How sheepherding can help the urban dog…

How sheepherding can help the urban dog...

Dorice Stancher (c)2014

They may seem cuddly and counting them may be great for sleeping, but make no mistake herding sheep is challenging and some of them are downright ornery!

I live in a condo without a fenced backyard so I look for out-of-the-box, left of center ways to train my dogs to be obedient good little canine citizens.  I recently took a lesson with Carolyn Wilki, owner of the Raspberry Ridge Sheep Farm in Bangor, PA, who has been herding since 1987 and studied at both Cornell and Bryn Mawr. If you are a fan of NY Times writer John Katz, you may recall that his highly successful “Dogs of Bedlam Farm” series mentions his experiences training with Carolyn and how he found not only a way to reach his dogs on another level but to also find a sense of inner peace http://www.bedlamfarm.com/?s=carolyn+wilki

And so here are a few of the things both my dogs and I learned.  It is not a crime to slow down and appreciate the world around you.  The bleating of the lambs is almost hypnotic. and for a North Jersey caffeinated girl this was a welcome respite after a tough week. As our emotions influence our dogs, it was better for them too.  “Control is an illusion,” remarked Carolyn as I attempted to call my alpha female Wheaten Terrier off of the three prancing sheep she was chasing.  Obviously I was not as fun as they were.  It was suggested I move my feet and catch her as she turned and remarkably when I asked her to “Lay Down” she hit the dirt, and then when I called her she came trotting back to me.  As a professional dog trainer I always advise my students when training in public to make themselves more interesting than the object of attraction.  While teaching a “Leave It” command is a nice idea, when something so fantastically tempting catches a dog’s eye, a backup plan and execution is even better.

There were so many temptations in the pen: sheep poop, sheep hair, sheep, smells of other animals in the distance like ducks and goats.  And little by little they were of secondary importance as Krista and I learned the dance of two, and becoming united in our purpose to drive those three ornery sheep in our chosen direction following Carolyn’s instructions. She is one of only two sheepherding instructors in the entire country that uses positive reinforcement I learned, and in attendance in my little class were people from California, Brooklyn and Long Island.

I don’t think our condo association allows sheep although my dogs do have a resemblance so I think our next attempt at herding will be with the Canadian Geese that frequent our local park, remembering the goal is to night frighten them into flight, but to keep them together, to have them march toward a pre-determined direction, respecting their personal space.  In my head is the perfect vision of our teacher and her Border Collie  driving the sheep effortlessly and zen-like across the field and into their pens with a “That’l Do” as the final note-a peaceful ending to a great day.

 

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