A small flock waits to see if someone will open the gate and let them into the pasture.
This is a different kind of scene than I’m used to seeing!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
I love this picture of my red boy holding the herd up against the wall. We’ll be headed to his first trial in about two weeks and yes, I’m anxious to see how he does. I do think it’s going to be a bit of a rodeo at first. Yesterday he got a small taste of working outside in a large fenced area. We were done with his lesson when Lynnette decided to use Hazer to move the herd to a different pasture, which meant moving a herd of goats from one area to another too. That was pretty interesting, given Hazer hasn’t worked goats before! (We just pass by the herd on our walk to and from the arena.) He did pretty well … got a little “excited” about the fact that the goats are a bit more feisty than the sheep, but he didn’t take any of them out. I never tire of watching this boy work and I’m so glad we’ve finally found his niche!
I took this shot of the sheep just before we started herding them around the arena. They certainly know the drill, but I think if they could talk they would be saying, “Oh great! It’s that red dog again!” Their expressions are so funny!