Monday, April 11, 2011

The Rooster and the lambs

A couple weeks ago I was at Diane's farm getting my weekend-warrior herding fix and a much needed lesson with Jude. Typically, when I go to the farm, I am there for awhile. Diane and I will work dogs, do some chores, work dogs, do some more chores, rinse, repeat...  On this particular day it was actually sunny and dry, so Diane thought it would be a great time to let the lambs free range on her front lawn and get some pictures of her farm's new additions.

For some wild reason, she suggested I use Roo to fetch the ewes and lambs from their pasture, drive them up to her lawn, and tend them while she took pictures of her flock.

If you are not familiar with Roo the dog, here is his picture.

Roo is a beautiful, 7-8 year old male. Technically, his full name is DeltaBluez Roo. And, I guess even more technically, his call name is Rooster, which I believe is from the character John Wayne played in the movie True Grit. Roo is a son of Diane's lovely Tess and Scott Glen's Nat'l Champion (USA and Canada)Pleat. Roo, to put it bluntly, is a power-house of a working dog - he definitely has grit as his fuller call name implies. He also has a very loving, biddable nature that I will attribute to his mother Tess.

Roo can get himself cranked up and it takes a very rational, balanced handling style to crank-him down and control all of his enthusiasm. Sometimes things don't go as planned for every trial he runs in but all in all, Roo has done quite well in Open level sheepdog and cattledog trials with Diane. She loves running challenging, powerful dogs and Roo is just her cup of tea. I believe at one trial Diane ran him at, the judge nicknamed Roo "The Bull." That pretty much describes him on the trial field. (off field, the name "Pussycat" is more appropriate).

So, as a newer handler, I was excited but also nervous about working Roo. Roo is a smart dog and knows when a handler is unsure of things, so he will take it upon himself to make his own choices at will - sometimes those are the right choices and sometimes they're not!

I sent Roo to gather the flock and he kicked out nicely and brought the sheep to me and pushed them out into the open area. We then drove the flock up the driveway and proceeded to keep the flock together in the grassy area. Of course, with 40-odd ewes and lambs free-roaming, there is bound be some sheep-dispersion across the property. In addition, Glock, Diane's new guardian dog in training (pictured below) was also in the mix!

I kept Roo busy by working him with quick, square flanks and rounding up the sneaky ewes who kept trying to head for the other side of the house. Unlike the other couple of times I've gotten to work with Roo, I didn't have a "panicked" sound to my voice and my blood pressure didn't rise too much!  I trusted my dog a lot more and it showed in the quality of his work for me.

I'm thankful Diane gives me the opportunity to work with her dogs. I've learned so much about handling from working not just my three dogs (Scott, Mattie and Jude) but also working with Rainey, Tess, Tam, Kira and Roo. I also get the opportunity to observe Diane working her other dogs as well as watching her start pups and working with other students' dogs. I think I have been exposed to a lot in the 2.5 years that I've been involved in sheepdogs and the world of sheepdog trialing. Heck, and I am a self-proclaimed EXPERT at catching lambs now and I'm a pretty good gate-sorter too!

Working a variety of dogs like Roo, Scott, Rainey and even working my beardie Mattie has taught me the importance of calmness and modulating my voice/whistles. With Rainey, soft tones and soft corrections work best. With Scott, soft tones at first followed by a "WHAT are you doing!?" when he is in need of a correction. With Roo, it's best not to start off soft. Roo has taught me that for a dog like him, I need to get his respect right off the bat and be very certain and pronounced in my commands. I seem to have a natural feel for when I know my dog is blowing me off totally or just not understanding what I'm asking him or her to do - I think that is a quality that makes me a good handler. I just need to start tying that ability to predicting how my particular dog I running that moment will affect the sheep on that particular day. This is the part that I know once I figure out, I will be well on my way to running in Open.

I have a strong feeling that my Jude is going to be pushy boy like Roo and I think Diane knows this already since she's been working with me and my 10-month old boy on stock. Hence, I think this is why she is getting me acquainted with Roo now. I'm definitely more comfortable working Roo than I used to be. I know that when I can get a good handle on the Rooster, I'm certain I will transition well to handling a hot-headed 'know-it-all' hot shot like Jude. 

Thanks Roo for being a great teacher!!!

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