This morning I tried to get a good photo of Redford confronting Will, but failed miserably. That’s great news… I couldn’t get the photo because every time Will walked within twenty feet of Redford, the ram turned and walked away. I did take a few photos, but my battery died so I can’t upload them for you. I’ll send some before the end of the week, of Will and sheep, and hopefully, of Snickers new lambs, if she ever, finally, gives birth. (We are calling her Explodo-Ewe at the moment.)
Truffle’s little white lamb is filling out like a champ. He’s got all the milk to himself and is growing like crazy. He has started what I call “popcorn” play, which is pretty much like it sounds. First there is a lamb standing still, then there’s a lamb leaping straight up into the air. Except in this case, the lambs twist their bodies a bit, land, run a few feet and do it again. It’s lucky the weather is warm (in the 20’s!) because it’s hard for me to leave the barn, he’s so much fun to watch.
I wanted to write more about Will, the ram and “power” in a herding dog, because it was herding dogs that taught me about ‘body blocks’ and ‘space management’ in dog training. (See Other End of the Leash or Family Dog Training.) There is no question that different dogs have a different effect on the same sheep: some dogs seem to take charge from a long way away while others have to get much closer to get the same effect. If a dog has what handlers call ‘power,’ the sheep will look at the dog, turn their heads looking for the best route away from the dog and leave, even if the dog is a good distance away. Other dogs have to get much closer to get the same effect, or can even cause the same sheep to stand their ground or charge forward. When I first got into herding I thought the difference in the dog was in it’s posture… the more extreme the stalking posture, the more intense the effect? But it soon became clear that wasn’t it.
The biggest difference that is obvious to us is vector of the dog’s energy. Is the dog standing still but leaning forward, standing square over its 4 feet or leaning backwards, even an eighth of an inch or so? Biologists call movements and postures that always preceed an action “intention movements” and there’s no doubt in my mind that sheep can read where a dog is ready to go next: forward, to “take the space,” or backwards, to protect itself and get away. I show a video in many of my seminars that show 3 different dogs working the same group of cattle, and the difference in the reaction of the cattle is amazing. One, clearly fearful dog (tongue flicks, looks back to handler often, ears back, body leaning backward.. ready to run away) ends up with the cattle walking right up to him and sniffing his nose. The most confident dog walks forward with what can only be described as presence, and the cattle take one look at him and turn away. Dogs are brilliant at sensing these movements too, which is why we all need to be thoughtful about how we move around our dogs. You can use them to your advantage (teaching stay for example) or get into trouble by leaning forward toward a dog who is nervous around strangers.
Intention movements going forward or backward are just one factor in the interaction between sheep and dog. Some dogs are so strong that they worry sheep and can’t be used in small areas. Other dogs seem to take charge easily without scaring the sheep. Ideally, a dog is calm and confident, neither overly reactive but ready to win a confrontation if necessary. Some dogs seem to love confrontations, it makes other nervous. All of these things seem to be read by sheep, which makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Many prey animals in the wild behave comfortably around predators who are not hunting, but then immediately go on alert when the predators, lions for example, decide it’s time to stop lazing around and go hunting.
Willie clearly is nervous about direct confrontations. He tongue flicked a couple of times and ran back into the barn as soon as I said “that’ll do,” even though Redford never turned to challenge him.
Okay, he’s not the bravest dog in the world, but the fact that he tries as hard as he can and tries to work through his fears makes me love him even more. Besides, Redford apparently decided that he’s not worth challenging, at least not this morning, so I am pleased and proud that things are going in Will’s direction…
Now, if Snickers would just, PLEASE, have her lambs tonight!
Sorry no photos, battery is charging as I write!