The first rule of stockdog training isn't "trust your dog". No, it's "never carry a loaded weapon while training." This home truth was amply illustrated this week, when both my dogs reverted to their worst-case behaviors. If I'd been packing heat, well, I'd have come home with an empty car.
I'd gotten a bad start to the morning, getting stuck trying to do a Photoshop thing for a friend and not being able to figure out how. It seemed so easy when my daughter showed me, but now she was back at college three thousand miles away.
Instead of walking the dogs in the forest as usual, I had wasted the early hours of the morning on this frustrating task. Thus I was already kind of cranky when I got to my friend's ranch and found that she hadn't gotten my phone message and had let all her stock out to graze instead of keeping them in the pens for me.
So, Bonnie and I had a big gather as our first job. About forty head of mixed sheep and goats in a thirty acre pasture which contained a small mountain, at the top of which, of course, were the stock. That wasn't the big problem. The problem was the emus.
The guard emus which ran loose with the flock respected people, at least, people waving sticks, but attacked dogs on sight. Emus are six feet tall, lethal to dogs, and dumb as box of rocks. Bonnie and I lost the sheep a couple times when I abandoned my position to run after an emu considering a strike, utterly confusing my dog.
However, we managed to get the sheep penned, peeled off the goats and took them to the arena, and then came back for the sheep. Crossing the field again with the sheep, which Bonnie had done several times on previous occasions, was always challenging as they were going against two different draws (the mountain top and the pens), and were a very mixy bunch, containing lambs, pregnant ewes, and young open ewes, all of varying degrees of doggedness. Last time, Bonnie had lost one wily young ewe, and I had just told her to let it go, since there was no way to hold the flock and get the errant sheep too. This time, the same ewe decided to try the same trick. But this time, when I told Bonnie to 'leave it', she went deaf.
Off they went like a pair of bullets. Bonnie was going to turn that ewe or drive her into fence trying. When this happens, the shepherdly thing to do is to run after your dog screaming curses at the top of your lungs. Or call out the emus. Or something. When Bonnie had cornered the sheep in a little draw I was able to call her off and strangle her with my bare hands. Okay, no, I just put her back in the car. Of course all the other sheep were long gone. I got my other dog and hiked out to the arena again, only about a quarter mile, to practice on the unfortunate goats.
Actually Ty was not bad at all. I was pleased with his increasing abilities and obedience. Unlike Bonnie, he is comfortable working at a distance and will drop at the first command and stay there, a great improvement. He got in a little body-slamming but no gripping. He definitely was getting to head better too. Since some of the goats were very pregnant I didn't work them long. I let them out of the arena into the pasture after about fifteen minutes.
There was one very tall La Mancha doe who had a bad attitude. She was the one who was always at the back of the flock, staring at the dog, thinking about charging but not quite doing it. When the flock was released, she took off the fastest, and Ty, breaking his stay, shot out after her, meaning to turn her and the whole flock back to me. Only she wasn't going to come. She'd had enough, and meant to go straight up the mountain. Ty thought differently. I yelled, "that'll do! Get out of that!"
It was Dog Deafness Day, however, and Ty slammed that poor La Mancha into the dirt and grabbed her. He is big enough to hold a sheep or goat on the ground. Goats scream horribly when they are frightened. I was running as fast as I could, the goat was screaming, and when I got close enough I threw my stick at Ty, which made him finally pay attention to me. Then I beat the crap out of him.
No, I didn't. I just put a leash on him and took him back to the car, where the other dog I could have shot was anxiously waiting. I was so angry at my dogs I didn't speak to them for the entire rest of the day. Really, sort of an advertisment for gun control, when you think about it.
(update: Ty only left two nicks in the goat)