I have made a breakthrough. Modest though it may be, I have found a chink in Fly’s armour and I’m working it for all it’s worth. On our first outings as a shepherding team, Fly and I fell at the first hurdle: she completely ignored me. Which made working together less than constructive, given that I was as cross as a wasp and she was doing whatever she fancied, the implication being that I had no idea what I was on about.
But a momentary lapse one day revealed that under her tough façade of sheep-focussed professionalism, Fly has a puppyish weakness for playing with sticks. And the thing about playing with sticks is that you really need to have someone to throw the stick for you. Otherwise, it’s not so much a game, it’s just running about with a stick in your mouth. So for the first time, Fly noticed that I existed, that I had purpose. She looked in my direction, made eye contact. For the first time, I had power in the relationship.
Now it has not wholly escaped my attention that rather than having asserted my dominance over the dog, I’m actually being manipulated by her. But as long as I can manipulate her right back and get her to do at least a modicum of what I want, I’m happy to turn a blind eye to that. I’m working on the premise that if it’s more fun to be with me than without me, Fly will choose to be with me.
It’s not exactly One Man and His Dog, but what I’m trying to get her to do is focus on me long enough for us to go together to where the sheep are, to do a bit of work, then come back together once we’ve finished. Until now, Fly has preferred to slink out off the kennel and purposefully dash up to the field where she believes the nearest group of sheep to be. She waits there to be told what to do, then once we’ve finished she dashes off somewhere else to look for more sheep, whether I like it or not.
Since there’s nothing more frustrating/exasperating/humiliating than yelling ineffectually as a dog rapidly disappears over the horizon, I have learned to hoodwink Fly with my new secret weapon. I’ve upgraded from a stick and now have a red ball on a string. Fly loves the red ball almost as much as she loves sheep. Her focus on it is so laser-like that she’ll stick with me all the way to the furthest group of sheep in the furthest field. She’ll then work the sheep broadly to my instruction (in this department it’s my skill that’s lacking not hers) and when we’re finished and she’s had the “that will do” command, she’ll lock straight back on to the red ball and come home with me.
With this small victory under our belts, I must now consider what’s next. Unavoidably, for Fly and I to progress any further in our shepherding partnership, the onus is on me to learn how to effectively ask her to do what I want with the sheep. I fear this may require something more than a red ball on a string. I may have to invest in the One Man and His Dog box set.