Monday, September 19, 2011

Lucky's Herding Instinct Test

Lucky herding goats, off leash, with Roberta
Yesterday Lucky and I went out to Roberta McKowen's 1,000 acre ranch in Zachary, to test Lucky's herding instincts. Robbie, Judy and I were there from 9:30-2, and besides practice, we actually helped Roberta work the sheep a bit, moving them from pen to pen and getting the females heads painted with red dots.  I learned that Lucky is a "header", i.e., she goes for the head, and that while she nips at the face and throat, she doesn't actually bite.  She also shoulder butts, which she does with FoohFooh all the time.  All good, I'm told.  Roberta thinks she'd make a fine cattle dog.

Lucky on a long line herding sheep, with Robbie
Well, I have no cows and no intention to get any, but I guess in my spare time I could read up on AKC's requirements for a herding title.  It appears there are several different kinds of herding, each requiring  different training.  

Lucky runs agility because I ask her to. It's MY THING. She complies, and competes at Excellent level, albiet without great enthusiasm, and will get her Masters. But she comes alive, I mean totally focused, when fetching, tugging, or killing armadillos, and I saw that same level of excitement yesterday when she was chasing the goats and sheep around.  It kinda bothers me not to provide her with opportunities that trigger her highest innate abilities.  I feel I must trade her that for her doing agility with me.

Here's a video of Lucky in the pen with Roberta and the goats:

How she didn't get trampled to death, nor even suffer the slightest scratch, I have no idea.  And I'm not at all sure what her intentions were, running up in between all those legs.  Was that herding, or simply chasing???  So much to learn.

For the longest time Lucky was spooked by that stick Roberta carries.  We were walking in the field when I first turned Lucky, on leash, over to Roberta. Lucky went up ahead, and Roberta immediately whacked her on the chest. Lucky cowered and tried to slink away and behind, and became so leary of the stick I feared she would never participate.  It took her several tries to give chase because all she did at first was try to stay away from the stick, but she got somewhat over it as this final video shows.   Lucky has never been whacked and I don't like the idea of poking or prodding her, either.  It could make her mean, destroy her gentle trusting nature.  She backs away at home whenever I pick up a fly swat or yard stick.  Personally, I think I could train her to go behind, around, out and away, and "exert my authority", without the stick. But when the kill instinct takes over, it might take a whack or two with a stout stick to get her off of her "prey".  Now I know why the biblical shepherds carried their crooked staff!  It wasn't a walking cane as I always assumed!

Roberta's "balance the cookie on her nose without eating it" comment was referring to something she said earlier about well trained herding dogs' "wanting to kill the sheep, but not killing them", and that Lucky did well stopping the chase when told to. She said the most important thing a herding dog needs (besides herding instinct) is a rock solid drop or sit on command, and a 100% reliable recall.  We are already training those at home.

When I got home I watched some herding training videos on YouTube, very interesting, all informing me that while the dog needs a strong "desire to chase", herding isn't about chasing at all.  Roberta repeated several times that teaching a dog to herd is far more difficult than teaching agility.  I can't imagine that.

Spider Lillies, September 18, Old Hammond Hideaway
It was a very interesting day, and very generous of Roberta and Robbie to give so freely of their time. Roberta invited us to come back "anytime" and mentioned herding ducks, which I'd like to try Lucky on when the weather gets cooler, which it's about to do. 

In fact, when I was loading up the car to go a-herding, I saw these native spider lillies had popped up alongside my driveway. I quickly snapped this picture.  These intricate flowers, so beautiful, have been blooming in my yard every year for 38 years, and always let me know when fall is on the way.  They never fail to thrill me.
Upwards and onward!

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