The sunny days continue. The sheep have adapted to the daily routine of back and forth to the pasture. We walk briskly downhill in the morning, all of us looking around alertly for loose dogs. In the evening we trudge slowly back up the hill, for the goats are heavily pregnant and are easily winded. We pause in my neighbors' yard to graze down some of their tall heavy grass while Bonnie gently patrols the perimeter. The sheep now realize that Bonnie is a kindly taskmaster, and have become easy to manage. It's fun to stand in the middle of the grazing flock at the end of the day and chat with my various neighbors as they pass on their way home. Nobody can just callously drive by a flock complete with shepherd and dog on the verge without at least stopping to talk for a minute.
Although I never quite believed it would happen, my goats are big, glossy, and bagged up, and I need to gear up for imminent kidding. That means booster shots, assembling a kidding kit, building a milking stand, and preparing a clean stall. Since I don't have an extra stall, I cleaned out the dog run, that multi-use convenience, tarping the sides for privacy. It will probably be my milking parlor as well.
Last week I took both dogs up north to the Herding Center for a bit of practice, they having the best facilities and array of sheep for miles around. With a certain amount of trepidation I tried Ty on their most dogbroke set of sheep, first in the smallest paddock, then moving on to a bit bigger one.
Ty is a funny dog. He's eleven months now, but he is a young eleven months, still pretty gawky and getting his growth. He has a natural and very keen sense of group; I never worry that he will split one off and chase. He does not overflank like most young dogs, which tend to run in big circles; he brings the stock—no problems with his "baby" gather—and then falls in behind. He's obviously right-pawed and resists the way-to-me side. He even flipped out (turned away from his stock) a couple times when I got the timing wrong on the that side. Have to watch that, and work him much more on his weak side. He is a grippy pup, but a verbal reprimand at the exact moment he gets that gleam in his eye will push him out again.
So, he isn't perfect. But I think there is some raw talent there. I have to make myself be patient and keep remembering how young he is. There is a strength and steadiness to him that feels very comforting, although he is so green.
When Ty and the sheep were tired, which wasn't long, I put Ty up and took Bonnie out into the next biggest paddock to do some remedial work, with another quiet set of sheep. These were so quiet that, after having sized Bonnie up, they set to cropping the grass while we did our exercises around them. I worked Bonnie on her flanks, pulling off the top, and stopping her at different points of the circle. She is the opposite of Ty, it's her go bye side that's the difficulty. With these super-calm sheep it was easy to just focus on her and on my handling.
Once I felt some success I decided to just go home. I tend to want to "build on my success" when I have good results, which is the opposite of what a good trainer should do. You should always stop at the top, even if that top is a quite minute elevation. This time I did.