One of Jig’s regular jobs around the farm is to move the sheep to their temporary grazing area.
This time of year, that happens on a near daily basis. It’s a challenging job because it’s very rare that the ‘gate’ remains in the same location more than two days in a row. The electrified netting gets repositioned into often very creative shapes around the open field, wherever the grass is in need of trimming. Not only does that change, but the route we take to get there varies. With the adults being grass-whores, and the lambs being… well, lambs, the job can frequently test Jig and I to the extremes of our patience. Me, more so than her.
Over the past month I’ve been getting very frustrated with some of Jig’s antics once we’re in the open. For instance: her reluctance to take the flank I want her to take, her refusal to lie down, her obsession with the ewes that want to fight her (because, who doesn’t like a good fight, right?), the complete disappearance of our ‘There’, her apparent inability to SLOW THE HELL DOWN, and the resurgence of her crack dog ears.
I will admit, when a job that should have taken only 5 minutes or so takes over twenty, the f-bomb gets dropped with increasing levels of volume.
I also freely admit, even though it sets me off, once I cool down, I assume 80% of the responsibility for her behavior. Maybe 81.5%. Something I’m doing, or have done, is perpetuating this. But, as I reminded myself in my training journal…
And so I set about brainstorming ways to fix the ‘thang’, even though I didn’t know exactly what was causing it. The first thing I intended to do was not lose my cool. I needed to remain calm, fair, and consistent. If I resorted to cussing her out, I needed to do so in a pleasant tone of voice with a smile on my face. No problem. What the second thing was, I couldn’t rightly say, but I hoped through careful, calm observation (see how I keep throwing that word in here?), I would be able to discern it.
A day or so later, when I was in a hurry to move the sheep, I forgot my stick. No biggie. I occasionally work without it, and Jig knows her verbals. Had I known the result would be a totally different dog, I would have left it behind a lot sooner. Not to say everything was miraculously 100% better, but there was a very visible difference. The crack ears all but disappeared, she was more responsive, and though a couple things were still a bit rough, overall, I was greatly pleased.
And greatly bemused.
Since then I have consistently worked Jig without a stick, during training and chores, though I have been carrying a shaker bottle in the event she needs a reminder. Which she has. Once or twice.
I was obviously misusing my stick, or overusing it, or flailing it about like a drunken conductor, but at least now I’m aware and can, hopefully, correct the issue and work past it, which makes both of us just a bit happier.