My mom reminded me once again, “Don’t forget she’s not a youngster anymore”.  She usually reports this fact as I’m describing my next escapade with Tess.  Maybe I’m in denial, but I really gave this adventure a good “think over” before I gave myself the ok to register for the herding instinct test that the Columbia Poodle Club was putting on.  I even asked a few questions about the judge, Carol Wolfram, to find out that yes indeed she “knows” poodles, so with my due diligence completed I mailed the check.

Well, the day finally arrived and of course it just happened to be predicted as the hottest day of the week.  Tess has been handling the heat just fine lately so no worries especially if I could get her at the top of the running order.  With some pleading and playing the “my dog is old” card I was able to get us moved up from number ten into the number five position, which equated to about 11:00 am.  In the Pacific Northwest our hottest part of the day usually arrives at 5:00 pm, but it was heating up quickly and the round pen where the test was held was without shade.

Now, I have to admit I know my dog pretty well and I have seen her herding instinct come alive before, although it usually occurs at the dog park and it usually resembled a school teacher trying to make kids stop running in the hallways.  I have also used this instinct to our advantage many times during agility trials.  I would pray that a sheltie or small border collie was ahead of us in the running order as there was nothing like the sound of a fast dog going through a tunnel to turn Tess’s drive on and we were always guaranteed a Q (Tess was always accurate, it was her inconsistent speed that kept us from the Elite level runs in NADAC).

Our judge, Carol informed us to let the dogs watch the other dogs run and not to reprimand for barking or increased behaviors.  Bingo!  I made sure that Tess could see and hear all the commotion that the dogs and sheep were making and sure enough; head up, body quivering, a whine here, a bark there.  We were in business!

I entered us into this adventure more for my experience than for more letters after Tess’s name.  Albeit, I’m not going to lie, letters are nice but I enjoy learning and learning with my dog is even better.  So into the pen we went.  Carol was all business.  Her tone had a “do what I say and nobody will get hurt” -ness about it; always good to hear when entering into a pen with livestock.  I reported to Carol that Tess is a soft dog (so please put down your stick) and that she was 10 ½ (so please let’s not run her into the ground).  With a smile, I could see that Carol appreciated this info and away we went.

We entered the pen and Tess did her best rally halt and looked at me like “this is different” and Carol called Tess to go to the middle.  Tess, being Tess looked over at me with her “not without her” look and I was also asked to enter into the middle of the pen.  As soon as one of the three sheep moved Tess took off, but then came right back to me, just like at the dog park.  What a good girl!?! This time I gave her permission to “go get ‘um”.  And she did!  She chased, oops, herded the threesome and when one of the sheep split, she went after it and herded it back to the group.  It was quite amazing to watch.  Carol, with me shadowing her every move, put Tess through some herding moves; circle to the left, circle to the right, inside the sheep (between the fence and sheep), outside the sheep, following the group.  Tess did it all!  Per the video on my camcorder, the test only lasted for two minutes and 40 seconds (thank you Carol for not running her into the ground).  It seemed much longer, but Carol said, “I saw enough and she’s 10 ½ anyways”.  Thanks for listening Carol.

Watching the other dogs was very interesting.  Besides 90% of the standard poodles being black (just like in agility), there was a difference in attitude between the ages.  The older dogs, older being older than 3 years, were generally more cautious to begin with.  They tended to check in more with there owners.  Carol says this is due to all the years of being told “no” to chasing things, especially other animals.  The younger dogs took to herding right away and were fast.  They all did great.  Poodle prey drive was alive and well at Brigand’s HideOut.

So how did Tess do?  She passed!  Here’s what her report card said:

  • STYLE/APPROACH: runs close
  • WEARING: little wearing
  • BARK: works silent
  • POWER: forceful, appropriate (this one still makes me smile)
  • INTEREST WITH STOCK: keen interest
  • RESPONSIVENESS: responsive to guidance
  • BALANCE WITH TESTER: some adjustment
  • GROUPING OF STOCK: keeps stock together
  • Recommendation to Continue Herding: Good – shows adequate potential to continue

This experience was a blast and it really reinforced what every poodle owner already knows, that poodles are incredible companions and are willing to join us on any adventure, even at 10 ½ years old.

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