Sheep herding. The rules.

We survived. And so did all the sheep…

Elroy here. I went for my first sheep herding lesson yesterday. We got up at 5:45 so her highness could take us out, feed us, shower and be ready to hit the road by 7:30. Ludwig pulled out of the garage at 7:26. Her highness wanted to be sure we didn’t turn up late for our first lesson. The roads were clear and the temperature was a crisp -14 Celsius. Her highness was wearing so many layers of clothing, she could barely move. I almost didn’t recognize her.

We arrived at the farm by 8:30 – and our lesson was booked for 9:00. Perfect. It gave me time to have my new arrival poop. I had already pooped at home, but whenever I arrive somewhere, I almost always poop again. Some folks roll out a red carpet on arrival. I announce my arrival in a different way.

We met our instructor, Heather, and I immediately liked her. I also quickly spotted three sheep in a pen, and became a little “excited.” Heather explained that she would work with me to introduce me to the wooly trio.

So. This is what I learned. These are the rules in sheep herding.

1. It is OK to go with a stranger, if your human says you can go.

2. In race car driving, a waving flag may mean speed up. The same is NOT true in sheep herding. When the instructor waves the flag or hits in on the ground, that means back off. Or do something else. It does not mean run at the sheep like your tail is on fire.

3. IF the instructor waves or hits the flag, don’t take it personally. It’s basically the language of herding 101. You can’t get your knickers in a twist about it. You can’t be overly “sensitive.” Herding is not for sensitive introverts.

4. Barking to alert your human at home that there is an intruder – like a squirrel, is OK. Incessant barking at sheep is not OK. I guess the woolies are “sensitive.”

5. Lambchops in the freezer are edible. Moving Lambchops are not. And attempting to sample moving Lambchops will get you a waving flag. That hits the ground. Repeatedly.

6. Woolies or moving lambchops leave delectable treat balls. Sampling treat balls will also get you a waving flag. That hits the ground. Repeatedly.

7. Humans are generally left or right-handed. And we dogs prefer one side or direction over the other. For me, when I move clockwise, I am happy and I move beautifully. When I must move counterclockwise, it’s not as comfortable for me, so I go crazy and try to sample the moving lambchops. I have to learn to feel comfortable going both directions. My Jekyll and Hyde personality must be under control at all times.

Those are the basic rules. First and foremost, one must RESPECT sheep. They are not rabbits to be chased. While there IS some prey drive involved in herding, that drive must be under control. Always. There is a difference between herding and lure coursing. Big time.

So. Given all those rules, how did I do? My first round was OK. But I didn’t KNOW the rules initially so I got lots of waving, slapping flags. Which was justified. But by the end of the first half of my lesson, I was STARTING to catch on.

We took a little break and went for a little walk to decompress my brain. And then it was time for round 2. And that’s when the proverbial light bulb switched ON. I remembered the rules. I didn’t become offended if the flag waved and my sampling of treat balls and moving lambchops essentially disappeared. I started figuring out how to go both ways when I was instructed to do so. The instructor no longer needed to hold onto the long line I was attached to – like she did in round 1. I started getting the point of this exercise- and I LOVED it. I mean I LOVED IT. Here is a very short video in round 2. Her highness didn’t take a lot of photos or video because it was -14. And she couldn’t take her gloves off for long to hold her phone. But interestingly, despite the cold temperatures – she never felt cold! Must have been all those clothes – and the fact that she was so intent on what I was doing that she didn’t have time to THINK about the cold. In the video, you will see me going both directions here. And you’ll see me slow down to smile at her highness to let her know I was having great fun.

Heather said she never worked with a Picard before. And she said I did some things that can sometimes take several lessons to do. She said her highness should be proud of me – I worked very well. Both her highness and I were beaming. Well. She was beaming. I just kept watching the sheep. Even when I was out of the pen and our lesson was over. Her highness was thrilled – and relieved that Heather’s first exposure to a Picard was not a total embarrassment.

As Heather predicted, I was pretty tired afterwards. But ya know what? I can’t WAIT to do it again! We will be back!!!

Have a good one. Peace and paws up.

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