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By:Jan Rifkinson
Date: October '99


1999 Bouvier Specialty
Wednesday, Oct 13th

The Olympia Resort & Spa, Oconomowoc, WI
Truman's Herding Instinct Test

I think it was on Wednesday that the grooming area became available.  It was a huge room  swathed in plastic -- the floors & about 4 feet up the walls.  It felt as though you were working in a giant heavy duty trash bag.

The weather thus far had alternated between pleasantly warm & nasty cold. I don't remember much from Wednesday except that it rained on & off during the day & it was chilly.

The agility field was converted into another exercise-poop area & I walked Truman in the cold drizzle mumbling "go to the bathroom", "bathroom", "bathroom" -- Truman's cue to go. Well Truman took his sweet time but right after the movement finally overcame him, we promptly marched back up the four flights to dry off, to read & relax.

My msg light was blinking ominously. Was this to be my ok corral with the hotel management?  Was I to be "penalized" again?  I ignored the blinking light while I dried Truman off, munched on some mini chocolate donuts & drank some in-room, brewed coffee-from-a-pouch.  Not bad.

On a chocolate high I dialed zero ready to tackle whatever the front desk had to offer. Thankfully it was a msg from Suzanne Simms. I hadn't brought any of Truman's ID#s with me & Suz was gracious enough to look them up for me on the online OFA registry.

Truman was scheduled to take the Herding Instinct Test & I had registered him & paid my $30 fee the day before but, was it muddy?  Thoughts of returning from herding with a dirty, smelly Bouvier didn't thrill me. I went downstairs, conferred with Chuck Conklin & a few others.  They encouraged me to go ahead anyway, so I drove out in the early afternoon to check on the conditions but I left Truman in the car.

There I had the pleasure of meeting Kathy Heilerman all bundled up in a rain suit. I asked about the ring which looked black as mud.  She showed me that the property owners had put down potting soil which sort of fell off the Bouv coat.  The pen had been reduced in size the afternoon before.  It had become a circle about 25' in diameter.  I watched one instinct test -- the farm owner's 9 mo old Deewal puppy chased the sheep around the ring -- she was doing it right & I was impressed.  While I considered proceeding, several other Bouv owners showed up; the rain stopped.

Kathy encouraged me & I decided to go ahead.  A "pretty", clean, showy Bouvier was not really my priority so I retrieved Truman from the car.  As we approached the stock, he became agitated, very interested -- "lemme at them, dad" -- but the judges weren't ready & suggested I take Truman for a long walk.  Truman & I investigated a curious horse in a nearby corral, disappeared over the hill, he went to the "bathroom" & calmed down.  Then I hear them calling for us so back we went.

Truman & I entered the ring sans sheep but with Judge Linda Franklin.

Ms. Franklin explained the process.  The sheep would enter the ring & the dog was to try to "herd" them in a circle around her. To make this happen, the dog had to keep the sheep off the fence so the dog had to position itself between the fence & the sheep, therefore driving the sheep towards the center of the ring.  When I released Truman, I was to let his leash drag on the ground; he might step on it & slow himself down.  I was to stand next  to her, never between her & the sheep which would only confuse the sheep or dog.

Ms. Franklin was carrying two canes to use to throw in front of the dog to make it change direction or to hit the dog if it became too aggressive.  I asked her not to hit Truman, that should he become too aggressive, I would immediately remove him from the ring. She said she would try but she also had to protect the sheep from damage which I thoroughly understood.

The sheep selected for Truman's test were clearly frightened to death. They didn't want to come into the ring; even going so far as to jump *over* the dog that was herding them thru the chute. Finally they were forced into the ring & huddled in a little bunch as far from Truman as they could get & Ms. Franklin told me to "release" Truman.

Without encouragement he charged the sheep full force & they scattered -- not good.  At one point, he sort of got them together & almost circled us with the judge's prodding canes, her amazing different tones of voice & my commands.  But this was short lived because Truman didn't know when to stop charging &, as a result, he would scatter the sheep & have to regroup them. The judge told me, Truman was working without "a plan" & had to learn what "the plan" was, i.e. to keep the sheep together & moving in a circle around us.

Finally the sheep just bunched up @ the exit gate, desperate to escape.  They refused to move from the gate.  Truman was on them but still they wouldn't move. Finally he grabbed one on the tail & we stopped the test.  I yanked Truman by his now muddy leash & pulled him off the sheep; the judge looked under the sheep's tail where there was an open gash.  She called for the first aid kit & I apologized about the sheep started to lead Truman out of the ring but she stopped me.  She explained that she couldn't pass Truman but that I should definitely try again & that I might consider a muzzle for him.  (No, not me) If aggressive dogs can't work with their teeth, she explained, sometimes a light goes off in their heads -- "hey, I don't need teeth, those critters move when I get close to them".  That was the trick.  Again I thanked the judge & started to exit while apologizing a 2nd time about the wounded sheep.  It's ok, it'll heal the judge said but I appreciate your concern; so many people don't care what happens to them & they don't ask to be here.  I put Truman back in the car on a couple of towels hoping to minimize the mess.

I returned to the testing area for Truman's official evaluation report, a sheet with about 50 different options sorted by subject to be checked off according to his performance. Ex: 3-5 options each were available for subjects like Style, Approach, Eye, Wearing, Bark, Temperament, Interest, Power, Responsiveness, Grouping of Stock, Balancing Stock with Handler, Comments, Passed, Did Not Pass, etc.  The judge had simply marked "did not pass" & under comments had written "Do try again".  There was no other comment or explanation of Truman's behavior.  Was this what I had come all this way for?  Was this a good evaluation? I had no behavioral information so I asked the secy to have the judge fill in the blanks.  "Don't know if she would has the time but I'll try".  Very firmly I explained I would wait until she did have time & shortly thereafter, the secy returned with the following information filled in (parenthesis are mine):

Did not Pass
5 sheep
cooperative stock (hmmm)
Wearing: a little wearing
Bark: works silently
Temperament: readily adjusts
Interest: very keen interest (I'll say)
Power: excessive force (relentless)
Responsiveness: unresponsive (don't understand relative to Temperament comment)
Grouping of Stock: does not group (no instinctive plan)
Balancing Stock with Handler: no adjustment (don't understand)
Comments: DO Try again (OK)
Tester's signature: Linda C. Fanklin, 10/13/99

Well, I thought, now I have something to show the trainer in PA when I go to the herding seminar in Dec. She'll have something to work from.  My 2nd thought was maybe I should consider a schutzhund instinct test (if there is such a thing) so I'm taking Truman to the NAWBA trials in Nov.

My thoughts about herding vs. agility go like this. But first I'd like to consider 2 things as you read this. It is really not about sour grapes & I really did give this some thought.

I find the kind of herding I saw cruel -- the sheep were terrified & in Truman's case -- hurt.  If the sheep are "dog broke" it means they know that the safety zone is around the shepherd so they naturally move towards the shepherd.  The dog has to learn to stay at the appropriate distance & position to keep them bunched & moving in that direction.  If the sheep are "dog broke", they move towards the shepherd, the dog follows the sheep.  I am over simplifying, I know. And Truman couldn't do that on his first try.  Others had greater success.

I marvel at the shepherds in movies who whistle to their little sheep dogs that run, crawl, down, bark, circle & bunch the sheep -- following all commands instantly & all at the instruction of the shepherd who may be 1/4 mile away.  If what I witnessed is the beginning of that training, well, I guess that's the way it has to be.  But I saw Bouvs getting whacked on the back & head by a solid wood cane, I saw the shepherd's trained herding dog cower after being whacked by it's owner. I saw sheep frightened out of the gourds jumping over fences, landing on their backs with a thud, forcing holes through the fence so they could escape, jumping 5-6 feet straight up to make it over the fence to safety.  It really bothered me.  Even after I was told sheep are stupid, sheep are weird, sheep do this all the time, these are the wrong kind of sheep, these are "light" sheep, etc, it didn't help. After being told about one sheep (@ a different trial) that, in it's fright, ran into a fence, broke it's neck & was eaten for dinner that night, made it even worse.  My herding observations left me with a totally different feeling than what I had after watching the agility trials where I felt there was exuberance & good cheer.

Now please understand, I know herding is a physically demanding sport & requires a lot of serious training both for handler & dog.  When the dogs do it right -- like Shelley Bowman's "Lila", Chuck Conklin's "Tucker" & Suzanne Simms "Casey" amongst others, it's an amazing thing to see.  I know Bouvs are *supposed* to be working dogs & are to have the instinct for this.  I know sheep are considered "stock".  I know working dogs are of tremendous assistance on some ranches & farms.

What I saw may not have been typical, I don't know. I'm only telling you what my reactions were @ the time.  At Kathy Heilerman's invitation, I may try Truman, again, on different sheep & I'm still going to take him to the 2 day herding seminar & beginner's trials in Dec.  But I do it with trepidation.  I don't want to see any more sheep hurt & I don't want Truman to be hurt; it's just not worth it to me.

That night I didn't go out to eat.

Thursday's obedience trials awaited.

click below for
Specialty Diary - Thursday

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