Catchy title, eh? There actually is a very full, gorgeous moon in the sky this week but i'm talking about Moon with a capital M. Zeke has managed to get hurt so it's going to be all Moon all the time for a little while around the farm. I'm hoping it's nothing serious with Zeke but he's on strict rest until we get it sorted out. I think it's a sprained or strained muscle so i've got him on rest and anti-inflammatories, and will be taking him for massage asap, and to the ortho if it's not improving quickly enough. Bill is exhibiting a nearly identical hitch on the opposite rear leg so i've got two on the injured reserve list right now. You'd think winter lay off time would be injury free, but it seems like maybe the slippery mud causes something about every year.
So on to Moon. I'm working on trying to bring out a little more eye and feel in her because she's really too rash and rushed in her approach to sheep. My dog broke flock only gets mildly annoyed with her current method, but i can guarantee most other sheep are going to be more than uncomfortable with it. I'd like to see her slow down and think more and i'd prefer she get the idea on her own rather than me having to handle her through it. I've tried the "wet blankets" approach with her - a term from horse training referring to working until the saddle blanket is wet, and beyond. Boy have i tried it. I'd hate to add up the amount of time little Moon has worked since the middle of December. I'll just leave it at hours and hours and hours. And hours. And more hours. Did i mention hours? If we could get on the wide open plains for full days of work for a few weeks, i think the method might work with Moon. It's certainly helped some but with my setup, it's not going to be enough. So i'm trying to come up with some different ways to get her brain engaged and see if her feet will join in. I'd like to have a bunch of fresh sheep that she'd really have to work hard to balance, but i'm not sure at this point that would help a whole lot. She doesn't always care just yet if she brings all the sheep to me (common young dog stuff). And while with most dogs it's easy enough to fuss a bit and get them caring, fussing at Moon and putting pressure on her to loop back for escapees brings out her bad side and she rushes in to the sheep in front of her (remember what i said in the last post about her getting hotter and faster when pressured on a correction?). So yesterday i decided to try her on one sheep. I've heard about this bringing out more eye so it seemed worth a shot. I wouldn't try this with many brash youngsters for fear of the sheep running headlong into a fence, but one of Moon's nicer qualities is that she doesn't get wound up and chase sheep when things aren't right (only does it when i put pressure on her, go figure). She's just not a chaser. I had out a cooperative Cheviot ewe who was more than happy to keep running off to some grain whenever the opportunity opened, and just sent Moon over and over to retrieve her. I've certainly worked singles before with my dogs, but it was very interesting watching one so loose eyed. I didn't see that Moon was finding the right balance point as she'd hit the top of her outrun, but i did see her leaning out on her flanks to cover and balance as she brought the ewe in to me. And i did see her start thinking about gearing down some as she fetched. I would be very happy if she'd put all that together in her mind and start allowing the sheep some room as she brings them in - she pushes well past the point of comfort for the sheep when she's behind them. I see her giving the sheep room in her flanks, so i know it's in there, she's just not making the connection when she's behind and coming straight on.
I'm going to keep trying some of the single sheep work with Moon and see how it goes. I also plan to "mechanicalize" her fetches more, to see if she doesn't start to realize it makes things go better if she eases up some. It's a funny game, this dog training stuff. I actually really like that she'll come forward without hesitation, that she's forward and game and wants things to get moving, and now. And yet at the same time i don't like it because she's not thinking enough for me. A few years ago, a friend pointed out to me how many sheepdog qualities are a double edged sword, where you get one thing you like but you have to realize there's that other edge to it too. So we'll see how this quality works out in little Moon with some time. I keep reminding myself that there are so many things about her that i admire - all that athleticism, another double edged sword?! - so i'm trying to stick it out and see where we go. It's been an interesting ride so far!