Deuce and I are at our weekly sheepherding lesson, something we have done for the past five years. Yes, it has been five years and we are still learning, getting frustrated and reassessing (okay, I am re-assessing) how to make improvements.
Sheepherding is a lot like signing in that having talent really makes things easier but neither signing well or sheepherding are easy endeavors.
People are familiar with herding dogs- especially with Border collies; but what people don’t know is how very difficult is to achieve success in herding be it at a trial for a ribbon or as a way of life. Sure, the talent of the dog is really important and it will definitively make a difference in achieving really high marks but there is much more.
For example, get this: The dog who is the one with the “natural” instinct to herd must at times forgoes his natural abilities and listen to what the handler is asking him to do. Wow! Right?
The dog also must be brave and confident – yet not pushy in order to move the herd (some species are more “flighty” than others so again another variant) yet, not so pushy that the herd will split in different directions – and now we have a problem. Instead, we must aim to keep the herd together and moving in the desired direction, be it a pen, a pasture etc.
For the past three weeks Deuce and I are working diligently in quite “approaches” as we are “driving” the sheep in a straight line. During the same session, we change the chore to gathering the sheep; that is the dog brings the entire herd to the handler. Our efforts are paying off. This boy and I appear to be in sync. I cannot contain my appreciation and pride as a big smile flashes across my face. Good lad, Deuce, good lad!
Today, is a different story. We begin well. Quite approaches that allows the herd to settle and it allows me to set up other opportunities to practice.
As I sent Deuce to gather the sheep, Deuce is either unable or unwilling to really open up (think of flaring out while running) thus keeping all the sheep together instead of going directly at them and splitting them.
We lose the sheep as we are working in an open field. I report to Mary, the person I have been working with all these years, that Deuce “is not covering” meaning he is not “flaring out” to include all the sheep but is “slicing” and splitting them apart. We try this same routine a few more times once I have thought of a better plan to help Deuce.
We end our session working on a large pen where we cannot lose the sheep as Mary and I try to assess if potentially Deuce is having some physical difficulty.
Sometimes a dog might be able to work with no problem clockwise say, but not counterclockwise. I can promise you it is NEVER because the dog is stubborn.
However, there are many other reasons why this might happen. Sometimes the dog is sore, in pain or has some other physical disability such as blindness in one eye. Of course, he would favor the healthy side!
It is only 10:00 am and already very hot. Deuce does not do well with heat so I wrap up our efforts- time to pack it in and get in the car. Deuce refuses. Instead, he wants to lay in the shade provided by a parked car. I usher him as best as I can and now he is in the comfort of car that has been in the shade. He jumps in effortlessly (yeah!) and now he is taking big gulps of fresh water- still panting.
I get a bit somber. Is there something “wrong” with Deuce? How can I help him?
Back at the wheel I start thinking of the importance of stepping back from situations like this and observe. What can I learn by observing how Deuce moves? What he gravitates towards? Has he stopped doing some activity that he used to enjoy? This is just simple questioning in the physical/athletic realm but wait! There is more… There is always something we can glean by observing and assessing. By asking the right question, different questions. By coming back again and again when we are not getting the results that we think are important.
So, let me ask you – such as I asked myself as I was driving back home from our lesson:
When was the last time that you took the time to finish a magazine article and completely enjoyed the process of reading while also grasping the content of the material? When was the last time that you laid down on your back and slowed racing thoughts?
Exactly! This is the “more” peace that I am talking about. I don’t know about you, but for me one of my life/daily goal is to PAY MORE ATTENTION.
I want to show up to my life. I want to show up over and over again to the relationships I treasure in my life. And my dogs are among these precious relationships.
So, it begs the question: Can I slow down to observe more? To know more about how my dogs are doing? To enjoy them? To share with them? Can I slow enough to make good decisions for them? What a gift this is! What a choice too, no?
Being the keeper of my dogs presents an opportunity for caring. For slowing all the things that appear so important and urgent. This opportunity is not only good for my dogs, it is also a pathway for being aware of my surroundings. A pathway for being present in my life.