Well, Tansy and I have had some important discussions and testing of one another. I would expect this of any good stock dog worth its salt though! Turns out I am such a winner! What a great little pup she is turning out to be! Full of confidence, desire to please, grit-grit-grit, and just an open-hearted flurry of love and joy in a gorgeous package.
But before we landed on cloud nine, we did have some definite wrinkles to iron out. Tansy needs to totally trust us and build a relationship with us in not just easy situations. She is a very determined dog... that is for sure! We were struggling with some no-no's as soon as we turned our back. Testing boundaries. Not wanting to walk nicely on a leash. Needing physical help to complete commands. I think most if not all dogs go through stages like this. They are wondering who we are and what we are made of just like we wonder about our new puppy package. How do you win? Consistency. Love. Patience. Not harsh, but always firmly consistent. Always ask just one more question: Did I set my pup up for the best success? Does she or he understand completely what I am asking of him or her? Maybe most importantly - How is my relationship with my dog? Have I been putting the time in to be fun and loving and not just delving out instructions. Do I look into my pup's eyes to understand what he or she wants the way that he or she does with me? Recognized reciprocal relationship is the goal. We only continue to build and make this stronger every day and with every lesson.
Sometimes commands are "poorly" timed. We ask our dog to do something right as a hawk flies overhead or child runs by. Do we ask obedience anyway? Should that "lay" (with an unspoken stay attached until we say "free") be maintained when a group of kids playing tag run by? Easy enough to answer if you imagine being in the pasture with a group of lambs or just in a busy city with a lot of traffic. If your dog trusts that you understand what you are asking of him or her and have its safety and ultimate best interests at heart, the relationship will continue to grow. Of course, all done on a long lead for easy corrections without so much effort on your part. Accountability. Your dog and pup will become more reliable, more safe, more wonderful to be around. Your pride and joy - and they know it!!! That becomes their strongest desire. This is our goal! When we have hit that spot, things tend to move very quickly.
To get Tansy past wanting her whims as opposed to what we were asking during training time, I decided to take her on lead out for a walk deep into the front field - new territory. She had been pushing on doing commands and maintaining them. Running through the garden as soon as our backs were turned seemed a deliberate demonstration of her Declaration of Independence. Not wanting to sit for pets, but jumping on people... especially guests. Important things to get under control before she grows bigger (which seems to be happening every day!) This field was rather large, and Tansy wanted to run uninhibited to find stock, etc. She knew that on lead, she is not to pull. A pull will result in a pop (notice I said "pop" not tug!) in the opposite direction as a reminder that we are connected and move in unison as one mind. This will be very important later in life when herding sheep and cows. We must do everything in unison and agreement! Foundations needed to be solidly made.
Well, Tansy had other ideas... very clever ones I might add! She's a smart one she is! On our walk, Tansy decided to try to "pop" me in the (according to her) "correct" direction. She would lunge with all her might and "pop," and I would "pop" her back my direction and just keep my steady pace as if whatever she did to deter me from course had absolutely no effect. I was impressed by her determinedness, but by the time we reached the bottom of the field, Tansy was more or less trotting beside my legs and more attentive as the easiest course of action demanded. Tansy also began sitting when we stopped and would look up to my face to read what we were going to do next. What a great start to partnership and communication!
Suddenly our horse came running up to check us out. I picked up Tansy in a show of protection. The horse would rather chase the pup at this stage. Tansy and the horse sniffed noses and my daughter led our big brown equine "puppy" off to wait till the lesson was complete. Tansy understood that I was protecting her not that she was afraid (Tansy is not really afraid of much at all that I can tell!) I think she certainly understood the sentiment though as she walked with me even better after this incident still sitting or laying every time we stopped. In just 10 minutes of very dedicated time, my role in her eyes had transferred from a game and a challenge to someone who she could trust and respect to follow through and protect her. We began to enjoy ourselves as we explored together smiling, and with me telling her about all the neat plants or even ploppings that polite puppies should really try to avoid on the ground. Tansy may not understand my words, but she certainly understood the tone, and that I was trying to bring her into my world even in the little things.
Suddenly, I was jolted out of our happy and peaceful world. Something happened that I had not counted on - the rams and wethers decided they wanted to greet us. Certainly not ideal! Well, it was time to put her training to practical use whether we were ready or not! In a show of confidence, I talked with Tansy and told her that now we were going to go after those rams to move them. We moved with boldness and Tansy's lack of fear convinced them. And much to my elation, when I asked Tansy to stop and lay (impulse control), she did! What a pup! She was carrying our world in her heart. I was so proud, but this was not the time to demonstrate. We were working. Together. The rams would still turn to come and visit when we stopped, so Tansy and I showed them more predatory behavior moving forward with quick and certain confidence. We were direct. The rams accepted their role and moved away. Tansy practiced another "That will do - let's stop now." And then again "OK Tansy - let's go get them!" In this manner we managed to make it back out of the field. This one very large and important lesson seemed to really solidify our relationship and understanding of the mystery of how things were suppose to work between dogs and humans. Tansy is gritty, but very much wants to make us happy - an ideal combo on the farm for us. She is a quiet learner - testing and learning from others. Efficient. Both beautiful and strong. So much was accomplished in just this one hard, but critical little lesson. I would say that this is where she and I started to make music together, and it has not stopped since!
Now, to help with showing respect to new human friends, we took her to the parking lot when we stopped by the grocery store. We all took turns holding her on a safe long lead so she knew we all had the same idea of what should happen. Tansy saw company who wanted to see her... of course she sweetly wanted to jump up and try to lick faces - a big no-no. It this person were a toddler, the baby would have been flat on the pavement. We have elderly relatives that we want to be able to enjoy their visits to our home without fear. On long lead we popped Tansy backwards and asked for "Manners" - the word we have connected with desired behavior. We asked the strangers to please wait to pet her until she was sitting. After a few more rounds of this, Tansy was getting the idea. We creatively found a few other solutions where we could practice. I am so glad my in-laws could come for Thanksgiving and enjoyed how very polite and sweet Tansy was the whole visit through!!! How proud we all were and how much more love Tansy received for being such a very good and mannerly girl! I even think she understands this now and is grateful. When she really wants to see us, she will sit and lay and sit and lay and maybe even roll over! Who could resist!!!
As for the garden, peer pressure was of great help! Tansy was herded by her mom-sis Lorna in the proper directions constantly. Going to the garden ended up being no fun. And if Lorna wasn't there, we would often catch her in the act and snag that long lead and bring her out with a firm "No." Then time-out might happen if there had been too many repetitions. Funny thing: If Tansy's in trouble, both Lorna and Benji's noses are glued to the door outside. I know something's going on. I go to check it out and correct whatever situation might be occurring. Both of my other dogs want to make it clear that they are having no part of puppy shenanigans! It's quite amusing really! Now Tansy will lay with Benji constantly or check to see what Lorna is up to. She doesn't spoof chickens and is great with the rabbits. Even when a guest dog was walking through our garden, she refused to go in, but trailed the border. She is being so wise already, and I am so thankful!
Now Tansy goes out for sheep chores. She helps move them out of the barn trusting her shepherds. She watches my other dogs constantly and admires and learns. Once her lead was accidentally dropped and she started moving the sheep out without us. (This could have been dangerous for Tansy.) Yikes! "Tansy, come!" And she pranced right back to us!!! I was surprised she was so willing when she is so young. She constantly connects with eyes and faces, asking what to do. We do our best to explain back, and she always gets a "good girl" for even asking. The other day, Tansy met the barn cat and with difficulty resisted going to greet the cat with her usual puppy enthusiasm. Instead, she held a good and solid "lay." We were so pleased! When we walked up to the house, she came and tattled on this same cat who had run into the garden. Apparently, if Tansy shouldn't be in the garden, then cats should not be allowed to trespass in the the garden either!
A couple of other training tidbits - We like to point to food and say "Go get it!" as we toss it not too far piece by piece. This helped when we were in the sheep field obviously - a good introduction to sending out. So did our practiced "Leave it." when we needed to stop. The other thing we are doing is pointing to food that has been forgotten or missed saying "Here." This helps the pup to learn to look wherever you are pointing as good things generally happen! I love that we have made this much progress already! Obviously, I have lots of family helpers and that involves slightly different training methods, etc., but I think in the long run that this will only work for Tansy's benefit in training and versatility. She knows everyone's different rhythms and styles. She and Benji and Lorna are already heavily bonded. Funny thing... She even seems to want to please them. After all, no one likes to be tattled on! They all celebrate and share. Tansy has learned "Not your turn" (sit and wait) when it's another dog's turn for center-stage and pets. This seems to avoid a plethora of problems and makes owning three collies that much more of a joy. But who wouldn't enjoy playing and farming and loving and living together with a passel of these great dogs anyway!
Well, Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, and here I am sitting down to type and wondering how to express all that we are feeling here on the farm. Usually, we have family here for Thanksgiving. Our little fixer-upper farm is full to bursting! This year will be quiet. I am working on wooly projects hoping to help with expenses of yarn, etc. These projects are keeping me indoors - but soon there will be projects outdoors that will take precedence. The sun coming through the windows and hitting my arms keeps me grateful. My dogs' tails all wagging and happy to see me make me smile. My wonderful children helping and story-telling while they are working amaze me! Yes, this year was different, but still so good in so many ways. A year of focusing on what is most important.
We have formed our own traditions for many different occasions. This year, we will toast to what has been accomplished, how we have grown, the simple and rich things that we have and experience. We will be thankful for what we have to plan ahead with, our hopes and dreams, taking reality and making moments out of the ordinary and wonderful... sometimes even the sad things. This is life! We will take the time to cook, laugh, and sing together. I imagine some too-tight tap shoes will come out with a ukulele and shaker egg. If I'm lucky, Benji (our first Old Time Scotch Collie) will even join in the singing! The turkey frying will drive the dogs crazy! No doubt me too as I wait for the perfect first bite of crisp skin. As always, Mom's inspirational homemade cranberry sauce memories will color my pot to balance all the savory at the table. I am always joking about the crowdedness of the kitchen, but the truth is I wouldn't have it any other way!
My faith in our Great Provider and my family will encircle anything that I feel is missing. My belly will be full, but my heart will be bursting with gladness! The sheep will "baa" in the field in the morning calling us for chores while the roosters battle with their competing choruses. The peace of the Kerries slowly munching and wondering what the routine will be for the day will bring a certain placidness and contentedness. As my hands get cold outside, I will pet Hope and warm them on her reliably hot belly. No milking on Thanksgiving. That will have been done beforehand. What a life!
As I think about all these things I am already feeling an internal warmth of gratitude that is oh-so-easy to forget. How is it that so easily we forget what we have? The most important things are not tangible. It is with this spirit that I would invite you all to a most Happy Thanksgiving! One full of the "little things." Thanksgiving itself is almost here, but I wish to keep it in our hearts always.
This blog chronicles our very full life here on WoodSong Farm. We will share everything from dog to sheep stories, unique wooly works, to animal husbandry tips we pick up along the way. I hope this helps to give you an idea of what our extended farm family and wooly projects are like, and that we may somehow benefit everyone who reads about our journey.