by Lori Herbel
We’ve all had those great moments in herding when our own outstanding handling expertise and our dog’s natural, God-given talents have put us in awe and made our hearts swell, and given us cause to be proud to be herders.
But why, oh why do those moments seem to be much fewer and further between than those OTHER moments – you know, the ones where we wish a giant black hole would just magically appear and swallow us up, whisking us away from the scrutiny of the public eye? And why does it seem that there are so many people watching when we have one of those embarrassing moments, but when we do something spectacular, we look around to share it with others, and there is no one there?!
Thanks to several brave and honest handlers from across the country, we have compiled an entertaining collection of embarrassing herding stories. I received a wonderful response to my request for stories, I only regret that time and space will not allow me to share all of them.
I attended a four day ‘Famous Instructor’ Boot Camp. Mind you I had only been herding for a couple of months, maybe six at the most – that’s my ONLY defense! On day one and two I was struggling to follow the instructor’s explanations but holding up fairly well, on day three I was a bit brain dead and was really glad she was videotaping the clinic so I could do lots of refreshing. On the fourth day, a friend and I were standing at the fence listening to the instructor explain the difference between ‘tight-eyed’ and ‘loose-eyed’ dogs. Finally after several minutes I turned to my friend and said “What the *#$% is a “LUCITE” dog?” For years my friends have teased me about Lucite and Tie-dyed dogs!
COULD IT BE THE BREEZE?
When I got my very first set of bright, shiny new wethers, I was gung-ho to herd them first thing the next morning. So I leapt out of bed and threw on some clothes and went to the barn. I got the wethers in the round pen and brought in my half grown, untrained puppy. As you might imagine things were moving along at a pretty fast clip when Goat Boy, who sported an impressive set of horns, zoomed by and hooked a horn in the pocket of my sweat pants. This did little to impede his forward progress and as he bounded on by, my pants tried their best to go with him. Now remember, I was in a hurry to get to the barn that morning so let’s just say I had ignored my mother’s advice to always put on clean underwear. Or any underwear in this particular case.
So I’m standing there in the round pen with my sweat pants due south of my knees and this wether all wound up in them. I was in a rather breezy state when the school bus came by. Fortunately we were pretty far back off the road and it was sort of foggy that morning or I’m afraid we’d have had some children scarred for life.
WHERE OR WHERE DID MY HANDLER GO?!
I was running my first Border Collie Meg* in my first traditional Border Colllie trial in the Novice Class. The course was an outrun, lift, fetch and pen. Standing at the handler post I sent Meg off to gather the sheep. When she was racing around the sheep I moved to the pen to be ready. Meg completed a beautiful outrun and lift. Then she lifted her head and started frantically looking around. Her handler was no longer at the post where she had left her. “Ah, there she is!” I could just hear Meg thinking as she caught sight of a woman shaking out her rugs by a motorhome. So off Meg went with her sheep promptly bringing them to her while I ran behind trying to make my presence known. The woman was quite startled to see sheep and sheepdog bearing down on her motorhome followed by a crazy lady running behind waving her arms and yelling!
‘TIL THE COWS COME HOME…
I was 12 and my brother was 10. We lived near San Diego at a time when people grazed cows in Sorrento Valley. We rode our bikes to Sorrento with my farm collie Randy*. We liked to take Randy to places where he could run off leash. We liked to poke around in the creek and catch frogs, etc. We had arrived at the creek, and were catching pollywogs when I saw a big cloud of dust on the horizon. Next thing I knew, I saw about 30 cows galloping toward us. Randy was on one heck of a fetch. We managed to catch him and beat feet before the farmer saw what was happening.
TOO MUCH FUN
The dog had finished Started easily with HIT and great scores; one of those dogs with talent to spare and bidability to burn. So, he got a first leg in Intermediate and we were slated to run for the last 2 legs at the last trials of the season.
We enter the arena, and 8-year-old Mr. Solidly Reliable grins ear-to-ear and takes off cruising the arena at full speed, barking all the way around, not once but twice! He comes to the C cone (finally), and grabs the cone in his mouth to take off again.
The next day, even after a lecture about comportment in trials, he repeats the performance. Wish the audience hadn’t laughed so loud – he has a classic sense of humor!
OKAY, BUT SHE’S NOT REALLY MY TYPE
My trainer decided he was going to train my “experienced and trained” stud dog how to grip.
I didn’t know how Craig* was planning to teach Bomber* the grip maneuver, when he grabbed the sheep’s head with both hands. But Bomber has been trained that when someone grabs the head of the bitch with both hands, that’s his cue to ‘go to work’ and breed the bitch. Before I could even get a word out, Bomber looked at Craig, cocked his head and looked at the sheep, then looked at Craig again, seemed to shrug his shoulders as if to say ‘okay, if that’s what you want’ – then attempted to breed the sheep.
I thought I was going to die laughing.
Craig didn’t find it so funny.
‘SHOELY’ YOU DIDN’T MEAN TO DO THAT…
When I first took my dog to see if he had any talent herding, we of course started in the round pen. Not wishing to have my feet stomped by renegade sheep (and because my ankles are old and need some extra support sometimes) I had on a pair of hiking boots. You know the kind, they have regular eyelets for the laces on the lower part of the boot, and then the top 3 or 4 lace guides are simply L-shaped hooks that you pass the lace behind.
Well, we were going great guns. Taco* was getting around the sheep, balancing nicely when I moved to the side, and then all of a sudden….. the loop in the laces on my right boot got caught in one of the L-hooks on my left boot, effectively tieing my boots together! I did a perfect cartoon pratfall and just tipped on over in slow motion! My dog and the sheep continued their circling as I lay face-down in sheep poop laughing hysterically. Thank goodness I have no pride.
I learned that I should tie that insurance loop in the laces, like I’m five years old, if I was going to wear them for herding again. Fortunately, we did keep training, and I haven’t hooked my own shoelaces together again.
WELL, MR. BIG HAT, WHADDYA’ THINK OF THIS?
Several years ago I was attending a herding clinic given by a “famous” Border Collie “Big Hat” handler. I attended the clinic with one of my Border Collies while my favorite herding dog, the Australian Shepherd, stayed at home. After listening to the clinician most of the morning, I was becoming slightly offended by his reference to “off-breeds” when discussing dogs other than Border Collies. I thought to myself, “I’ve had enough”. I knew that under my sweatshirt, I was proudly wearing an Australian Shepherd T-shirt. So after his next “off-breed” comment I decided to pull up my sweatshirt and show my true colors! What I didn’t know was that my T-shirt was not tucked into my jeans. So as I proclaimed, “Hey look at this!” I pulled up my T-shirt along with my sweatshirt and flashed the clinician as well as the other dumbstruck participants. (At least I didn’t say “Take a look at these Puppies!”)
WHEN YOU GOTTA GO TO BALANCE, YOU JUST GOTTA GO
A few years ago when my dog was in advanced A sheep, the sheep were very heavy to the set out pan and difficult to lift. The person setting out was wearing of all things, a skirt. I sent my dog on the outrun, she got behind to balance but the sheep didn’t move. She adjusted position a few times and the sheep still didn’t move. My dog found the perfect balance point between the legs of the set out person and very slowly peeked from under her skirt. The sheep finally lifted at that point. I was laughing so hard I could hardly continue the run.
GETTING THE BOOT
It was early spring a few years ago when I was setting out stock for a trial held in a 50 acre field. My assistant stock handler would sort out five head of sheep from the setout pens, and have his dog drive them to me, and I would pick them up with my dog and drive them on to the setout area. The field was planted to winter wheat, and was gorgeous. The wheat was about 5 inches tall and the prettiest shade of green you’ll ever see – it looked like a rolling green carpet that went on forever and contrasted beautifully with the bright blue sky.
It had rained the night before, and this field was full of terraces. To get to the setout area, I had to take the sheep across a terrace that held a channel of water about 7 feet across and about 8 inches deep. There was no way around it as the terrace was about 300 yards wide. I had already made the trek for several runs, and all was going well. The sheep would sometimes hesitate before they crossed the water, but my wonderfully trained dog knew just how much pressure to exert to convince them to go. I followed a short distance behind as it was about 100 or more yards to the setout area.
About mid-way through the morning, it was becoming a pretty routine trip. All of a sudden, I sensed something was awry. My right foot was not feeling quite right. I stopped and looked down, and realized there was no longer any boot on my right foot, just a very soggy sock. I looked back to see my boot firmly planted in the muddy water about three feet behind me. However, all I could see was about the top two inches of it. There I stood, doing a very unsteady flamingo imitation as I tried to decide what to do next. It was early March and fairly chilly too, which wasn’t helping. And my dog continued to drive the sheep without my guidance, so I had little time to think. My assistant stock handler was the only witness but he was doubled over in laughter and not much help either.
I hopped back and crammed my cold, dripping wet foot back down into the boot and went on to set the sheep. It wasn’t very comfortable but it was the only option I had at the time.
WHY FLANNEL AND WOOL SHOULD NEVER MEET
A few years ago when I had wool sheep my husband was in charge of feeding while I was gone for a weekend. Our sheep knew what the bucket is for and always came running when they heard food in it. It was winter time so my husband had on flannel pajamas, boots and coat. The sheep were in such a hurry to get to their food they wrapped around my husband on the way. The flannel velcroed to the wool and managed to twist his pajama pants around enough that they went down to his ankles. Needless to say he doesn’t wear pajamas to the barn any more. I was very surprised he even admitted this one to me.
FLOWERS ARE NOT FOR GOBBLING
I had been working my red girl and she and I were learning how to herd and doing quite well at it. I would come home from practices and tell my mom about it and she was “sorta” starting to understand what I was talking about with “fetch” and “flanking” etc.
Well, this was also spring/summer and Mom had all of her flowers coming up nicely in the garden. We also have an overabundance of wild turkeys in our area. Well, Mom came out one morning to see them scratching and pecking and totally destroying her flowers! She hollered and shooshed and they paid her no mind! Meanwhile, my dog was sitting next to her quietly watching. My mom, in frustration swings her arm up and points to the turkeys and says “Get them out of my garden!” Well, that was all she needed. Now, my mom just thought “it’s a dog” and dogs like to chase, when she told her to go get the turkeys. Then….she saw my dog go real WIDE and get BEHIND the turkeys, then she remembered all the stories I had been telling her about how to “fetch” they go behind and bring them TO YOU!
She got behind the turkeys and they started moving towards my mom, first at a walk, then a trot, then an all out run! Mind you, this is about 15-20 very large wild turkeys! My mom starts hollering “No! Stop! Don’t! Oooh &%#&*! as the turkeys took flight just before reaching her and went up on the porch roof before scattering back into the woods. The “one” word she didn’t remember from my telling her about practices was “lie down” to stop her!
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
We were doing well with 3 head of sheep when my instructor decided to let the dog work a larger number of sheep. She let out another 5 or 6 sheep, these were also sheep that flocked to you BIG time in the sight of a dog! I mean VELCRO! Well, the larger flock is at one end of the pen (not a big arena), she tells me to send my dog and I do, the sheep immediately rush in and are completely around me and up against my legs. My dog is just thrilled! She’s WORKIN!
The only problem was, these sheep flocked SO tightly to me, that they had me OFF the ground! I was just a couple inches off the ground, being “carried” by the sheep! I’m trying to keep from laughing at the absurdity of it all, and tell my dog to STOP, lie down, quit it, ANYTHING, but she just kept pushing them, they kept moving away from her and I’m going for a sheep ride. I was laughing so hard I couldn’t give any commands for her to stop, couldn’t figure how to push at least ONE of them away from me so I could at least touch the ground and I knew I was only inches off of it. Eventually, there was a tempting distraction in the arena that my dog just HAD to have, and once she stopped, the sheep moved away from me enough that I was back on the ground.
THE VOICE FROM ABOVE
The National Specialty is a place to showcase your dogs talents. I was ready, and I was confident my dog was too. The largest crowd I had trialed before that year watched intently. My outrun, lift and fetch went well, my sheep rounded the post behind me and I turned my dog in on her flank to drive the sheep to the “Y” chute.
Well, this particular arena sets parallel to a driveway about 20 feet away, where exhibitors and spectators walk to get from the parking lot to the herding area. There is no alternate path for them to take. Apparently, as the sheep approached the Y chute, several people started to walk by the arena. I didn’t pay particular attention to them, nor did my dog. UNTIL, the judge, who was behind me on a scaffolding right up against the arena, boomed out in a very loud and deep voice “HEY!” and proceeded to call out for the people to wait, and not walk through there at that particular time.
I watched my dog react to the loud, anonymous “HEY!” (which, by the way, is what I use for a correction). Totally confused, she peeled right off of her stock and headed towards me, her eyes as big as saucers. No amount of coaxing would get her to go back to her sheep. Her quick pace took her right past me, to the gate, and I watched her wriggle right under it and disappear. There I stood, with three sheep standing in the entrance of the Y chute, me at the Advanced handlers post, and NO DOG. But lots of witnesses.
I found my dog outside, setting next to my husband. My scoresheet said, “Dog Called Time”.
MANTRA, REMEMBER THE MANTRA….
Tux* had been training for HT for about 6 months when the Nationals rolled around. His stay at the beginning was fairly solid allowing me to get almost to the sheep. He stop was pretty solid too. He would wear and turn on his balance point but oh, dear, he did love to be close, close, ever closer to the sheep.
I on the other hand was really quite bad. Although I had had Barbados sheep in the past and I was fair at leading the sheep, well, reading the sheep, the dog, knowing where I was in the arena, and being able to MOVE, oh well, let’s say I don’t multi-task too well anymore.
The weather was great with blue skies and mild temperatures. Herding Tested was in a warm-up arena with deep sand. My turn came with Tux. From what I had observed I decided that my personal mantra was move, move, MOVE, just keeping MOVING! Tux, the judge and I entered the arena. The judge advised me not to turn Tux loose until the sheep were settled and I was ready. HA! That must have been a joke. The sheep never settled and I was ready, (ready to leave the arena). What had I gotten myself into? Oh, well, trust my faithful dog. He had been trained and besides he had instinct for this stuff, right?
I gave Tux a sit command and a very firm STAAAAAAAAAAY! I walked away with all the confidence of a novice obedience exhibitor. I heard the judge say “beautiful” and smiled. I had decided where I was going to go in relation to the sheep and which way I was going to send the dog and which way we were
all going to move. I walked to my place, turned around and — the race was on. Tux took off on a counter clockwise flank — not the way I wanted. I got him turned and he went the other way — all the way around in a circle. Turned him again and off he went clear around again. Somehow things were not working the way I wanted. I gave the stop command and wow, Tux stopped.
My mantra, I had forgotten my mantra. I’m sure probably 20 minutes of my 10 minute test was already gone and I had not moved. So I started to walk as fast as I could towards the cone, any cone. The sand was deep and the footing difficult. The sheep moved and Tux began to settle in. We got around one cone then walked the seemingly half a mile to the next cone and around we went. But Tux was getting closer and closer and CLOSER. I stopped him and asked the judge if she had seen enough, hoping beyond hope. “No you have one more cone to do,” she said. UGH! I thought.
We moved out heading for the last cone somewhere about 5 miles down the length of the arena. Somehow I had to protect the rear of the sheep for Tux was getting too close and had received one warning already. So, I turned around, backing down the arena and keeping between the sheep and the dog. I guess the sheep were somewhat confused as to whether they were to follow me or move away but Tux helped with that. We were moving ever so slowly down the arena. I could feel the sheep behind me as I backed up slowly. To feel them there was somewhat comforting and unconsciously I began to lean on them. Then they moved off.
SPLAT! That was me, on my back in the middle of the arena. No sheep, no dog, no judge, just deep sand and blue, blue sky. I laid there a second with thousands of thoughts of Tux killing sheep racing thru my mind followed by thought of Tux rounding the sheep up and bringing them to and over me.
“Tux!” I yelled. Nothing. “TUXXXXX!” I yelled louder. Nothing. Suddenly I saw the judge dashing across the arena to cut off Tux. Finally my brain began to function again and I thought: don’t just call the dog’s name give him something to do. “TUX, C-O-M-E”. I rolled over on my stomach and Tux dived into my face. He had a big grin of relief on his face — thanks for saving me from those sheep, Mom! I grabbed his collar and said: “This will have to do for our recall, son.” The judge standing behind me said: “As fine a recall as I have ever seen too.” I hugged my dog and staggered out of the arena with my dog’s support. We had earned our first leg towards an HT.
Evidently while I was resting on the arena floor Tux had been busy moving the sheep the way he was supposed to to keep them off of me but close. What more could I have asked (except maybe to have seen him do it). Our trophy, a friend who saw the spectacle gave me a tee-shirt showing sheep running
from the dog over the handler and called Kamakaze Sheep.
*Names of dogs and handlers have been changed. Assuring they remained anonymous was the only way I could get some of these great stories to be shared. I am sworn to secrecy regarding my informants!