One of those days, you see.
Yesterday morning was Gibson's first time with his own sheep. It didn't go as planned. I was herding under the influence, drunk on the excited of the event. I would be herding sheep today on my own farm, with my own fine dog, with my own stock. To walk out into that pasture with my collie and my crook, I felt like my heart was stitched together with wool and tweed: a hill shepherd to be. When you get glossy-eyed at 28 at the idea of a life of a sixty-year-old Scottish Farmer, you know you're in trouble.
I had selected two of the older dog-broke, Blackface ewes to work with, and had Gibson on a lead. We had been training for weeks, so I planned on doing what I did at Barb and Denise's farms, just here in the backyard. I walked up the hillside and Gibson seemed focused, but calm. When things seemed okay I let him circle the ewes, but that peaceful stride soon turned into an all-out chase. The sheep were running away from the young dog, who had no interest in hurting them but had a lot of interest in seeing who could win the race down the hill. He was right on their heels.
Oh man, was that puppy happy... Gibson was nothing but pure glee, running up and down the hill after one sheep at a time. I however, was not sharing in the euphoria. A sheepdog is supposed to be subtle, move the sheep with his eye, suggestion and what not. They can (and do),use force when needed but not on a small 1/4 acre paddock. Thinking my area wasn't that much larger than the training pen at Denise's Farm I foolishly thought I could control the situation like I did there with a trainer on hand. But this was Bedlam. Gibson was digging his claws into the ground with each joyous lope. One ewe flew past me and like a deer vaulted over the gate into the driveway. The other one slammed on the brakes in front of the fence and then turned around and stomped at Gibson.
I'd seen this before, and so had my orthopedic specialist. A knee of mine has been damaged by a sheep that stomped at a dog right before I shoved my right leg in front of the dog to protect it from a head butt when it was backed into a corner. Not wanting to repeat history: I told Gibson to stop, come here, and lie down (which he did, now happy to listen that one sheep was backed into a fence and the other was trotting around the driveway. So his work was clearly done). I shooed away the ewe, and grabbed his lead and stuck him in the back of the station wagon while I tried to collect my lost sheep. "That'll do." I told him as I shut the car door. He barked the canine version of a cuss word.
Seasoned as I was now at the antics of runaway sheep: I went right for the grain bag and decided honey would bring my a fly better than vinegar. So I filled a small wooden box with grain and tried to bribe her back into the fence she just vaulted from. She just looked at me from half an acre away. Just looked, then trotted away around the back of the fence.
Gibson cried and barked as I got more grain and convinced the other 7 sheep to join me for a nosh. This got the loner interested and she came around to about five feet away from me, a fence away from her friends and the free buffet. When She was between the garden fence and the pasture fence I decided my honey days were over, and jumped her. I pulled her rump and head the way I was taught in Sheep 101 from the Vermont Extension and flipped the horned gal on her butt. With one hand on her horn, the other on a dogsledding x-back harness I grabbed from the hutch of the Subaru, I created a halter and slowly walked her back with grain to the pasture gate.
Like I said, I still hadn't had any coffee. I was beat.
I came inside and Gibson drank a gulp and sprawled out on the kitchen floor, he was in pure Nirvana. I emailed my trainer and explained what an ass I had been, taking on too much work too soon. She explained that all Gibson did was exactly what he does at her farm: starts out frantic, but since he wasn't in a controlled environment like her round pen, he panicked the sheep and they fled the circumstances. I needed to be in control, not Gibson. I needed to be able to have him work for me, not me chasing him, shaking a crook in the snow. I simply expected too much. I apologized to Denise, Gibson, and the sheep and realized if I wanted to train my pup here I'd had to build a proper pen to start in.
The good news is no one got hurt. Not me, not the sheep, and not Gibson—and while it sounds like chaos it really was just a few ewes being scattered around for a few frantic moments and then fleeing the scene. Then it was just a hassle to get the world back in order again. But it's a good lesson, all this. Just because you have a border collie and a few sheep doesn't make you Aled Owen. You can't expect to have a great training session when you're new at this game, the dogs new at this game, and the sheep have only been here one week. But I am glad I gave it a try, that I know what not to do, and that while I was frustrated I'm not detered from training myself to train this dog. His father might have been winning Nursery Trials at 10 months old, but he was trained by a pro. My crook cost twelve dollars.
It's only up hill from here, right?