Adventures in Herding #9: Round Pen Success!

In my last post, I told you how Mick was struggling to get the sheep off the fence, which I resolved by having one of my other dogs outside the round pen. This worked for a session or two; then the sheep figured out that the dog on the outside of the fence couldn’t reach them, and again, they stayed glued to the fence. This, in turn, led to Mick losing control of his sheep. When he finally did get one or two off the fence, the frustration of having lost control got channeled into chasing and nipping: he wasn’t herding, but hunting.

In order to resolve this issue, I picked the brains of my mentors: Raul Molina and Otto Peñate advised me to reduce the number of sheep to just three. Helene Lawler gave me incredibly helpful and detailed feedback on a video, and pointed out that I needed to speak calmly rather than add to Mick’s excitement with my cheerleading voice. She also suggested I remove the youngest ewe – a 4 months old lamb. Lambs don’t behave like adult sheep, which can be frustrating for a young dog. (If you’d like to see Helene’s awesome feedback video on my messy herding attempts, sign up for her excellent 1-on-1 lessons at FDSA. Her feedback video is posted in a forum that can be accessed by her private students.)

I made these simple changes – and wow, did it make a difference! Mick still starts out excited and keen to chase, but he’ll calm down quickly now that the sheep aren’t glued to the fence. He is starting to hold them to me nicely, and find balance on the other side of the small flock! His tail carriage is low and relaxed (a sign of a working rather than hunting Border Collie), and he is trotting rather than chasing, which reduces the stress on the sheep.

My ewes, too, are starting to make Mick’s and my life easier: they are learning that I am their safe zone, which, in turn, makes it easier for Mick to hold them to me.

Here’s my favorite snippet from one of three short sessions we did today:

 

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Chrissi runs Chrissi’s Dog Training in Antigua, Guatemala. She also teaches online at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, and for the Pet Professionals Program. Her September workshop Walk with Me! Leash Skills for Pet Dogs is still open for registration.

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