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Posts tagged “herding


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Herding: It’s hard work!





Hunting: It’s hard work!


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This is the face of a very happy dog! Nothing can make this boy smile like doing the job he was bred to do.

Two Heads





… are better than one!

Gathered Together



A small flock waits to see if someone will open the gate and let them into the pasture.

Circle Game




Now that song will be stuck in my head all day. But on another note, we went herding yesterday. We’ve been working the Pigmy goats a few weeks now and Hazer is really making some nice progress. It’s amazing how a herding dog changes their approach to reflect the type of livestock they’re working. We specifically chose to work the little goats because they have enough quickness and speed to keep Hazer on his toes, but also enough resistance to help him gain more confidence when they get bunched up in the corners of an arena or hop up on an obstacle. Sure, it would be fine to work livestock that moves gladly along, never offering a hint of resistance or flight, but that wouldn’t teach my dog how to handle everyday situations around the farm. Here, we don’t need a dog to drive livestock to the market, what we need is a dog who can gather and push them from place to place. And often on a small farm that means having to learn to navigate things you’ll never find on a trial course.

The chances of me ever having to use my dog to drive livestock across a vast field and through a couple of strategically  placed panels are slim to none. Here, it’s far more likely that my goats, sheep or geese would run amok along the top of rock walls, duck under farm machinery and fence or end up in a neighbor’s garden. Then what do you do? In the photo above, one of the four Pigmy goats had suddenly split from the group and circled around behind. To avoid Hazer she would dive into the large branch that’s been dangling since our October snow storm.  Frustrating obstacle? Yes, but a very realistic training scenario. It’s very woodsy here and that offers goats a perfect place to forage and hide. Time and time again Hazer had to stop, look back, then circle the branch and dive in after this little stinker. Eventually, he learned that it was easier to keep that goat with the others than to have to keep going back to get it! Good boy!! (There’s always a troublemaker in every group ….)

Hazer has been showing great improvement in listening and self-restraint. He’s looking more to me for direction and taking matters into his own hands less often. While not always the fastest dog, he’s capable of rating his pace so he can work for long periods without tiring. He never ever quits on the job at hand and when we make him take a little break he can’t wait to go back to work again. The more I herd with this dog the better he gets!

Goat Picnic



Nothing says “cute” like a mini goat on a picnic table! Can’t tell he’s standing on a table? Here, let me back up a little:


His Highness




Even though I’m not a huge fan, it’s pretty hard not to like these little goats. There’s something about the floppy ears that give them a soft and woeful expression. But actually, they’re pretty tough and they don’t hesitate to hold their ground when my dog tries to move them off their lofty stone fortress. This little cutie was catching the last warm rays before sunset and I didn’t have the heart to disturb him.





I forgot my camera when Hazer and I went herding this week. Given my camera is practically cloned to my hand, that’s a pretty big oversight. And it particularly irked me because I spent the better part of ten (precious) minutes packing it up and making sure I had everything I might need to get some good herding shots. It was a beautiful fall morning and the conditions were ripe for taking the kind of pictures I like to try to get. But in the chaos of feeding multiple critters (including myself) and getting out the door, I ran a bit late, and somehow managed to walk out the door without my gear. I realized my mistake about ten minutes up the road, but I was running on fumes and knew I barely had enough gas (and time) to get to the farm and back on what little I had left in the tank. I couldn’t go home and get my stuff, so there are no new herding photos. And it figures that there were five new curly goats at the farm that morning. Every few minutes I found myself muttering, “Oh THERE’S a Kodak moment!”

This photo is from last week’s herding session; a rare moment when Hazer had been told, “There” and was (against his better judgment) complying.





When your back is up against a wall it’s good to have the help of a friend.

P.S. No goats (or dogs) were harmed to obtain this photo!





I’m not a big fan of goats, but I have to admit I’m a tad enamored with this one.  I guess the saying is true: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

Water Sports (And Other Herding Games)


This little guy was getting his first exposure to sheep on a very hot day. Being an Australian Cattle Dog, he quickly discovered the easiest way to cool off is to hop in the water tub. What you can’t see is the Border Collie, who’s driving the sheep toward him. (Though I’m pretty sure this confident little fella just thought he was a blue sheep magnet.) For a moment there he wasn’t sure which was more important; the water tub or the sheep! He waited until the sheep settled down a bit, then hopped out of the tub and went back to investigating the sheep. Atta boy!

It’s so exciting to watch a herding dog get their first taste of livestock. (And for some dogs, that “taste” is literal!) Even more exciting is helping your dog hone their herding skills. It’s not for the faint of heart and it can be a long and challenging journey, but it’s so rewarding. And addicting! I hope I get to see even more of this young pup in the future!


No matter how long I live I’ll never understand the mentality that leads to homeless, abandoned pets. Every time I encounter a dog like this my heart breaks a little more. Oh sure, this girl is very adoptable and will no doubt (due to the hard work, sacrifice and dedication of a tireless rescue person and group) soon find herself a wonderful home where she can grow up to be the love of someone’s life. But the issue that got her into this mess is what totally and thoroughly pisses me off.

Apathy can’t be solved by manning and funding rescue organizations. Unfortunately, it needs to be stopped at the root of the problem. But every time I try to figure out how this issue got so out of control, my head wants to explode. Meanwhile, people keep trying to save hundreds of thousands of animals that can’t fend for themselves, which is like trying to patch a leaking dike with duct tape. Yes, SOMETHING has to be done, but is rescue solving the problem?  I’m not so sure, given there are more grassroots rescue operations up and running now than ever before, and at some point or another each and every one of them has been overwhelmed with intake overload.

Is it possible the apathetic have been taught think that rescue is plan “B” whenever a pet doesn’t work out for any reason? (And the list of reasons is long and many would make you VERY angry.) In mean, if you KNEW someone would come along and take (rescue) your pet every time something didn’t work out as planned, would it be tempting to use that as your “fall back” plan? In that sense, has rescue helped perpetuate the very problem it strives to fix?

I understand that sometimes a pet turns out to be a bad fit and sometimes life throws a curve ball that we can’t dodge. Without question, in certain situations rescue is absolutely necessity to save the lives of an innocent animal who did nothing to deserve such a fate except be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But discarding pets has become a way of life for some people in certain areas of the country and these people seem perfectly content just to dump their animals at their local high kill “shelter” (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) and let someone else deal with the fallout. I honestly hope there’s a speciial place in Hell for those folks  … and that’s being kind.

I don’t know what the answer is, I only know that the system is broken. There are far too many nice pets who need decent homes and way too many people who think nothing of just letting “the system” handle their mistakes. I don’t know why this sweet, innocent little Kelpie mix was abandoned (or lost) and why nobody even bothered to try to claim her. I lost my dog once and I was frantic for three days. Frantic. Yet nobody thought enough of this cute little girl to try to find her? Shame on them. Really. For shame.

This is a very trusting, kind, energetic, young pup who would think she died and went to heaven if she had her own person to snuggle and kiss. Was it tempting to bring her home? Oh man, you BET  … and I still can’t get her off my mind. But I have two intense, adult herding dogs and I can’t just bring home another young adult without some very serious thought.

Look at that face, that happy, eager-to-please smile, then ask yourself if you could just hand someone the leash and leave this little girl to be gassed?

Got Goat?


Waiting for Game Night to start at Nutmeg Farm.


Stella & sheep meet.



Nov 21, 2010. 11:18 AM. EST.

Canon EOS 7D

ISO:1000 50mm, 1/2000 sec, f/1.4

Lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

Lightroom3: Crop, minor brightness/contrast/noise adjustments.

Duck, Duck …


When herding geese, don’t always put your money on the dog!


Nov. 21, 2010, 2:14 PM. EST

Canon ESO 7D

ISO: 1600, 50mm, 1/1250 sec, f/5.0.

Lens: Canon 50mm 1.4



Sorry, but I’ve been permanently damaged in that I’ll never be able to say the name “Stella” without slipping into my best Sylvester Stallone/Rocky voice. (Yes, I know in the movie it was “Adrian,” but Stella works just as well, if not better! Try it!) Not that it matters, because it fit this situation perfectly.  Stella is the adorably cute Australian Shepherd above, who for the first time ever, was meeting the source that drives her genetic code. I caught her in a moment when her play drive still overrode her prey drive …. just ever so slightly. Seconds later her prey drive kicked in and the fun and games were over. Well, depending upon who’s side you were on, the sheep or the dog.  Actually, the series of photos I shot of Stella show how great a herding instinct test can be when the right dog meets the right sheep.

In Stella’s case, she had all the goods, they simply hadn’t been put to test on the real thing. Yet. And this particular group of sheep included this aged male, who was an old hand at testing inexperienced dogs. The ensuing engagement included several playful, but gentle close encounters that were quickly followed by the dog responding with the appropriate postures, including play bows, sniffing, eye contact, dodge and parry and finally, a short chase. Stella had such an expressive face and personality that many of the pictures of her encounters with this ram were quite precious. I hope to get an opportunity to shoot this little dynamo at future events. I’m pretty sure Stella would like to come back for more!


Canon EOS 7D, ISO 1200, 50mm, f 1.4, 1/2000, 11:18 AM. EST.

Got Instinct?

I spent a good chunk of yesterday shooting a herding instinct test for an Icelandic Herding Dog club. In my preoccupation I didn’t get the name of this newly founded New England group. My bad. This is a relatively rare breed in the United States and this was a grassroots club. Five owners showed up for the test, most having to drive an average of two hours for a test that lasts ten minutes. That said, the instructor in charge of the program provided lots of individual instruction and extra herding time after the test (on geese) and I’m sure there were five dogs who slept like  … well … a dog … on the way home!

This red male was a bit unsure of the whole production, but he ended up being the most animated and photogenic of the group. (Ironically, all the females were much more confident and raring to go than the boys. Go figure.) And his owner was nothing but smiles. As someone who has been through this test with her own dog herself, I can tell you that it can be a mixed bag of emotions. Most owners have been living with a dog who has shown anything from a little herding instinct to oodles of push and shove. If they knew anything about their breed beforehand, they probably chose it based on the herding traits they like and/or the desire to try herding somewhere down the line. You can usually tell who those people are because most of the stuff their dog does naturally doesn’t surprise them (like “herd” the kids) and they tend to come to an instinct test with certain hopes and expectations for their dog. Other owners probably knew little to nothing about herding and learned about it by default, meaning after they got their dog they were presented with a list of challenges that led to a whole new education. You can tell who those owners are because they’ll tell you all sorts of stories about how bright, driven and quirky their dogs are, and then they’ll usually tell you they’re just there to see what Rover can do.

Sadly, I didn’t get to chat with the owner of this beautiful red boy, but her delight and love for her dog showed in every picture I got of them together. Most owners are very serious the first time they step into the round pen with an inexperienced dog, and rightfully so. If they’re rookies, they’re often more worried that their dog won’t be interested in the task, than what might happen if they are. This woman didn’t strike me as having any experience. The first clue may have been the attire, but the real giveaway was that she took her camera in the round pen with her. (And used it!)  Still, she was so thrilled with ANYTHING her dog did that I couldn’t help being impressed. I don’t know what her expectations or hopes were, but it didn’t matter what her dog did as long as he was having fun. Her joy was contagious and in one photo she was actually clapping (with delight) for her dog. It sounds corny, but the expression on her face and her dog’s response to her made me go “Awwwww.” OK, I gotta show you …..



Is that adorable or what? After much encouragement the dog had just finally decided it was OK to move the sheep and had done so. This was her response. God, I love that picture! (And just for the record, her dog was not a spoiled brat who could do no wrong. Just sayin’.)


Here is another shot of joy:


A handful of pictures like this made a long, tiring day worth it. From a photographic perspective these are not great shots, but there’s a lesson in all this for me. Going back over my photos I’ve learned three things:

1. Use a faster shutter speed. Duh.

2. Lighten up and have more fun when my dog is herding.

3. Rookies can be great teachers!


The Helper

I couldn’t ask for a better helper. Hazer has been my barn companion since he was 3 months old. He wasn’t born with a calm, patient demeanor, but we worked on it … a little here, a little there …  until he finally  grew into the well behaved boy you see here. That said, impulse control isn’t easy for him and never will be. His prey drive is quite strong. Instead of laying quietly and watching me maneuver the horses in and out of their stalls he’d much rather be out bossing them around. But in this case he’s not allowed to “help.” Equine ankles are delicate, but a carefully placed kick can do a lot of harm.  So he waits where I’ve downed him. Watching. Worrying. Hoping I’ll give the signal so he can come out and take over. He takes his job so seriously. He’s a heck of a lot of dog at times, but he’s a working machine. You have to understand that he views the world around him through that filter. Persistent? Yes! Determined? You bet! But you couldn’t ask for a better hand around the farm.


We’re going herding today and he’ll get his fill of moving livestock around. That will  help take the edge off  …  today!



Goose Parade


Oh-oh! Now what?

Everybody, take a hard right!

And off they go!

Let’s rock!

I shot these cuties one day when Hazer and I arrived for our weekly herding lesson. They had just finished their own herding lesson and were waiting for their “Mom” (A.K.A. their Personal Assistant) to batten down the hatches and hit the road. Even though they oozed energy and looked impatient, they all waited quietly! Good doggies!

That’ll do!

This is how success looks after a long day.

Yes, my boy qualified …. in spades. He performed exactly as I knew he could, and that’s saying a lot considering my ineptness at handling. At one point the sheep bolted and Hazer shot after them like a rocket, but one “Down” and he hit the dust like there was incoming, then waited and we quietly regrouped them together. What a good boy he was! I had some trouble getting and staying in front of the sheep …. they were playing the Bumper Car, Leg Magnet game and kept shoving their way out in front of me. But I pushed my way through and Hazer gave them plenty of space. Hazer also gave me several perfect “downs” each time I asked, and was especially collected when I got a bit panicky. But really, he did just fine and worked like an old pro. I had several people complement our run and many were surprised that this was the same dog who struggled so to stay focused yesterday. But I’ve seen this boy work and I know he has what it takes to get the job done.

Congrats to all the other Nutmeg Farm students who so worked hard to get their dogs ready for their events. This rookie wants to thank Jean DeNapoli for her help with the finer details,  judge Lynne Leach for her kind encouragement on the course, and Chery H for keeping my mind off my jitters. My sincerest thanks go to my instructor Lynnette, for having the utmost confidence in my dog’s ability and talent when no one else would give him the time of day. Let’s say this together, Lynnette: “I told you so!”

Before Hazer and I went into the field I bent down and whispered in his ear, “Let’s go do this thing for Tim!” So Tim, our maiden run was dedicated to you! Now make like a champ and get better, please!

That’ll do.

Trial … and error

Well, Hazer and I went to our first herding trial. No, that is not us above, just someone I know having a nice run with her ACD. My first impression of a trial is that it’s painfully slow and disorganized. Hurry up and wait. And wait. And then wait some more. Ug. My second impression is that the people are pretty into their cliques and/or gurus. Not one person even said hello to me (first) or introduced themselves. Nice.

My dog qualified. Sadly, he did horribly. For a dog as talented as him, I was hugely disappointed by his effort …. or perhaps I should say, lack thereof.  Hazer spent almost the entire time trotting back to the gate and looking for me. I was afraid that might happen and it did, in spades. So it’s only by sheer persistence that Lynnette (vocally) dragged Hazer through the course. But she had to stop every two seconds and call him back because he was WAY more worried about my whereabouts than the sheep.

This was 100% my fault. Well, to be fair, Lynnette’s fault too. We both should have realized that when Hazer started to refuse to work with her two weeks back, he meant it. When Hazer decides he’s done with something he’s not kidding. And he’s done working for Lynnette for good! So instead of trying to convince Hazer otherwise, we should have been getting me in the ring and up to speed. Because this boy CAN work sheep, he just won’t work sheep for someone else!

Damnit all to hell. This is the second time I’ve had one of my  ACDs pull this mindset on me. Yes, it’s great that my dogs so love and trust me that they won’t work for anyone else, but it puts a huge strain on me physically. And I’m not sure if I’m up for it this time around. Agility doesn’t have the risk factor of working with live animals that herding has, and besides, I had no intention of taking agility to a competitive level. (Even though my dog most certainly could have competed) But this is different. I feel like I owe it to Hazer to give him the chance to shine in this endeavor. If he were mediocre I might not feel that way, but he’s not. I know he can do this, and do it well.

So here’s where we stand. I’ll be heading back to the trial and I’ll be handling him. I’ve had ZERO practice. None. Zip. Anyone who knows me very well knows I have “stupid” issues and I hate to do anything that I’m not prepared to do. Yes, there’s nothing quite like making an ass of yourself in front of an audience to boost your confidence, but I don’t have a choice with this. Either I do the handling or he doesn’t go because I know if anyone else tries to take my place he’ll just stand there looking for me. So it’s baptism by fire.

I have a friend coming for moral support. She’ll also loan me a stock stick. Yeah, I don’t even have the basic tools to do this! Hazer’s instructor is in Boston with her husband who is on a respirator in ICU, fighting a secondary infection from his cancer treatment. Tim is so sick right now. That weighs heavily on my mind as I’m going through the weekend. My thoughts are on Tim and Lynnette more so than on herding. The herding … it’s all just fun stuff. Meanwhile, Tim is fighting for his life. I can’t even describe my feelings about this situation right now.

OK, off a-herding we go! Wish me luck!

Beardy Brigade

I had an opportunity to photograph a gorgeous pair of Bearded Collies working sheep. This dynamic duo arrived on a cool sunny day and were just bursting with energy and enthusiasm. One can easily be fooled by the pretty hair and cheerful disposition, but once put to the task at hand this team is as serious and formidable as any herding breed. The female (shown above) is slightly younger and less experienced than the male (shown below), and so their lessons each focused on different things. I shot almost the same number of photos of each dog, but while most of the pictures of the female showed her moving sheep, the male spent more of his time practicing his “down.” Since a swift and immediate “down” is something I’m currently practicing with my dog, I was greatly impressed by this boy’s compliance. It’s one thing to have a quick down in your back yard, but it’s an entirely different thing when you have a group of tempting sheep several feet (or in some cases, inches) away from the dog’s nose!

I was very taken by the lightness and athleticism of this breed. They are super quick and agile. And while they don’t seem to have the tendency to grip like my breed, they certainly don’t have any problem convincing the sheep to go where they want them to go.

I hope these pictures show how pretty these dogs are to watch. Their long flowing coats and springy step give them the appearance of floating across the arena. I didn’t think the pictures of the female would come as as well as they did. I was afraid her fawn coat might blend in with the sand and concrete walls of the building. I was pleased to discover that most of the pictures of her were fine. My only regret is that I didn’t have my large zoom lens with me. I would have liked to have gotten a bit more detail up close. Unfortunately, I was at the farm as part of a work crew clipping geese and when this photo op presented unexpectedly, I wasn’t prepared to take zoom photos in the arena. Oh well, I’m sure there will be another time! Both dogs worked hard and provided ample opportunity to get several nice pictures despite not having a zoom. I enjoy watching different herding breeds work. Sometimes I come away from the experience appreciating my own dog more, other times it reminds me that with practice and a patience my dog will be a success!

Duck, Duck Goose!

See those cute little black and white ducks in the front of the flock? I feel like I have a connection to them. I shot a couple of pictures of those ducks when they were only ten days old. They were very adorable little peepers! Now they are all grown up and Thursday Hazer and I spent the better part of an hour slowly cruising around an indoor arena behind them. Hazer was very quiet and steady and the ducks were very cooperative!

The Indian Runners in the back of the flock would often break away and form their own little group. Interestingly enough, this flock was made up of three different groups of ducks. Each group was fledged separately, two within days of each other. As we cruised around the arena I began to notice that every time the main group split apart, certain ducks seemed to purposelygravitate toward a specific group. Time and again this happened, so I asked about that. I was told that for some reason ducks always try to stick with their birth group.

The black and white ducks remind me of penguins. They’re not quite as upright as Indian Runners or penguins, but almost. I do love their different color, striped feet and interesting markings. The farm is home to several Border Collies. I guess the ducks are an appropriate addition to the farm, given the black and white “theme.”


Top Photo:

Canon EOS 7D
Date: 8/25/10
Time: 10:37 AM
Shutter: 1/400
Aperture: f/3.5
Exposure: Av
ISO: 400
Focal length: 85mm

Bottom Photo:

Canon EOS 7D
Date: 7/2/10
Time: 4:04 PM
Shutter: 1/125
Aperture: f/4.5
Exposure: Manual
ISO: 1600
Focal length: 85mm