“Steady” is a vital command when working a Border Collie on sheep – and nowhere is it more useful than at a pen. There are two keys, I’ve found, to penning sheep:
First, do not try to force the sheep into the pen – they’ll squirt out like you’ve stomped on a ketchup package. Instead, the handler and the dog must work together to close off all other avenues the sheep might take, so that going into the pen looks like an escape route.
Second, one must let the sheep figure this out for themselves. They need time to look at the pen and decide it’s less of a danger than either the handler or dog.
Working sheep is exciting for a Border Collie, and penning is a task that requires a lot of restraint and subtle moves.
It can be a nerve-wracking exercise for the dog, who either must remain still or make only minor adjustments to its position. This is where “steady” becomes important, because it’s a command to the dog to slow down or stop in its tracks. (Some handlers use “stand” or “take time”, or just “time”.)
The handler in these pictures is having a good run at Judge Farm: The sheep are checking out the pen – and they’re aimed at the hinge on the pen door, which is the best possible position to minimize their chance of either turning back (towards the handler) or squirting between the far side of the opening and the dog. The dog is on the hips of the sheep, ready to cut off escape to either side as commanded by the handler. And if the sheep do enter the pen as hoped, the handler is ready to follow along behind and swing the door shut.
But they’d better complete the pen soon. If a train goes by, all bets are off…
For the Judge Farm module, I wanted to model something relevant to my other passion – working my Border Collie on sheep. I picked the penning task because it would give me the opportunity to model the pen itself – an interesting structure built from four panels, linked together by rods at the corners. It’s also a scene in which everybody is at rest, which also looks better on a model railway than modelling action frozen in time.
The railway now has more greenery on the right of way. I wrote about reducing the ballast slope in an earlier post. In the photos here, I’ve also added static grass, and installed (but not yet stained) RoW fence posts.
The sheep are from The Aspen Modeling Company. I painted them and added some weathering powder to muddy them up a bit.
The handler is a figure from Arttista. He started life as a “Man with Pry Bar” (Item 718). I tossed the pry bar, adjusted his hands, then bent up a shepherd’s crook from wire and put it in his right hand. It can be seen in the lead photo.
The dog is an HO scale wolf figure – I believe from Woodland Scenics. It’s the right size and general shape for a Border Collie. I bent down the tail further (Border Collies hold their tails down when they’re calm and “thinking”, while the tail tends to fly up when they’re excited). and then gave the wolf figure a repaint into classic Border Collie black and white. I used my dog, Mocean, as my model, checking things like how high the white fur goes on his legs and so on.
I think he got fed up with the attention…