Yesterday morning Kirk said from the kitchen, “Bronte’s in with the sheep!” I hustled down there, and sure enough, some of the Electronet fencing was laid down and she was in there hassling the sheep like crazy. She had the younger ram down on the ground and was mouthing him, and he just laid there acting helpless. Ooh, I was mad!

Catching Bronte when she’s in the middle of a playing spree is simply impossible. So I tried to settle down the melee first by getting in between the dog and the sheep, to block her access to them. This is a common thing to do with Border Collies which are not working as desired, you just keep blocking their access to the sheep until they settle down and work properly. Then you give way and let them make contact with the sheep again to reward the good behavior. But, this is easier said than done with Bronte, who can run very fast when she is feeling heady! She kept managing to scoop the sheep off the fence, split them, and chase.

And all the while, half my mind is realizing that she looks like she is trying to herd, skill-lessly, and if her dog mind could be thinking something, it might be isn’t this what you and Maggie do? Fun! Recently out of the blue, Bronte started fetching toys- I mean like real fetching, running to get the toy, bringing it back, dropping it at my feet, and waiting for me to kick it again, ten or twenty times in a row. Usually it takes a lot of work and time to teach a dog to fetch consistently, especially a guardian breed, and that’s if you can teach them at all! I believe she picked up this trick from observing Maggie. So, though I’m hot with anger watching her run the sheep amok, a part of me is accepting that it’s no surprise what she’s doing here. But I’m still mad!  😀

The most frustrating thing I’ve found about owning an “outdoor dog” is that Bronte doesn’t really understand a verbal correction like a house dog does. If I holler at any of my indoor dogs in an angry voice, hey, knock that off! they do, because they know from experience that serious consequences are on the way otherwise. But Bronte has no such database of experience. I’m not even sure she really knows her name. So, yelling at her has almost zero affect, she just keeps on doing whatever she’s doing. And this naturally ramps up my irritation factor by a thousand!

So I switched to doing a lot of growling and angry, low-pitched verbal chastisement, to at least communicate on a dog’s level that I was not happy with her behavior. It did have some affect on her, I could see from her body language that she was feeling a little stressed. But of course, this did not help  me catch her so I could remove her from the sheep pen! Things did settle down though; taking the wind out of the sails of a silly dog subsequently calms the sheep, and everything tones down a notch inside the feedback control system.

After fifteen minutes or so, I switched to ignoring Bronte and walking around. This usually piques her interest, she’ll start following behind me, and eventually I can lure her into being petted, then caught. It took some patience, and of course I had to manage my frustration! One part of me was itching to grab her and wring her neck, but of course that’s a terrible impulse to follow when a keep-away dog does finally let you catch her! An emotional training mistake you will surely regret for weeks or months to come!

I did eventually get a hold of her collar, managed to calmly say good girl and gently but firmly escort her out of the hotwire enclosure, resisting all my neck-wringing impulses! I re-erected the downed fence section, then left the field without another word to Bronte. This is about the only way to punish her, is to not acknowledge her, and it only has mild affect because she’s so independent. At the evening hay feeding however, she was still feeling a little contrite and did not come for petting even when invited. So hopefully some small lesson sunk in, that I didn’t like that little a.m. wrestle-mania stunt!

The sheep seemed none the worse for wear once it was over, thank goodness. I do hold out hope that eventually Bronte will be able to integrate in with the sheep. But it’s going to be another year, at least, before she’s calmer and more mature. And I need more windows of time for training her when I don’t  have heavily pregnant ewes or fragile lambs on the ground.