Yep! Finally! Tagg has begun her journey to herding greatness this past week!
We have worked her on sheep three times this week with different results. I think its important to see that dog training isn't a linear progression with each time being better than the last, rather it is a journey, it is sometimes circuitous, and there are just as many paths that can take us where we want to go as there are paths that will take us into dead ends, and into deep canyons from which we must climb out again.
Sheep herding is even more complicated because there's a whole other species in the mix.
Even in the first week of our journey we've hit unexpected gullies, and been tripped up by unseen roots.
The first try went great! I had a nice group of sheep and Tagg began to see the picture. Yes, there were moments of pandemonium, and there was some flossing of teeth with wool, but by and large things were not bad.
What I quickly discovered was that the round pen was too small, Tagg could not fetch the sheep to me when she found balance, meaning that there was no real reward for her getting things right.
So, I set things up a couple of days later for her to work a few ewes in the main arena. I knew from the onset that things could get dicey. Tagg didn't have a real handle on going around the sheep rather than straight at the sheep, so, it could've been a bit of a rodeo, however I was willing to chance it to see if I could induce her to fetch the sheep in the bigger space.
Things probably would have been ok, had I gotten the correct group of ewes into the large arena, however, I accidentally took the ewe with the young lambs instead of the ewe with the older lamb. I worked Cody first, and the ewe wouldn't move, and her lambs were screaming for her, so, she was a hopeless mess, and Cody couldn't move her. I gave in and let her go back to her lambs. That left two sheep for Tagg, which is far too few in a large area. All they wanted to do was lay on the fence by the rest of the flock. Tagg kept losing them, and in her frustration, pinning them further to the fence.
We found a few seconds that weren't gawdawful and called it a day.
In a move that was more bold than smart, I set up Tagg's next lesson specifically to avoid the pitfalls of the previous two. Rather than the small pen, we would use the arena, and foregoing the hazards of ill-chosen sheep, I included the whole flock.
This is not a recipe for success.
However, it wasn't a recipe for abject failure either.
It was worth a try.
The sheep were in a pretty stingy mood. It was hot, and the babies don't move well, and their mothers are worse, however Tagg did a great job holding them together and moving them around. She had a lot of ground to cover to get around such a big group of sheep, and we were out of dog only a few moments after the lesson began. I stopped her before she ran out of steam and called it a day.
After three tries, I'm still not certain where Tagg is. She prefers one direction over another, and she doesn't naturally come to balance, though to be fair the sheep have not been cooperative on that front. The closest she came was with the whole flock, which makes sense since they weren't being drawn towards fellow sheep.
This week we made no noticeable progress on our trail. Rather we stopped and looked at one view, then another, and a third. We're no closer to seeing the main trail than we were a week ago when the journey began, but every misstep, every dead-end is time spent with this wonderful, talented, bratty little pup, and I couldn't be happier with our first week together on this long and mysterious journey!
To see a video of Tagg's first week on sheep click here.