There’s So! Much! to keep track of: I don’t want my dog to hurt my sheep, I don’t want my sheep to run me over in a panicked stampede, I need to keep Come By! and Away! straight, and the dog should do a nice flank when moving from me to where the sheep are. That’s too much for a beginner like me to keep track of. Round pens to the rescue!
With the sheep in the round pen and Mick and I outside, I don’t need to worry about Mick hurting them, about them running me over, and about the shape of Mick’s flanks. I can concentrate on three things: naming the Come By! and the Away! direction of travel (clockwise and counterclockwise, respectively), and praising Mick for finding the balance point (his 12 o’clock to my 6 o’clock). That’s what I did today. Low stress for me, and I got to observe how Mick gravitated to the balance point! This is so cool to see!
Before letting him start, I asked for a down (not on video), which was reinforced by getting to work. To end the session, I picked up the leash, and told him “All done!” rather than calling him away from the sheep. For now, I never want to call him when I’m about to end the fun.
Grit insisted she wanted to work sheep, too. Since I already had them in the round pen and they didn’t seem particularly stressed by a dog on the outside, she got to have a go as well. This is what it looked like at first:
… but then she calmed down – and she, too, found the balance point!