Thursday, March 8, 2012


As of yesterday afternoon, I can
a-a-lmost say that Riff really IS a sheepdog.  Yeah!!  But of all the days to leave my camera home, I picked yesterday.  So you might want to drag out your Colander of Imagination, put it upside down on your head, and picture this:

About 15 head of sheep were in the pen this time, more or less.  Definitely more than we had in the pen the last two times.

ML brought out a "stick" to use with Riff, since he ended last week's session by enthusiastically (but respectfully) chasing her sheep.  She thought he might be scared of her stick (he gets so nervous sometimes), so she left the flag off the end, and quietly introduced him to it.  The stick is about four or five feet long, semi-flexible, plain white...some kind of plastic, I think.  See, Riff?  Nothing to be afraid of.  It goes "tap, tap" on the ground, that's all.  She described the stick as an extension of her arm and a way to turn the sheepdog back the other way.  It helps the dog learn how to gather and herd the sheep instead of just chase them.   Riff was so happy to jump all over poor ML that he barely paid any attention to the stick.  So, okay...into the pen they go.

And Riff stays by the gate, looking at me.  I'm standing about 10 feet away from the pen, holdling ML's little terrier in my arms.  Her BC Pete, finished with bringing in the herd, is sitting on my feet.  I can imagine how this looks to Riff.  Is he thinking that maybe he should be in my arms or sitting on my feet?  I hate to do it, but I turn my back on him.  I sneak little peaks over my shoulder after he finally gives up and crosses the pen to check out the sheep situation.  Of course ML has been calling him the whole while....

It didn't take too long for ML to decide that Riff would not work sheep for her.  She came out of the pen and introduced me to the stick.  I was a little afraid of it (hahah!), but I let her hand it to me anyway, and she told me to go on into the pen. 

Riff stood there, looking at me.  I called him over to the sheep, they scattered, and I tapped the stick on the ground to turn the dog.  I was trying to act like a shepherd, and get into the right position for the sheep to quietly come up to me, and gather around me.  Then I could either walk through the standing herd, or back up and let them slowly follow me.  Riff went over to the gate.  Riff and I both looked around for ML.  She was across the pasture, checking on a fence.  We were alone.   So Riff came back and we took a couple of comparatively quiet little passes by the sheep.  I held out the stick and pretended to know what I was doing.  I wasn't sure I was holding it correctly.  I you switch hands, or just point the stick the other way?  Riff looked at me like, "What the heck are you doing?!"  I started feeling even more confused than usual.

At that point Riff decided to chase the sheep.  FUN FUN FUN FUN FUN!!!  I tried to use the stick as an extension of my arm, tap the ground, turn the dog the other way...and help him learn how to control the herd.  Riff jumped over the stick, gave me a quick dirty look (jeezus, lady!) from the apex of his jump, and continued running after various individual sheep.  He obviously didn't want to get close enough to bite them, but he was definitely getting closer than he ever had before.  He came to within inches of their heels.  He was showing them his teeth, his head held low while his tail was high, and he looked happy.     I held the stick further out and tapped the ground harder, and then held out my other hand...trying to tell him "this way, Riff!" and Riff jumped the stick again.  And again and again.  Pretty soon sheep were RUN-running all over the pen.  They seemed to be running straight at me, from all directions.  I started to feel like a bowling pin in the middle of a swarm of giant furry bowling balls.  "Down!"  Aren't you supposed to say Down when the sheep get too wild?  "Down!"  "Down!"  "Down!"  "Down!"  Did I sound hysterical?  I hope not.  But goshdarn it, it worked!  And ML was back by then, too...I could suddenly hear her voice, telling me that it's okay for Riff to get closer to the sheep, and warning me not to shut down Riff's fledgling enthusiasm. 

Riff was laying down in the middle of the pen, listening to our conversation with his tongue lolling sideways and a smirky little grin on his face.  The sheep had had me running me in crazy little backwards circles, knees akimbo, completely unmoored.  And while I was trying to keep track of the dog [man, is he quick!] and all those sheep, I didn't even know where I was in relation to the fence.  Or, for that matter, in relation to the rest of the world.  Pretty much all I could see were the sheep that were right in front of me.  And I could feel sheep all around behind me, too.  I could hear them running and panting.  During those panicky moments I even forgot I had a stick in my hand.  What was I doing with my stick during that half-hour (read: moment or two) of absolute chaos?  I have no idea. 

Everything started out okay.  I felt foxy!
ML let me be in a pen with a stick, a young sheepdog, and some sheep.
Then I noticed how much bigger the sheep were getting.
What happened to those cute little woolies I was petting?
The more my dog chased them, the bigger they got.

And they multiplied.
I knew there were only a dozen or so sheep in the pen, but...
....the more my dog chased them, the more sheep there were.
Hundreds.  Thousands.

We have a lot to learn.

The rest of yesterday's lesson went something like this:

Riff took a break, and I went into the pen with ML and Pete.  My instructions were to stay with ML and get a feel for where to be and what to do.  Somehow I couldn't stay with her...she changed directions often, I had no idea where she was headed next, and the sheep were coming right at me.  I think I'd have to hold onto her arm to actually stay next to her. 

We decided I'd leave the pen and just watch.  When I reached the gate and opened it slightly, suddenly the sheep badly wanted through that gate.  Too many sheep heads were in the way and I couldn't close it...I found myself being pushed slowly through the gate - those sheep can press pretty hard - even though I was holding it as shut as possible, and pushing and swatting at sheep noses.  I may have even been yelling at them.  See, here's where you need a camera.  What actually happened?  That's the way I remember it.  Happily, ML sent Pete to my side and he rescued me from the sheep.  A good dog makes all the difference.

My next effort was to try to work Pete by myself.  We tried, but he wasn't too keen on the idea.  I was too far into Stumbling Bumpkin mode by then. 

Then Riff and I went back into the pen alone.  This time things seemed a tiny bit more under control.  I even heard ML yell "Good! Good!" a couple of times.  Cool.  On that happy note, my story ends.

No comments:

Free Hit Counter