Having recently written a blog on the importance of keeping dogs on leads around livestock, not putting livestock at risk of being frightened or harmed and keeping dogs calm around livestock, it seemed fair that I shared our own experience. This morning, we were put to the test.
It started out fabulously as Mr Bear and I (Marie) headed out on a Saturday morning adventure. With a short lead, a long line, a variety of treats and Bear’s favourite toy, we were fully prepared.
Living in the Brecon Beacons, we have become accustomed to sheep and put in a lot of time ensuring that Bear can walk past them without channelling his inner Collie. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Bear; he’s a mixed breed rescue hound who came to us about 18 months ago. A Merle Collie / Newfoundland at best guess from the rescue centre. Imagine an over-excited puppy, weighing in at seven stones, with the energy of a Collie and the strength of a Newfoundland… on amphetamines… now multiply that by ten. You have The Mighty Bear!
One thing that I have learnt since living here is that the sheep don’t play fair. They have a tendency to enjoy day trips away from their fields, wander around the roads at their leisure and appear when you least expect them. Call me paranoid, but some seem to hide until they see us coming and Baaaa at the top of their voices, challenging even my most excitable recall sounds.
Today, they took things to the next level.
We’d had a lovely walk, headed back to the car and I could see in the distance that there were two sheep on the bridge; the only route to the car without taking a dip in the river. While Bear would be fine with that option, I wasn’t so sure. ‘It’s all good, they’ll be gone by the time we walk down the hill’ I said to Bear, hopefully. What? You don’t talk to your dog while you’re out walking? With the twists and turns of the hills, the bridge was soon out of sight.
They hadn’t gone. As I turned the corner to get to the bridge, I saw that they had called their friends and staged a sit in. Well, a stand in to be accurate. A couple of sheep had gone around the back of the car, two more had started walking along the road towards us and the original two were still on the bridge. I could then see that there was also a lamb with them.
Bear looked at me as if to say ‘do you seriously think I’m not going to run’ as I wondered just how strong the long line would be. With a year of training behind us (we lived in Birmingham for the first six months Bear was with us, recall was simpler then!), I recalled Bear. He came sprinting back to me and his favourite toy appeared. Throwing the tennis ball in the opposite direction to the sheep, we played some games and I waited, hoping that the sheep would wander off.
It took a while, a few games with the ball, some ‘find it’ with his favourite treats and us working on getting a little bit closer while Bear was calm. Believe me, these sheep were not bothered by us at all. Eventually, they gave up and I imagine they went to find another, unsuspecting dog and human to mess with.
We crossed the bridge and I will admit to a huge sigh of relief along with the reward of the finest homemade liver cake for Bear who did me proud.
Having spent this week with a couple of dogs who have chased sheep and had a panicked phone call from someone who was pulled over and badly hurt when her dog, who was on lead, launched at sheep… it is a case in point. I didn’t start training Bear today. If we hadn’t spent a lot of time, playing recall games, working at huge distances, rewarding calm behaviour and ensuring that we knew what Bear’s ultimate rewards were, I wouldn’t have stood a chance today. Just because toady went well doesn’t mean it’s ‘job done’ either. Tomorrow, we will be playing more recall games, practicing calm behaviour at a distance and making sure Bear knows what’s expected of him. Next time, the sheep might run, might come towards us or might be frightened. For all our sakes, I want to be prepared!