MaggieWhen I went to my first border collie herding trial many years ago, I was appalled at how much yelling all of the handlers did. I swore to myself that if and when I ever trained stock dogs, I’d do it without all that yelling! Well, famous last words. I yell at my dogs a lot when they are working sheep. Sometimes I really get after them, even grabbing them by the scruff and getting in their faces. Afterwards, I always wonder, did a bicyclist or driver on the road just see that, and think I’m a terrible person? Smile

But the truth is, stock dogs can be very pushy. My idea of nice, calm stock work is their idea of bo-ring. They know what I consider appropriate, and they sometimes push the line when they are far away from me and think they can get away with it. And this can be dangerous for me, the dog, or the sheep- or all three! A friend of mine had her leg broken when her dog ran stock over her through a gate opening. Dog-run sheep can crash into fences and break their necks. And dogs can get hurt too, being kicked, butted or crushed by livestock if they are not using their heads. So I do take naughtiness seriously, and correct to the level needed to get the dog’s attention. Which sometimes needs to be quite a wake-up call for a keen border collie. AnnoyedOften I have to act like I’m literally ready to kill them, or they will just brush me off and keep doing what they’re doing.

Maggie’s favorite thing to do is to put a little too much pressure on a certain spot in a group of sheep, such that one sheep will split off and bolt. Then she gets to go get the splitter in a mad race; so fun! If I see her purposely push in and know it’s her fault that the sheep split, I really chew her out. Other times I’m not sure if it was her, or if a sheep is just being difficult (but usually its her). The older sheep know better than try it, but the current season’s lambs usually give it a go at least once.

I do allow Maggie to grip if a sheep is not respecting her and turning. Most of the time, the worst that happens is the sheep get a small puncture wound on the jaw, it heals up fine, and they don’t do that again. But today, not so. I was busy in the middle of a carpentry project, but decided to take a short break and move some butcher lambs up to the barn. This should only take 15 minutes, I told myself, and I could get back to my project.

I sorted them out of the big group and Maggie drove them nicely up to the barn at a gentle trot. There is always a pause at the door, they don’t want to go in right away, and it takes some finesse to convince them. At this point, one broke away, Maggie pursued, and it dove down under a foot bridge into a ditch and refused to budge. Maggie stayed with it, but politely waited for instructions from me. So far, so good. I tried to nudge the rest of the sheep into the barn, but couldn’t do it without her, so I called her back up.

She came in a little too fast, and another one split off from the group. She pursued it around the corner of the barn- a bad thing, because then I can’t see what she’s doing. When it returned with her in hot pursuit, I saw something hanging from it’s face. A maple leaf? No, that would be his lower lip- torn in a big flap! Grr, Maggie, bad dog! That was way more than a grip! These are times when I start really swearing, I get so mad at that dog! Her little bit of rip-roaring fun caused that lamb a painful injury.

Lamb's torn lipThe lamb was upset and didn’t want to rejoin the group, and bolted off in another direction. I called Maggie off of him and got her to finish putting the group in the barn. By this time, the two split sheep had joined each other and ran back down to the field to stand near the big flock.

I walked back down there with Maggie, just about the time a car pulled to the side of the road. The driver rolled down the window and a little toddler hung out and squealed with delight over the animals (just like those drive-by dogs do!). Which made the LGDs bark like crazy and spin around. Which made my two renegade lambs, one dripping with mud, the other dripping with blood, even more jumpy.

This person better not ask me a dumb question about sheep right now, or I’m really going to snap, I thought, as I watched blood flow from the lamb’s face and he stamped at the chaos. And I reminded myself, now would not be a good time to lay into Maggie like I’d like to, in front of a passer-by who has no idea what’s going on. I cracked my stick on the ground at her and gave her a low, stern warning to keep cool. Then we gently started driving the two back up to the barn, sliding between the pinch point of the squealing toddler and the barking, bouncing LGDs. About halfway to the barn, the lambs got on a bridge, wanting to get close to the main flock again. I stopped to think; it’s hard to get them off bridges without them falling into the water; and I didn’t want any more rodeos with the injured lamb. Kirk happened to be there with the tractor. So I carefully grabbed the bleeding sheep, sat him own in the bucket with me, and Kirk drove us up to the barn. I let the other lamb go for the moment, and Maggie called off of him, good dog.

Lamb suturedUp in the barn, I hobbled the lamb with a cool doodad I have that holds three of their legs together, so he couldn’t move. I situated him so he could see the rest of the sheep, so he’d calm down. I put Maggie away, and gathered some tools and a suture pack to sew him up. I irrigated the wound, stitched it, and topped if off with some Goldenseal extract- my favorite wound dressing. (In fact, I’d already used it earlier on myself this morning when I accidentally drilled a hole in my finger!). I gave the lamb a treat of grain to make amends, and he gobbled it eagerly, so didn’t seem too worse for wear.

A bit later I fed all the sheep some hay, and he got right in there and noshed. The chewing made the wound bleed anew a little bit; so he got blood on everything again, before it made a nice, big clot. He seems OK, he was poking around and curiously sniffing at things, and pondering me with new found interest, so not acting too miserable. It’s amazing how tough sheep are.

After that was settled, I took Maggie back down to retrieve the remaining renegade lamb. It’s nearly impossible to drive one sheep somewhere by itself, they only move well in a group (and not so well even in a group today, I guess!). So I just cornered him, flipped him up in the ATV, and similarly hobbled him so I could give him a ride to the barn. Since he had jumped in the ditch, he was covered in mud, so then I was covered in mud, and had to completely change clothes.

And that pretty much used up the afternoon, so I never got back to my carpentry project.

Advertisements