Sunday, January 2, 2011

a january spring lesson

I could not pass yesterday up. The combination of mild weather (nearly 50 degrees!), melting snow, safe roads, and a Border Collie in training meant I would make the drive to Denise Leonard's Farm for a mid-wnter herding jaunt. For practical reasons I have slowed down Gibson's schooling (mostly to save money). But hell, sometimes you need to break your own rules when the logic of reality steps in. It was the perfect day for a lesson, the kind of day that won't show up again until April. A gift horse combination of circumstances that was worth dipping into the savings for. And anyone who trains animals knows you need to keep the dogs (and sheep) in the practice of work. Keep minds thinking, legs moving, and my heart rate up. So I packed up the Subaru and before dawn on the first day of the new yea—my pup and I were off to learn how to be shepherds.

In this video you can see how the lesson started. Gibson chases in circles, and Denise asks if this is how he acted when I let him herd at my own farm. Yup. At the end of the video she walks up to him smacking a training stick on the ground at him, but don't fret. The stick isn't used to hit dogs. It's used to smack on the ground next to them, or guide them, or block them, or pretty much make it clear that in this team the handler is the one holding the big stick. I love her admonishment "get out of it" which means "knock it off, jerk" and I now say it all the time. Usually when I am in a rut, bad mood, or acting foolish.

What a difference a few months make! The break from the sheep let him grow up a bit, calm down. He did so well at 10 months compared to his frantic first encounters as a seen-month-old. He was still a little wound to start (he always is), but his frenzy died so much sooner than last time. Within minutes his tail was down, his head low..and while he wasn't perfect, he was starting to look and act like a proper sheepdog.

And I was starting to look like a proper handler. I too need to learn how to move with ovines and canines in this crazy dance. I need to know what Gibson is doing and if it's right or wrong. You learn as much as you can from book charts and videos...but when it comes to the ordered chaos of the training pen most of that leaves my head and it's the voice of Denise, the training staff, and the lambs that I have to teach me.

As the lesson went on he was calmer, balancing the sheep with me, and laying down and stopping on command. By the end of the lesson we were working on a fence line, far outside the pen in Denise's upper field—and while it was a long way from the trial ribbons—our trainer was confident that if both of us stick with our training and goals Gibson could be a fully trained working dog by the ripe old age of three. It takes a while for the new kids to catch up, but we've almost hit his firth birthday (March 16th)

The annual NEBCA (North East Border Collie Association) meeting is in Albany on the 15th. I'll be there, and possibly the youngest person attending. The fact is there just aren't a lot of people in their twenties herding sheep in New England. I wonder why that is? There are certainly a lot of sheep farms, and plenty of younger people involved in other dog sports like conformation shows, obedience, agility and tracking? You don't need a farm or sheep of your own to start, just that weird desire to wear high boots, a warm sweater, and stand by your dog with the same goal in mind.

Or maybe they think the crooks look funny?


Blogger doglady said...

Jenna, I think you are way ahead of most in your age group by knowing what makes you happy. When you are in your 40's you'll have more company in homesteading.
Gibson is hardwired for herding. You just have to train him to the commands and to do it as you wish. In another year, you'll be so pleased with him.
BCs just can't help themselves when it comes to herding. We have one on the SAR team who insists on trying to herd the German Shepherds when they are playing. It gets pretty funny since the GSDs totally ignore the BCs attempts because they are into chase and roll.

January 2, 2011 at 8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go Gibson! That's great that he's becoming a lot better, the same for you. I'm 15, and when I was in the church choir, the next youngest person was in their fifties. That's a big difference, but it wasn't that bad. I think you'll have a grand time.


January 2, 2011 at 9:05 AM  
Blogger Kathleen Stoltzfus said...

Have you seen the book "Herding Dogs" by Vergil Holland?

I had a friend years ago that lived in the city and got a border collie from the humane league. Intrigued by his dog and the possibility of herding instinct, he took the dog to meet some sheep and was pleasantly surprised. After taking some lessons, he rented a couple acres in the country to keep sheep on, and using that book, pretty much taught that dog himself with help occasionally from other herders. Apparently folks at trials wanted to know who he was and where he got his dog. His friends got a kick out of telling them that he lived in the city, it was his first dog, and a rescue at that. Basically a nobody with a nothing dog - who could kick some herding butt.

January 2, 2011 at 9:10 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Enjoyed so much watching Gibson do his stuff. You two will make an awesome team. I am sure you will be an inspiration to others in their early stages of ranching. Very good today.

January 2, 2011 at 9:29 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

kathleen! You are right! I was at a clinic my first summer in New England and this guy from England was flown in. Out of all the dogs I watched him with, he was most impressed with a handsome "pet" rescued from a local BC place. The owner rented her land and worked them on a small flock next to her suburban home. I love an underdog.

January 2, 2011 at 9:35 AM  
Blogger Dancing shepherdess said...

Keep up the lessons now. They learn SO much faster at this younger age. He's at a perfect age to really get a good foundation. I would suggest two lessons a week, for two months, minimum, one lesson. So fun these young dogs! I should show you vids of my Dan at that age, um, maybe not!

January 2, 2011 at 9:58 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Kelpie, so I have hope!

I try to get there twice a month, I wish I could more, but with the snow and such: it's hard. A lot of folks stop doing lessons when the snow gets too deep.

But I will do my best. As someone investing her entire future in sheep farming, it's not the place I should be saving money in. I should be devoting more resources to it, and less to vanity projects. Which is a resolution for certain.

Thank you!

January 2, 2011 at 10:04 AM  
Blogger Dancing shepherdess said...

If you could get a few dog broke sheep and I mean dead dog, you could work him at home. He just needs regular exposure to calm his jets a bit. If you would like, I can come over some time and help you.

January 2, 2011 at 11:26 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

do you live near me kelp?

I would love that.

Also, the reason I bought these particular Blackface sheep is that they are all dog broke, I bought them for training Gibson as much as anything else. But they are on a steep hill, and we need a proper training area...flat.

January 2, 2011 at 11:35 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Jenna that is so awesome watching Gibson work! He just looks like the excited puppy he is. Willing to work. You can already see the raw talent underneath being formed into a fine working machine. With our scent dogs, experience alone is the best teacher. That is why by 3 and 4 the talented ones are pros! They went to "school" and have the discipline and experience needed to really do their jobs well. My husband uses his baseball cap instead of the stick. He smacks his leg or the ground and the dogs really pay attention. It isn't used on the dogs and they still get the point pretty clearly. As you said "get out of it". I don't know why more people won't work their dogs. Wouldn't everyone be happier?

January 2, 2011 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger Dancing shepherdess said...

I believe I am close enough that I could make a trip- what is your addy? I work on hills all the time ;)

January 2, 2011 at 8:15 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

Oh cool- you're making another friend! You can't have too many of those, especially when they can help you learn something.

Years ago I worked with a woman who had grown up training dogs all her life, first with 4H, and then professionally later on. When I got my very first pup, she offered to help me train her. It turned out I needed training just as much as the dog did! So I totally understand how you feel having to learn alongside Gibson.

So because of Sandy, I'm able to handle other dogs alright. I have a lot to thank her for, because I really love dogs.

January 2, 2011 at 8:43 PM  
Blogger Dangerous Dreams Farm said...

I started trialing my Border Collies when I was 22 (in the Northeast), but I had owned them since I was 14. I am grateful that I discovered working sheepdogs early enough that I can spend my life perfecting it. Being the young one doesn't bother me at all because it means I have time to catch up;-)

January 7, 2011 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I too care for sheep in Washington County and I too, enjoy working with BCs. I find my boundries as far as pursuing herding as a hobby is the lack of trainers I feel I can gel with. (training philosophy wise) Also, making time to add a third dog into my small house with three kids is a challenge. One
BC in a busy household is enough right now.

Good Luck!

January 12, 2011 at 5:26 PM  

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