Back to the drawing board

I probably should have stayed home, laid on the couch in front of the kerosene heater and watched movies, but no, I took advantage of a trial within reasonable driving distance to get mileage on the dogs, me and of course, the car.

The sheep were much worst on Sunday than they were on Saturday. To give you an idea of how rough they were, the highest Pro-Novice score was a 57 (out of a possible 100). Sheep were escaping everywhere. We were able to park along the end of the trial field, and many times, sheep were in between cars and had to be fished out. We got a score of 44: as was the case yesterday, most of our score came from Gel’s out-work. He didn’t loose any points on his outrun, lift or fetch.

After the post turn though, it went bad. The sheep kept drawing up to the exhaust. They completely escaped once and I sent Gel for them. I couldn’t see what was going on, but I found out afterwards the dog belonging to the person exhausting pushed the sheep away from the gate and into the cars. Gel got them out from behind the cars and back to me. Good boy. After several failed attempts to get them set for the first drive leg, we ran out of time. Oh well.

He stopped short on his outrun in Ranch. In retrospect, I should have flanked him around again which would have made the lift better, but I elected to walk him up knowing how strongly they were drawn to the left hand side of the field I thought it might improve my fetch line. Wrong move. It was another exercise in sheep trying to escape to the exhaust. I called the run after I saw it was going to go that way. No need to put Gel in the position of getting beat. I didn’t see the Ranch scores, but there were a few good runs so I expect the scores were higher.

It was cold all day and only spit rain a bit so at least the weather wasn’t quite as miserable as it was on Saturday.

I learned a tremendous amount at this trial from watching, talking to others and analyzing.

  1. Don’t put your dog in the position where he is going to get beat by the sheep. It’s still going to take me a while to figure out how not to do this, but by splitting up my sheep and working them in small groups, I think I can recreate a lot of what went on in this trial. See my note below on working the whole flock.
  2. Don’t put Gel where he can watch the runs (I need to take this note to my forehead so I’ll remember as I put him there again on Sunday and I think he didn’t have quite as much get-up-and-go as he should have had in his Ranch run).
  3. I need to improve the quality of my whistles and I need to get Gel to respond quicker to my whistles. I need to work on flanking him in closer when necessary, which, I believe, is only going to be necessary when he’s working in close and in drives, but we’ll see how that goes.

That may be it, for now. I’m really quite proud of myself that I stuck out this trial even though our runs were rough. An earlier me would have left early and certainly would not have gone back on Sunday. I’m starting to care less about what people think about me and my dog. That, in and of itself, is going to help me to move forward.

Last night, while putting up the ducks and chickens, I realized something about Gel. He’s a “big flock” dog. He lives to go out into a huge field and round up all the sheep. He’s done it many times, not once has he not brought all the sheep back. When he was in a position of finding sheep lost in the woods, he didn’t leave the one that was stuck in the brush and kept the other two in the same location. Some of the problems that I’ve associated with Gel’s inability to deal with pressure, is related more to his desire to bring in all the stock, not just a select few.

All put one of the ducks went up. One was going around the pen and I was sending Gel around to put her up. He kept trying to go into the pen and get out all the ducks. I continued to insist that he focus on the single duck. Eventually he pushed all the ducks back out of the pen by his position behind the pen and the single duck went in with that group. The group headed out to the gate of their pasture and I flanked Gel around to bring them back. At that point, however, the sheep came up towards the pasture and Gel tried to go out to get them into the “group.” I didn’t let him do that and he tried to bag out on me, but I kept that from happening. We got all the ducks up, the pasture gate shut so the sheep couldn’t get in there to eat the duck grain and went to bed.

While the genes of both parents contribute to how a dog works, I think Gel is working more off the bottom half of his pedigree which is dogs from the U.K., all bred to work large flocks over long distances. I know very little about the dogs from the top half of his pedigree, but I am assuming many of them are ranch dogs, again, bred to work large flocks over large distances. This business of working three sheep is frustrating for a dog bred to work large flocks. Of course, there are times that a dog has to work just a couple of sheep and Gel needs to understand that.

It’s all a work in progress.