A Fine Day – Herding in the City

by Marsha Dusek, Recommended Reading Editor for The Australian Shepherd Journal, September/October 2010:

A Fine Day

It was a cloudy cool day with temps near 42 degrees. As a light rain fell the sheep huddled in a comer of the small pen surrounded by pools of melting snow and areas of partially frozen sheep slush. Suddenly the peaceful scene was disturbed by the sound of an adolescent Aussie on a mission-Cutter and I had arrived for one of our early stock lessons.

The sheep huddled in a tighter cluster as the fearless Aussie pup slowly approached them on leash learning how to “walk-up” and “wait” and then turn away to walk “out” away from them. One ewe nervously glanced over her shoulder before making a short run for another corner of the pen, while her compatriots quickly joined her in their near-panic at the approach of the young stock dog in training. The bold Aussie boy held his wait, pivoting to follow them with his loose-eyed stare. Good dog. Then at last it was time to let the boy move the stock. Placed in a down stay, Cutter awaited my direction while keeping his eyes on the sheep and straining so hard to retain his self-control. And then what he had waited for came: “Cutter, get around” and he was off.

We moved the sheep from one end of the pen to the next, only to turn around and go back across again and again. Cutter performed like a pro-changing directions, “getting around,” and keeping his stock under control (despite the much slower learning capabilities of his handler). When we’d all had enough I told him to “wait” and he stopped in place keeping his eye on the stock but maintaining his distance, until I took his leash and told him “that will do.” He knew his job was done for the moment and left the pen willingly with me but to keep those woolies in mind. Good dog.

After some rest and discussion with our instructor, in we went again and once again moved the sheep like we knew what we were doing (well at least one of us did). Finally it was time to call it a day and once again he heard “that will do, Cut” with a firm pat and some loving praise. On the way to the car he strutted with a gleam in his eye-as if flaunting his superiority over the silly sheep. Once in his crate he waited until we were all settled into the car and on the road, before he stretched out on his fleece bed, sighed with satisfaction, and fell off to sleep, surely to dream of the next time he would get to work stock. In the front passenger seat, I too drifted off to share his dreams of sheep and dogs and doing what you were born to do.

It had indeed been a fine day for a young Aussie dog and his handler.

Now for the Review:

            I wrote this [A Fine Day] about five years ago, though it feels like yesterday when I reread it. As a result of that day my dreams no longer centered solely on agility but also on stock and the incredible teamwork it required between dog and handler. This breed was bred to work, and what could be better than to be doing what he was born to do?

            Not having lessons close by, however, I tried to learn however I could. I bought every book I could find on training your dog for stock work but somehow while understanding the theory; I still became a confused mess when sheep were running one way and my dog another. The success we seemed to have in those early lessons turned into confusion and doubt. Instructors had me shadow them, gave me directions through earphones, and just yelled at me but there has always been way too much going on during the lesson for it all to sink in. I feel like I can teach Cutter just about anything, but herding seemed to be so complex with everything going on at once that I found myself at a loss. Then a change in job meant I could no longer afford the time to drive to lessons a couple hours away and our stock dreams became just that for awhile.

            But this year, after a two year break from stock and lots of time watching advanced dogs work I decided it was time to try again. So you can imagine how excited I was about a new book coming out, titled Stockdog Savvy, by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor and Ty Taylor (Alpine Publications 2010). I couldn’t wait to get my copy and I wasn’t disappointed.

            Reading this book reminds me of my first year away at college. Despite having always been a good student, during finals I finally opened a textbook from one of my core classes and suddenly all of those lectures made so much more sense to me! Oh, if only I had done the reading throughout the semester!

             Stockdog Savvy is like that textbook I was so tardy in reading-it makes what you are doing out in the sheep pen so much clearer. Yes, your instructor can be telling you all of this during the lesson, but your brain can only process so much info when the sheep are moving, the dog is moving, and you are trying to make sense of it all at once. It doesn’t take the place of an instructor (though in some cases it might have to), but gives you a valuable reference away from the stock to read and reread until it really sinks into your brain. The book is written in such a practical and straightforward manner that I found metaphorical light bulbs coming on over my head with every chapter.

            This is also an easy book to read. The authors have managed to find the perfect balance of information, instruction, inspiration and problem-solving. The book is neither too long nor too short-what you need to know is right there clear and simple.

            First we are given a nice overview of herding dogs in general and what to look for when choosing one of your own. There are two chapters devoted to preparing your pup and laying a good solid foundation of basic commands, including games to teach flanking commands, walk ups, steady, skit ’em, and others. These games are great for teaching the handler as well, so “go bye” and “way to me” are second nature before you’re even near your stock! And speaking of the handler, there’s a chapter just for you as well, with all those common terms and concepts that can seem so foreign to a newbie handler.

            What follows is some of the clearest and most practical chapters on training your stock dog that I have come across. There are chapters on starting a new dog, making the most of your dog’s talent, outruns, driving skills, balance and penning, sorting and boundary training. Each chapter provides descriptions, training tips, and common problems and solutions. Along the way there are also spotlights on selected handlers and their dogs which are often inspiring.

            The authors also provide chapters about stock savvy understanding the livestock and how they think, react, and move, as well as basic husbandry and overviews of the primary stock you will encounter. In addition there is a nice chapter dedicated to the care of your stock dog including diet, stamina, grooming and common problems and injuries.

            Some of you may never keep stock of your own and be primarily focused on trialing and titles. Well, the authors have you covered! There are chapters on trial dogs, programs, and even what judges are looking for in the arena. So whether your Aussies have driven you to becoming a weekend herder, a hobby farmer, or you have them to help run your working ranch, there is something for you in this book.

            While writing this, I took a break to work Cutter on our ducks. While we don’t have the space for sheep, we have managed a few ducks in our yard. As usual we went into the pen with a plan to work and then a few other things came up which we had not planned for. After coming back in I grabbed my copy of Stockdog Savvy and looked at what we should have done in all those surprise situations. It made me realize just how much this book has become my go-to resource, especially since we can’t get to real stock lessons on a regular basis right now.

Enjoy!

Stockdog Savvy

The Table of Contents:

Frontispiece: Just a Stockdog Story
Preface
Foreword by Ernie Hartnagle
Introduction
1 – HERDING DOGS
2 – WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A HERDING DOG
3 – PREPARING YOUR PUPPY
4 – LAYING THE FOUNDATION
5 – GETTING STARTED
6 – INTRODUCING A DOG TO STOCK
7 – MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR DOG’S TALENT
8 – DEVELOPING A USEFUL DOG
9 – THE OUTRUN
10 – DRIVING SKILLS
11 – BALANCE AND PENNING
12 – FOCUS ON SORTING
13 – BOUNDARY TRAINING FOR TENDING DOGS
14 – BASIC STOCKMANSHIP
15 – WORKING LARGE FLOCKS AND HERDS
16 – THE RANCH DOG
17– TRAINING ANIMALS
18 – POULTRY
19 – SHEEP
20 – GOATS
21 – CATTLE
22 – KEEPING LIVESTOCK
23 – THE TRIAL DOG
24 – TRIAL PROGRAMS
25 – WHAT JUDGES LOOK FOR
26 – OTHER ELEMENTS OF WORKING STOCKDOGS
Appendix -– BREED PROFILES

For more information please visit:

http://www.lasrocosa.com/education.html

Copyright © 2009 – 2010 by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor and Ty Taylor.

All Rights Reserved.

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