Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Herding Sheep

Dustin and I went to work sheep for the first time in months and the second time in a couple of years -- poor dog. We used to go several times a week.

This time we went to a different farm with a different variety of sheep, smaller than we were used to and much, much faster. They wouldn't let Dustin work in his usual method, which resembles something out of the movie Babe, cuddling up to them and whispering his directions into their ears. We spent a certain amount of time racing up and down a very hot long pen before Dustin settled to his satisfaction that these were stupid sheep, he wasn't going to get near them, and he could still control them through action at a distance. Once he got the hang of being able to move them from fifty feet away, in fact, he seemed to rather like it. For the first time in his life, he could tell that "Walk up" meant, as I told him, "Not me, them!" because I wasn't anywhere near the silly creatures either.

Most people who try to trial on sheep use a lot of Scottish (or, given how German most German training commands really are, pseudo-Scottish) phrases like "Away to me!" and "Come bye!" when they're working. Most people then forget which is which, or stand there yelling out "Way! Stay! Lay!" and wondering why the dog isn't obeying those three loud Ay!s from a hundred yards off. Dustin and I do try to learn our ways and byes, but we do far better if I tell him what I want in plain English. "Bring 'em. Put 'em there," with a point of the stick, generally gets me a flock of sheep brought up to me and then stuck wherever "there" might be. Pushing the dog over this way, then over that way, as though the sheep are a little ball bearing I'm trying to trap in a hole by tipping the field, generally gets me sheep everywhere, an annoyed dog who figures it's all my fault with perhaps some justice, and a laughing coach leaning on the fence.

I say cooperation works best, regardless of linguistic origins. It's not like the dog cares whether I command him in English, German, or Choctaw. If he were herding German-style, there would be very few commands or large gestures. Too, if I'm just saying "Push 'em through there," I tend to say it calmly, which the dog and sheep all respond to. Come to think of it, so do herding judges.

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