Cohen passed her herding instinct test today! It's not like I had a doubt that she would, but it was insanely fun to get out there and just get a feel for what the sport is like. Plus, getting the feedback regarding her methods and natural abilities was fascinating.
Her summary sheet.
Here is a nice summary of what each category means. To me, coming in as an ignorant city girl, none of this made sense until I had the evaluator explain it to me.
Style - gathering. Cohen seemed mostly to keep her distance and was interested in keeping the sheep together and pushing it towards me.
Approach - runs moderately wide. I'm told this is ideal. She was a little close to start, but as she settled down she backed off a bit.
Eye - loose. Unsurprisingly, she does not use any eye while herding. I've always thought of this as a Border Collie trait, but apparently Kelpies and a few others use it too. Cohen ... does not.
Wearing - shows wearing. Apparently Cohen wears the sheep (moves from side to side to keep them controlled). I don't think I noticed this since my eyes were on the sheep for so much of the test.
Bark - some barking. The barking came as no surprise to me. Actually, I was surprised she didn't bark more. When she first got on the stock she was her normal loud self, but as she figured it out a bit more her barking was reduced to next to nothing.
Temperament - a little distraction. Cohen did alright on the stock, but I wish she was a bit more engaged. She was flagged off at one point, and I think this confused her and her confidence dipped noticeably. Instead of herding she decided to take a sheep-poo break. With a bit of extra energy thrown in I was able to get her back out and engaged, but not to the same level she was when she started. If anything, I think some repetition would be necessary to increase confidence.
Interest - sustained interest. Despite her poo-break, Cohen did pretty well sustaining interest (though, note she was not marked as keen).
Power - sufficient for stock. The stock were pretty mild mannered and well behaved, so, well, apparently Cohen's power was "sufficient".
Responsiveness - responds to guidance/control. Unsurprisingly, Cohen did well with some guidance. I'm sure her long hours of working with me in other sports helped this.
Grouping of stock - keeps stock together/regroups. For the most part the stock seemed pretty easy and grouped well, but a few times I remember Cohen putting in some extra effort to bring a wayward ewe back into the group.
Balancing stock with handler - adjusts position. Apparently Cohen is much stronger going one way than another, but did change the direction she circled around the stock as we switched up our position. This was pretty cool for me to see, since I didn't know this was a requirement.
I was also very relieved to see that Cohen didn't once grip a sheep. She was flagged away a fair amount, so she didn't have much opportunity to, I guess. I just had paranoid visions in my head of Cohen taking a bite out of a sheep.
The notes say, "Very nice instinct! A little worried but has all the right stuff."
It was interesting to see the decline in Cohen's confidence when she was flagged off the stock the first time. I would have hoped she would take it in stride and continue, but instead, as I said, she had a poop-break instead. My theory is that since I don't use harsh corrections in training she wasn't accustomed to them and didn't know what to do with herself after she received one. I'm hoping that after a bit more exposure to stock her confidence will be higher and her performance better.
After the test I had an interesting conversation with the tester. She said she really liked Cohen and thought she showed potential. She said that, in her experience, a lot of Aussies don't have a high drive to please their handler and can therefore be pains in the asses and/or inappropriate for work. But Cohen was tuned into me the whole time. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the amount of training I do with her, but it also has to do with her natural aptitude.
I went up with Helene (and her Sheltie Snorri) and Laila (with her Icelandic Sheepdog Viggo). Not only were they nice enough to snap the following photos, but I got to stick around and watch some beginner herding classes as well. It has me excited to give it a try myself at some point. I'll see if I can manage it -- it's both costly and time-intensive.
Us getting started.
A shot from our pre-play in the park. Here's Viggo and Scout, two Icelandic Sheepdogs.
Huge thanks go out to Helene for taking these photos, and thanks to both Helene and Laila for the experience!