Monday, October 12, 2009

herding lesson one: sheep are toys!

On Sunday, I took Ezri and went along with Ben and Deb to join them for sheep herding lessons with Diane in Carnation. She's the one who bred Epic, and they've been taking Indigo there for quite a while now both before and after Deb's stint in Boston. I've done HIC tests with Jadzia and Curzon before, and they have both had a chunk of herding instruction with someone else, but this was to be Ezri's first time seeing sheep.

The first thing that happened when we got there is that Indigo and Ezri were tied up while Ben and Epic worked sheep in a big field, and Diane introduced me to herding in a small pen using her oldest bitch Tessa (who is Epic's dam). Ezri was not so pleased about this, especially with the size of the chain as compared to her! After all, princesses do not get chained to a fence in cold weather with frost on the ground, the very idea is abhorrent!

Shortly after she was tied up, however, she was provided with a new distraction as the large male turkey living in the pen behind the fence was very interested in her. Ezri was really unsure what to make of this particular creature, especially with his strange noises and being about three times her size!! She soon decided that he wasn't a threat, and commenced ignoring him and whining at Deb and I for not playing with her or otherwise paying attention to her. My time in the pen with Tessa was instructive and quite helpful, as the concept of a space bubble as well as the positioning needed for "come bye" and "away" are much better experienced than simply explained. And as with flyball, it seems that having an inexperienced handler work with an experienced dog to start can be quite helpful!

Ezri's first session in the pen started off quietly, as she was more interested in the sheep droppings than in the sheep themselves. The sheep, however, knew that she was a Sheep Dog even if she didn't realize it yet, and were avoiding her with the same alacrity that they had evaded Tessa earlier. Diane encouraged me to grab a sheep's back leg and play tug with it to get Ezri to realize that she could interact with them - and I saw the light bulb go off in her head when she realized that sheep were toys! Ezri then got to spend another few moments getting excited, barking at the sheep, and chasing them a bit before her first session was over, and she was back to being tied up while Indigo and Epic took turns again. As this photos shows, she was not happy to be pulled out of the pen and away from her newly-discovered interactive toys!

Our second session was spent with Ezri on a long line, learning to walk quietly near the sheep and go into a down when she got close to them. As she was still very excited - and still quite young, at not quite fifteen months - Ezri tried to lunge for the sheep almost every time. Diane had me be more forceful in my commands, and use a flag as a correction, which Ezri responded to very well, and by the end of this session we had one walk-down sequence that did not involve a lunge and quick correction. The first photo, however, is definitely from one of her lunges!

Second photo: learning to listen, and respecting the flag.

And final photo: a hint of the sheepdog that Ezri may become one day!

I really enjoyed our lesson time, and Diane is exactly the sort of knowledgeable, no-nonsense instructor that I prefer to learn from. With a lot of training and practice, Ezri will probably be a good sheep herding dog, should I wish to take her that far. I definitely enjoyed exploring a different aspect of border collie handling, and I want to continue that to some extent with Ezri, as well as Jadzia and Curzon. However, while I might trial in Novice once or twice for fun, I'm pretty sure I'm not interested in going to high levels of competition, and at least for now I'm definitely not interested in herding in the cold, wet, and messy Northwest winter months. Assuming there is space available, I'd like to take Ezri (and possibly the other two) herding once or twice more this fall, then pick it up again for fun next spring.

But for now, Ezri passed her herding instinct test with flying colors, and has justifiably earned her new title of HIC. Congratulations, Ignited's Ezri Dax FDCh HIC.

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