Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Jury is Still Out

Riff and Dickens enjoyed playing, before going out to the sheep.

Is Riff going to be a sheepdog, or not? 

He circled the flock yesterday, without dashing into it.  He worked for 10 minutes or more.  Circled, and circled, and circled.  (With a little "lie down" rest break.)  He went primarily clockwise.  (Exactly once, for half a circle, anti-clockwise.)  K said dogs usually start out with a favorite side.  She said at this point we just want him to be comfortable playing with sheep.  He didn't stop easily, or lie down instantly, but he eventually got it done. 

His attention left the flock several times, when he tried to grab a bite of sheep poop.  A couple of times he even went over to the pasture fence, acting like he was looking for someone wa-ay out on the other side of the property. 

He seemed fascinated while watching K's sheepdogs work.  (Was he interested in the dogs, the sheep, or the Big Picture?)

A couple of times, while Riff was circling the sheep, he tried to get Dickens to play.  She was working hard to keep the flock in one general area of the large pasture, so she ignored him.  (Was he circling the sheep because Dickens was there, because he knew we wanted him to, because his instinct told him to, or because he thought it was fun?) 

He was definitely looking at the sheep more than he ever has before.  And he was better, when we moved to the smaller round pen, than he had been in the small pen at M's place.  Even though a couple of the sheep got really noisy (calling for lambs, I think) and he'd never heard that kind of noise before, he tried to work.  He continued to circle the flock clockwise, and he seemed to enjoy it, even though he was tired.  (And yes, Dickens was helping.)

He seemed scared, at first, in the round pen.  He looked as though he wanted OUT.  At one point, he was so busy looking outside the fence he didn't notice the flock coming toward him (pushed by Dickens) until they were virtually on top of him. 

But he did improve...

He's an older dog (3 years is a bit old to start with sheep).  He's been trained to run fast on an agility course, with a handler telling him what to do pretty much every step of the way.  Now he's being asked to tap into his genetic instincts and work sheep, smoothly and quietly, without much guidance.  He's confused and he's just running fast and he gets easily stressed out.  But he's trying!  He seems to be trying really hard to figure it out, in spite of his characteristic nervousness and distractability.  I should give him every chance...

K's dog Kit has been 'on sheep' the same number of times Riff has.  Five.  Kit (at 1 year old) crouches, stalks, stops, stands, and changes direction.  Sure, there were some big bobbles here and there, and Kit did look away at times, etc.  But Kit looks like a sheepdog.  I found the difference between Kit and Riff to be striking.  And a bit depressing.

Riff never even thought about grabbing any of those cute little lambs for lunch.  Thank god. 

I said to K - please, you need to tell me if we should quit trying.  She said "No! No!  Don't quit!  Kit has lived all her life at a sheep ranch.  Riff just doesn't know what's going on yet."

So we'll go back.  Hopefully this week, although it's supposed to RAIN for the rest of the week. 

We went into the big pasture with the "dogged" flock, plus lambs.
The medium pasture had a flock of "real" sheep in it.
"Much too much for Riff..."

Riff ran circles around the sheep...

....and ran and ran and ran....

....until he finally decided to trot.

Dickens (who helped hold the flock) and Riff - on a rest break.

Kit trails a lead-line, at first, while working her sheep.

Kit, a young sheepdog at work.

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