There's nothing quite like the feeling you get when a puppy first takes an interest in sheep.
On the 31st July last year, one of our best female sheepdogs produced a litter of pups. Kay's litter was sired by Eli, a young dog who's producing some exceptionally good puppies for us. We kept two of the youngsters to train as sheepdogs and now (after what seems like a very long time) I'm wishing we'd kept more!
At any time after 14 weeks, we like to see some interest in sheep but we certainly don't worry about it if there's none.
By twenty weeks, a lack of interest becomes more noticeable even though we know that every dog is different and we've heard of it taking four years for a dog to "get the urge".
Of course, we had high hopes for Kevin and Midge. Being Eli and Kay's pups, we simply hadn't considered that they might not be interested in sheep, so when they reached the ripe old age of five months and still didn't show even the slightest interest in sheep, I must confess I was beginning to wonder.
Last Monday, I took Midge to the sheep while another of our dogs, Mo, worked them. Midge stood by and watched, so there seemed to be some hope but still, she gave the woolies a wide berth.
On Tuesday, I was using one of our trainee dogs to pen the sheep prior to getting the dogs out for their evening run, when Midge and Kevin who had been loose in the yard, came to join us. They had escaped through the wire netting and ran around the outside of the buildings, to see what was going on.
Before I knew it, both of them were circling the sheep and Midge was even diving in and grabbing some wool.
On Wednesday, I put some well-dogged sheep in our training arena with Kevin. I was fully expecting him to quietly make his way to the hurdles and climb out of the "danger area" but no, Kevin looked at the sheep for a moment and then trotted of in a wide arc to go around them. He circled them a few times anti clockwise so I moved towards him to block his path and send him back the other way.
He was a little confused and it took about three goes at this before he realised what I wanted, and from then on, he was flanking freely.
I used Kevin to move the sheep up and down the arena several times, and he was so steady and confident that I even moved the sheep so they were against the hurdles to see whether he could get them off again. Kevin didn't even hesitate, he just flanked steadily and confidently wherever the sheep were - I was astonished!
A short lesson is plenty for a young dog, so quite soon, I took Kevin back to his pen and came back with his sister Midge who was much more aggressive with the sheep as well as being more determined to go anti clockwise. I very much liked the way she worked though - and even managed to release, then re-pen the sheep with her.