Did anyone figure out what our super duper exciting plan for the weekend was?
The answer: We got a pig, and he’s wicked-smart!
Well, no. BUT we did establish that Gwynn could do as good a job as Babe at herding sheep. Also, he’s wicked-smart!
We went to the Tee Creek Dog Training Centre, near Niagara Falls, Ontario. They do herding instinct tests on dogs, with real sheep. Check out their website – they do all sorts of other dog training things, all focused on positive reinforcement. Also, trying herding with your dog is awesome and a ton of fun. And not at all limited to herding breeds, according to their website.
Before I start showing pictures and things, let me say a few things. They look bad. Both in quality (because I turned off the flash before handing it to Peanut to take pictures, due to fear of traumatizing sheep), and in… what it looks like is happening. I have a rake, for one thing. The rake is for the purpose of disengaging the dog, or getting the dog to redirect. For instance, if the dog tries to run down the middle of the sheep, and you want all the sheep, not just the two he’s trying to corner, you use the rake to block his path down the middle of the sheep, and this makes him change direction and go around the outside. We were NOT beating sheep or dogs with a rake. It was more like an extension of my arm, so that I could wave my ‘fingers’ in his face to get him to move. The equivalent could have been done if I were hurling my body between him and what he was going after, to make him go around the sheep instead of through. So, to be clear, no sheep or dogs were harmed/traumatized through the course of the day. Tee Creek takes great care of their dogs and their livestock, from everything I saw.
We entered the ring, and started off by walking around the fence-line until Gwynn was calm enough about being in there for me to let him go.
His herding instincts were all “SHEEEEEEEP!!! Circle Circle Circle make them in a tight group.”
My instincts said, “MUST KEEP GWYNN AWAY FROM SHEEP. PROTECT SHEEP. PROTECT GWYNN. KEEP HIM AWAY FROM SHEEP, AAARGH!” Apparently, when faced with a Gwynn+non-dog-mammals situation, my reaction is a desperate game of keep-away. I couldn’t tell you which of them I felt was most likely to start shredding the other. Gwynn has carnivore-type teeth, but there were three sheep, which means, if they acted in unison, they could easily take Gwynn down and rend his flesh from his bones with their tiny herbivore teeth.
The instructor/sheep-owner woman told me flat out that Gwynn was ‘stealing my sheep’ because I kept stopping him from doing the herding-stuff he wanted to do. So, instead of trying to bring the sheep to me, like he’d started off doing, he was now trying to get them away from me. She told me I wasn’t sharing the toys. I told her I was just trying to protect… someone… from something… there were sheep? And dog? And Danger? You’re sure he wasn’t trying to eat the sheep? You’re sure that sheep don’t eat dog? Rake?
He passed, in spite of my ‘help’, and in spite of the fact that he looks more like a sheep than like a sheep-dog most of the time – he has herding instincts. In fact, he’s well-rounded at herding. He has the driving instinct (moving them places) as well as the circling instinct (bringing them all together). Though I’m sure I’m not using the correct terminology.
We then proceeded to do two more runs through with sheep, and I was impressed at our lack of fail, and at Gwynn’s ability to herd sheep into tight groups and then force them to charge towards me with sheep-like exuberance. I used my rake like a pro person who is half-capable of being put in charge of a few leaves, managed to consistently get Gwynn herding sheep towards me (not trying to steal them from me), and made it out of the ring with dog and pride intact.
According to the note the sheep-woman made on our marking sheet, “Very nice dog!”
Very nice dog, indeed.
The entire experience made Gwynn a bit wired for the rest of the evening, trying to take advantage of his dragon toy when he wasn’t trying to eat it, and trying his new herding expertise on the family. We didn’t respond the same way as the sheep did to his barking in our faces, though. When he finally collapsed from the exhaustion of all that “Sheep? No sheep? HERD!!!” (I think his wired-ness was rather like the wired-ness of a small child allowed to stay up all night and eat candy… too tired to sleep, too tired to stop running in circles screaming ‘EEEEP’, too tired to not roll around on the floor in the most epic temper tantrum of life.) running through his mind, he woofed and ran in his sleep, clearly still chasing those sheep.
I worked out the logistics of getting a sheep for Gwynn to herd (though does it count as herding if there’s only one?) – we would need to ‘mow’ everyone’s lawn for a four block radius around us to give that sheep its about-an-acre of necessary grass-land to survive.
So, what do you think of my new job-plans: