I wrote this back in 2004. It's been published in the Border Collie or American Border Collie Magazine.
Penning- A Fine Art
Ever been to a trial and try to pen? Only to discover that seventeen times around the pen with the sheep and dog does not get you any extra points? Maybe a winded dog, dizzy sheep and a hoarse voice and perhaps the butt of many jokes? ‘Course, I NEVER did THAT in my career.
NOPE, not me!! HAH!! If you believe that, then I have a fine bridge to sell you.
After one such exemplary run as described above a few years ago, I decided to get with the program and practice penning at home. One fine summery day seemed like the best opportunity, as I had to get the sheep into a stall to check on a couple of ewes that were limping.
I got my budding ProNovice dog, Tess, and we set off to gather the flock. Tess is very devoted to me and will do anything I ask of her. This is a key point later in the story. I sent her off and she quickly dashed off to get the 30 or so head. I strolled to the stall and opened the gate and peered over the head of the ewes to see where Tess was in relation to the sheep. Tess, as usual was in the correct spot. (NOTE: I was not)
I flung the gate wide open and told Tess to “Pen them”. The sheep have a fence on one side and the gate was opened against the barn wall. So she had a 90 degree angle to put the sheep into the stall. The sheep started to pour into the stall and then the last half of the sheep stopped and refused to go in. I stood behind the few at the gate mouth and used the “boot in the butt” action to assist them in going in. (NOTE: Not a good idea)
Meanwhile, I am telling Tess “COME ON, GET THEM IN”
The few that I had given the boot action then went in and I turned (while in the mouth of the pen), only to see Tess doing exactly as I told her. I told her “COME ON, GET THEM IN” in a deep commanding voice and by God, she stood up to the task and bullied the rest in.
Mistake Number One: Do not give your dog this command when you are not in the correct position.
Mistake Number Two. Do not EVER stand in the mouth of the pen while trying to pen sheep.
Mistake Number Three: Brain can not give words fast enough to tell dog to stop.
Mistake Number Four. Do not try to crowd sheep into a packed pen when you are in their path.
Tess, bless her heart, gave me her all and crammed all the sheep in the stall. While this was fine and dandy, there were a couple of minor items that went wrong. As I said, standing in the mouth of the pen is not a good idea. The sheep bowled me over and I hung onto to a ewe (I have no idea why I did this) and she dragged me in. (Note: Hanging onto a ewe is not a good idea)
When my brain finally figured out letting go of the ewe would be in my best interest, my hands released her. Really smart, however this would be good if I was still standing in the mouth of the pen. But no, I had been dragged in the stall with the sheep, and Tess finished packing the stall with the laggards. I tried to stand up by pushing a ewe off me and Tess would pack her back in. Did I fail to mention that the sheep just had come off green, lush pasture? This is a key point, as you want to be above the sheep hind ends!!
Mistake Number Five: Keep mouth closed when sheep are trampling over you. You figure out what happened here.
Every time I started to get to my feet, Tess would pack the sheep back in. The stall was packed and every time I moved a ewe she would go outside the gate line and Tess would promptly pack her in. The sheep would then push me back down to the floor. Finally I yelled at Tess to “Lie down” and she did. However, she made sure the sheep were packed in the pen and she laid in the mouth of the stall. I tell her to “Get back” and she would reluctantly move back and a few sheep would cross over the invisible gate mouth line and she was worried about her quality of her work but finally relented and let a token few cross the invisible line.
Meanwhile, I managed to crawl up to a sitting position and shove sheep out of the way. I saw Tess’s bright eyes looking at me and she was puffed up with pride with a job well done. Her eyes glowed with happiness that she managed to pen all the sheep with my help.
I looked at my clothes and notice in horror that they were covered in slimy green sheep poop. Remember what I said about the ewes being on a lush pasture. Then I felt that my back was very wet and my long hair was very damp. I raised my hand to wipe some sheep poop off my face and only managed to transfer the wet poop from my face back to my face. I then realized that my back is soaked, as in totally soaked, and my hair was one huge sheep poop pack. I smelled myself and it was bad. At this point, I decided it would be wise to go into the house and clean up. I worked my way to the other side of the stall and opened the barn side gate and then remembered to call Tess. “Tess, That’l do”. She burst into the pen in her haste to obey my command and I wondered as I was flung to the ground again by escaping sheep “Oh Lord, was I sleeping in line when God handed out Penning Brains?”
Yep, I was.