Saturday, December 15, 2012

Double Trouble--But Worth It

Not one but TWO escapes from the farm today by the quicksilver canine.

First, she slipped through a sheep pen gate as I struggled to maneuver a load of logs through it, and found a hole in the "fence" between the woodlot and the neighbor's in the blink of an eye. We were right on her tail and retrieved her from the mobile home park down the block within minutes. She had been confined to the vacant sheep pen where we were working, so we had taken her leash off so she wouldn't tangle on the brush we were moving.

Renewing our caution, I kept her on the leash when we were working in the garden, but didn't tie her. She obeys much better when she's dragging the leash, and I can step on it to get her attention if she's ignoring me. She's been respecting the electronet fence across the back yard, even without it being energized, stopping until I lift it and say "come under". But apparently she slipped under it, and we had left both the woodlot and driveway gates unlatched. Before we realized she was gone, a stranger rounded the corner of the barn, calling out to us, "Hey, is this your dog? She was at __ & ___ [5 blocks away]." She seemed totally unabashed...she had made a new friend. "Nice dog," he says.

Rolling my eyes. Restraining my temper. Recalling the most memorable lesson from the AKC Puppy Kindergarten class: If you leave the puppy in the living room, and it chews up the couch, roll up a news paper and hit your self over the head with it, saying sternly, "Don't leave the puppy with the couch! Don't leave the puppy with the couch!" Right. And don't take your eye off the Border Collie for an instant. Ever.

But there were many high points, too. This morning, we reviewed yesterday's progress and added one more command: "Leave it." With her in a "Down" "Stay", I would place the tennis ball a couple feet away from her and say "Leave it." She was pretty good at waiting until I said "Pick it up" and "Drop it in my hand." Later in the wood lot, when I was moving chunks of firewood, I asked her to pick up the small ones and put them on the woodpile. She actually seemed to understand...and even left them on the woodpile.


Later, we decided to merge the two groups of sheep and see what would happen. It's that time at the end of breeding when we try to reintegrate all the little breeding groups into one or two larger groups, to minimize chores. With 3 official breeding rams this season, as well as a couple intact male market lambs, it can be tricky. Rams will often try to kill each other.

Tuesday, we put the two younger breeding rams (White Crow, 9 months, and Patchface, a year and 9 months) together with the market lambs (i.e., two smaller ram lambs plus some ewe lambs). There was some pushing and ramming between Crow and Patchface, but they seemed to settle down pretty quickly. We ran all the mature ewes into the pen with Braithe, our senior ram.

My goal is to start Sookie working with the market lambs, since they're smaller and much less assertive than the big ewes and rams. I thought maybe we could work them with Patchface and Crow in the group, but Patchface seemed pretty assertive towards the dog. So...could we actually get Braithe, Patchface, and Crow--500+ lbs. of testosterone-infused muscle--to peacefully coexist in the same pen?

I took Sookie into the Green Barn Pen on the long leash, and drove the young rams and market lambs into the barn with her in tow. She seemed confused, and distracted by all that tempting manure, but she showed some interest in the sheep as well. At one point, one of the rams broke away from the flock and ted back behind me. I called out "Look!" and she actually did! We went after him (and the other one that followed him) and got them back without the rest of the group turning back, too. Then, to the cry of "Put 'em in the barn!" Sookie and I were able to walk the group into the barn. A good beginning.

Then we went to drive Braithe and the ewes over from the pen on the other side of the back yard. First we rounded up a few ewes that hadn't come to meet us at the gate. Sookie paid attention well, and  seemed to be more interested than with the lambs. When we got them gathered at the gate, M. opened the gate and they poured out into the broad grassy lane. Of course they were more interested in eating grass than in going to the barn...but as Sookie and I moved behind them, they quickly changed their minds. Except for a couple older ones, who looped back behind us. I said "Look back!" and turned after them, and--Sookie looked and went the right direction to run them back to the rest of the flock! Then everyone ran to the barn pen.

The barn pen has a particularly nice bale of hay in it at the moment, and Braithe didn't even blink an eye at all the rams in the barn. So, I let the young rams and market lambs out with the rest of the group. There was some sniffing and chasing, but no significant ramming. Braithe spent most of his first couple for penned with other rams, and he and Patchface were penned together ever since his return to the farm last spring; I hoped he would have fond memories of this. We were working nearby, so we kept an eye on them in case violence erupted, but eating seemed to be everyone's top priority. In a few days we'll sort out the lambs, and have a breeding group and a working group.


The end of the working day should have been another session with the tennis ball, but alas, we could not find it. The second one had disappeared a few days earlier. Are the coyotes playing with them and carrying them off? It's a mystery. Sookie looked and looked, and so did I. Disappointing. We went home to dinner and a quiet evening.

As I knitted with Sookie curled in my lap, I pondered the dilemma of the missing ball. We'll have a friend's dog as a house guest starting tomorrow morning, so getting in a good romp before meeting the very bouncy Coby seemed important, not to mention continuing to build on our recent training work. But every time I thought about going to a store 10 days before Christmas, I winced. Eventually, I thought of Luna (Toss's daughter) and her person B. Maybe they had spares?

A phone call and a few minutes later, we were on Luna's doorstep. Luna was her grumpy self about there being another dog, but Sookie displayed excellent manners and turned away with quiet dignity whenever Luna showed her teeth. Sookie entirely ignored the cats, but managed to slip through the cat door to the cat food not once but twice! I didn't want to get her too wound up chasing balls to show off her moves, so I took the risk of testing her on her newest sequence of commands in "public". Like clockwork, on command, she laid down, I placed the ball on the floor nearby, she "leaved it", and on command she picked it up and dropped it in my cupped hands!

Now I'm wondering, can I teach her to fetch tools for me when I'm working? Will she be able to tell the  difference between phillips and flathead screwdrivers?

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