Owning a border collie to help us move our sheep never entered my mind until one day about 2 summers ago. On this particular morning, we were moving our sheep, lambs, and llama across the road for grazing in a new pasture. We were moving them back and forth twice a day bringing the young lambs and moms back to the barn for the evening. We had our routine down and began to take short cuts as we gained confidence in our ability to move them. If done safely, it took four of us to do it. Two people held temporary fencing across the road making a runway for them to walk through, one person lead with the grain pan and one person brought up the rear with an encouraging “hup hup”.
This one morning, there were only three of us and we decided to forget about the temporary fencing. Our pastoral bucolic scene turned into mass chaos in a matter of seconds when the head ewe decided to stop and nibble grass at the roadside. At that point, all momentum stopped, heads looked up, and sheep, lambs, and llama began to wander. It took what seemed like an eternity to gather them all again as they were all enjoying a stroll down the road, across the yard, and along the driveway. There was much yelling, coaxing, running, and added grain pans involved in getting them all back to where they needed to be. It was on this day that I said, “ok, maybe it would be nice to have a border collie”.
We now have Tess, a two year old border collie who is in training. When we first got Tess, I knew that it would be alot of hard work to train her. I knew that I hadn’t the clue how to train her but I also knew that there were people out there to help me. What I didn’t know is how hard it would be for ME. I am finding that I need as much if not more training than Tess needs. I can’t even begin to explain why it is such a challenging task. Tess is amazingly smart and has the classic border collie instincts. My job seems to be to help her shape these instincts and for the two of us to work in unison. This is challenging when I myself do not know what I am doing. I keep thinking how my trainers make it all look so simple but what I have found is that it is like a skillfully coregraphed dance between, dog, trainer, and sheep. I have yet to master that dance but have had glimpses of the pure reward of working as one with Tess. These moments will increase as we both become more skilled.
I have been taking Tess as often as weather permits and my schedule permits this winter for training about 1 1/2 hours away. Our trainer is incredibly patient with both of us. He explains what we are doing and repeats himself tirelessly as I seem to need to hear it over and over. Tess responds well to him. Our time usually begins with ouor trainer telling us what we will work on. Then he watches as I work with Tess stopping us to give us feedback and more instruction. Then he will work Tess showing me how it should be done or to try to correct Tess. Each lesson is an hour long but the time goes so quickly, it seems like only a few minutes long. On the way home the car smells of sheep, Tess is exhausted, and I have much to contemplate during the 1 1/2 hour ride home.