Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Sheepish Light Bulb Goes On

Took Riff back out to sheep this afternoon (after a rainy morning walk/run at Riverfront Park)....

For the first fifteen minutes I was pretty certain that it was going to be our last trip to the sheep ranch.  Riff wasn't keen on getting out of the van!  He wasn't keen on watching Pete bring the sheep in. 

Pete bringing in the sheep.
Truthfully, he started shaking and whining when he saw the sheep heading our way, and while I'd love to say that it was pure eagerness, I have to admit it looked a whole lot like "scared" to me. 

ML brought a small flock into the round pen and worked them for a few minutes with Pete, so that Riff could watch.  But Riff didn't want to watch.  How could I tell?  He kept running to our van in the parking area, looking for a way back in.  (D'oh!) That tells us...something....yes?  (HaHa!) 

Hmmmm.   So I just acted like he was being an ordinary sheepdog doing ordinary sheepdog things.  But of course I'm thinking "Oh, well.  There it is.  Nervous ninny.  Not a sheepdog." 

ML noticed his behavior, of course, and said, "He sure is a sensitive young dog."  (So kind!)  She decided against trying to work Riff herself, and to let me work with the sheep from the get-go.  She thought he might feel more confident if I was out there with him. 

I was totally excited about that - I think her sheep are beautiful and sweet (for sheep), and a lot easier to work than cattle.  She told me to get out there in the middle of them and keep calling Riff over, so that's what we did.  As much as possible.  I couldn't get too close to the sheep when Riff was near me.  ML remarked again, "Wow, that dog is really powerful and he doesn't even know it.  These sheep usually won't move much if a dog isn't actively working them, and they keep running away from him." 

Riff stayed by me as though I were a life raft in rough seas.

Riff also kept running over to the gate, checking if it was open, looking like he wanted to go home.  When Riff was away from me, the sheep came right up and flocked around me.  Safety = the shepherd.  Cute little woolies with funny little nosies.  So I would pet the sheep and talk to them, and call Riff over, and as soon as he got near, the sheep would high-tail it away.  He didn't seem to notice, or to care.  He just wanted to be next to me.  He gave them small sneaky glances, now and then.  We just followed the sheep around the pen.

After about a year (or so it seemed), a subtle shift occured in how we were following the sheep.  Instead of me being in the lead, Riff decided to get ahead of me.  I had been telling him it would be okay if he wanted to "go on," and he finally decided to try it.   He soon forgot about checking the gate.      

Riff leaves the life raft.
And after a few more passes....the light bulb went on!!! 

Riff realized he was moving the sheep, and that it might be fun.

While I can't say he was "herding" sheep, he definitely became interested in moving them.  I noticed that he mostly stayed on a line with me.  That is to say, he would run a lateral line from my side, turn the sheep, then go around behind me to get to the other side of the flock.  He rarely got any closer to the main flock than I was. 

As far as I know (and I don't know much), a sheepdog is supposed to go out around to the other side of a flock of sheep, keeping the flock between him and the shepherd.  He is supposed to move the flock toward the shepherd, in a lovely, controlled manner.  Heh heh.  So Riff was doing just about the opposite - keeping the shepherd between him and flock.  And he didn't show any natural "sheepdog" crouching, to speak of.  But I was thrilled because he finally FINALLY started really watching the sheep.  He started acting like he was having FUN.  He never offered to "go after" the sheep in a nasty predator way (thank god), but he did go after them in a puppy-gallumping "I'm-running-after-you-but-I-will-keep-a-good distance-from-you, and-I-will-totally-back-off-if-you-get-too-wild-and-scary" sort of way. 

So...the Big Question is still out there.

Is Riff a sheepdog? 

He might be!  Ma-a-aybe.  ML suggested we give him a couple more tries, to see if he gets any better.  She seemed hopeful.  So I am, too.  



corgi2bc said...

Good boy, Riff! You can do it!

vici whisner said...

How much fun it that! Give him a few more trys and he'll be doing great!

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