Saturday, October 25, 2008

Peekay Watkinsville Herding Practice Report

Thursday night, Peekay was back under the lights on her home field in Watkinsville, GA for sheep herding practice. It was a cool and breezy night. Rain was forecast for later that evening. The unsettled atmospheric conditions had the livestock and dogs amped up.

Metro-Atlanta commuters were on the road in full force Thursday night. Congestion at the bridge crossing the Chattahoochee river and at all the traffic lights in Lawrenceville slowed us down. We did not arrive until just after 8 PM. The sun had completely set, and the arena lights were on.

This practice session we concentrated on the section of the American Kennel Club A-course known as "the cross drive". The AKC herding rule book defines the cross drive as "Turn toward the near side at marker #4 and the stock moves straight across the arena through center panels to marker #5". Translation : Move the stock along the fence until you reach the sign that says "4". At that point peel the livestock off the fence and make a 90 degree turn. Drive the stock straight across the arena through a pair of gates that are free standing in the center of the arena. Once through the gates, continue straight to you reach the "5" sign mounted on the fence on the opposite side of the arena. How hard could it be ?

The cross drive is arguably the most difficult part of the course. Your dog must move the stock along the fence in a controlled manner. The dog does this by trailing the sheep at the "7 o'clock position. At some point before the "4" sign, the dog must circle behind the sheep to the 5 o'clock position, shoot the gap between the stock and the fence, quickly reach the 1 o'clock position and stop. If your dog shoots the gap and over flanks, the sheep make a 180 degree turn and move back from where they came. Fail to shoot the gap, and your dog is at the dreaded 6 0'clock position running down the course, pushing the sheep into the fence at the end of the arena.

In our two qualify herding intermediate runs, we lost most of our points on the cross drive. Both time I played it conservatively and just took the deduction and let Peekay push them across the arena offline. Tonight in practice we continued to diagnose the problems, and began to work on solutions.

Peekay is very good at driving sheep along the fence. When she reads the stock trying to run away from her, she'll fade out more, trapping them along the fence. Where she has problems is moving from the 7 to the 5 o'clock position. When I give her the "away" command, she hesitates and continues to drive the sheep along the fence.

We took a step back and worked with Peekay on shooting the gap between the flock and the fence. Once she understood what I wanted, she seemed to get the hang of it, and was having fun doing it. We'll work on it again this Tuesday.

Until then, Speed is good, driving and fetching are better.

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