Yesterday marked Ernie’s first real day as “the dog” - we had lots of work to do, and Ernie was the only dog available. And last night, Ernie discovered the other side of tired.
First, I should describe the work we needed to complete. First, we moved 125 ewes from Shanley Hill to our corrals - a walk of about 1.25 miles. I used both Mo and Ernie, but Mo came up lame about halfway there, so the job was up to Ernie to complete. Then, we put all of the ewes through the corrals and into the footbath - we were sorting off thin ewes to put on irrigated pasture prior to breeding. After we sorted these ewes, we walked the thin ewes about ⅓ of a mile to our irrigated pasture. Then we loaded the rest of the ewes in the trailer and hauled them to another property, where Ernie had to move them about ¼ mile from the trailer to their paddock. The last chore involved taking the cull ewes about 200 yards from the corrals to a patch of green grass.
The first stretch of work started like most of Ernie’s efforts - he had more energy than he needed, and he wanted to be at the head of the flock at all times. After correcting him a few times, his attempts to get to the sheeps’ heads were at least a bit more under control - he started making wider flanks (and realizing, I think, that he was controlling the flock’s movement at a greater distance than he is used to). On several occasions, I was able to get him to drive the flock from behind - staying with me instead of constantly trying to stay on balance.
His work in the corrals was pretty decent - he did try to work without being asked sometimes, but he really tried to listen to me. Often, I’ll use Mo to walk into the sheep in the alley to encourage forward movement. Ernie didn’t quite get this, but he tried - and I realized that Mo didn’t quite get it at first either. That recognition, I think, helped me cut Ernie some slack!
The walk to irrigated pasture started much like our earlier walk - Ernie wanted to be on balance. I had my oldest daughter, Lara, walk the guard dog on a leash to lead the flock. After Ernie raced to their heads several times, I asked Lara to give him a harsh correction. It worked wonders - I was too far away to offer such a correction, but Lara’s hard voice shocked Ernie. After that, he listened much better - except when we moved the sheep through a gate. I think gates are like venturis - sheep and dogs seem to speed up when they are going through a tight space! Ernie couldn’t help himself - he tried to get to the head of the flock. However, Lara and I both corrected him, and he started listening again. As we put the flock into our electric-fenced paddock, I even had to send Ernie on a flank that was counter to what his instincts were telling him. He took the flank and brought the wayward sheep back to the opening in the fence.
Loading the ewes in the trailer and moving them down the road - our next task - wasn’t pretty, but we got it done. While I was dropping off the trailer at the house, Ernie crashed - I’ve never seen him so tired. Nonetheless, he jumped in the truck when I told him to load up!
Our final chore yesterday involved moving about 15 cull ewes out of the corrals, through a narrow gate and into a new paddock. I decided that we’d try some schooling - I’d insist that Ernie make good decisions about his flanks. I was really pleased! He opened out and tried to stay out of the sheeps’ flight zone until I asked him to make contact with them. He took my lie down commands quietly, and he even waited until the ewes walked calmly through the narrow gate before flanking again to turn them into the paddock. He then returned to the truck and slept! While Ernie usually spends the night in the garage, I let him sleep in the house last night. He didn’t make a peep!
Today, he still seems very tired - he found shady spots in which to rest at every stop today! I did ask him to bring the ewes and lambs into a fresh paddock this afternoon. His flank was the right shape (if a little too close), and he took my lie down to let the sheep walk through the opening. Most importantly, he let me call him off when we were done with today’s little bit of work.
I’m hoping we’ve turned a corner. I know there’s lots of work - and a fair bit of frustration - ahead for both of us, but I think it helped Ernie to realize that there was more work than he could do on his own yesterday - he needed to listen in order for the work to be manageable. We’ll see!