Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles

Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles! Our farm mission is to enjoy and promote the wonderful diversity of the Shetland breed by fully utilizing to the best of our ability all they have to offer historically. We believe the best preservation and management of this breed includes it's full spectrum of history. We encourage old and new shepherds alike to join in the fun by engaging in fiber arts, especially spinning and knitting, as this breed is so intimately linked with those aspects of the arts.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Take Joy! Swifty working sheep

My Swifty Boy!

Swifty is a working Border Collie who is about 1 1/2 years old. He's being trained to work a small flock of Shetland sheep. First, we learned house manners, how to travel, how to get along on a farm, and how to play doggie games.
Good Boy Swifty!

Slowly, very slowly, we've introduced him to our ewe flock. The first thing he did was shoot right past the girls and get on the other side of them from me! Ok! We were off to a great start! Then he learned to respond to whistles outside the sheep pen, then in. He was required to have a good "that'll do!" before I'd let him loose with the ewes. After succeeding with that, I let him help me run the sheep in from pasture at sunset. I'd have to let the sheep go ahead quite a ways because he'd outrun them easily and get ahead of them. Oops! My fault! So we worked on pushing sheep through the gate and holding there, so sheep don't run back out the gate before someone could close it. Ok, so far we're doin' ok.

Next came the waits. Puppies don't have very good waits...especially energetic, bright puppies like Swifty! His first waits were nearly intolerable to him! He'd throw himself on the ground and roll around!!!!!!!!! He just could not picture himself sitting still for even a second! So through lots of giggles.........and lots of practice and patience, he came to learn he COULD actually sit and wait for first one second, then two, then three.....

As he grew through these stages, we'd go for nice walks around the farm, learning that everything was safe, no, you can't chase chickens, and boy! That tall grass is great puppy fun! We practiced basic commands and sticking close. The leash, once a reassuring hold on a shy little pup, had long since been left in the house. He was strongly functioning on pure whistle and in constant contact.

Then one day, I pretended to throw his flippy (doggie frisbee) and he went tearing off after it, but I still had it in my hand. He ran out, then looked back to see what I was doing, only to see it still in my hand. As he turned and came back, I gave him the walk up command (which he had already learned and practiced), then, when he was half way back, I put my hand up and firmly said WAIT! BAM!!!!!!! Down he went!!!!!!!! What a break through!! I'll never forget that day! He got it, and he has it ALWAYS when outside the sheep pen. So off to the sheep pen we went.

The excitement of the sheep can really screw up a young pup's concentration, so I knew I'd have to give him lots of leniency. He has to concentrate on where all the sheep are, and if any are coming at him, plus where objects and fencing are, what we're doing, and what I'm commanding him to do. Are we going out? Coming in? Goofin' around? So first, I just let him run sheep out. Being a sweep breed (one who goes out to fetch sheep and drive them towards the shepherd), I wasn't sure he'd accomplish the run out. We're still working on that...

Then, we went out to just play around with the sheep...up pasture, down pasture. Mostly, he just ran circles around them at first. We practiced the wait command just to be sure that critical point was still working! And that'll do. Yep. Ok. Doin' good!

Now, we're working on directional commands. Sometimes he has so much fun with those, he forgets to drive the sheep! Hope we can get past that one! So that's were we are in our training right now. Driving with directional commands. Here, you can see he is bringing the sheep to me, and they are at my feet, wondering what they should do next. Swifty stays a nice distance back.

Then, I asked him to wait. He was pretty excited by this time, and I didn't get a nice lay down, but I got the needed wait! (and the sheep held at my feet) While he's not all there yet, and probably won't be for another year, I think he is doing really great for his age!
Every dog learns at a different rate, and through different shepherd styles. What works for Swifty may or may not work for another dog. There are no dead-set rules. The game is as flexible as the number of dogs who play it. We still don't know if he'll be a good stock dog, for he has lots of training to go, but we are sure happy with how he's progressed so far! We hope you enjoyed following Swifty's work here on our farm!

P.S....if you're wondering what he's doing while I'm bloggin', he's completely upside down (paws midair) and sound asleep in his kennel, right next to me. He's too young to snore :)

That's the Swifty Report!

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