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Guest Tim&Patch

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Guest Tim&Patch

I'm trialing at the novice level with my dog Patch. We're doing okay, learning anyway. We need help with the pen, tho. We do get our pen pretty often, but to be honest I think its only when the sheep just want to go in, and everybody else is getting their pen too. Other times I feel like the sheep are walking up okay to a certain point, and then they just decide to go one way or another around the pen, and I don't know how to stop them. Patch does a good job, he'll get out wide if I tell him to, and so sometimes we can catch them and put them in after they've gone around, but sometimes they just keep going around.


I feel like I need to practice penning more, so I'll know better what to do, but everybody says your not supposed to practice penning. I don't understand that, because with everything else in life you get better at things the more you practice them, so why should this be different? Do you think I shouldn't practice penning away from trials? If not, then what advice would you give me about how to do it better? If you think I should practice it, do you think I should keep on if the sheep start going around and around, or should I only do it for one try, so that Patch will learn better to put then im on the first try. He seems just as happy if they go in after five circles as if they go in right at the start.


I apologize if this has been talked about already.

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Guest Penny Tose

The reason people say not to practice penning is that if you only have a few

sheep, you will pen break them almost immediately if you practice penning

too often. In fact, though, if you only have 6 to 12 sheep, they are likely

to get pen broken even without your knowing it, so you might as well

practice with them. Once they start going into the pen like robots, tie

another dog in one corner of the pen and don't open the gate very wide. If

you have an older, retired border collie, that dog will get a big bang out

of having a job again and love being tied in the pen and trying to keep the

sheep out. Your pen broken sheep will become hard to pen again. There is no

reason that has to do with the dog and the dog's training not to practice

penning other than not making pens too easy.


Since you are trialing in novice, you will probably be penning tame

sheep that pretty much want to pen anyway. It is possible to discourage even the most cooperative sheep and convince them that penning is a bad idea. The four hints below should help you keep the pen mouth a calm, inviting spot for sheep.


I wrote an article several years ago called "Why Can't Penny Pen?" for other

novices. I reminded people to a) move from the post to the pen (This is

key and its importance cannot be overstated.); :rolleyes: open the pen gate wide...at least a 90 degree angle with 180 being good too; c) do not

stand in front of the opening or angle your body in front of the opening; d) do not combine forces with your dog to chase the sheep out of the opening. The last works something like: dog chases sheep over the top of handler; handler in turn waves stick in front of sheeps' noses when they show the slightest interest in the pen. The team activity is penning the sheep, not chasing them away.


The second hint, :D above, is actually a two step process involving opening the pen gate, which is crucial, and then swinging the gate open wide enough. It is true that sometimes you may not need or want a wide open gate. Trust me, those times are far and few between and you will have a better chance with a wide open gate, particularly until you feel confident about reading sheep. I rarely, if ever, allow myself to get confident about the latter.


Regarding c), sheep are not likely to break around you or so much as pass you to enter the pen or pen mouth if you are in the way and standing in front of the gate. Also remember to use the length of the pen rope.


These four hints are more important and more

often overlooked in the heat of the moment in novice than you might think. I put the hints together after interviewing 15 or 20 other novice handlers and watching a video a friend had made of her ASCA pens over the years in chronological order.


Once sheep have started to circle a pen, they may never pen if not pen broken. If pen broken, you can probably still get them in if you don't run out of time first.


But you bring up an important point about trialing: scoring. Okay, I will bet you're well aware that numbers are better than letters and that the higher the numbers, the better. In novice, you haven't got so many numbers (20 for outrun, 10 for lift, 20 fetch, 10 for pen are usually all unless there is a walkabout or drive) that you can afford to go losing 1 point per sheep every time the sheep make a circuit of the pen. Do not let the sheep circle the pen. This means you have to be watching and flank your dog before the sheep make a break for it.


Aim the sheep for the back hinge behind the one for the gate.


Practice penning at home in a stall, stand as if penning, and let Patch do the work. The very best dogs know what penning is, and so do a lot of other dogs. It is just not true that dogs don't know what is required at the pen.


There was a wonderful and famous bitch named Hannah who won the Finals in '94. She really knew how to pen and liked Patrick to stay out of her way at the pen.




<small>[ January 26, 2005, 10:18 AM: Message edited by: Penny ]</small>

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Guest Tim&Patch

Thanks, Penny. Actually, I hate to say it but some of my frineds have said that I do sometimes block the sheep from going in. I can't see where I'm doing that, which is one of the reasons I want to practice.


I understood everything you said except about aiming the sheep for the back hinge behind the one for the gate. Do you mean to aim them for the back corner of the pen, on the same side as the gate hinge is? Like, if you gave the four corners of the pen a letter like in geometry, starting with A for the corner with the gate hinge and continuing on around, would you be aiming for B?

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Guest Penny Tose


/ s


The brackets are the pen and slash is the open gate. The s is some sheep. The hinge you are aiming for is one behind the hinge holding the gate. In this illustration that's the top of the first bracket. Notice that the sheep are angled toward that hinge.


If sheep slide by on the side without the gate. It is sometimes possible to slip them up the side of a pen without the gate and pop them into the pen.



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