Monday, June 22, 2015

Hank Tries Herding Sheep

When you have a border collie you know that generations of his ancestors have been bred to herd sheep so I had always wanted to see if Hank had any interest or potential in sheep herding.  An opportunity presented itself with one of my dog activity groups to sign up to take a 2 hour herding clinic followed by a herding evaluation for Hank at Fido's Farm.

Fido's Farm near Olympia, WA
As we turned into Fido's farm, I was enchanted with the mix of rustic buildings, flowers and sheep.   I was already smitten with this place.

Where is Fido's Farm?

The clinic started with a demonstration of what a well-trained border collie can do.

A border collie herding sheep
No surprise to anyone who has watched herding trials on TV or watched some YouTube videos, but still much more impressive to watch a well-trained sheep herding dog in person.

Hank watching and waiting for his turn with the sheep
After the demonstration and some initial instructions, each dog and handler got a turn with their dog on leash with the sheep under the direction of the trainer. As far as I know, Hank has never seen a sheep before. While we waited for our turn, Hank was very interested in watching the other dogs and the sheep.

My border collie, Hank and I trying to herd sheep
When it was our turn, Hank was interested in the sheep, but at first spent most of his time sniffing the ground.  It may surprise many people to know that many breeds of dogs can do herding - not just the well known ones like Border Collies, Australian Shepherds and Australian cattle dogs.  We saw several standard poodles, a Briard and several other breeds and mixed breed dogs.

Hank and me trying to herd sheep through cones
Next we worked in teams with another handler and dog team.  Our assignment was to communicate and position ourselves to apply the right amount of pressure to move the sheep between cones.  Since the dogs are on leash, it is really more the humans herding the sheep, but it helps the handler to understand how to move sheep and also begins to teach the dog how the sheep respond and what the handler wants from them.  We partnered with a mini-aussie and not trying to brag, but our team got kudos from the trainer for moving the sheep through the cone "gates" and I think we were the only team who was able to make them gather and stop at a specific spot by a cone.  Good job, Hank!

Hank in kind of a Border Collie Crouch
The goal is a controlled, slow movement of the sheep - not a stampede.  Hank did have to be held back to keep him from putting too much pressure on the sheep, but he occasionally showed a glimmer of his heritage, like this moment when he almost went into a classic border collie crouch.  When we got to Hank's evaluation, I was supposed to drop the end of the lead and let the instructor direct his movements.  Unfortunately he was reluctant to leave me and interact with the sheep under the direction of the trainer.  He's kind of a Momma's boy and a little wary of people he doesn't know. We did get some extra time for me to work him by myself with some sheep with his leash dropped and he showed some promise.  I must admit I would really like to learn more and could easily get hooked on herding and I've ordered another book!

Hank was exhausted after his herding adventure.  He slept all the way home and then slept the rest of the afternoon and evening after we got home.

Tired border collie after sheep herding clinic

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