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 was prepared to nip & pull wool if a sheep challenged her, Loki generally didn’t need to.
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, so to speak. Of course the Valls are firstly cattle herders, so in any case what we were doing was experimental! But videos on ‘U- Tube & from other countries showed Valls obediently ‘gathering’ sheep which appeared almost ‘glued’ to their handlers. My Valls attempts at gathering were more likely to result in a stampede as the sheep shot past me in panic! Techniques which worked on ‘beardies’, ‘pyries’ and the GSD 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!
A clue emerged on the last day we were there, when sheep needed taking in from a big field into the paddocks and later on, back again to the field. The Valls ‘helped’ to do the task, suddenly they were bright eyed & eager again! Mmmmm! A big field & a JOB to do…. Food for thought.
I spent the next 2 months ‘networking’ with people who herd [and achieve herding qualifications] in the USA, and trying to find sheep nearer to home, to increase the dogs ‘sheep miles’. Naively, I hadn’t realised that many folk abroad train their Valls on ‘tame’ [or as they say ‘heavy’] sheep, so no ‘stampedes’, plus the dog gains confidence. ‘Heavy/tame’ sheep are even used in herding ‘trials’. Then in January 2010, I ‘found sheep’, only 20 minutes drive away at a local Agricultural college. Definitely not ‘tame’, but ‘real’! Twenty 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. Bear in mind 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 [most times!] enough to stop ‘explosions’ and ‘wool pulling’.
The sheep can be moved up and down a fence in a steady manner, the dogs get the hang of ‘driving’ steadily and 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 along the fence.
We have then progressed to moving the sheep away from the fence, circling around them, ‘flanking’, and even managing to move them between 2 trees!
Either way, we are still 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/