Carew really doesn’t want to be left out

Carew makes it clear she wants to be involved when there’s work to be done

Photo of sheepdog Kay awaiting her next command in the sheep sorting pens
Kay has the sheep under control in the sorting pens

With the knowledge that most of the lambs have already gone to market and many, if not all, of the ewes will soon be sold, I was pleasantly surprised when John rang and asked me to help gather his sheep again yesterday. There would be no lambs involved, but he wanted about twenty-five breeding ewes to go to Hereford market.

We had the luxury of a later start too – it wasn’t until 6.15am that we set off for Dean Farm. The sheep have been restricted to just two fields, with a wide open gateway between them, so I decided to stay by the farm drive gate and send Kay to gather them, rather than drive to the farthest bunch as we have on previous occasions.

There were three bunches. A group of about 30 ewes in the middle of the first field, a larger group around the gateway between the fields then, much further away, the main bunch in the middle of the far field. This would be a tricky job, but ideal for practising the “Look back”.

Close-up of sheep in the sorting pens
Mixed breeds of ewes in the sorting pens

My intention was to send Kay on an “Away” outrun, hopefully collecting the first two bunches, then to stop her behind them and turn her back through the gateway to gather the main bunch. It didn’t work out that way though. Kay was excited and (typically) rushed behind the first bunch she saw. To make matters worse she didn’t want to stop, and then I had difficulty turning her back towards the second bunch of sheep.

Eventually she realised what I wanted and sped off to gather the second bunch but, this time, she was even harder to stop. A sharp shout soon had her under control though, and she turned back nicely towards the main bunch. As though this wasn’t enough, I couldn’t believe my eyes when she came in really tight behind the flock, causing some of the sheep to panic and run in different directions. This is not like Kay at all. I can only think that she was worried about working so far away from me.

Yet again, Kay was hard to stop – another symptom of a dog’s lack of confidence when working at a distance from the handler. Kay was bringing the whole flock towards me and, as they got closer, she was more controllable, but there was further disappointment to come. It was clear the sheep wanted to escape to the right-hand side of the field, and Kay didn’t seem able to prevent this and keep the flock together at the same time. Quickly, I let Carew out of the car and she sped off on a perfect outrun, straight to the head of the potential escapees. The flock was immediately back under full control, through the gateway and onto the farm drive in no time at all.

Carew’s ability to assess a situation quickly, and react accordingly, is one of her greatest assets, and recently I’ve realised that I often find myself sending her to Kay’s aid. I seldom need to send Kay to help Carew. I feel disloyal saying this, because Kay has been invaluable to me in the past, but it’s a fact.

Photo of sheepdog Kay taking the sheep back to their field
Kay takes the sheep down the dusty drive to the field

Once the sheep were safely on the farm drive, I called Carew back to the car. She was clearly reluctant to get in but, for a change, I wanted Kay to drive the sheep to the farm and into the pens. Kay, though, was fairly determined she was going to ride in the car! Was this habit, or a sign that Kay isn’t as keen to work as she has been? Recently, once the sheep are on the drive, Carew has trotted after them while Kay has hung around. I’ve let Kay jump in because I only need one dog for the sorting operation, but it shows how easily dogs get into a habit. We should vary the work as much as we can.

As I drove behind Kay and the sheep, Kay kept coming back to the car and even getting in front of it. I was worried that I might run over her but, eventually, she got the message, and pushed the sheep down the drive very well. She kept nicely to the left at the appropriate time, to encourage the sheep away from the buildings, and pushed them into the pens very well, although I was aware that I needed to encourage her – another contrast with Carew who requires little or no controlling in the pen. Carew reacts to my behaviour. If I clap my hands, make shushing sounds or shout, Carew instantly assists me (sometimes when I didn’t intend her to).

Kay, on the other hand, is quite happy to stay out of the way, up on one of the mangers and watching the proceedings. Yesterday, though, Carew was left in the car and Kay did the pushing up. She did it well too, but poor Carew didn’t like it at all. Every time she heard me, she barked – clearly unhappy that she wasn’t able to come to my assistance.

Carew’s agony was compounded when Kay drove the ewes, that were not required, past the car and down the drive back to the field. Poor Carew was distraught so, for the loading operation, I swapped them over. Kay rested in the car while Carew helped – first pushing a handful of ewes onto the top deck of the trailer, and then the remainder into the lower compartment.

Other than Carew’s expert retrieval of a ewe that jumped over the hurdles, loading was uneventful and all over very quickly. I’m sure Carew felt short-changed because, as John and I discussed future plans, Carew went back into the pens and thoroughly searched each one before moving to the next – just in case there was a sheep in there!

Some of Kay’s lacklustre performance might possibly be due to her age. She was six years old in June, whereas Carew was two in March, but I wouldn’t normally expect a dog to slow down much before it was seven or even eight years old. Even then, older dogs normally want to get involved just as much as they did when they were younger, but they tire more quickly. At times, Kay shows signs of actually preferring to sit and watch! It’s very puzzling, but no doubt we’ll find out why in due course.


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