond and she trotted back to the three others. However Patsy, not knowing any better because she's just a baby, took off running back to the top of the pond pasture with Mattie in tow.

"Shit! Shit! Shit!"

I ran. I ran as fast as I could in Muck boots that feel like they weigh 10 lbs a piece. I ran as fast as I could through the ankle high mud. Mattie and Patsy disappeared behind the brush at the top of the pond. All I could hear was sound of my boots in the mud "schlock, schlop, sclock, schlop..." and then Mattie started to bark. I was yelling calm, but assertively "Mattie, LIE DOWNs" throughout my pathetic run. Since Mattie had her muzzle on, I knew she wasn't eating Patsy or anything gruesome. My fear though was that Patsy ran herself into the pond.

Now, running sheep into the pond is nothing new for me. Scott and I did it once last year. And, I think even Tess and I did it once. But both those times, the sheep went in and were able to get themselves out of the water quickly.

I approach Mattie and she is still barking across the pond, at the little unaccessible island. Sure enough, Patsy had swam over to the island and was just standing there, probably wishing Mattie would go away. I called Mattie off the situation. She actually listened to me and came over. She was nervous about leaving the sheep on the island though. I leashed her up and walked her calmly back to the barn.

On my walk back to the barn, I decided that I would take Tess with me, and not take Scott, to get Patsy off the island and back to the farm. Although Scott is a great dog, he is a bit of a doofus when it comes to these types of tasks. Tess is methodical, caring, calm. Scott is a bit more pushy and arrogant. Tess uses her eye and, honestly I think she uses subliminal messages with the sheep to move them (think "Bah, Ram, Ewe" in the movie Babe), while Scott uses his eye and grip to move stock. I didn't want to freak the lamb out anymore than she already was, so Tess would be the best choice today.

Tess was more than happy to come out with me. I buttered her up and explained the situation to her. I brought a rope just in case I needed to make a lasso. I also told myself that if I needed to go swimming, I did have a spare pare of pants in the car. I just really, really, really did NOT want to go into that pond though.

I grabbed a long branch to see just how deep the water was going to be. This branch-test yielded a result of "it's up to my boobs deep." This is not good.

Tess didn't see the lamb at first. We were directly in front of Patsy. I state to Tess "Look. See the sheep? Get up. Away..." At first, Tess thought she could do the Away without having to get in the water. I think she forgot there was no back-door to this island. I called her back. Instead of using an "Away" at the start this time, I got her into the water by razzing her up with a "Get up there!" She jumped into the water and then I flanked her while she was swimming across. She took the "away" and was able to come off the side of the lamb, up the bank and get behind the lamb at the top of the island's bank. She was dead on in terms of her pressure she was putting on the lamb. I asked her to "walk up" and she started to come down the bankside directly behind Patsy. The lamb saw her and started to get nervous. I asked grittily for another "walk up" and Tess pushed on. The lamb decided that she was not going to face off with Tess. Tess stopped as soon as the lamb started to turn and go back into the water. Patsy then swam across the waterway and onto the main pasture land. Tess was in tow.

I could tell the Old Bat knew she saved my butt. Once she got on shore, I thanked her and hugged her profusely for not making me have to get in the water to get Patsy out. She shook when I was going in for another cuddle and the mucky water went all over me but I didn't care. What a super dog she is.

After Tess saved the day, I used her to sort five sheep into the round pen for Mattie to use. I didn't want to leave the farm with Mattie's last experience there to be leaving a sheep out on an island but I also did not want to set my dog up for failure by trying to work her by myself in the pasture again. So, into the round-pen we went. Mattie did great in there. I was practicing the flick-at-the-eye thing with the flag and doing some short walk-abouts. We spent 15 minutes or so in the RP and then quit on a really good mini-outrun, lift and fetch to my feet.

We quit on that.