Friday, July 12, 2013

Ernie's Progress - Day 1

I've written in previous posts about our youngest border collie, Ernie.  In many ways, Ernie has the potential to be a very talented herding dog.  He's fast, he's smart, and he has amazing stamina.  Ernie is also a goofball at times - his favorite "hobbies" seem to be running through sprinklers and biting hoses (which is annoying and expensive).  In our training sessions, he'll often show flashes of brilliance followed by what seems to be willful disobedience.  Recently, I began to wonder if this disobedience was do to the fact that I was not using him in many real work situations - mostly I'd been drilling him on small groups of sheep in relatively risk-free scenarios.  Because of his inexperience, I was reluctant to take the extra time necessary to help him succeed in real work - like moving the entire flock from one property to another or working sheep in the corrals.  I decided last weekend that I'd make the time over the next month, and that I'd rely almost solely on Ernie for the next month.  The only exceptions, I decided, would be situations where we might put sheep or dogs in danger if Ernie made a mistake.  Yesterday, we started our month of working together.

Yesterday's chores included vaccinating and de-worming the lambs, putting them through a footbath, and loading them in the trailer to move to a new pasture.  The work, for Ernie, involved working the lambs through the corrals and loading the trailer - both situations which require thoughtfulness and calmness from a dog, as well as a good understanding of flank commands ("come bye" to circle to the left, "away" to go right).  These have not always been strong points for Ernie.  However, he did fairly well.  He worked too closely to the sheep at times, and a few times he seemed to forget that we were working as partners, but we got the work done.

The work was not terribly demanding for Ernie from a physical standpoint - he probably worked for a total of 60 minutes during the course of our day.  However, he was exhausted at the end of the day - a good sign that he was working hard mentally.  At least for one day, my theory that real work - with a real endpoint and real goals - would be helpful for Ernie in developing our working partnership seemed to hold true.

Over the course of the next month, I will try to document Ernie's progress as we work together.  The month will be interesting!

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