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Holding with feed?


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I notice in Julie's description of her youngsters' experiences last weekend (in "Under the Handlers' Tent") a reference to the sheep being held with feed: "...the sheep had their heads buried in the feed pan and he didn't know what to do about that. I could see tension building, and Tom took the feed pan away..."


I've not been to many trials (maybe 8?) but haven't knowingly seen that before, only the standard dog/person or dog/horse/person. Is it common? Does it make a difference to the sheep's response to the dog? Ought I be occasionally training for that situation?




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The primary place where I have seen sheep held with feed is a location where the novice field is not too large and the exhaust/set-out gate are not very far from the set-out location. The sheep are reused and are quite knowledgeable about where the exhaust is and, since it isn't very far, I think that feed is used to help settle the sheep in place. (Edited to add that the sheep are VERY dog-broke and, like Julie points out below, would often otherwise start moving when the dog is sent.)


Using feed does present its own problem as the sheep are not as "natural" as sheep that are not held with feed. A good set-out person (like Julie) uses a minimum of feed to just settle the sheep so that, hopefully, they will be just about done when the dog comes around to lift.

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It does occur, especially with farm flocks that are used to dogs and therefore inclined to leave the set out early, or with sheep that are simply difficult to get out to the setout location without a fight. So it makes the job a bit easier for the set out person (not that the setout person wants an easy job, but the fact is there's less likely to be grumbling among handlers if the set out person isn't having to "fiddle" with the sheep using his/her dog while trying to get them settled) and ensures that the sheep will reasonably stay put for all competitors, BUT it also has some serious drawbacks, the main one being that the sheep don't lift normally because they do tend to have their heads down rather than paying attention to the approaching dog, and so don't necessarily notice the dog until it's right up on them, at which time they do the popcorn thing. The other HUGE disadvantage to holding with grain, which relates to the first disadvantage, is that the dog can be incorrect at the top and the sheep won't tell the judge that because they're too busy eating grain to notice. I held at a trial recently where the grain really did help keep the sheep from running off in all directions, which was their inclination sans grain (and in 95-degree weather where you can work your setout dog to death), but I had the "bird's eye" view of the top of every outrun and I have to say I was rather shocked at the number of dogs who were incorrect, usually coming in from the side. But the sheep held, for the most part. Well, except for the handlers who dawdled long enough for them to finish the bit of grain I gave them, and I wasn't giving them more as had the handlers been less lackadaisical about getting to the post, the sheep wouldn't have gobbled everything up before the handler even sent a dog. I should note that when I'm given grain to hold with, I use it only if the sheep are very difficult to get settled at the top, and I use just enough to get them settled but try not to give so much that they're still gobbling by the time the dog gets there, or in the case described above, so that they are eating forever while we wait for a handler to saunter to the post. Two reasons for this: eventually they'll get full and then no amount of grain will interest them (and if they're sheep who are difficult to get to the setout in any sort of orderly fashion, this is an important point), and because IMO the main reason for the grain isn't to get the sheep to stand there dead to the world forever but just long enough for the handler to send his/her dog. If the handler has sent the dog and the sheep leave before the dog gets to where it should be, then it's up to the judge to decide whether it was the fault of the sheep or the dog.


The sheep at the trial this past weekend wanted very much to graze and so probably would have just put their heads down anyway, so the issue may have been the same with or without the grain.


I should add that Tom did remove the grain if it appeared to be a problem for the young/novice dogs but the ranch and open dogs were required to deal with it, since at that training level they should be able to manage sheep that don't want to lift.



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Just adding my 2 cents here.


Sheep held with grain don't lift like sheep held without grain, like Julie & Sue said. Some held this way can be startled by the dog and scatter then never settle as they go through the course. That can make for some exciting runs! Some sheep held with grain won't lift. They are either too wise, spoiled, or hungry (enter description here). It can take a strong, strong dog to lift this group. Some young dogs don't know what to do with sheep that have their heads down or with sheep that won't lift without a lot of presence or push from the dog. Of course, then there are dogs that can naturally handle these kind of sheep, but most dogs, at first, will be taken back by the behavior of sheep held with grain.


I would recommend adding this scenario to your training plans. Not only will you run into this at trials, but it will improve your dog's feel for the sheep at the top. And, if you set it up so your dog always succeeds, it will increase the dog's confidence and knowledge that with patience it can move heavy sheep.

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