This post was published to Ziggy Stardust Sheep Tales at 13:22:51 24/09/2013
First Introduction to Sheep
Is it too much of a cliché to say the events of the 19th May 2012 changed my life? Maybe, but it certainly had a hell of an impact.
That was the date of our first group sheepdog training session in the care of Andy and Gill of www.workingsheepdog.co.uk and a fantastic weekend spent in the rather nice Worcestershire countryside. We had booked a full day’s course for Ziggy and a puppy introduction session for the not quite 5 month old Stardust, I would work with Ziggy while Michael took responsibility for Stardust.
In case anyone reading this is thinking of attending one of these courses with their Border Collie then I thought it would be worth me taking the time to write the full story of the day, as well as I can recall it 15 months later. I am sure that by reading this you will be on the website confirming your reservation right away.
Abi must have been away somewhere that weekend so the 6 of us loaded up the Coe Camper Van on Friday afternoon and headed across to New House Farm, a Caravan Club CL Site just outside Martley. We arrived in dry weather and pitched up on a lovely little site, took the dogs for a walk into Martley with Michael and did a bit of a recce for places to eat that night, it started to spit with rain as we walked back and was soon pouring down so any plans of convincing Jackki to walk to the pub were shelved. Drove down later that evening for a spectacular meal at the pub in the middle of Martley, cant remember the name, maybe the Kings Arms. Jenga style stacks of rectangular cut chips stick in my mind along with a cracking slab of steak.
Up early and stretching canine and human legs in the wild flower meadow on the camp site and then we drove the short distance to arrive as per the detailed instructions just before 10.30AM. Having watched Andy and his dogs on DVD so many times it was a pleasure to meet in person and squeeze into the lounge for a pre-training chat along with the owners and families of around 8 dogs in total that would be taking part in the course. Everyone dutifully raised their hands in the air when asked who had seen the DVD and we then we went round the room giving Andy a brief overview of why we were there, whether the dog had done anything with Sheep before and what we hoped to get out of the day. This was fun and informative and also gave Andy a chance to tell us some tales and thoughts on pertinent issues of the day. There was a mixture of experience and motivation around the room but the general level seemed to be Absolute Beginner with only a few exceptions.
Any nerves were therefore quickly settled by the warm welcome and relief that I was not the only fool on the planet ever to have the idea of mixing pampered pet Border Collie with a few sheep just to see what happens. And so, off to the training ring….
So the general idea in the training ring is to initially get the dog going around the sheep, preferably in both directions and to introduce the commands Come By (clockwise) and Away (anticlockwise). The sheep are in a ring so they can’t just run off and the dog will therefore be close to the handler so any aggressive behaviour can be quickly dealt with. Andy was calm and clear in his instructions and the whole thing was a blur for me, not having dealt with sheep at all before I frankly didn’t have a clue what to do even with instruction. There was a blur of dog and sheep running in all directions and I didn’t know whether to move or stand still, to say Ziggy had an appetite for chasing the sheep is an understatement but I was a long way from being in any kind of control.
Michael and Star was a much calmer affair in the ring, she was very young and Andy was rightly cautious that she shouldn’t be pushed or pressured in any way. Her first time with Sheep is captured in the video below with Andy’s beautiful Kay (I think) showing how it should be done.
We spent the day watching each dog in turn, with very mixed results but an ever calm Andy guiding and encouraging. Everyone made some progress, the dogs had a fantastic time, I ended up out of breath and a little dizzy and the sheep seemed unfazed but breathing quite hard particularly after Ziggy’s exploits. The video below shows Ziggy’s first time with sheep and even watching it back as I write it is hard to pick out what was actually happening, I think I should have left it to Andy rather than stand around like a bemused fool!
After a short break for lunch which involved a selection of tapas at the very nice little pub down the road (sorry can’t remember the name so will have to provide a separate blog post with details) we did more in the afternoon. Each dog was making progress in the ring and some were able to get out of the ring and attempt to work the sheep around the field, I think by the end of the day they had all been out in the field….except Ziggy. The boy was just determined to run through/at the sheep and attempt to grip (aka bite) them and although we got him going round the sheep he was just too uncontrolled and stubborn to be trusted.
The video below was the last footage taken on this first day and shows some progress from that above. To be honest looking at this now it is clear he hasn’t got any better than this over the last year and a half for which I have got to ask myself some serious questions.
Overall we had a fantastic day and everyone involved got something out of it, the dogs were shattered having had 4-5 sessions with the sheep each of varying lengths of time. Andy explained that this was quite intensive as a training session with it being more normal to give a dog 10-15 minutes on any single day and I certainly had to agree by the end of the day that this was clearly true.
If you are even thinking about trying this with your border collie, then do it. Get onto www.workingsheepdog.co.uk and get in touch with Andy and Gill. They won’t think you are bonkers and will be fantastically helpful, we vowed to return after this first day and there will be more blogs on this subject to come.