Saturday, October 03, 2009

Such A Good Boy!

Friday was a very long, but very good, day. I was up at 4:45, and Duncan and I were out of the house and on our way to Denton at 6:00. We finally made it home eleven hours later. Lucky Duncan, he got to sleep most of the way. The local English Shepherd Rescue was hosting the trial as an American Herding Breed Association (AHBA) event, which meant Duncan was working for his Junior Herding Dog (JHD) title. There weren’t very many people there, which was nice, and I think there were only three dogs entered who weren’t English shepherds. Duncan was the only German shepherd there.

To earn a leg towards the JHD, the dog and handler have 10 minutes to pick up the sheep, move them behind two panels (between the panels and the fence), between two more panels, and then re-pen the sheep. The dog has to be engaged in the entire process, so the handler can’t just walk the sheep through the course while the dog is off doing something else. The second video shows a much clearer example of what should happen – the first video, not so much – and Duncan was definitely fully engaged during both runs.

Our first run wasn’t great, and it took us about 4 minutes, but we made it. Eventually. Our first big problem was that we had very light (spazzy) sheep. They started panicking as soon as Duncan walked into the arena, and we had to set our start position twice. We were working 3 sheep - a dark brown one, a white one, and a light brown/red one. Watch the red sheep; she was the lightest of the bunch, and she caused us a lot of trouble. Claire, our trainer, pointed out that I was our second problem. I was following the sheep, rather than using their inherent stupidity to make them go where I wanted them. I could have slowed them down so I wasn’t having to chase them if I’d turned towards the fence several times. As a general rule, if you turn your shoulders, the sheep will turn that direction, too. I was too worried about catching up with the obnoxious things to remember that little tidbit of information. The third problem we had was, again, me. I’ve gotten used to having the gate a certain way at Claire’s – latch on the left, hinge on the right, so I put Duncan behind me on my right. I wasn’t thinking about it during our run, but the gate was reversed. Out of habit, I put Duncan on my right. Claire pointed out that what I did was essentially block the sheep from the pen (in their minds, anyway), which is why the red sheep kept taking off. If I had put Duncan on my left side, the sheep likely would have gone into the pen the first or second time – rather than the fourth. The only reason the sheep finally went in the pen when they did was because the judge told me to just open the pen, even though I didn’t have everyone in one spot. Despite the challenges, though, Duncan did an excellent job. He did exactly what he was supposed to do. Even though he had to chase down that stupid red sheep 4 times before she went into the pen, Duncan never once made any attempt to grip, nip or bite. I was so proud of how calm and relaxed he stayed. The judge's comments were “Nice dog, let him work and cover his stock, very cooperative to instruction.” Oh, and of course, when I finally managed to get the sheep to go between the center panels, the guy working the video camera got distracted and missed it...

We had our second run after lunch. Thank goodness, we got a different bunch of sheep. This time, we had no problems. At one point, I was worried that Duncan was too close to me, but the sheep didn’t seem particularly concerned. Claire said that Duncan was tucked in during the run, keeping his power more internal, rather than pushing it at the sheep. Whatever he was doing, it worked. We had the fastest run of the afternoon – 37 seconds. We picked up our sheep, went behind the back panels, through the center panels, and straight to the pen. I had to have Duncan shift the sheep for me a bit, because they wanted to wander off, but he did that with almost no instruction from me. I was so proud of him! The judge’s comments were “Great job – he’s a powerful dog but very calm, controlled. Well done.” Hear the applause at the end of the video? I didn’t hear it when it happened, but its really neat to know we earned that.

During the day, several people told me how handsome Duncan is, what a wonderful temperament he has, and how impressed they were with his sheep handling skills. Claire said he was an excellent example of a herding German shepherd.

Have I mentioned yet how proud I was yesterday? He was such a good boy – I really couldn’t have asked for anything better than what he gave me. Duncan truly deserves his new title.


Anonymous said...

Well, I'm proud of you both!!! Congratulations, Duncan, on you new title!!!!!:) Love, Mom

Anonymous said...

A huge CONGRATULATIONS on Duncan's accomplishments. He has been an incredible dog for you but you definitely have brought out the best in him!! - Deeda