I was lucky to have been forwarded an email from Joyce Burnham of Custom Stock Dogs, a Border Collie/stockdog trainer based out of southwest Illinois, saying she was doing some herding lessons and instinct tests at a farm in Cincinnati in April. I quickly signed up for a herding instinct slot for Mesa, knowing she already had a strong instinct when it came to herding the horses and myself (including Matt, who is still sporting a bruise on his calf from a nip last week). I wanted to see what she'd do turned loose on sheep.
(Side note: Anyone that knows Dally well already knows she doesn't care for sheep. She loves to chase after the horses on the farm, and herds me around the house from time to time, but after a trip to a Central Kentucky Herding Group Club working meeting, where she completely ignored the sheep, I have already decided she did not feel the need to run around the smelly, fluffy beasts, when she can sit next to people and be told how pretty she is and be petted. So, while Dally came along for the clinic, she hung out by the fence waiting for the return trip home. The documented proof can be seen in the photo above--Mesa is barking at the sheep while Dally chooses to ignore them and my instance to "Look at the sheepies, Dal!".)
When we first got to the site, Joyce told me she wanted Mesa to stand by the fence while Joyce worked with some of the older dogs so we could gauge her interest in the sheep. Let me tell you, there was no doubt how excited she was from the get-go. She barked and barked, having herself a great time. She'd bark at the sheep, bark at the dog herding the sheep, then turn around and bark at the group behind us as if to say, "You see those sheepies? I'm gonna get those sheepies!"
(Another side note: My two were the only non-Border Collie/Aussie dogs there. There were a few owners who wondered if Mesa had the drive to run around the big field. I just laughed thinking to myself they don't know what a little firecracker she is. Needless to say, her performance hushed them up about her size.)
Finally Joyce took Mesa into the small pasture with her. I was nervous that Mesa wouldn't want to work with Joyce and would stay by the fence by me. To my amazement, she only ran back to me a couple times, as if to say "Are you watching, mom?? Isn't this fun??"
Mesa ran around the field, circling the sheep tightly around Joyce, even changing direction when asked to do so, and chasing down any rogue sheep that dared to separate from the group. There were many comments about how she was the Energizer Bunny and many were amazed at her strong instincts, even though she was only 17 months old and had never seen a sheep in her life. I was grinning from ear to ear while I was recording the whole thing--Mesa was having the time of her life. We finally ended the session when she ran back to me for a fourth time, this time limping (most likely due to slipping on the wet grass, since the storms were moving in...she's back to 100% now). She was out of breath and chugged a bowl of water down, but she looked like she had had the time of her life.
Mesa's excitement with the herding has sparked a new interest in me to maybe give herding one more try. Unfortunately, my time and funds are limited, and I'm not sure I can devote the time needed to properly train her to be successful in the AKC herding arena. I know the time my friend Merinda puts into training her Cardigan, and I hear the horror stories of the difficulty of what some might think are simple tasks, and I wonder if I would be able to do such things. However, I know she loves it, and I would love to be able to hone that instinct for good, especially when I'm around horses, I don't want to have to lock her in a stall every time I ride or work near them.
Here are the videos of Mesa's instinct work. I did them in three separate videos because I wasn't sure how long the session would last and I worried about uploading them to YouTube. I uploaded them in order, though.