So, the next time, I was smarter. I didn’t wait until Gwen’s dogs had chased the sheep around in mad circles. Bonnie and I went in first. To not much avail; those sheep knew not to wait around to see what a strange dog might be like. I remembered Sherry telling me that sheep will settle if they see your dog is under control. So I heeled Bonnie around and dropped her in various places until the sheep would at least stand and stare instead of racing to and fro as if they thought they were about to be made into mutton. Then I sent my dog, and we walked the sheep about in the corral for ten or fifteen minutes.
Bonnie was still starting every work too pushy and yipping with eagerness, but she got saner and the sheep got more comfortable and eventually I decided to try taking the sheep for a walk, the way Sherry had told me I needed to. She said my dog needed miles on her, to get her to realize on her own that she didn’t need to wear back and forth on a handful of sheep. Well, there were certainly miles to be walked around here.
This time, I went through the gates first, and Bonnie put just enough pressure on the sheep to put them through gracefully and pick them up on the “free” side perfectly. I walked them across the big pasture to the itty bitty take pens Gwen had built, shed off the supposedly worst two ewes, and took the rest of the sheep, about ten of them, out into the big world.
Bonnie was keeping the sheep up to me but not being too pushy for once. It was a lovely balmy day, the grass was full of flowers, and no one would lives anywhere else in the continental U.S. except maybe the Rockies would believe how glorious the view was, just walking through a humble coastal pasture. Just me, my dog, and the sheep, as pastoral an experience as could well be imagined.
I started up an old bulldozed road that quickly became the only passage along a drop-off on one side and a near-cliff towering above us on the other. The sheep suddenly began to trot. They got ahead of me and I thought if I sent Bonnie uphill to head them, they would spill downhill in a free-for-all dash. So I sent Bonnie below instead, and the sheep promptly turned as one, scaled the cliff like antelope, and disappeared.
Little Bo Peep exchanged horrified glances with her dog. “Go get ‘em, Bonnie!” I said helplessly, and my dog took off up the cliff while I labored up after her as fast as I could, using my handy training pole like an ice axe. When I got to the top, there were no sheep, and no dog. Oh God, now what? I kept going, up the next rise, floundering through thigh-high grass. There I paused to see my sheep, the size of dots, lined out at a hard lope, and my faithful sheepdog in hot pursuit. I yelled “Bonnie!” and she stopped and looked at me. I waved wildly, communicating probably nothing except I had lost my marbles. She started to come in, maybe figuring she’d better come see what was the matter with me.
Of course, the sheep then stopped and turned to look too. “No, Bonnie, get around! Get around!” I don’t know if she could understand actual words at that distance—I know I wouldn’t have—but she obediently turned back, raced around the sheep and got them gathered up. Meanwhile I was still wading through the meadow as fast as I could totter.
The sheep clearly did not want to go back the way they’d come, but my dog is nothing if not persistent, a trait which has often annoyed me. By the time I had made it another dozen feet she had them moving toward me. She brought them up to me and stood there with her tongue dangling to her knees, eyes on the sheep. We all stood, exhausted and heaving.
When we all were fairly well re-oxygenated, I cautiously began the descent to the home corral. Rather than give my dog yet another stupid, sheep-losing command, I said nothing. Bonnie faded way out downhill, almost abreast of me, and the sheep stayed behind me all the way, despite the draw of the corral and the downhill slope. I put them all away without incident. That’ll do, good girl.
But, I had forgotten the two bad ewes in the pen, across the pasture. Well, what had to be done, could be done, right? Bonnie got a drink and soak in the stock tank, and we went back for the two notoriously wicked sheep. Bonnie was on a roll. She never let those sheep set a foot where she didn’t want it. As my oh-so-great dog was bringing her skittish ewes across the pasture, Gwen’s dog Hard-headed Girl appeared out of nowhere like a sheep-seeking missile and dove into us. She had chewed her way out of her crate, climbed the fence, and now was bent upon some sheep fun.
One sheep immediately disappeared over the horizon at a dead run. Girl and Bonnie pinned the other against the fence. I was, naturally, bearing down upon them as rapidly as possible, screaming curses. Bonnie backed away, horrified, and I whapped Hard-Headed Girl, who was not in the habit of listening very carefully, with my handy bamboo training pole, with the intention of severing her head from her shoulders if possible. This was wrong of me.
Yet, it had a quite positive effect. She immediately decided this was not as groovy a scene as she had planned on, and scuttled back to the dog pen, where she remained. Nor did she hold it against me later, interestingly.
Bonnie and I put that sheep away and went to look for the missing one. During our crosscountry hike, Bonnie suddenly took off and disappeared over a hill, without permission, because I was distracted. Another mistake. I called her back. I figured she had probably spooked the sheep into heading home, so I hiked wearily back to the corral, where indeed the lonely sheep stood by the gate.
Here was yet another chance for ignorance and stupidity to blossom. Instead of downing my dog at a distance to keep the pressure on the sheep, and walking in to open the gate, I went with my dog to open the gate. The sheep ran away up the hill, and while I struggled with the gate Bonnie decided that was unacceptable behavior in a sheep and took off behind my back and against orders, to go fetch it. The poor sheep made a mad dash and leapt the five foot fence into the corral. Okay, fine, whatever. I called my dog in.
At this point Gwen showed up. She had been fixing fence all this time with our respective husbands, far afield (in fact, where the sheep had gotten out previously). I was rather a sight. Here I’m going to reveal another embarrassing truth. When I had gotten up that morning, the day had promised to be so warm that I had decided to wear shorts. Yes, I was now an attractive mottled brown from ankles to mid thigh with sheep grease and tarweed resin, thoroughly scratched, and my socks were so embedded with seeds and awns that I ended up throwing them out. I explained about beating up her dog, and my other adventures.
While we were talking, Bonnie would not lie still. It made me cross with her. Finally I noticed all the sheep staring in one direction. Well, it was the damn single sheep, which had leapt, not into the corral as I’d thought, but into a brushy alleyway behind the corral. Bonnie, as usual, knew there was something out of place. Gwen went to let her in a back gate. The end. The end!
It had been another great day with Bonnie. Think I’m kidding?