A great deal has happened since June 09 when I & our two Vallhunds – Loki [Starvon off the Cuff for Bowkol] & Megan [Castleavery Gold Gaiety for Bowkol] ventured up to Pickering to begin our Herding training with ‘All Breeds’ herding trainer Jackie Goulder. [In photos below, Loki is the ‘bob tailed’ Vall, Megan has a ‘full Spitz tail’.]
We found that both dogs had inherited a strong herding instinct. Loki was very biddable, Megan less so. Loki found it harder to ‘bounce back’ after correction whilst Megan remained unperturbed by such things. Work in the round pen had made them calmer around sheep, there was less barking, more steadiness. Megan occasionally ‘flossed her teeth’ on sheep, Loki would just use Vallhund ‘eye’.
Loki in an early session - learning to 'keep his cool'
However, by the end of October 09, Jackie and I were starting to feel that we were trying to put a square peg into a round hole. My Valls’ attempts at ‘gathering’ in particular, were likely to result in a stampede as the sheep shot past me in panic! Techniques which worked on other breeds left the Valls confused. Endless circling in the round pen was making Loki ‘switch off’ whilst Megan would put her paws on the gate asking to leave, disgusted at such a ‘pointless task’ it seemed!
To top it all, poor Jackie broke her leg, then we had snow, so an enforced ‘rest’ and time to ponder!
E-mail contact with people in the USA was very helpful, Dave Clayton, in particular, encouraged us to think ‘outside the box’.
Then in January 2010, I ‘found sheep’, only 20 minutes drive away at a local Agricultural college. Definitely not ‘dog broke’, but ‘real’! Twenty-three of them……. Things were looking up!
So guided by Jackie, I started experimenting with other techniques. The sheep are in a very large field, so it is vital they are not ‘panicked’ by the Vallhunds, and that the dogs become confident that they can control the sheep in a calm way. The sheep had never come across Valls before.
Initially, the dog was on a very long leash, which only ever came tight if the dog tried to ‘chase’ the sheep, and never directed the dog as such. After a couple of sessions the leash was abandoned, it seems the presence of my ‘stock stick’ & a well timed ‘AGHHH!’ are now enough to stop ‘explosions’ and ‘wool pulling’.
The Valls move the sheep up and down a fence in a steady manner, and now realise that they need to do VERY little to move sheep on. It also teaches them the ‘flight’ zone of the sheep, ie the critical distance that the dog needs to be from the sheep to get them to move on without panicking them. A regular ‘stop there!’, practicing ‘out’ with the handler near to the sheep & the dog at a distance, large circles of ‘way’ and ‘bye’, are rewarded by ‘walk up’ where the dog gets to move the sheep on in a straight line. Gradually we have moved work into the centre of the field.
The dogs initially found ‘driving’ far easier than ‘gathering’, but, with persistence, both are getting the idea that a steady ‘follow on’ has its own rewards. Loki managed his first ‘out run’ recently, whilst Megan is boundless in enthusiasm and potential. [She is only 2 years old, Loki is 4 years old].
We are experimenting & learning. The dogs & I are having FUN! The ‘honeymoon’ period is over & we are having to knuckle down to some extremely hard work, but – heh!- nobody said it would be easy!!!
Visit Jackie Goulders web site http://www.spanglefish.com/BeardedcolliesForShepherding/
To view video of Loki Herding: http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=Mirk4Work#p/u/1/W01A1lQOXtQ
To view video of Megan Herding: