We had an episode this morning which caused me to stop and think about my relationship with my dogs and how important it is for whatever we do together. Just like yesterday morning, four of the lambs separated off from the main group. They ended up along the fence in the front pasture with the rest of the lambs inside their fenced-in area. I decided this would be a good training opportunity and brought Gel out to the front pasture with the intent to pull the four lambs away from the fence and bring them further into the pasture to work. I drew a crude map of how my property sits so you can get an idea of where we were.
I sent Gel to the left, intending that he pull the sheep off the fence and started walking to the right into the front pasture. Gel went, but he was hesitant. Almost as soon as he started out, the sheep turned tail and ran back along the fence line. Gel stopped and turned and looked at me. I “shsssssh’d” him along at which point he went out to the right, but I could tell his heart wasn’t in bringing those sheep to me. The four lambs got back onto my property (after the duck pen, there is an old barbed wire fence that the sheep can get through) and back into the pen with the rest of the group and Gel ended up in the gateway holding them in. He was looking at me and I know he was expecting me to yell at him, and I almost did.
I stopped and thought about it. Should I bring the sheep back out to where we started and try again, or should I put Gel up and not allow him another opportunity to work. In retrospect, I should have sent Gel to the right so that he could have stopped the sheep from escaping, using the fence line as a barrier. Sure, he could have stopped them going to the left, but it was putting him in an awkward position. I wasn’t thinking about where the sheep might go, I was only thinking about where I wanted to go. Stupid thinking on my part and I put Gel in a position to loose his sheep, something I try not to do. Gel is an honest dog and if he quits, it is because I’ve put him somewhere where he shouldn’t be.
Still, I don’t like it when he quits.
So, I went back onto my property and put Gel on a chain in front of the fenced-in area where my sheep were and took Fern (a/k/a the speed demon) in to work her. I only worked her for about five minutes, then took her out and let Gel off the chain. He went to the gate expecting his turn, which he didn’t get. Hopefully I made my point, “I understand I put you in a bad position and I have no right to be mad at you for loosing the sheep, BUT, I expect that you are going to put forth a reasonable effort to right things as long as I don’t yell at you.”
It is all about relationship building. I’ve done Gel a lot of wrong due to my stupidity about stock. I hate that it happens and that it is still going to happen sometimes, but it is a learning process. Luckily, Gel is relatively forgiving. I have to keep reminding myself about where I was a year ago and how far along we’ve come. When I think about where we were two years ago, now that’s scary. We’ve come a long way. It can only get better.