My beloved Luc, who got me started down the shepherding path, is caught in a terrible bind: he’s powerfully drawn to sheep, but sheep make him deeply uneasy. When he tries to gather sheep in a field, his anxiety bubbles up and the gather devolves into chasing and gripping*. In the barn, with lambs bouncing around and being silly, he stares until his jaw starts clacking and he begins chewing on the walls. I would dearly like to help him discover an easier relationship to his stock, for his sanity and mine, with the fantasy that be might yet discover some talents as a herding dog.
Today for the first time, I decided to let Luc into the part of the barn where the sheep live; I’d previously kept him on the other side of the enclosure, lest he lose his mind and chew on the lambs. I had hoped that daily exposure to the barn crowd from a slight remove might desensitize him, but the opposite was happening and he was getting progressively more wound up as weeks went by. My theory today was that without the barrier separating him from the sheep, he might be forced to take more responsibility for his own behavior and pull himself together. (I recognize that this line of reasoning sounds absurdly anthropomorphic. Somehow, though, this is an approach that seems to work with border collies. Or I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid.)
I gave him lots of encouragement, and we didn’t have any disasters. He seemed to be cycling from curiosity to avoidance to abject horror at being face-to-face with these wooly creatures. I think we’ll try it some more tomorrow.
*Gripping is the euphemism in the herding world for biting sheep. If it involves pulling a little wool from a recalcitrant ewe, it’s often regarded as justified, though a better dog would accomplish the same thing through gaze and force of personality. Drawing blood is deeply frowned upon, unless a ram is charging at your dog, at which point all’s fair.