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Left Behind on the OLF


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Lady's training is coming along well, we recently came back from another trip to the Lakes where we worked daily on a sheep farm and had a chance to attend another lesson with Derek Scrimgeour. He fixed up my whistles, as they had conflicting tones, and said Lady had made a lot of progress from our first visit. And indeed, based on what we were asked to show, I could tell he saw a lot of growth in the dog. We went from doing endless circles to get nice shapes, squaring up the flanks back in April, to being asked to do an OLF with away and cross driving. Considering our visits were merely 4 months apart, I'm very happy indeed.


Right, so, now we work part-time on a sheep farm in a neighbouring county. When the ewes had lambs on the ground, it was tough work gathering the field. They were very heavily dispersed throughout and did NOT flock for anything. Now the lambs have been taken off the mothers and some very fresh, light shearlings have been added. On the whole, this flock will gather nicely, but are prone to moving in early because several other dogs do "use" these sheep, thus the latter have caught on to it.


But there are stragglers. Quite a few, I may add. They stay in the hedgerows, or just in plain sight, but refuse to flock. The field is approx. 500m in depth, very rectangular in shape so it is a lot longer than wide. Lady's OR shape does change to accommodate it, but I am finding she is coming in early at the top. To gather the entire field, she'd need to religiously follow the fenceline, all the way to the end, then continue on that flank clear to the opposite side of the field, only coming in when the sheep are practically at my feet. They are REALLY spread out.


Of course, she doesn't do that, and so we end up having some pretty decent Look Back practice. But I'd like to be able to gather the whole field for foot checkups and fly spray and so on, without having to send her on the LB. I've got to know the flock quite well so I do know when she's not gathered them all, and more importantly, WHO is missing.


There's a hill running across the field, approx. 400m in, which adds to the problem. At this point if I want to encourage her to follow the fenceline and go to the end, I have to trudge up 400m of field to get to the hill, then send her from the gates, and hound her to make sure she doesn't come in early. I'm not sure if this is the best way to go about it, as I don't know if I'll be able to wean her off my presence at the top of the hill, telling her where to go.


Any advice? She's clearly not one of those dogs who is a "nobody gets left behind" spirit, and isn't much of an independent thinker. While I understand that means she has some undesirable traits in a working dog, I'd like to think that having her and needing to deal with this will make me a better handler for it.

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I find with my dogs that they all have a little different way of gathering a large group of sheep that are spread out. My older male will push the sheep toward the center as he proceeds on his outrun. He ends up at the back of all the sheep and then brings then up and in as he comes and will work more to the opposite side that he was not sent since there will be more sheep to that side. I let him do as he sees fit. My younger girl with go all the way behind then gather the sides on her way up. This makes her work harder I think because she has to push sheep from both sides and the center.


When I begin larger fields and larger gathers I try to only give a correction if the dog is moving ahead of any sheep and not give them a command. I will use a hey, or AHH just to make the dog think and figure it for themselves where they are wrong. Some dogs like lots of info and instruction and some do not. Some dogs are simply used to being told everything and get used to reacting and following instruction rather than doing the thinking themselves. I find if I keep talking to them they think less, if I am quiet they figure it out for themselves and develop their owns system that works for them. Here there are quite a few trees for the sheep to in and without me being right there I can not tell if any are left or not. As long as my dogs are thinking they rarely leave one. They will come to the top of a hill so I see them and then go back if something is wrong like a lamb stuck in the fence or briars ect. I have learned to pay attention, sometimes they have had to tell me twice that I am needed. :)


I would work on a large group with some that are prone to lag behind in a smaller field then work up to hills and the entire flock if that is possible. Try not giving her a bunch of help and wait and trust her to figure things out. People can be control freaks. Sometimes they just need those every few seconds, a quick correction then encouragement when she is trying or goes back of her own accord.

I find working with Derek he sees a bunch of things I missed. Might see if he can set something up similar and watch your dog. I bet he would have suggestions.

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Yeah, essentially my issue was that because the hill is quite a ways from the gate, I was hoping to be lazy (haha!) and prepare things whilst I sent my dog out to fetch every one from up the field. Unfortunately because of the hill, I can't keep one eye on the proceedings. I think I'll just have to reconcile myself with going up the field to the hill to practise with short gathers. We can't move fields for now unfortunately as the cattle are grazing and our rotations are controlled by the agricultural college for whom I work. I will say that for fields wherein she can actually survey the layout from the start (i.e. no awkward topography), she seems to have no problem scooping truculent stragglers out of the corners and bringing them all to me. The hill running through the middle seems to throw her for a loop.


And I agree with not having to give a constant stream of instructions! I'd like to work up to that. I have a "check" whistle so I'm thinking that when I see her come in prematurely (if she still does it with me at the hill crest) then I'll give her a "check" and bend her out. Ideally one would be enough to send her towards the very top of the field, a known hiding spot with the thick, overgrown hedgerows.

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Photos would sure be lovely!


I have two very different dogs - one that is a wide outrunner and is excellent at covering an entire field, and one that goes for whatever group is closest and leaves many others (even obviously visible ones) behind. So I am reading this with interest!


For the first dog, if he does miss anyone far out on the fringes of the field, a stop and a "look back" (with a flank if needed) is all it takes. For the second, well...he's a work in progress and we haven't made as much progress as I'd like. Since our calves are now weaning, we'll have about six weeks of gathering young stock for twice a day supplemental/pre-conditioning feeding, and we'll get to work on this, and so I am eager to read suggestions here.

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