Last Sunday, Iris has a herding lesson with Diane. It was Iris' first lesson with Diane (same location as the Jan Wessen clinic). It was GREAT! I think we've finally settled on a herding instructor. :-)
Julie and Bug also had a lesson, so I got to watch them work as well. Sometimes I think you can learn just as much from watching someone's lesson as you do from having your own! It was one of things that I really liked about the "group class" feel of the last herding instructor we worked with and definitely something I don't want to miss.
Diane had me work Iris on a shorter line initally, walking her around and asking for stops and downs, having her change direction, and having her "walk up." When I dropped the line, Iris was full of piss and vinegar and quite happy to chase sheep. We sort of worked on getting Iris to bring sheep to me. Something Diane said that stood out for me was to let Iris bring me the sheep. I feel like I should be doing something, but that's not really the point of herding. The dog is supposed to be doing the work!
Because Iris wanted to rush the sheep, Diane had me loop the line around Iris' chest making a sort of no-pull harness. Also, when Iris would lunge, I'd change direction. I think she figured it out pretty quickly. Diane had us walk up to sheep and then try to keep the sheep in a corner. Trying to keep the sheep in a specific place really helped me see where I (and my dog) needed to be in relation to the sheep. It's easy to get sheep to move; it's much harder to get them somewhere specific!
Diane pointed out that Iris definitely wants to work on Iris' terms. She is quite happy to bust in like the kool-aid man and run sheep around, but as soon as I stop her from acting like a nut, she doesn't want to play any more. Then she'd rather sniff around, check out the sheep in the other pen, chase butterflies, whatever. She'll herd sheep all day long if she can herd her way. As soon as I ask her to herd my way, she doesn't really want to play anymore. This is very typical of Iris.
Diane had some good ideas about keeping Iris in the game. She had me put Iris on a very long line, so I could keep Iris moving around the pen when she'd try to quit. Even though it was a challenge to juggle the long line, rake, dog and sheep, it helped a lot. No more quitting Aussie! After that, we worked on driving the sheep around the pen. Diane had me keep Iris and the sheep moving and just tried to get her excited about the sheep. Since Iris seems to border between being really excited about sheep and then not wanting to play at all because she thinks my rules are no fun, I thought it was a good way to end the lesson.
After our lessons, Julie and I were chatting with Diane. Julie wants to try for Bug's PT in the spring. When Diane asked what my plans are for Iris, it caught me completely off-guard. I'd pretty much written off trialing Iris because she can be so reactive and gets so stressed by crowds, dogs, etc. I hadn't actually thought about doing anything with herding other than lessons. I didn't even expect Iris to work at the Jan Wessen clinic. I was very aware that the number of people and dogs could shut her down, and that was ok. However, Iris had no problem working! I was very pleasantly surprised. So I guess the other pleasant surprise is that Diane thinks Iris won't have any problems with a herding trial. Based on how Iris did at the herding clinic, I think Diane is right. She seemed to think Iris would be ready for something (HT? PT? She wasn't specific) in the spring.