On Saturday December 13th Peekay, Lauda, and I were back at Red Creek Farm in Townsville, SC for sheep herding practice. Our goal was to sharpen up my #1 black-and-red GSD for the sheep herding trial at the end of December.
We arrived a half hour early for the scheduled 9:00 AM start. When we pulled into the parking lot, I was surprised by the small turn out. There were only two other cars in the lot.
I walked Peekay on leash to to the sign-in area. John Tholkes, who along with his wife Carol Anne, own the farm, was talking to a couple with a German Shepherd. As I approached I heard him say, "Now here is a German Shepherd that is fit to work." He walked up to Peekay and gently touched her sides.
"You shouldn't be able to see her ribs, but you should be able to feel them when you touch her side", said John. What we apparently walked into was John telling this couple that their dog was fat! He even had the woman come over and feel Peekay's ribs. He was right, their dog was overweight by at least 15 pounds. By the expression on both of their faces, I don't think either one wanted to hear it. I wonder if they'll be back?
This was a very good practice. More people came, but the attendance was smaller than usual. I think some of the regulars were scared away by the morning temperatures in the low 30s. . We were 1 of only 3 dogs in the intermediate field. Over the course of 4 hours, we had 5 separate runs.
Our first run had a little drama. We were the first ones in the intermediate field. Carol Anne warned us that the sheep that were in the field were not the set she would have chosen. These particular group of sheep did not have a lot of "dog experience" and were flighty and unpredictable. Sure enough, soon after we started Peekay was moving the sheep along the fence when one decided to make a break for it and ran back to the gate. Peekay took off in hot pursuit right on it's hoofs. The sheep, without any hesitation, ran head first into the wire fence. Thankfully, sheep are pretty tough and he he just bounced off, shook it off, and returned back to the others. After that we had no problems.
I like working fresh and flighty sheep. Sheep like this are the ones you typically draw in a trial. They constantly are looking for a way to beat the dog and escape. Light sheep force both me and Peekay to be alert and work as a team. If you can work light sheep, you can work pretty much anything.
We continued to work on inside flanks. An inside flank is where Peekay, from just a voice command from me will circle the sheep in either a a clockwise ("go by"), or counter-clockwise ("away to me") direction. What makes the "flank" an "inside flank" is when Peekay is circling the sheep, she will operate in the area between me and the sheep. Prior she has been doing outside flanks, where I am in between her and the sheep. In our current trial class, and even more in the advanced class, I am restricted as to where I can be on the course. In order to move up in class, Peekay will need to execute reliable inside flanks.
One each successive run, Peekay improved. She became more comfortable working on the inside. I could see she was figuring things out. I worked hard to be consistent in my commands and my corrections.
By the time we went in for our final run, the sheep were tired and rank. The dog before us had placed them in a small holding pen along the fence. They couldn't get them out. It was up to us to finish the job. I sent Peekay to the back wall of the fence. She stuck her head through the slats. One of the sheep stood his ground, lowered his head and stomped his hoof. Peekay maintained eye contact and stood her ground. The sheep moved in and tried to butt her. Peekay slipped to the right, and chomped her jaws. She didn't bite him, but the sheep got the message. He moved out of the pen with the others.
After that we practiced a few inside flanks and called it a day. It was another good practice, and we headed home a little better than we left. Speed is good!