A sheep dog in Dire Straits?
I was watching the younger dogs playing and suddenly realised who Lucas reminds me of: Mark Knopfler. Now just take a look at the link and tell me I’m wrong.
It’s an up and down sort of life as a sheepdog trainer. A young sheepdog (or even not-so-young sheepdog, eh Mel?) will take you from despair to joy over the course of a week, and then back again in one training session.
You get used to that, of course. What we’re not used to is having to train the sheep. We always have Welsh mules because they’re light and easy to work, and generally even-tempered. However, I’m beginning to think that a particular new sheep is training us – training us to leave her behind in the pen when we’re picking out the day’s training flock. We can hardly expect sheep to volunteer themselves for the job, though it’s only part-time, it keeps them fit and there’s no heavy lifting involved (not for the sheep, anyway) but this one’s really determined not to join in. She arrived last weekend, and immediately stood out for having a large, Hebridean-brown “saddle” over her back. We’ve noticed before, but never in anything like a scientific way, that a Welsh mule with brown markings is almost always a troublemaker. This one, whom I named Hebe before I knew better, takes the role very seriously. She knows all about using corners, hedges and hurdles as a sanctuary, but also shows no compunction about head butting the dogs, or running over them or straight into us. Around the yard she was getting herself a reputation: it seemed the Kings Green dogs had met their Waterlewe.
The gentle power of the confident sheepdog
But, “Cometh the hour, cometh the dog” and the yard jester, Ezra was the first dog to deal with Hebe in anything like a satisfactory manner. If, by satisfactory, one means taking hold of her fleece and, with one swift and seemingly effortless flick, putting Hebe on her back. Twice! I was so impressed I may have actually cheered (while mentally conjuring images of the result of taking that particular approach in the shedding ring). It did nothing for Hebe’s temper of course, but, short of a quiet life, nothing could.
Before Hebe decides to settle down and tow the line (as if) we must take the opportunity to put a command on the “sheep flick” move, just in case we ever need it again. It’ll have to be something we won’t ever find ourselves saying by accident. Andy taught Mel that when he hissed, she could grip. Inevitably, they were at the pen at a trial one day when the sheep “stuck” half in, half out of the gate; so Andy hissed to help move the sheep. Instant disqualification. We know someone who uses the word “underlay” as the grip command, because it isn’t something he’d ever say by accident (but just imagine the circumstances if he did!) so I suppose Andy could choose something like, “Alfie’s such a lovely dog” or shriek “¡Ay Chihuahua!”
We can’t allow Ezra’s latest trick to get out of hand, of course; the whole point of using a sheep dog is to keep stress (for sheep and handler) to a minimum, and sheep respond kindly to a calm, but strong, dog. However, the ability to single out and hold a sheep (without turning it upside down) can be invaluable, especially at lambing time, so it’s up to us to nurture it.
I should just add that Hebe was completely unharmed by the experience, though I think her ego may have been slightly bruised!
“Names assigned to pups must be short (to be capable of use whilst the dog is working), appropriate to the sex…” (ISDS Rules for Registration)
Speaking of celebrities, and ageing rock stars, I have, in the past, been accused of a certain levity when I name the dogs. During September we decided to buy some very nicely bred puppies. I planned to call them Ichabod, Ishmael, Bilha and Bat (provided those names seemed to suit them when they arrived, of course) but I found out that the children at the farm where they were bred had named the pups already. I felt mean to insist that they change their names for registration, so said they could keep the names they had (I’m sure I can use Ichabod, Ishmael, Bilha and Bat for some other puppies. Andy’s not so sure…)
Anyway, say hello to Katie Perry (right) Jessie J, Justin Bieber and Olly Murs. I wonder what the ISDS will say to that?
I don’t know how much they have in common with their namesakes, but Katie Perry never stops eating and is a terrible, if audacious, thief; whereas Justin seems determined to go the way of St Justin the Martyr and lose his head. Though not, as in the case of St Justin, for his beliefs, unless it’s his belief that his head’s so much smaller than it really is. I’ve never known a puppy so determined to trap its head in the most absurd places. Places where you didn’t realise there was a place at all, let alone one big enough to fit a puppy into (which, of course, there wasn’t). I fear for him, I really do. He tried to extrude himself under the yard gate yesterday morning, and got completely and perilously stuck. And the gate was wide open all the time!
Not all sheepdogs are sheep dogs
Because of our sheepdog training group on September 15th, we weren’t able to get to local venue, Top Barn, to watch the Bromsgrove DTC Open Agility Competition. Apart from just enjoying seeing so many dogs having a brilliant time, there are usually at least a couple of dogs we’ve bred to look out and cheer for.
Here’s Deb Dobson with Kay and Eli’s daughter, Reiver. Doesn’t she look fabulous? I’ve never had much success with weaving, so Deb’s offered to help hone my agility handling skills. She’ll have her work cut out, I’m afraid.
I’m sure my little female, Cabbage (aka Glenalpine Charybdis) would be happy to give agility a try – or anything else, for that matter.
I keep seeing Facebook messages about the many successes and qualifications of the Glenalpine dogs, and feel that Cabbie’s very under-used at the moment. Early days yet; she’s just a baby.