Posts Tagged ‘Border Collie’


Herding for dummies

November 30, 2017

I remember back in the day when I thought agility was complicated. Oh that front cross had me tripping over my own feet until I understood how to do it and where to use it (and why!). Now it’s second nature and something I wouldn’t even think twice about.


Agility concepts now seem very easy when you put them next to herding. I don’t know why I decided to try herding, other than like agility it’s something people with Border Collies do. The thing with herding is that you have sheep moving in the arena too, and you have different sheep grouping combinations almost always, so every time you walk out into the arena things WILL be different. That’s pretty much the only thing you can be sure of.


I started out in NC with both Olaf and Loki herding, but Olaf doesn’t find it to be particularly interesting. Olaf will do very well for just a very short period of time, but he just thinks it seems kind of boring unless there are reckless lambs that jump out of the herd because they don’t know any better. Without any of these rogue baby sheep to police Olaf will find a scent he’d rather investigate, so I’ve stopped taking him so that it can just be a momma & Loki activity.


I tried taking Loki to a few different sports after we got him, but quickly found that herding was the only activity that didn’t put him in the red zone. And by that I mean Loki zips through life at 100 mph. Life to Loki is Olaf! then ball, or frisbee, then swimming, no wait sticks, oh he is a crazy hot little mess. It is only in herding he slows down and engages his brain – you can literally see it – he is thoughtful and has such a nice pace and some modicum of self control. Something that did not exist for him with agility, which is why I persisted in herding and not agility with him (even though he was “supposed to be” an agility dog). Famous last words, always aren’t they?


When we started, I didn’t understand a thing about what we were doing while herding, so I would just walk behind our instructor, Claire, as she worked Loki. She told me lots of things about how Loki worked, which side was his weak side, how he was sensitive to pressure, the stock stick, body movement, you name it(!), how energy as in this conceptual “energy” was a factor, and how his lack of confidence would show itself when he’d get into a corner or get worried and bowl into the herd.


I listened to everything because she was an excellent instructor and reader of dogs, but I didn’t really understand what it all meant until I started working him for myself.

Thursdays, Loki and I go out to a farm in Vacaville to herd with a bunch of other Border Collie people. There are lots of other breeds that herd, but on Thursdays for some reason it’s almost always exclusively a BC club. It is reassuring to see so many different BCs working that each have their own challenges because all of us are owner-handlers.


A few weeks ago a very famous herding instructor, Derek Scrimgeour, came to our training farm for a weekend clinic. Our instructor, Debbie, who has known Derek for I think about 8 years, invited a few of us for working spots and Loki and I were lucky enough to get one. I was a little worried because I knew I was one of the most novice handlers and am still trying to understand basic CONCEPTS, Derek has an accent and I suck at hearing regular English much less British English and I didn’t know how Loki would do because, well, he can be a bit unpredictable and I knew a lot of other people would have wanted that working spot!


Derek was a fantastic instructor (and I could understand almost everything he said)! He also talked about the same things that Debbie has observed which were the same things that Claire had told me too. The difference was that now I knew a bit more about herding.


Before Derek came I was able to move Loki into corners with no trouble, he would get between stock and the fence if I needed him to (and sometimes voluntarily when he was having a confident day), we could run a PT course with no issues and we could pen stock in a stand-alone pen in the middle of a ring (which is a LOT harder than it just sounds, believe me!). So basically I thought we would be ready to trial in the next season.


But, did he really know the difference between a “come by” and an “away”? Was he taking square flanks? Could he do it on a verbal command alone? Could he do it with me out of the picture? Was his “walk on” straight? Even more basic, was it at a speed I could control with the tone of my voice?

I learned the hard way with Olaf that just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you are really doing it right, or have an understanding you can eventually build on. So of course just because I can do lots of these things with Loki, until I start doing them RIGHT and imprinting the correct shapes on the brain, we will never really advance eventually running into frustration and difficulty somewhere down the road.


So I backed all the way up and we went back to creating nice shapes. We didn’t move the sheep anywhere, we just worked on flanks. Loki is strongly right-handed so when he has the stock on his left-hand side he comes in WAY too close. This is typical of a dog that is still learning things will be OK even on your weak side. When the dog comes in too close the sheep get stressed (which you never want) and if he comes in way too close they will respond by running into you and sometimes knocking you over or they say “this human is an idiot” and they will run away from you to their gate, which of course makes the dog say “oh my god the sheep are getting away” and chaos ensues.

I also finally figured out how to use my “energy” which was probably the biggest breakthrough for me. I’ve tried to explain to the boy what this “energy” thing is, but of course that was probably like when Claire was first explaining it to me and I’m thinking “uh huh, OK.” And then when Debbie said it and I was like “yes, I’ve heard all about this” and then when Derek said it too, “hmmm, I wish I could figure out how to do it.” But he came out and stood with me and showed me how Loki could respond to just his energy.


[Insert light bulb emoji here]

And I did. I got it! But only because I had to. Loki is very sensitive to any move I am making, and as a person holding a stock stick (PVC pipe) unless it was positioned exactly where it SHOULD be (which I also didn’t fully understand) it was somehow affecting him. So I had to get him to flank and stay out from the stock on that bad side by just using my energy (and putting pressure with my eyes on the side I wanted him to take). And it worked! And it worked the next week after the clinic! And it worked after our break for the Thanksgiving holiday even today when I thought I wouldn’t remember how to do it!


It’s funny how these breakthroughs really mean something to me (and I’m sure 99% of people that started reading this blog checked out long ago aside from the cute pictures) because this “energy” is something I’ve been hearing about for at least 10-11 months. And finally using it to take nice square flanks at such relaxing distances makes everyone happy! Not that every flank is perfect, but when I get a nice “away” with Loki it feels like I have won the lottery. Now the sheep want to hang out with me and rub all their snotty noses on my pants. They think I am calm! My dog trusts that we can work in a situation where I won’t put him in trouble, he can have stock on his left-hand side and nothing bad will happen!

If there is one thing having and training these dogs has taught me, it is that the smallest piece of progress is our own version of PR, and this too shall be reason to smile, feel proud and have some vodka tonight.


I got a dog

November 20, 2014

About nine weeks ago I got a dog named Olaf.
Olaf likes sticks:





Olaf really likes sticks:




He doesn’t mind the odd pinecone either:


Olaf likes to bury tennis balls at the dog park:


There are no free rides here. We make Olaf do chores, including fetching his own water from the lake.


Olaf has some good buddies at the dog park including Mikey. They decided to tug-of-war over a tennis ball that Mikey had in his mouth the other day. Mikey is a Jiu-Jitsu master when they wrestle which is why his “limp” defense here is even more funny.


This is rare. The yawning that is. Olaf rarely tires out.


Olaf is starting to go longboarding with me!


Olaf has no love for cartoon Olaf:


Oooshey hates Olaf and now spends almost all his time upstairs in the loft. Poor Oooshey. Olaf is too loud and rambunctious for him.


Dante also hates Olaf.


Olaf makes me very tired. I can’t think of the last time I’ve been awake after 9 p.m. Even though I am still not in bed, I fall asleep in my chair like clockwork every single night. Doesn’t matter if I drink or not. Maybe I’m just turning into my dad though.