Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Shifting of the Tide

She cuddled in my arms late at night, her long pointy snout nestled in my neck. Tiny, but full of herself, Rainey stirred softly, and then burrowed closer to me. She has been a tough dog in some ways to train, unsure of herself on the drive and sticky going into the heads of the sheep and we have been working on that. She does stall on the drive and to get her going forward with more momentum, I whip the flanks and walk-ups in rapid fire so she doesn’t have time to think about stopping.  She has a wonderful outrun, a nice lift and fast fetch, and like her mother and thinks the sheep need to be moving at a fast clip, as if they need to be on a weight loss program. Her attributes are that she is very biddable and willing to try her heart for you.

Rainey loves to be the center of attention, an attribute she has gotten from Tess and Scott. She has to be helping me with all the chores, regardless of it is her turn or not. Her snout is pressed into each stall as I walk by, hoping that I will open it and she can spring into action as the chosen one.

One of the chores that she does not do anymore is hold the sheep in the stall while we trim hooves, give shots or any chore of that sort. That tends to make her stickier and with her hesitation on the walk up, this just magnifies it. I have been using her to push the sheep off the feeders, as she has to walk straight into them and then drive them off. At first, she would wear around them but as time has gone by, she is walking straighter into the sheep. I have been teaching her a head grip and she finally is getting the idea, gripping quickly, and then going back in for another head grip.

She has been reluctant to go between the sheep and the feeders and we slowly have been working on that. She tends to try to flip around but I have been blocking her and making her do it. At first, she would bolt without any feeling but recently has slowed down and putting more thought into her work. She is a slow maturing female and finally I see the shades of her puppy hood slip away and a mature dog step forward.

Tonight, I used her in the lambing corral. I filled the feeders with fresh oats and the ewes rushed forward, trapping one young lamb underneath them. Her little legs flailed wildly as she tried to get up. I grabbed an ewe to pull her off but to no avail. Rainey leaned forward and I stepped back. I told her away to me and she put herself between the ewes and the feeders and began to shove them aside. She disappeared under the ewe’s heads, nipping to get them off the feeders. About at the halfway mark, I told her to walk up to me. One ewe reared up in the air and the lamb struggled to her feet. I told Rainey to wait and she stood still while the lamb regained her balance and ran off. The rest of the ewes stood still while she was in the midst, their eyes suspicious at this black and white intruder in their midst. I reflanked her and she marched the ewes off the feeders and then drove them out of the stall.

One ewe turned to charge her and Rainey stood her ground. The ewe advanced and then Rainey leaned forward and gripped her square on the nose. She walked straight into them and I practiced some driving with her. It felt easy with her tonight and at the end, she turned and ran up to me, putting her paws on my waist, with a big grin on her face.

Then, I knew the tide had shifted and we had reached a milestone.  The trust was there for her to do the hard work and succeed. She was no longer the young puppy but an adult, finally learning how to do the hard work. I leaned down and gave her a big hug  and her tiny tongue licked my face. It reminded me of once, so long ago, over ten years ago, when her mother, Tess and I had the same shifting of the tide

Tonight as we sat on the couch together, I saw in her eyes a deep contentment, of a job well done and of a new path that we will be taking.  She gave a heavy sigh and laid her head on my lap. Soon snores came from her tiny frame and her legs twitched, perhaps thinking of how she went under all those ewes to help that little lamb.  Or, perhaps of future victory on the trial field…who know what dogs dream of….but I do know they dream of love and partnership. And of course, sheep.

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